You saw him in the video wearing a helmet, playing bass guitar and grinning at the end with bugs crawling all over his teeth…he is Sargon!
And there were actually two Mesopotamian kings named Sargon, and I will tell you about them both, starting with…
The Akkadian One
The first Sargon is known as Sargon of Akkad, Sargon the Great or Šarru-Kīn (Sharru-Kin).
The dates of his reign seem to be unclear, and most sources I found show it being from 2334 BC to 2279 BC, while others show it as being from 2270 BC to 2215 BC, and that is because different ancient texts can’t agree on the dates of his reign either. Let’s just say this Sargon existed somewhere between 2334 BC and 2215 BC.
Sargon’s beginnings are quite fascinating, and I’m not even going to talk about his daughter, the world’s first known author (I’ll tell you about her in another post soon).
Sarru-Kin is Akkadian for “True King,” and what a king Sargon became after rather humble beginnings, and nothing short of what seems like a series of miracles.
One source that tells us a little bit about the first Sargon is what’s been dubbed as The Sargon Legend, a Sumerian text purported to be his biography. It is incomplete, due to the wear and tear of time, but what it does tell us is, like I said, quite fascinating (as all legends are).
The Sargon Legend tells us that Sargon was an illegitimate baby boy, set adrift down the Euphrates River by his mother, a temple priestess, who apparently had a reed basket (lined with bitumen) and a baby and a river. Sargon’s mom did what any woman in ancient times with that combination of baby, basket and river at her disposal would do when she’s trying to keep that one night with that handsome stranger a secret; she set him adrift like Moses’s mom did, almost like she knew he’d amount to something great without her nurturing.
And whether it’s a legend or not, Sargon did amount to plenty; he became known as the greatest man who ever lived for centuries!
The Sargon Legend relays that while Baby Sargon was on his way down the river, a gardener believed to be from the kingdom of Kish named Akki picked him up and made him his own. Akki raised Sargon to become a gardener, and from gardener, Sargon went on to become cup bearer to Ur-Zababa, the somewhat neurotic king of Kish.
The Sargon Legend goes on to detail exactly how Sargon the drifting baby turned gardener turned cup bearer began his journey toward the throne. It seems that Ur-Zababa’s neurosis manifested itself in his vivid dreams, which involved his cup bearer, Sargon, overthrowing him and becoming king. This dream led Ur-Zababa to devise a plan to murder his cup bearer, but divine intervention by Inanna, the goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare, which also happened to be the goddess of the temple Sargon’s mom worked at. Finding he wasn’t good at murder and that the gods favored Sargon, Ur-Zababa decided to make Sargon his messenger and sent him to Uruk with a letter addressed to Uruk’s king, Lugalzagesi. The letter contained instructions to murder its carrier, that is all. Deceitful guy, that Ur-Zababa.
Well, Lugalzagesi wasn’t any better at murder than Ur-Zababa, and Sargon was not only not murdered, but he eventually overthrew Lugalzagesi, became king of Uruk, and also gave Ur-Zababa’s paranoia some weight by overthrowing him too. It was a messy affair that included Lugalzagesi being defeated and brought to the city-state of Nippur wearing a dog collar as is described by an inscription at the city:
“Sargon, the king of Agade, the King of the Land, laid waste the city Uruk, destroyed its wall; fought with the men of Uruk, conquered them; fought with Lugalzaggesi, the king of Uruk, took him prisoner and brought him in a neck stock to [Nippur].” (Source: http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm)
Yeah, that grin in the video says a lot. Sargon the Great went from being a drifting baby, to a gardener, to the king’s cup bearer, to the king’s messenger, to a full-on king- obviously there’s no room for being nice in there.
He also founded and ruled over the Akkadian Empire, the greatest Semitic empire the world had ever known, which included all of southern Mesopotamia and parts of Syria, Anatolia and the kingdom of Elam. He made Akkadian the official language of the empire, and had it standardized and adapted for use with the Cuneiform script. He also built the first city of Babylon and is believed to have also built the capital of his empire, Agade, which has yet to be found.
Now, as impressive as it was, Sargon the Great’s ascension to the throne was not met kindly. The city-states he’d taken over from Lugalzagesi, who had united a large chunk of them into one kingdom, rebelled against Sargon, forcing him to constantly showcase his military might, which he had oodles of. So great was Sargon the Great’s military might that his technique of arming a group of his infantry with bows became the Mesopotamian military tradition, and helped him quash many a rebellion, including those that rose in the latter years of his reign, some of which left him besieged in Agade. Still, his military strength helped him defeat his enemies and keep a tight first over the empire he built and maintained until his death.
When he died, possibly in 2215 BC, revolts broke out throughout Mesopotamia against the Akkadian Empire, but were quashed by his son who reigned for nine years, and then by his other son for fifteen years, followed by his grandson. After the Akkad dynasty, Mesopotamia entered a period known as the dark ages of Mesopotamia that lasted a century and a half.
Despite the resistance he faced during his reign throughout his empire, Sargon the Great still left a legacy of greatness that made him a model for Mesopotamian kings for centuries after his death.
The Assyrian One
The second Sargon is appropriately known as Sargon II and was an Assyrian king—no relation to the previous Sargon. He reigned from 721 BC to 705 BC, and also spent the whole time on the throne fighting.
During the time that Sargon II decided to add Assyrian King to his resume, he was at least 40 years old, and there was total chaos and rebellion in the land. It is unclear whether the chaos in the land was the driving force behind the violent coup he carried out against his brother for the throne, or if it was his own fault for having a violent coup in the first place, but that is the way it is when there is more than one child in the family, isn’t it? You never know who broke that broken thing.
Sargon II chose Sharru-Kenu as his throne name, which translates to “Legitimate King,” or “the king is true,” because, as he explained it, “…the great gods assigned (Sharru-Kenu) to me in order to uphold law and justice, to help the powerless prevail and to protect the weak.”
He portrayed himself as the restorer of order, despite being met with opposition and rebellion from within Assyria and from outside of it. Just a year after taking the throne, Sargon II had to deal with a revolt that included the kingdoms of Hamat, Arpad, Damascus and Israel, leaving him busy while another revolt was brewing in Babylonia to the south. The Babylonian revolt was a success and control of Babylonia was lost for a time, but he was able to get it back in 710 BC and spent three years there just collecting homage and gifts from pretty much everyone, and probably gloating like crazy.
But going back to the revolt that had its hub in Hamat, it was a demonstration of just what kind of guy Sargon II was. In 720 BC he destroyed Hamat and spared the lives of some 6,300 people from the region, dubbed them “guilty Assyrians,” and made them rebuild the city.
That grin, folks. It says a lot.
Now, where Sargon the Great had mad military skills, Sargon II had mad manipulation skills (on top of a mighty military). He also had mounting bills and no cash, so he put his manipulation skills to work.
In 717 BC Sargon II attacked the small but wealthy via-location-on-trade-route kingdom of Carchemish and accused its king of treachery. The king of Carchemish probably knew that Sargon II was not very nice, so even though he knew he was being jerked around, he also knew he was helpless against the Assyrian army, so he had no choice but to just do as Sargon II told him to do, which was to just show him the 60 tons of silver and everything else that made Carchemish especially useful to Assyria.
Now, this huge acquisition of silver was enough to help the Assyrian economy go from being bronze-based to silver-based, so you can add that to Sargon II’s list of accomplishments.
Three years later Sargon II must have run out of cash, because he went on to capture the holy city of Musasir and accused its king of treachery, too. The loot from that manipulation venture garnered more than a ton of gold, with about 10 tons of silver among other riches, mostly collected by the city’s main temple over many centuries. This allowed Sargon II to not only pay the bills, but to also build Dur-Sarruken, a vast palace that eclipsed all those that preceded it in size and quality. It was vast in size and filled with reliefs that included scenes from the conquest of Musasir, as well as the well-known winged bulls that still amaze all who stand before them.
Sargon II’s Palace was built in an otherwise sleepy village in 713 BC that eventually became Khorsabad, the largest city in Assyria, complete with a massive irrigation system that sustained the population presiding over an area that measured almost three square kilometers.
Sargon II’s struggle to keep the Assyrian Empire stretching far and rebellion-free continued until his final military attempt to secure the Tabal region in 705 BC. That rebellion, like that of Babylon’s, was successful, but Sargon II was never able to reclaim it like he did Babylon, as he was killed in battle and his body was lost to the enemy.
It was a catastrophic end to the reign of a king who spent a lot of time and effort keeping something together that just did not want to be together. Sargon’s II’s legacy was one of a powerful empire plagued by unrest and bad fortune for those who ruled it, including Sargon II’s son, Sennacherib, who is believed to have been murdered by one of his own sons.
And that concludes the first part of a four-part series, and next, I will tell you about Hammurabi, the lead singer of The Mesopotamians, and a bit nicer than the two Sargons.
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