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Lecture notes:

Akkadian kingdom in Southern Mesopotamia: Sargon, Naram-Sin and the mythical kingship

The Palace in the Late Early Dynastic cities

We have discussed the temple in early Mesopotamian city as a socio-economic institution that owns land which is cultivated, and owns flocks for animal husbandary, employs craftsmen and merchants, acted as a hub of craft activity, trade and especially sponsoring of interregional trade. Scholars have proposed the idea of the early Sumerian city-state as a “temple state”. This needs to be balanced with another emerging institution towards the end of the ED III: the palace- whcich can well be associated with the increasing social and political power of the king, as we saw in ED III Lagash state.

North Palace/ Tell Asmar. The last part of the Early dynastic period is also the time when we start to see palace complexes start to appear in the Mesopotamian city. A good example is the so-called North Palace that was excavated just near the Abu temple shrine in Tell Asmar. Due to the urban context, scholars argue that it must have been associated with the dependencies of the Abu temple itself, and archaeological evidence was found in the palace rooms for craft production activities in large scale especially weaving, precious stone-working and leather working, and cooking. Some rooms had elaborate waterproofing and drainage. Not the kind of palace as we think of it as where the king stayed but a large productive institution, with multiple workshops but certainly administered by the ruler or the temple administration. Layout of rooms around particular courtyards, planned layout, fortified buttressed appearance on the outside.

Early Dynastic period clearly shows the development of particular visual vocabulary with narratives in image and text, particular architectural technoilogies that were shared by all those city states. Unfortunately our information is very patchy. However this shared material culture goes all the way to Mari where similar finds were excavated.

Akkadian period (the Kingdom of Agade)

Kings of Akkad
Sargon: 2334-2279 BC
Rimush:2278-2270 BC
Manishtushu: 2269-2255 BC
Naram-Sin 2254-2218 BC
Sharkalisharri 2217-2193 BC

If you have been reading the assigned sections from Michael Roaf’s book, you will remember that Akkadians were known to be living with Sumerians in Mesopotamia, especially to the North, as a separate cultural group but socially integrated in the Early Dynastic city states of the South. It is a major archaeological frustration in Mesopotaian history that it had been incredible difficult to trace the Akkadian remains: so our info is very fragmentary. The first major ruler of the Akkadians was merely one of those city-rulers of the Early Dynastic city-states, who later in his life managed to transform his city-state, into a territorial state, or according to some scholars even “an empire”. So we are talking about perhaps the first empire in Mesopotamia, who expanded itself territorially into Southern and Northern Mesopotamia. This is based on the textual evidence that They have adopted the Sumerian script, the cuneiform writing, and used it for recording in their own language Akkadian. From this time on, Akkadian became the lingua franca of the Near East until the introduction of ancient Greek in the Hellenistic period.

The king Sargon established a new city as his new royal capital somewhere in the northern part of southern Mesopotamia in about 2300 BC and called it Akkad/Agade. Here at Akkad the administration was immensely centralized as we know from archives from other towns. But the town Akkad itself was never discovered by archaeologists, somewhere under the sand of the Mesopotamian alluvium. But it must have been a vast city. Sometime scholars are all hoping that the site would be found and excavated.

The Palaces

Several scholars agree, and as you will see that palace as a monumental component in the Mesopotamina city is a later development than temple. We really had to wait until the end of the ED period, and well into the Akkadian period to see the palace as an independent institution as well as an independent monumental complex to appear. Scholars associate this mostly with the fact that secular administration of a city or a province in the case of an empire became powerful at the end of the ED period and especially in th Akkadian.

The main two motives that characterize therefore the Akkadian period is the real strengthening of the office of kingship, king becomes a powerful ideal charismatic ruler, in a very centralized political administration, and this brings its own ideology of representation. Towards the end of the Akkadian period this is taken even further to the king achieving a divine character. Under the force of this political power the land of Southern and Northern Mesopotamia, Sumer and Akkad are unified. The idea of “King of Kish” from inscriptions.

Kish, Palaces

Palace A

Our first two earliest palaces at from the site Kish, which is about 15 km S of Babylon, in the northern end of Southern alluvium. Very important city, as we know from texts, since the title King of Kish was a strong symbol of political hegemony. It is a large site with quite scattered remains so its urban structure is not well understood. One of the palaces I will show you is on Mound A, to the south of the settlement, and it is called Palace A, and lies near large temple buildings. Quite elaborate and strictly geometrical design, with amazingly long walls that severely control the circulation. A monumental entrance through a monumental staircase is significant. The outer façade is butressed which became a main feature of the buttresses. The palace was constructed in the end of Early Dynastic period but continues to exist in the Akkadian period. Notice the courtyard, the colonnaded rooom, a heavily fortified enclosure with strong walls, and elaborate bitumen and baked brick covered surfaces indicating the extensive use of water, and the concer to take the used water out of the building safeley.

Plano-convex building at Kish

The other one is called the Plano-convex palace, since it was built with plano-convex bricks. It was located to the Northwest of the site, oddly isolated building. Partially excavated but in terms of the experssion of its architectural features it is impressive. Moorey who excavated the palace complex not only as a royal residence but more as a fortified royal household functioning as a gathering of workshops, or an arsenal. Part of it might be a residential suite. He thinks that the complex is contemporary with the “palace” in area A at Kish, and it also continues into Akkadian period.

There is a paved entrance (well laid brick pavement, originally covered with bitumen: Entrance laid with plano-convex bricks set in bitumen) through NE wall, leading into a small room. The entrance was particularly treated on the façade. The courtyard is large (17x17 m ca.) and paved w/ bricks. In several places in the palace very elaborate drainage is provided with the help of baked bricks, bitumen and sometimes even stone. I would like to take your attention to how difficult it is to move between various sections of the palace. Especially to the Northern section craft activity was attested.

Tell Brak, Akkadian buildings.

Another important set of buildings we will look at is from Tell Brak, a 3rd millennium site in the Khabur drainage basin.

3rd millennium urbanization phenomenon. Around 2300 BC, Tell Brak, being a North Mesopotamian urban settlement of great importance, was conquered by the Akkadian kings, and they used this site as their regional center for the Khabur region and carried on building activity, constructing several massive buildings.

Naram Sin, who was the grandson of Sargon, after he inherited the throne, he arranged several military campaigns into Northern Syria and even to Southeastern Anatolia capturing settlements, sacking cities. Naram Sin one of the last but perhaps the most important ferocious Akkadian King who deified himself later. He initiated several building projects in these lands and erected monuments.

Palace of Naram Sin

The most impressive of the Akkadian buildings at Tell Brak is the so-called Naram Sin’s palace, A heavily fortified and giant building with a series of very large courts. It is located as controlling the Southern entrance to the city, associated with probably a nearby gate, according to the layout of the topography. It is preserved only in the foundation level, but even the plan is impressive. We know that the building was built by Naram Sin himself because the unbaked bricks that were found in the walls were inscribed/stamped with his name. It is rather considered as a giant garrison building with perhaps a residential suite for the ruler.

In a nearby area, more Akkadian buildings were discovered by excaators, especially monumental remains in the Area SS, in the Southwest corner of the site. The whole structure is reddish brown sun-dried mudbricks with really large dimensions, parallel to what had been observed in the Naram Sin palace. In the first instance they ran into a monumental compound with another large courtyard, with a cult room like space to its western edge. The S façade of the complex was very elaborately decorated, and the façade is identified as unique by the archaeologists. A pair of two towers, with a recess inbetween the two which acted as a niche for a shallow stone slab of gypsum. A very fine whitish limestone easy to be worked. They suggested that the façade must have had hosted open air ritual ceremonies. The wall surface also had a dado level gypsum plaster going all around the façade and the courtyard.

Visual imagery

The really impressive transformation, as I mentioned is the transformation we see in the kingship ideology. The way that political ideology is promulgated. In this the visual imagery really helps us especially with the continuing tradition of the monumental stone stelea. Most of these stelae were so powerful in their imagery that they were collected and taken away as booty by the Middle Elamite kings some 1000 year after their execution, taken to Susa Iran, and kept there set up in temple contexts to celebrate their booty. That is why most of them were found in Susa.

Sargon Stele:

Diorite, with incribed name of Sargon. Diorite was brought from Oman through sea trade in Persian gulf by the Akkadian tradesman, who worked for the king. Composed in registers, heavily destroyed. A register of soldiers carryingb weapons, wearing heavy garments, orderly marching.

On top: defeated falling down, also a conflict is being narrated. Much more realism in the depiction of the human figures, especially the modelling of the body and the depiction of movement. Relief is much higher and the surfaces were further modelled. The depiction of the battle. Very similar to the ED way of depicting things. Sargon is clearly associating himself with this ED tradition.

But there is greater discrepancy between the text and the image. While the image depicts a military victory, the accompanying inscription lists plots of land in the region of Lagash and people to whom those lands were granted or sold. So we are still dealing with land grant monuments determining the boundary of a particular land, while the imagery is gaining a powerful kingship ideology.

Disk of Enheduanna

Sargon establishes his daughter Enheduanna as the priestess (entu) of Nanna at sanctuary at Ur. The disk of Enheduanna is in the University Museum, you can see it there. Alabaster. Found in Ur. Circular ver obscure object, function not clear. One single register. A ziqqurat is restored in the left hand side of the scene. Reperesenting the institution of the Entu-priestess.

Rimush stele:

From Tello. Diorite, from the reign of Rimush. Bothe text and image. Large stele. Both sides were carved. It was arranged in registers as well. Remarkably different in the treatment of human dody and his movements. The twisting of the body. An interest growing in the coherence of the human anatomy. Stylistic features and representational aspects are being transformed while the overall form and the subject matter is the same. Also a land transfer document.

Nasariyah stele.

Translucent alabaster stone. From Southern Mesopotamia. It is so fragmentary that the subject matter is very hard to identify. But we see that the prisoners are being brought along in an orderly fashion in a neck-cage. Make note of the distictive hair style, the elegant facial features and how well the proportion is used in the depiction of the faces. Bodies are depicted in the actual profile view. This was not the case in the previous stelea. The upper torso still. The depiction of the neck as foreshortened.

Head of Naram Sin

The Akkadian empire really takes on its form of the territorial state, at the peak of its political power. From Southestern Anatolia to the Persian gulf we find Akkadian artifacts. So drastically changing the matyerial culture. This is the first time that in the production of royal art, a royal court style is seen, where the artistic/artisanal production is heavily controlled under the palace.

The metalworking, under the aegis of the royal court also developed immensely. As high quality as the stone workmanship: Centralized production.

Head of ruler, from Nineveh.

Cast Bronze. Life size. which is suggested to be depicting Naram Sin, because of the advanced style. It was defaced, eras were cut off. The eyes were inlayed with probably rock crystal white stone. lapis lazuli. Long beard, only worn by the king, carefully rendered. Hairdo is also very significant. The modelling of the face, the cheecks.

Naram Sin Stele:

Also taken away as booty. from Elam, Susa. Let us discuss various aspects of this stele. The shape of the stone is not following the earlier rectangular stele types with a semicircular top, but it is a fascinating tapered cone immitating the shape of a mountain. The back is also not carved and roughly finished. Two inscriptions found on top of the stele, one by the Akkadian, Naram Sin, from which we learn that the stele was erected for commemorating the Akkadian victory over the Lullubi tribe in the Zagros mountains. The other inscription is a later one by the Elamites, from which we learn that they have taken this as booty hunderds of years later.

The whole scene is really dramatic, a narrative that is a synthesis of an episodic narrative (register by register, telling various stages of the historical event), and also a culminating scene, summarizing the whole event. A culminating scene, like the obverse side of the Stele of Vultures with Ningirsu holding captives.

On the top the figure the alluring body of Naram Sin depicted victorious on the very top, we identify him from his larger depicted body, while he is also wearing a bull horned cap, which is a sign of deification. This is really fascinating, since it is the first case we are seeing a king is deifying himself, becoming a god in Mesopoamia. Totally revolutionizing the traditions of rulership. But when we look at the monument it is formally revolutionizing the visual traditions as well, first of all abandoning the register scheme.

We also see that the battle in process, going on even though Naram Sin poses a victory on top. Entirely revolutionary composition. But in style too, when we look at the deiction of the bodies of the soldiers. The way the landscape is depicted impressively. The whole scene becomes the depiction of the particular landscape. Pay attention to the twisting moton of the enemies, echoed by the depiction of the trees. Visual metaphors of defeat and victory are used. Celestial divinities in the form of stars. Divine king of Akkad.


Seals also took an important role in the Akkadian period with their variety of materials they were made from, like much more hard stones like green colored serpentine. and an impressive proiliferation of subject matters. We see also the crystallization of Akkadian mythology, depicted in the seal imagery. Mythical story-telling became very widespread in the Akkadian seals: a departure from earlier seal iconography. Representation of a variety of deities especially combats between them. Pantheon of Akkadian gods.

End of the Akkadian empire

The Akkadian period, was abruptly ended, it was a very short period in the Mesopotamian history, but by means of its revolutionary aspects, it left a long lasting impact on Mesopotamian cultures. Written sources tell us about some sort of invasion by Gutians and Amorites, an influx of large groups of semi-nomadic people into Mesopotamia, pastoralists from the Zagros mountains, and came down through the Diyala who actually lived at the edge of the empire like the Lullubi causing troubles for the Akkadians, During their incursions: they must have destroyed several settlements. For the end of the Third Millennium, for the North, there are also more hypothesis of an abrupt climatic change that lead to several years of draught, resulting in the abandonment of settlements.

Powerpoint presentation:
Document IconAkkadian.ppt

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