Sargon of Akkad (Nimrod) as ‘Divine’ Shulgi of Ur III. Part Two: Merging Akkad with Ur III




 Damien F. Mackey



As promised in the preceding article

( “In Part Two of this title … I shall be attempting to bring together, as one, what are conventionally considered to have been two separate dynasties”:


Akkad Ur III
Sargon Ur-Nammu (Namma)
Rimush Shulgi
Manishtusu Amar-Sin (Su’en)
Naram-Sin (Su’en) Shu-Sin
Sharkalisharri Ibbi-Sin


The dynasty of Akkad (c. 2300 BC) is conventionally set about two centuries earlier than that of Ur III (c. 2100 BC). And the respective kings are set out as according to the above chart.

Fusing the dynasties


Now, according to the revised arrangement that will be explored here, with the supposedly two dynasties now considered to have been contemporaneous, and to be reduced to just one, the – supposedly again – two mighty rulers, Sargon of Akkad (previously identified as the biblical Nimrod), and Shulgi of Ur, will be aligned together as one.

The following chart indicates my – at this stage tentative – realignment of Akkad and Ur III:


Akkad Ur III
Sargon (56 years) Shulgi (48 years)
Naram-Sin (Su’en) Amar-Sin (Su’en)
Sharkalisharri (24 years) Ibbi-Sin (24 years)




As much as I would have liked to have fused the great ziggurat-builder of Ur, Ur-Nammu, with (Nimrod)/Sargon – and one will indeed find on the Internet various attempts to identify Ur-Nammu as Nimrod – Ur-Nammu’s reign of 17-18 years (c. 2112-2095 BC, conventional dating) seems far too short to do justice to the traditionally very long-reigning Nimrod, and it certainly falls well short of the approximately 56 years of reign attributed to Sargon.

Nor, on the Ur III side of things, can Ur-Nammu apparently be identified with the long-reigning Shulgi, despite disagreement as to whether the one or the other had built the great ziggurat at Ur, or had formulated a famous collection of laws.

It appears to be clear from the records that Ur-Nammu was the ‘father’ of Shulgi.

Now, if Shulgi is likewise the biblical Nimrod, as according to this new series of mine, then does that necessitate that Ur-Nammu, father of Shulgi, was the biblical Cush, father of Nimrod? Genesis 10:8: “Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth”. No, for as explains the verse, “Cush begat Nimrod.—This does not mean that Nimrod was the son of Cush, but only that Cush was his ancestor”. And D. Petrovich has gone into much more detail in discussing how Nimrod may actually have lived many generations after his ancestor, Cush:


Identifying Nimrod of Genesis 10 with Sargon of Akkad by Exegetical and Archaeological Means


Indeed if Abraham, tenth generation removed form Noah, was a younger contemporary of Nimrod’s, as according to the legends, then multiple generations at least must have separated Nimrod from Cush, son of (Noah’s son) Ham (Genesis 10:6).

Could Ur-Nammu, or Ur-Namma, actually figure in Genesis 10 as well, and may he, too, have – given his form as a ziggurat builder – been involved in the biblical episode of the Tower of Babel?

One slight possibility is that Ur-Nammu was the Cushite Raamah (10:7), and another, more likely name wise, is that he was the Hamite, Anam (Anamim, Nammu?), of Mizraïm (10:13). That last would make him more an uncle, than a father, of Nimrod, which may be plausible given the uncertainty the legends associate with the parentage of Sargon of Akkad (Nimrod): My mother was a changeling, my father I knew not”. (Surviving fragments of a Sumerian text name Sargon’s father as La’ibum, which is not unlike the Mizraïmite name, Lehabim). Ur-Nammu is depicted standing atop the ziggurat, leading to this comparison with Babel (


A TOWER THAT REACHES UNTO THE HEAVENS (cf. Ancient Mesopotamian Religion and Constellation Worship)

That the ziggurat symbolized the connecting link between heaven and earth is quite clear from cuneiform descriptions and reliefs. The biblical language describing “a tower that reaches to the heavens” is quite typical in comparison to the language used to describe the ziggurats (e.g. “Temple of the Stairway to Pure Heaven” (Sippar); “House binding Heaven and Earth” (Nippur); “Temple Linking Heaven and Earth” (Larsa); “Temple of the Foundation Platform of Heaven and Earth” (Babylon, also used of the Dilbat ziggurat); and so on). Mesopotamian ziggurats were typically given names demonstrating that they were intended to serve as “staircases” or “binding” locations between earth and heaven. So we see that a narrative about a tower whose top reached into the heavens fits the times quite well.




Fig. 3 Ur Nammu Atop the Ziggurat at Ur: “a Tower Unto the Heavens”

Further evidence relates a story of King Ur-Nammu of the Third Dynasty of Ur (2044 to 2007 BC) on a 5 x10′ stele (see Fig. 3 above). He received orders from his god and goddess to build the ziggurat The stele is nearly five feet across and ten feet high. At the top, the king stands in an attitude of prayer. Above his head is the symbol of the moon god Nannar, and to the right are figures of angels with vases from which flow the streams of life (this is the earliest known artistic figures of angels). The panels show the king setting out with compass, pick and trowel, and mortar baskets to begin construction. One panel contains just a single ladder used as the structure was rising. The reverse side depicts a commemorative feast.

We have already seen that the baking of bricks forms a significant and accurate portrayal of building practices in the Bible. ”Kiln-fired bricks are first noted during the late Uruk period and become more common in the Jamdet Nasr period toward the end of the fourth millennium (Finegan, J., Archaeological History of the Ancient Near East (Boulder CO: Westview, 1979), p. 8; cf. Singer, C., The History of Technology (Oxford: Clarendon). Bitumen is the usual mortar used with kiln-fired bricks. By contrast, the later building technology of Israel/Palestine used a mud mortar. Bitumen of any kind was very expensive in Israel (Forbes 1955: 4-22) though it was standard in the earlier Mesopotamian period. The Biblical description of the building materials accurately reflects a major distinction between later Israelite and earlier Mesopotamian building methods, giving further credence to the fact Genesis contains some very ancient material that is accurate in the finest detail ….


[End of quote]


For the following, I shall be relying heavily on H. Saggs’ Babylonians (Peoples of the Past),

  1. 66-68 for Akkad, and pp. 70-73 for Ur III.

Saggs tells of the rise to prominence, and establishment of empire, of Ur-Nammu:


The Third Dynasty of Ur


It was a king of Uruk, Utu-hegal, who finally overthrew the waning Gutian power, but some other southern cities had also recovered their importance. The chief of these was

Ur, which vied with Uruk in antiquity and wealth. Ur lay within the territory over which Utu-hegal claimed kingship, and as his governor here he appointed a certain Ur-Nammu, whom some have seen as a kinsman. Ur-Nammu soon showed expansionist aims by picking a territorial dispute with Lagash. But he had wider ambitions than border conflicts, and within seven years he had overthrown his suzerain and made himself ruler of Babylonia …. Ur-Nammu’s accession marked the founding of the Third Dynasty of Ur, and the beginning of a century of remarkable achievement. The enormous number of economic and administrative records of the III Ur bureaucracy make this the best documented century throughout the whole period that cuneiform was in use.

Ur-Nammu reigned for eighteen years. Except for action to expel the last remnants of the Guti from Mesopotamia, and conflict in south-west Iran, everything he did was directed to achieving economic and political stability. He made a diplomatic marriage

with a daughter of a governor of Mari to augment his authority, and took measures for

the security of trade routes. He gave considerable attention to cutting canals, with weirs to control water levels, partly in the interests of irrigation and partly to serve water-borne trade. He made it possible for ships from Magan … to reach Ur once again, as they had reached Agade under the former [sic] empire. Such measures brought a prosperous economy and made it possible for Ur-Nammu to undertake considerable works of temple building in his capital and other cities. At Ur his greatest work was the building of the great ziggurat, of which the main mass still stands …. At Nippur he rebuilt Ekur, the temple of the national god Enlil, and by virtue of his control of that city he was able to adopt the title ‘King of Sumer and Akkad’, which now meant southern and northern [sic] Babylonia.

Ur-Nammu formerly received credit for the earliest known collection of laws, but a newly found fragment, which restores missing parts of the prologue, indicates that these were in fact the work of his successor, his oldest son, Shulgi.

[End of quote]


I suspect that there is much more to be discovered about Ur-Nammu and his successors when the main hub of their empire, centred upon Akkad, as I believe, is fully revealed.




It is thanks to this most interesting Ur III character, Shulgi, that I really began to search for an alter ego for him in the mighty Akkadian dynasty. If ever there was a king of deep antiquity of whom it could be said, as was said of Nimrod, “he became a mighty one on the earth”, then it is this Shulgi, who claimed for himself divinity.

His known 48 years of reign (c. 2094-2047 BC, conventional dating) stack up quite well against Sargon’s 56 approximately. Even his problematical name, Shulgi (formerly thought to be Dungi), may perhaps be, I think, a hypocoristicon form of Sharru-gīn (i.e. Sargon). Anyway, Shulgi loses very little, if anything at all, by comparison with Sargon the Great. Though we are hampered somewhat in making comparisons by the frustrating paucity of really solid record pertaining to Sargon (Saggs):


…. The rest of the legend deals with Sargon’s later exploits, but only in general terms, saying little more than that he repeatedly crossed the mountains, and conquered Tilmun (somewhere in Iran or the Persian Gulf) and places on the Elamite frontier.

This, for what it is worth, is almost all we know about Sargon’s origin.


There are several other sources of data for the careers of Sargon and his successors.

First there is archaeological evidence, which chiefly takes the form of remains of temples or palaces of Sargonic rulers or monuments they set up. There are inscriptions of the Sargonic rulers themselves, some of them originals, the others copies made not later than the Old Babylonian period. They are mostly written in Akkadian, with a few in Sumerian and some bilingual. The information they give is reliable but patchy.

Some economic documents remain from the period; and there are also later traditions.

These last often give the fullest information, but their reliability is suspect. ….


[End of quote]


Saggs will manage, as we shall find, to present Shulgi as an almost larger-than-life character. But, to begin with:


The second king of III Ur, Shulgi, ruled for forty-eight years, and date formulae, which named years after notable events associated with them, give a framework for the reign. Those for the first nineteen years are mostly concerned with temple building and cultic activity, but in the twentieth year comes a reference to arming the people of Ur as spearmen, and subsequently about half the date formulae touch upon military actions. This suggests some shift of emphasis in the second half of the reign.

Shulgi’s early concern with temple building may have been directed to winning the support of the temple estates, which exercised considerable influence and power throughout Babylonia; if so, he was successful, for there is no evidence during his reign

of significant opposition to him within Mesopotamia.


The city of Ur was also of great importance to Sargon, as we learn from Saggs:


In ideological terms also, the union of Babylonia was pursued. Sargon sought to make the religious cult a regional rather than local affair. For instance, he installed his daughter as high priestess of the moon god Nanna at Ur, where she was made the god’s wife. For that function she was given a purely Sumerian name, Enheduanna, “priestess, fitting for heaven.” Thus an Akkadian princess was placed in one of the main Sumerian centers of the south and she actively participated in the culture there. The authorship of several literary compositions in the Sumerian language is credited to her, including a set of hymns to temples located in thirty-five cities throughout Babylonia. The compilation of those hymns into one series shows how the various cults of the region were considered to belong to one system. The control of the high priesthood of Nanna at Ur remained in existence for some five centuries afterwards as an indication of political prominence in Babylonia. Any ruler who could claim control over Ur installed his daughter there, giving her control over the temple’s economic assets. Naram-Sin expanded this policy by placing several of his daughters as high priestesses of prominent cults in other Babylonian cities, a clear attempt to gain a solid foothold throughout the region.


As with Sargon, with his daughter, hymns were important for Shulgi too:


Hymns composed in Shulgi’s honour give us some knowledge of the man himself.

There are two main classes: hymns addressed to gods, with passages praising the king or praying for him, and those addressed to the king himself. The latter type normally centres on a narrative, which may be historical or, more often, religious. An historical narrative may recount how Shulgi acted in some campaign, or how he opened up routes for travellers and set up rest-houses with wardens. Religious narratives refer to cultic activities, such as Shulgi in the Sacred Marriage (see pp. 52-4) or his visits to temples. One religious narrative has him improbably running from Nippur to Ur and back, a total distance of 320 km (200 miles), part of it in a tempestuous storm. But whatever the details, the hymns to Shulgi always emphasise his exemplary piety and his kinship with the gods.

These hymns became part of the curriculum of the scribal schools which flourished from III Ur to the Old Babylonian period. About twenty-three? of them are known from Old Babylonian copies, some found as far away as Susa in south-west Iran. Shulgi wrote one of them himself – it is in the first person throughout – and the others were the work of court poets.


Saggs now warms to Shulgi’s great breadth of talent:


If everything the hymns claim for Shulgi’s qualities and skills are to be believed, he was a very great man. Even allowing some discount for hyperbole, it is beyond question that he was a man of high intelligence, considerable attainments and sound principles. His hymn in the first person brings this out very well. As a youth he studied in a scribal school (edubba, literally ‘tablet house’) and became top boy, gaining a perfect command both of the scribal art and of mathematics. He enjoyed success as a war leader, and was an expert in the use of all weapons. He was a skilful and courageous hunter of lions, wild bulls, wild boar, and wild asses, but – here a very modern touch – he had a feeling for conservation, and would not allow wild ass foals to be killed. He was, he claimed, so fleet of foot that he could outrun a gazelle, and he never tired. In divination he was so perfectly qualified that he could keep an eye on the professionals’ extispicy procedure (inspection of entrails), so that if one slipped up he could check the omens for himself. He was a dedicated and skilful musician: he could play any stringed or wind instrument, he had a grasp of finger techniques, and he understood different types of composition. He composed songs, both words and music, and endowed scribal schools both at Ur and Nippur, with the hope (in the event borne out) that they would collect his songs and preserve them for ever. He ensured the fertility of his land by attention to watercourses. He knew foreign languages as no courtier did. He had a concern for justice, and spoke so well that he dominated the proceedings of the assembly. He even had kinship with the gods, for his mother was the goddess Ninsun, and the sun-god Utu was his brother and companion. In short, he was of all kings the greatest.


Of Sargon’s divine kinship, Saggs writes: “But his mother’s status made it clear that Sargon had good blood and perhaps, in view of the question mark over his paternity, even an element of divinity”.

Shulgi, moreover, claimed to have been a lawmaker, a protector of the weak:


Even allowing Shulgi a touch of megalomania, the claims he makes for himself, and those made by others, do in essence correspond to programmes of administrative and economic reforms which he initiated and saw through. An instance is his concern for justice. Earlier kings had recognised their duty to protect the weak from the mighty, and some had attempted reforms, but Shulgi was the first yet known to promulgate a collection of laws (see p. 102), formerly attributed to his father. He explicitly states that these laws were intended to protect the economically weak against the powerful, or, as he put it, ‘I did not deliver the orphan to the rich man, the widow to the mighty man, the man with one shekel to the man with one mina, the man with one lamb to the man with one ox.’ Women were given a measure of protection in the event of divorce: a wife married as a virgin received one mina of silver compensation, and a former widow half a mina, but a woman who had merely cohabited without formal marriage received nothing. If a father accepted someone as potential husband for his daughter, but then married the girl to another suitor, he had to pay recompense to the wronged man. If a person injured another, he paid a penalty, but as a fine in silver, not on the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’. Murder, robbery and some cases of rape were punished by execution. Other laws controlled the proper use of land. Thus, a farmer became liable to a penalty if he flooded another person’s field by careless irrigation, or if he hired an arable field and then allowed it to become waste.


To me, this reads suspiciously like Mosaïc Law retrospectively attributed to Shulgi.

Shulgi’s administrative reform was vast:


There were other areas in which Shulgi initiated reforms. He divided Babylonia into provinces; he introduced a new calendar for use throughout the whole empire; he standardised weights and measures; he brought in new accounting procedures in the Sumerian language; and he unified the administrative system throughout all Babylonia.

He distributed royal land among military personnel and administrators as payment for their services. He set up factories employing thousands of weavers, carpenters, smiths, leather workers and the like, who worked under the control of the central government. He planted gardens. He took steps to bring under royal control the considerable resource of temple estates. This he did by placing all temple estates under the provincial governor, with the duty of ensuring that their surplus revenues readied the central government. Redistribution centres were set up, the best-known one being at the site today called Drehem near Nippur. Taxes previously assessed were paid into these centres in goods appropriate to the products of the province, such as livestock, cereals, reeds or timber, and provinces could make withdrawals against their own contributions. Military settlements in peripheral areas north-east and east of Babylonia had their own tax-collection and redistribution centre.

All these measures required administrators, and Shulgi took steps to provide them.


Sargon and Naram-Sin were also thorough-going reformers in weight and measures, calendars, and taxation, as M. van de Mieroop tells (A History of the Ancient Near east. Ca. 3000-323 BC (Blackwell, 2004), pp. 60-61):


A new system of government had to be developed: the formerly independent city-states needed to be integrated within a larger structure in every respect, politically, economically, and ideologically. Politically, the original city-rulers mostly remained in place, only now acting as governors for the king of Akkad, despite Sargon’s claim that these were Akkadian officials. Thus kings Meskigal of Adab, Lugalzagesi of Uruk, and perhaps Uru’inimgina of Lagash are still attested under the first Sargonic rulers. The term ensi, which in the Early Dynastic period designated independent rulers of certain cities, now became used throughout Babylonia to indicate governors. This system did not work, however. Sentiments of independence could be rallied around native governors, and over the entire period the Akkadian kings had to deal with a number of

rebellions, as described later in this chapter.

Still, centralizing policies were actively pursued. A new system of taxation was developed, in which part of the income of each region was siphoned off and sent to the capital or used to support the local Akkadian administration.

In the reign of Naram-Sin, a standardization of accounting is visible in certain levels of the administration in order to facilitate central control. For those aspects of the economy that concerned the crown, scribes had to use a standard system of measures and weights. Thus we see the introduction of the “Akkadian gur” of ca. 300 liters to measure barley. The shape and layout of the accounting tablets and the formation of the cuneiform signs were centrally prescribed. In order to have a consistent method of dating in centrally controlled accounts, year names …. were used throughout the state.

The local scribes … were forced to adopt new techniques of accounting ….


Shulgi’s Use of Academies for Propaganda Purposes:


There must have been scribal schools since early in the third millennium, in the sense of groups of learners working under experts, but Shulgi put this on a formal footing by endowing academies under his patronage. In these academies potential officials and members of the religious hierarchy learned writing, mathematics and other administrative skills. Because of the scribal schools, Sumerian literature flourished, with old literary works being revised, oral traditions recorded, and new literary works, including hymns to Shulgi, created. But this was not a Sumerian renaissance as a popular movement; it represented the use in a scholastic context of a language which as a spoken tongue was dying or already dead. All potential administrators had to pass through the scribal academies to gain literacy, and Shulgi was consciously using the academies to indoctrinate his administrators in a particular ideological ethos, which bound them together in loyalty to the king. To the same end Shulgi had himself proclaimed a god.

… Shulgi … developed from [an old concept] the claim that he himself was divine. This idea was not entirely strange to ancient Mesopotamia; in the third millennium one of the king’s functions was to play the role of the god in the Sacred Marriage ritual, and this emphasised the closeness between a king and a god. … During the Agade [Akkad] dynasty, both Naram-Sin and Shar-kali-sharri had made an overt claim of divinity during their lifetime by placing the divine determinative before their name, and Shulgi’s father, Ur-Nammu, became regarded as a god after his death. But it was only from about the middle of Shulgi’s reign and during the rest of his dynasty and the one that followed,

that the king regularly claimed to be a god during his lifetime.

It was in about his twentieth year that Shulgi first made his overt claim to divinity, by placing before his name the prefix DINGIR which denoted a divine being. Hymns addressed him in corresponding terms. His long series of good works towards temples earlier in his reign had prepared public opinion for this, and the narrative hymns emphasised Shulgi’s kinship with the gods as a theological justification for his apotheosis.


Though there may not be direct evidence that Sargon of Akkad had, like the later dynasts, Naram-Sin and Shar-kali-sharri, claimed for himself divinity, it is most likely that the latter had actually derived the idea from Sargon. For “Naram-Sin”, despite his greatness, “was not the innovator that his grand-father was”, writes Petrovich (op. cit., p. 303). What makes this even more likely is if the ultimately divinised Ur-Nammu was Sargon’s predecessor as according to what I have argued above.

The allegedly more compact kingdom of Ur III is considered to have been more stable than that of Akkad. But I believe that this is due to the fact that Ur III has been confined largely by historians to Sumer:


During his reign of forty-eight years, Shulgi brought the empire of Ur to the peak of its prosperity. This empire was markedly more stable than that of Agade, although geographically less extensive. In the north-west, direct rule did not go beyond Mari on the middle Euphrates, but friendly relations with independent governors enabled Shulgi to exercise influence as far as the Mediterranean coast.


Sargon conquered these same regions, Ebla and the Mediterranean coast, and more besides:


His actions here went beyond earlier practice; he was not content merely to receive the submission of these cities, but in each case he destroyed their ramparts, and installed citizens of his capital Agade as governors. Beyond the bounds of south Mesopotamia, the important trading entrepot of Mari on the middle Euphrates became a client, as did also Elam in south-west Iran. This gave Sargon control of a considerable commercial empire.

In other inscriptions Sargon sums up further successes, both military and economic.

Altogether, he claims, he won thirty-four battles, destroyed city ramparts as far as the Persian Gulf, and took fifty city ruler prisoner. Boats from Meluhha … Magan … and Tilmun. … North-westwards his control now extended past Mari to take in the great commercial centre of Ebla south of Aleppo, and went as far as the ‘cedar forest’ (the Amanus) and the ‘silver mountain’ (the Taurus). Other texts speak of conquest by Sargon in the southern Zagros and south-west Iran, where he overthrew Elam and its associates, and took booty.


Shulgi’s empire likewise extended into the Zagros region and to Elam:


Along the Tigris, Shulgi held the region as far north as the city of Ashur, and from there north-eastwards to Erbil, where he had to take military action towards the end of his reign. From Erbil the bounds of the empire stretched to Rania in Kurdistan and then southwards along the Zagros to Elam.


Did Sargon correspondingly, like Shulgi, hold Assyrian regions of Assur and Erbil?

Most emphatically, yes, according to D. Petrovich, who gives detailed evidence for this (op. cit., pp. 297-300).

Sargon, like Shulgi, could use crushing force to secure strategic cities and trade routes:


These details tell us something of the nature of Sargon’s empire. Mari and Ebla were

both great trading centres. At Ebla, for example, excavators found much lapis lazuli, including more than twenty-two kilos unworked, and since the only source of this semi-precious stone available to the ancient Near East was Afghanistan, this indicates extensive trading links. Also, there was obvious commercial significance in the fact that shipping from the Persian Gulf and beyond anchored at Agade. Elam in turn was important for overland trade across Iran to Afghanistan and north India. Precious stones reached Mesopotamia at this time even from east Africa; analysis of a copal (resin from tropical trees) found in a grave at Eshnunna in the Diyala valley and approximately datable to the Agade period shows that it can only have come from the Zanzibar-Madagascar-Mozambique region.? although we have no idea of the trading mechanism. Thus Sargon’s empire was not so much a power-structure seeking to dominate populations by military force as a means of ensuring that international trade should flourish, largely for the benefit of the capital city. None the less, the dynasty did not hesitate, when their commercial interests demanded it, to use crushing military force to subjugate opponents and to ensure that key areas remained in their hands.

Sargon’s own texts establish an empire stretching at least 1450km (900 mile), from the north-east corner of the Mediterranean to east of the head of the Persian Gulf. Later tradition ascribed to him even wider dominion. An Old Babylonian omen alludes to him as ‘Sargon who ruled the entire world’, and an epic poem, King of Battle, has him penetrating as far as Cappadocia in central Anatolia, to safeguard oppressed merchants in the region of modern Kayseri. Was this truth or legend? Some question it, but it could contain a kernel of fact. At the beginning of the second millennium there was an Assyrian merchant colony in that area, of whose antecedents we are largely ignorant, and one cannot exclude the possibility that this was carrying on a tradition established centuries earlier.

Both Sargon and Nimrod involved in initial building projects in Assyria 

. In the north,Sargon campaigned against Simurrum, a Hurrian region, the claim for which issupported by the evidence of a date formula from Nippur. This is the first recordedsouthern Mesopotamian penetration into Assyria.


Despite the lack of Sargon’sown inscriptions that attest to northerly campaigns along the Tigris, Roux justifi-ably considered them just as certain as Sargon’s better attested campaigns, due tothe large number of Akkadian cuneiform tablets that have been excavated in theregion.



. In the north,Sargon campaigned against Simurrum, a Hurrian region, the claim for which issupported by the evidence of a date formula from Nippur. This is the first recordedsouthern Mesopotamian penetration into Assyria.


Despite the lack of Sargon’sown inscriptions that attest to northerly campaigns along the Tigris, Roux justifi-ably considered them just as certain as Sargon’s better attested campaigns, due tothe large number of Akkadian cuneiform tablets that have been excavated in theregion.



In similar fashion, Shulgi’s reach of trade extended to Afghanistan and India:


Shulgi claimed to be essentially a man of peace, not given to the destruction of cities, and there is indeed no indication of violent conflict in any of the cities of Babylonia during his reign. Cities elsewhere were a different matter, and Shulgi took vigorous action to seize and hold the whole region east of the Tigris as far as the Zagros. In one hymn he describes how the gods called upon him to destroy the kur, meaning the lands along the Zagros. He was to wipe out or enslave their populations, and to plunder their cities. He carried out these instructions with zeal. There were two main reasons why Shulgi was so much concerned with the lands of the Zagros. One was trade routes; several of these came from the east through passes in the Zagros, bringing such luxury goods as lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and carnelian from India. The other reason was security. Hillsmen from the Zagros had always been ready to raid into the plains below at any sign of weakness, and Shulgi was determined that there should be no repetition of the Gutian invasion; he sometimes referred to the hillsmen as Gutians. What made the hillsmen a particular threat at this time was probably that they themselves were under pressure from a new people pushing southwards from Armenia.

This new ethnic group was the Hurrians, who by the second millennium were to become an important ethnic element in north Mesopotamia and Syria. A letter reveals that Shulgi’s attempts to control the region east of the Tigris included diplomatic missions. But the main instrument was a string of garrison settlements; there were at least ninety of these, each manned with between three hundred and twelve hundred soldiers,” giving a total army in the region of between sixty thousand and a hundred thousand.

Shulgi also took steps, both military and diplomatic, to ensure his control of Elam.

He married two of his daughters to rulers in the area, appointed a governor in the capital Susa, and enlisted Elamite troops. He showed his keen interest in Elam by claiming in one hymn to know Elamite as well as he knew Sumerian.


The Akkadian dynasty also showed utter ruthlessness, and made sure that personal friends and kin were appointed to key administrative positions:


Whatever their precise boundaries, Sargon and his successors clearly established new and wider political horizons, and their inscriptions offer insights into factors behind their success. These involved policies radically different from those of their predecessors. Unlike most earlier major rulers, Sargon was not content with mere paramountcy; he wanted real rulership over the whole land. To this end he slighted the walls of other cities to make any future resistance ineffective; he installed citizens of his own capital, doubtless personal friends and perhaps kinsmen, as administrators in other city-states to preclude any independent policy; and he made sea-going vessels tie up at Agade, to gather control of all foreign trade into his own hands. His expedition up the Euphrates to the major trading centre of Mari and Ebla and to the Amanus and Taurus showed an equal determination to control trade with the north-west, while his incursions beyond the Zagros did the same for the east.

The Sargonic rulers were all not afraid of using military might. In one of his texts Sargon speaks of himself as ‘Sargon, the king to whom Enlil gave no rival; daily 5400 men ate bread in my presence’. Clearly, these thousands of permanent attendants represented an embryonic standing army. This must have been the nucleus of a much larger conscript army, for one tradition about Naram-Sin refers to his having 360,000 troops at his disposal. One need not take this number as a precise count, but it does imply an army numbered in hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands.

Everything points to a deliberate strategy designed to turn the city-state of Agade into the centre of a commercial empire with a military arm.

There was another significant factor in the dynasty’s realpolitik: sheer ruthlessness.

Its rulers were prepared to use overwhelming force, regardless of how many victims they killed, to deal with any city that stood in their way.


Shulgi is supposed to have followed Naram-Sin, supposedly the first royal depicted wearing a soldier’s uniform (“I read the inscriptions from before the flood …’ Neo-Sumerian influences in Ashurbanipal’s royal self-image”:


Shulgi is also depicted in a short knee-high kilt under a fringed mantel. This costume—short skirt and a shawl, and with exposed left leg—becomes traditional for representations of the warrior kings (fig. 4), as well as the knee-high kilt alone. Shulgi follows Naram-Sin, who was the first royal to let himself be depicted in the short dress of a [soldier] (Nigro 1998: esp. fig.10).


In my revised scheme Shulgi would, of course, have influenced Naram-Sin in this regard.


The ruthless Sargonids even began dealing suspiciously like the biblical King Ahab in the case of Naboth’s vineyard:


The Sargonic period saw a significant shift in land ownership in favour of the crown. Until this time much land still remained in the hands of extended families, and, as in Israel much later (see the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21:1-16), a ruler had no legal power to compel a family to surrender ancestral land. But sale documents from the Sargonic period show that some families were now selling their land to the ruler, and at a price so low that it represented barely more than the value of one season’s crop. We have no clear idea of the factors behind this. Perhaps some families had suffered such heavy losses in the Sargonic wars that they lacked the manpower to cultivate all their hereditary land. It seems equally possible that the unprecedented power of the Sargonic rulers put them in a position to exert pressure upon some free landowners.


For my suggestion of King Ahab as an historical character, see:


Is El Amarna’s Lab’ayu Biblically Identifiable?


State absolutism likewise characterized Shulgi’s reign, despite his boasts of fair dealing:


The heart of the III Ur empire was Babylonia [sic], including the Diyala region, divided

into over twenty provinces roughly corresponding to old city-states. Each was under a system of administration manifestly designed to ensure that ultimate control rested with the central government. In each province there was both a governor and one or more military commanders. Both governors and military commanders were under the authority of the king through his vizier. In most cases the governor came from the old local aristocracy of the area, and this office, like many others both civil and religious, tended to become hereditary during the III Ur period. To preclude a dangerous local concentration of power, however, the military governor was not of that class, and in many cases bore a non-Sumerian name, usually Akkadian, sometimes foreign. Towns other than provincial capitals were under a mayor. Babylon, earlier a minor town, had now become important enough to have its own governor.

During Shulgi’s reign there seems to have been a total absence of rebellion within Babylonia. This success, so different from the endemic revolts under the Agade empire, owed much to the administrative and economic measures just outlined and also to attention to security. Shulgi made a great point that travellers should be able to move safely throughout the land, and describes how he established a chain of rest-houses for them along the main routes.


Inevitably, in such a megalomaniac empire, slavery and forced labour were necessary:


Slavery and non-free labour


There is little mention of slaves in records of the III Ur period, but this need not mean that slavery was of diminishing importance. Only large-scale emancipation could have significantly reduced slavery, and of this there is no trace. On the contrary, Shulgi specifically states that in his wars east of the Tigris, he took the young people captive. Possibly their legal status was not that of slaves, but they were certainly used for forced labour, which can have differed from slavery only in name. In addition, the increased power of the central state meant that many who were not legally slaves became subject to forced labour, either in the army or in industrial production.


The Sargonids appear to have used large labour camps:


‘Set to karaSim’ has been variously interpreted. There were two different words karaSim, one of which meant ‘camp’ and the other ‘slaughter’, so that it was formerly disputed whether the reference was to putting prisoners into forced labour camps, or to slaughtering them. The former always seemed more probable, but the numbers concerned – running into thousands – seemed to some scholars unduly large.

However, an archive of the Sargonic period has now been identified which clearly relates to a labour camp on that scale.! It was on the borders of Iran, on the route between Agade and Susa. The texts give information about personnel, both freemen and slaves, and also deal with issues of rations and tools. Among the tools, which were made of copper, were what were designated ‘breaking tools’; this description, and the fact that they weighed about 3.5 kg (81b) when newly cast, identify them as sledgehammers.

Figures are given for work done by the labour gangs, expressed in terms of volumes excavated, and inasmuch as the quantities are too small to apply to work on building or irrigation, these must refer to extracting some material. One category of personnel mentioned is ‘stone men’, which, with the other data, puts the purpose of the labour camp beyond doubt: it was there for the quarrying of stone or ore. Reports of deaths among personnel show a relatively heavy mortality rate, and show how harsh living conditions were.


We learn from A. Grayson of two further similarities between Sargon and Shulgi, in relation to Marduk and Babylon (Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles,


Grayson (p. 44): “Marduk turned against Sargon, his subjects rebelled, and he was inflicted with insomnia”.


Grayson (p. 45): “Shulgi …. Marduk gave the sovereignty to him but he was guilty of profaning Marduk’s purification ritual”.


Grayson (p. 48): “The fact that two of the kings, Sargon and Shulgi, are condemned for having desecrated Babylon …”.













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