Sargon - Founder of Akkad
The minor squabbles of the Sumerian cities were dramatically cut short when Sargon I, the founder of the dynasty of Akkad, conquered them between 2400 and 2340 BCE. Sargon had an Akkadian name. Akkadian is a Semitic language, akin to Hebrew and Arabic, which had long been spoken in northern Sumer and was soon to replace Sumerian altogether. Sargon was most likely of Semitic race himself. He founded his own capital, called Agade, near Kish, and then, with astonishing speed, achieved supremacy over the whole of Sumer.
King Lugalzaggesi, the ensi of Umma, offered a prayer after his soldiers had made him Sumer's master.
May the lands lie peacefully in the meadows. May all mankind thrive like plants and herbs; may the sheepfolds of An increase; may the people of the Land look upon a fair earth; the good fortune which the gods have decreed for me, may they never alter; and unto eternity may I be the foremost shepherd.
Another inscription, at Nippur, described Lugalzaggesi's fate,
Sargon, the king of Agade, the King of the Land, laid waste the city Uruk, destroyed its wall; fought with the men of Uruk, conquered them; fought with Lugalzaggesi, the king of Uruk, took him prisoner and brought him in a neck stock to [Nippur].
Sargon and his successors, of whom Naram-Sin was the most notable, controlled by military force an area which reached from Tell Brak, on the headwaters of the Habur river, down to Elam, where they held the local princes subject. Like the later kings of Assyria, they ventured as far as the Mediterranean, and drew on the cedar supplies of the Amanus mountains in northern Syria and established the first great empire known to history.
Throughout the century or so of its domination, the empire of Agade suffered from internal dissensions. Instead of adopting the old Sumerian custom of exercising kingship in Sumer, while leaving the lord of each city more or less independent, Sargon and his descendants seemed to abolished the local dynasties, thus rousing the whole of Sumer against them. But though the dynasty that Sargon forged would endure less than 200 years, his concept of a single authority to govern the disparate components of the worlds first civilization would remain an inspiration to those who followed.
The reputation of Sargon cast a long shadow. A scribe in 7th century Assyria left this account of Sargon's origin, supposedly based on a first person account.
My mother was a high priestess, my father I knew not. My mother, the high priestess, conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen, she sealed my lid. She cast me in the river that rose not over me.
It is of course, impossible to know if this Moses like story circulated during Sargon's lifetime but his humble origins are attested to by his lack of a name. Sargon, the form in which it has reached us, possibly represents the Akkadian <Sharru Kinu meaning 'rightful or legitimate king", a description rather than a name and not one likely to be applied to a ruler who had come to power in an orthodox way.
However he came to power, his subsequent career has been better documented and it's a tale of ruthlessness. In a lightening campaign after his accession, Sargon marched to Uruk and then took on the great Sumerian cities of Ur, Umma and Lagash, where once more he 'tore down the walls'. From Lagash, he marched his army more than 150 miles to the Persian Gulf where he had his soldiers wash their weapons in the sea - declaring him to be the region's master.
In Agade, one inscription boasted that '5,400 warriors ate bread daily before him' and this may be a reference to the world's first standing army. Certainly he controlled a military force more potent than Sumer had ever seen. Carvings of his dynasty show troops organized as fast moving infantry, many armed with bows which had previously only been shown as hunting weapons.
He extended his authority beyond the military, deftly weaving it into the fabric of religious traditions shared by Akkadian and Sumerian alike. Among the titles he claimed were 'anointed priest of Anu' and 'great ensi of Enlil'. His daughter, Enheduanna, became not only the chief priestess of Ur's moon god cult but she also was the first author to leave not only her works but her name to posterity.
For all his planning and for all his work, discontent remained very near the surface. The city states never reconciled themselves to Akkadian rule. He had redirected the Persian Gulf trade in copper, precious stones and luxuries to Agade. The loss of this trade could and did mean impoverishment for more than one of the cities. When Sargon died, his son faced an empire wide rebellion and he seems to have spent most of his nine years of rule reconquering his father's domains. A rather cryptic text calls him the king 'who his servants killed with their tablets'. With his death, the mantle passed to his brother, Manishtushu and the pattern of revolt repeated itself. Despite its outward splendor, the Akkadian empire never achieved an orderly succession.