Akkadian Civilization: Culture, Art & Religion

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  • 0:01 A Coup and the…
  • 0:50 A Brief History of the…
  • 2:06 Akkadian Culture and Artwork
  • 3:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Akkadian empire of ancient Sumer. Possibly the first 'empire' to ever exist in the ancient world, Akkadian kings dominated Sumer for over a century.

A Coup and the Beginning of Akkadian Civilization

When was the last time you got a promotion at work? Likely, it came because you did such an outstanding job that your contributions could no longer go unrewarded. Or perhaps you were promoted because of the failings of someone above you - a missed deadline, perpetual tardiness, or even just plain incompetence. In our ancient past, when kings and rulers exhibited weaker characteristics - similar in relation to those of your downfallen coworker - it could often lead to rebellion and even a major change in the administration of the state.

Just such a coup fostered the beginning of the period of Akkadian civilization in ancient Sumer. In approximately 2350 B.C., Sargon, who was merely the King of Kish's cupbearer, came to power during a palace coup.

A Brief History of the Akkadian Empire

According to ancient texts, Sargon reigned for 56 years and solidified the Akkadian Empire that ruled over most of Sumer for over a century. Sargon conquered all of Sumer and Mesopotamia and even led expeditions east into what is today Syria. Rather than rule from Kish, Sargon and his successors erected a new capital city, Akkad. The site of Akkad has yet to be found by historians and anthropologists.

The Akkadians were the first to implement administrative practices that today we would find commonplace. The Akkadian kings were the first to impose a standard system of weights and measures across their empire, and they possibly created the first calendars that counted years numerically.

The Akkadian civilization may have been the first true 'empire' in the world, and revolutions and rebellions from the city-states they had conquered were frequent. Historians surmise that having to put down these constant uprisings weakened the empire from within, making it vulnerable to attack by the time the Gutian people invaded from the West, likely between 2200 and 2150 B.C., and finally destroyed Akkadian power in the region.

Akkadian Culture and Artwork

Akkadian artwork advanced quickly under the prosperous rule of the early Akkadians. Advances in realism and a higher amount and quality of detail differentiate Akkadian period artwork from the works of earlier Sumer cultures. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, who was the third king of the Akkadian Empire and Sargon's grandson, is a good example of these advances.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
Naram-Sins Victory Stele

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