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The Sumerians and the Akkadians – The First Civilizations in the World

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It is uncertain whether the Sumerians were native to Mesopotamia or if they migrated into the region from the east or south sometime after 4000 B.C.E. In any case, Semitic (Akkadian) elements in the earliest texts suggest an early mixing of ethnic groups. In the Uruk period, the population of Sumer was probably several hundred thousand, with some settlements large enough to be called cities (over 10,000 in population). The stepped temple platform (ziggurat) and cylinder seals so characteristic of Mesopotamian culture developed. The first known writing, a small limestone tablet, comes from Kish and is dated to c. 3500. At Uruk several hundred clay tablets have been found, most dating to c. 3200–3100. These, like the tablet from Kish, are too primitive to be read, but appear to be economic documents.


Tablets from Jemdet Nasr sites are clearly written in Sumerian, and almost all are economic texts. Bronze was first utilized in Mesopotamia and there is evidence of extensive overseas trade. Mesopotamian influence appeared in predynastic Upper Egypt, the so-called Mesopotamian Stimulation


The Sumerian King List names eight antediluvian kings who reigned for tens of thousands of years, but it is not known if these names have any historical basis. The royal tombs of Ur contain the graves of Meskalamdug and Akalamdug, among others, which probably date to this period.


According to the King Lists, the first dynasty after the Great Flood (recorded in the Gilgamesh Epic) was the 1st Dynasty of Kish. The last two kings, Enmebaragesi and his son Agga, are the first rulers attested in contemporary inscriptions. According to the King List, “kingship” (namlugal) then passed to the 1st Dynasty of Uruk, which included Enmerkar, Lugalbanda, and Gilgamesh, heroes of epic tradition, and finally to the 1st Dynasty of Ur. Epigraphic evidence, however, shows that these dynasties (and a dynasty at Mari) were all contemporary and date to c. 2700–2600 B.C.E. Many rulers known from contemporary inscriptions are not found in the King Lists


The King Lists record eleven more dynasties before Sargon of Akkad, but, except for the 3rd dynasty of Uruk, little is known of them, and many were probably contemporaneous. The 1st Dynasty of Lagash (Telloh) is well known from inscriptions, though not mentioned in the King List. It started with Mesilim (c. 2600), but it was Eannatum (c. 2500) who conquered much of Sumer, extending Lagash’s power into Elam and Mari. Uru-inim-gina of Lagash (2378–2371) was the earliest known social reformer: he established “freedom” (amargi) in the land, the first recorded use of the term in a political sense. The 3rd Dynasty of Uruk had only one king: Lugal-zagesi (2371–2347). Beginning his career as Governor (ensi) of Umma, he defeated Lagash and took the title King of Uruk. Lugal-zagesi claimed to rule from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, though this is doubtful. Under his rule, Akkadians began to rise to high positions in government. The population of Mesopotamia probably reached half a million in this period.


Sargon the Great (Sharru-kin, 2371–2316) rose from obscure origins to become cupbearer to Ur-zababa, king of Kish. Rebelling, he built the city of Agade or Akkad (whose site has not been located) and proclaimed himself king. After defeating Lugal-zagesi of Uruk (c. 2347), he conquered the rest of Sumer. Sargon installed his daughter Enheduanna as high priestess at Ur. Enheduanna’s hymns to Inanna have survived, making her history’s first known author. Sargon went on to conquer Upper Mesopotamia, the Amorites (Amurru or “Westerners”) in Syria, Elam, and Subartu (Assyria). Later legends fancifully describe conquests of Anatolia and Crete, but Sargon’s empire certainly ranged from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Sargon’s sons Rimush (2315–2307) and Manishtushu (2306–2292) faced constant revolts: both died in palace coups. Naram-Sin (2291–2255) brought the kingdom of Akkad to its zenith. He was the first Mesopotamian king to claim divinity, as well as the first to be called “King of the Four Quarters” (that is, the World). Defeating the powerful state of Ebla in Syria, he extended his empire to Anatolia. Under Shar-kalisharri (2254–2230), Gutian tribes from the Zagros began raiding into Mesopotamia. Shar-kali-sharri was assassinated, and after him came a period of anarchy. An independent 4th Dynasty of Uruk broke away and ruled parts of Lower Mesopotamia. Around 2190, Akkad fell to the Gutians.


The King List records 21 Gutian kings, though most of them were probably local chiefs with only limited authority. Some cities, such as Lagash and Uruk, became independent, though their rulers retained the title of governor (ensi). Gudea of Lagash left inscriptions which contain the most important texts in classical Sumerian. Around 2114, Utu-Hegal of Uruk (2120–2114), drove the Gutians out of Sumer but died soon after.


The Sumerian Renaissance. Ur-nammu (2113–2096) of Ur proclaimed himself king and soon conquered all of Sumer and Akkad. He built and renovated many public buildings, including the enormous temple of Nanna at Ur, best preserved of Mesopotamian ziggurats. Ur-nammu, whose stated purpose was to establish “justice in the land,” is best known for his law code. The reestablishment of central control led to a rise in population: Mesopotamia probably had about one million 10 inhabitants at the beginning of the second millennium. Shulgi (2095–2048) brought the empire of Ur III to its height. He conquered Elam and Upper Mesopotamia and, like the Akkadian kings, he proclaimed himself the divine “King of the Four Quarters.” ShuSin (2038–2030) built a 150-mile-long wall between the rivers to defend against the encroaching Amorites. Nevertheless, in the reign of Ibbi-Sin (2029–2006) the Amorites invaded and established independent states in Lower Mesopotamia. In 2025, Larsa became autonomous under Naplanum, and in 2017 Ishbi-Erra established a dynasty at Isin. Eshnunna and Elam also broke away. In 2004, the Elamites attacked and destroyed Ur

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