Mesopotamia: Arts and Gods in the Akkadian Empire

NumisBids: Classical Numismatic Group ...

Akkadian cylinder seals were one inch tall and when rolled out on clay tablet documents left a distinctive identifying image (used in lieu of a signature)

Episode 10: Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

Third millenium BC clay tablets from Agade, the capitol of the Akkadian Empire, claim the city was as filled with gold and silver and that granaries were used to store copper, lead and slabs of lapis lazuli. Except for silver, these materials, along with tin and diorite (a mineral used in sculpture) were imported from Dilmun, in modern day Bahrain. Pearls, carnelian, silver, elephants, monkeys and water buffaloes were imported from the Indus Valley.

As animists, Akkadians believed all forces of nature (including non-living entities such as rocks) were alive and manifested as gods. All sculpture was focused around the gods and the royal family and most art was limited to jewelry, rich textiles, cylinder seals and other luxury goods for the ruling elite.

Sculpture became more naturalistic during this period, in part due to technological innovations that allowed sculptors to carve figures in wax to create a clay mold that could be filled with molten (arsenic)* bronze.

Akkadians believed their statues embodied a life force incorporating the essence of the subject’s soul. For this reason, the multiple statues kings erected in distant settlements were believed to have the same authority as the king himself. Many statues dating from the Empire are missing heads, as decapitating a statue was felt to destroy its power. Likewise praying to the statue of a god was comparable to praying to the god or goddess themselves.

Although most people were illiterate, creation myths and other god-related mythology related to the life of the gods began to be written down in Akkadia. Apprentice scribes learned to write by copying these myths in special schools.

The world’s first self-identified author, Enheduanna (daughter of King Sargon) dates from this time. A high priestess of the moon god, she wrote (and signed) hymns used in worship.

*With arsenic bronze, arsenic was added to copper instead of tin to make it harder and more durable.

Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.

Mesopotamia: The Collapse of the Akkadian Empire

Episode 9: The Fall of Akkad and Gudea of Lagash

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

In 2150 BC, the Akkadian Empire collapsed and broke into smaller kingdoms. Its fall is blamed on the sacking of the capitol Agade by hordes of Gutian nomads from the Zagros mountains to the west.

Some historians believe a severe drought affecting northern Mesopotamia around 2200-1900 BC triggered numerous empires to collapse, including the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Harappan civilization in the Indus valley and numerous states in the Aegean Region and southern Levant.

With the collapse of the Akkadian empire, the Gutians established their own state in northern Mesopotamia.

Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia consisted of separate city-states for much of its history, and life changed very little for its southern residents after the Akkadian empire broke up. Many southern city-states had retained their own kings under the oversight of the Akkadian king. Also the drought was less severe in the south, resulting in less disruption from crop failure.

Following the collapse, the Second Dynasty of Lagash came to power in the kingdom’s capitol city Girsu. Gudea, the founder of the Second Dynasty, reigned from 2144-2124 BC and is extremely well known to modern scholars. Calling himself “governor” rather than “king,” Gudea is renowned both for his humility and his commitment to looking after his subjects. He protected women and orphans, freed people from debt and allowed women to inherit property. He engaged in only one military campaign in his entire reign.

His kingdom is believed to have been extremely rich, based on the E-ninnu Temple he built to the warrior god Ningirsu in the capitol city. Black wood from the Indus Valley was used in its construction, as well as gold, bitumen and lapis lazuli from other Near East countries.

Gudea also commissioned buildings in Ur, Nipur and Uruk, which means they must have been part of his kingdom.

Many stone statues of Gudea persist to the present day. The metal statues of other kings were melted down after their dynasties left power.

The son of Gudea was overthrown by the Third Dynasty of Ur.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

Akkadia: The World’s First Empire

Episode 8: Lugalgagesi of Umma and Sargon of Kish

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture concerns Mesopotamia’s most famous kings, Lugalgagesi of Umma and Sargon of Kish. Umma continued to have border wars with the city-state of Lagash (see
Mesopotamia’s First Kings/) for several centuries. Around 2350 BC, Lugalgagesi totally sacked Lagash, burning its temples, destroying its treasury and barley fields belonging to one of the temples.

After sacking Lagash, Lugalgagesi declared himself ruler of all the land between the Upper Sea (Mediterranean) and the Lower Sea (Persian Gulf). However in reality, he only controlled a confederation of six southern Mesopotamian city-states: Lagash, Umma, Uruk, Larson, Ur and Zabalam.

King Sargon of Kish* ended Lugalgagesi’s reign in 2334 BC after conquering the cities Lugalgagesi controlled and establishing the Akkadian empire (the world’s first).

The exploits of both kings were recorded in cuneiform script on clay tablets (in both Sumerian and Akkadian**). It was during this period that scribes began using cuneiform to record historical narratives (especially those of kings) as well as for keeping records of transactions.

Sargon is best known for establishing a well-functioning bureaucracy to govern the captured city-states, standardizing the writing system and establishing direct trade links with Dilman (modern day Bahrain) and the Indus Valley.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

*Like Moses, Sargon was the secret son of a princess who floated him down the river in a reed basket. He was rescued by a different queen who raised him as her own child.

**The wealthy elite of the Akkadian empire spoke both languages.

Ancient History: The Innovations of Mesopotamia

Sumerian Cuneiform Alphabet - Quote Images HD Free

The Sumerian Alphabet

Episode 6: The Innovations of Mesopotamia

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

This lecture explores the major technological innovations produced by Sumer, the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), which flourished between 2750 and 2150 BC. Sumer consisted of roughly a dozen city states. Six (Eridu, Kish, Ur, Uruk, Nippur and Babylon) are mentioned in the Old Testament.

Benjamin traces how initially these city-states were ruled (as were most towns and villages) by assemblies of leading male citizens elected for their seniority and status. In each instance, these leaders gave up their power to absolute leaders during periods of crisis. Because Sumer’s city-states were almost constantly at war, they all appointed kings, who in most cases granted themselves absolute power owing to their special relationship with the gods.*

In 2334 BCE, Sargon the Great overthrew the king of Kish, built a massive army and established the world’s first empire, comprising nearly all of Sumer.** The Akkadian Empire collapsed in 2150, in part from a mass uprising of its people and in part from and hostile nomadic invasions. Maintaining a large army is extremely expensive, and Sumerians became very resentful of the massive tribute (taxes) they were charged.

Among the important technologies to come out of Sumer were

  • writing – dating from 3200 BC, the first written language involved the use of pictograms depicting animals, weapons and other goods accepted in tribute. Over 200 years, a written alphabet evolved in which letters represented speech sounds rather than objects. The first example of written literature (The Epic of Gilgamesh) dates from 2700 BC.
  • the wheel – Benjamin and others speculate the first wheels were potters wheels turned on their side.
  • bronze – an alloy made from combining tin and copper, bronze first appeared in 3000 BC. It was used mainly for swords, spears, shields, and armor, as well as jewelry for the ruling elite. A few wealthy farmers used bronze plows.
  • shipbuilding – by 3000 BC Sumerian ships were were sturdy enough to sail from the Tigris/Euphrates rivers into the Persian Gulf, and by 2500 they were crossing the Arabian Sea to trade with civilizations in the Indus Valley (modern day Pakistan). Sumer exported woolen textiles, leather and jewelry and imported ivory, pearls and spices.

The Sumerian city-states were the first to demonstrate clear class stratification, consisting of

  • kings and the military
  • priests**
  • nobles owning large tracts of land
  • subsistence farmers
  • slaves (in some places 50% of the urban population) – in most cases these were either war captives or subjects who couldn’t pay their debts.

Women lost considerable status with the rise of city-states, with most consigned to child rearing and housekeeping. A few were allowed to participate in public life as scribes, priestesses, midwives, shopkeepers and textile workers.

The cities of Sumer saw the first emergence of a middle class engaged in specialized labor and crafts (bronze metallurgy, scribes, potters, textile workers, merchants and traders

*Sumerians believed all forces of nature had a spiritual aspect and named their first gods after them. In addition, each city-state had its own local god.

**At the peak of Sumerian civilization, Mesopotamia hosted a population of 100,000, the largest on the planet to that point.

This film can be viewed free on Kanopy.