The Akkadian Empire (2334–2154 BC)

Ancient World History

By Dr Mark Weeden, published 7th February 2024

The first ancient empire of Mesopotamia

The Akkadian Empire was the first ancient empire of Mesopotamia after the long-lived civilization of Sumer. It was centred in the city of Akkad and its surrounding region. The empire united Akkadian and Sumerian speakers under one rule. The Akkadian Empire exercised influence across Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Anatolia, sending military expeditions as far south as Dilmun and Magan (modern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman) in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Akkadian Empire reached its political peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BC, following the conquests by its founder Sargon of Akkad. Under Sargon and his successors, the Akkadian language was briefly imposed on neighbouring conquered states such as Elam and Gutium. Akkad is sometimes regarded as the first empire in history.

In this podcast Dr Mark Weeden of University College London provides an introduction to the Akkadian Empire, he examines the significance of the empire and its’ leader Sargon the Great in providing a template from which subsequent empires and civilizations would match themselves, he discusses Akkadian culture, society and legacy and also illustrates some of the challenges historians find when using the literary sources to construct Akkadian history.

1. What sources do historians use to examine the history of the Akkadian Empire?
2. What period of time are we talking about?
3. What are the comparable powers on the eve of the empire?
4. Who was Sargon of Akkad?
5. To what extent do contemporary neighbouring societies leave written sources?
6. To what extent does Sargon become the archetypal ruler for subsequent empires and nations?
7. What makes a good king and what makes a bad one? Do we get an idea of their personalities from the sources?
8. What do we know about the government and economy of the Akkadian Empire?
9. To what extent does the empire become the centre of international trade?
10. Is there much connection with Mediterranean societies?
11. How different was Akkadian society and culture to former Sumerian states? What does the art, architecture and literature tell us?
12. Difficulties with the literary sources.
13. To what extent does Akkadian become the lingua franca of the Mesopotamian world? To what extent does Sumerian become the language of religion, literature and science?
14. Who was Enheduanna? Can you tell us about her work?
15. What led to the fall of the Akkadian empire? What was its legacy?

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