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Mesopotamian Art During the Akkadian Dynasty & Neo-Sumerian Period

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  • 0:04 Unity & Conflict
  • 1:01 Art During the…
  • 2:54 Art in the Neo-Sumerian Period
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

What kind of art did cultures in the ancient Near East create? On what subjects did they focus? In this lesson, we'll explore these answers as we look specifically at Mesopotamian art created during the Akkadian Dynasty and the Neo-Sumerian Period.

Unity and Conflict

Do you get along with your neighbors? In ancient Mesopotamia, a region of the ancient Near East in what is today Iraq, neighboring cities often challenged each other. From 2300 to 1800 BC, rival city-states came to power, ruled for a period, and then went into decline. This cycle meant power and cultural emphasis shifted over time. In this lesson, we'll explore the art of two phases, the Akkadian Dynasty and the Neo-Sumerian Period.

The Akkadian Dynasty began when a series of monarchs united Mesopotamia around 2300 BC. They ruled until around 2100 BC. The name 'Akkadian Dynasty' came from the capital city, Akkad, in the north of Mesopotamia. In contrast were the city-states of Ur and Lagash to the south. They became influential during the Neo-Sumerian Period, from roughly 2100 BC to around 1800 BC.

Art During the Akkadian Dynasty

The Akkadian Dynasty, founded by King Sargon around 2300 BC, ruled most of Mesopotamia for about two centuries. In a shift away from earlier Sumerian art, Akkadian art was more realistic. In bronzes, massive stone carvings and tiny cylinder seals, we see emphasis on naturalism. Cylinder seals were cylindrical stones carved with figures that when pressed into clay served as official signatures. People and animals were rendered in ways that made them recognizable as actual beings in the real world. Akkadian artists created human and animal forms that were sensitively modeled and full of dimensional form. Akkadian art often depicted kings and rulers in dynamic action and often in the midst of battle.

One masterpiece of Akkadian art is the Head of an Akkadian Ruler, created around 2250 BC. It's a fragment of a figural sculpture of an ancient ruler, possibly King Sargon. It's made of bronze and fully 3-dimensional, with details like mustache, beard and slightly curving lips stylized but rich in detail. Today, the head is missing its eyes, which once might have been inset with gemstones. But we recognize it as an actual person. It's a striking achievement of ancient art.

The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, made around 2200 BC, is another example of Akkadian art. A stele is a stone monument made of a single shaft or column. This victory stele is around eight feet high and full of dynamic action. It shows King Naram-Sin beating a rival tribe from the mountains. The king is larger than the other figures and at the top. The only figures above him are two sun-like orbs that represent the gods. The stele is done in a method called relief carving, where figures are raised from but still attached to the surface.

Art in the Neo-Sumerian Period

When the Akkadian Dynasty declined by 2100 BC, Mesopotamia again fell into factions ruled by various city-states. During this period, these cultures revived elements of Sumerian culture, and the characteristics of Mesopotamian art shifted dramatically.

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