Biography of King Sargon of Akkad

The foundation of Babylon was ascribed by its later inhabitants to the first among the early rulers who so impressed himself upon his fellows that he became a centre of legend, and was remembered and honored by his descendants three thousand years later. This was King Sargon, to whom we attach our earliest definite date, verified by later Babylonian annals. He was the ruler of the whole Euphrates valley in the year 3800 B.C.

With regard to Sargon our own age holds a most interesting position. For many centuries he has been known as an antique myth. Now at last we can look behind the myth. The rediscovered records tell us the facts of his career. In his day the mighty Babylon of the future was itself but a minor city of the northern Semites. Neither can we trace positively that Sargon ever dwelt there, though he enlarged the town and built a palace for it. This fact doubtless united with his fame to make the later Babylonians adopt him. Their kings claimed descent from him. Their stories proclaimed him the founder and first hero of their city. What Sargon actually did was to establish a Semitic dominion over all the cities of Sumer. He was not born a king, but won his own way, as the earlier conqueror Lugal-zag-gisi had done, to the leadership of the tribes of the north. Then in the upper Euphrates valley, a hundred miles above Nippur, not far from the site of Babylon, he built himself a splendid city, Akkad. This remained for a time the capital of his successors; and from this gorgeous city the whole northern land once known as the land of Kish became to later ages the land of Akkad.

Having established his authority over both Sumer and Akkad, Sargon set forth, as Lugal-zag-gisi had, upon a series of journeys in search of further victories. He reduced to subjection those ever-troublesome highlanders of Elam, and burned Susa, their capital. He fought the wild tribes of the mountains around the sources of the Euphrates; and if he could scarcely be said to conquer them, he at least put them to flight. He marched, as did his predecessor, to the shores of the Mediterranean, exacting tribute all the way. He brought home among his spoils rare building-stones mined in the distant peninsula of Sinai on the borders of Africa. He even extended his exploits beyond the mainland. Ferrying his army across to the near-by island of Cyprus, he spent some time in conquering it. He seems to have invented a new title. Lugal-zag-gisi had called himself "King of the whole world." Sargon used the more elaborate phrase "King of the Four Corners of Earth," as if to imply that, not content with a general lordship over life, he had, in Elam, in Cyprus, in Sinai and in the mountains of the north, searched out earth's remotest corners, and made each tiny cranny proclaim his kingship.

How little did it amount to, this puerile boastfulness! How small, looked back upon through all the ages, seems this vainglory of the forgotten emperor! How evil the plundering! How futile the thousands of deaths inflicted upon friends and enemies! When Sargon returned from the years of battling abroad, he found his own land in rebellion against him. The lords of the other cities formed a league and besieged him in his capital. He was "brought nigh to death." Akkad, however, withstood the siege, and Sargon regained something of his former authority, and closed his days in peace.

This much concerning the half-mythical founder of the Babylonian empire is fact, proven by the ancient records we have unearthed. To these facts the legends of his descendants, the Babylonians of three thousand years later, added a halo of fanciful details. They told that Sargon was born to the daughter of the head man of a minor town. His father was unknown, and the mother, to hide the child's birth, lined a basket with pitch to make it water-tight, and setting the babe within, entrusted him to the current of the Euphrates. The babe was found by Akki, a peasant drawing water from the river to irrigate his fields. By him, Sargon was cared for and brought up as a gardener's lad. Here he was seen by Ishtar, the goddess of love, who devoted herself to the handsome youth, and enabled him to win his kingship. Usually Ishtar was fickle in her loves; but to Sargon she clung faithfully; and in the great rebellion, when all the rulers turned upon him and besieged him in Akkad, it was Ishtar who rescued him. The awe with which this divine friendship impressed the other princes was what led them to submit again to Sargon's rule.

We have unearthed so many records of the Sargon era that we can see with some clearness the nature of his kingdom and the deg of civilization to which Sumer and Akkad had now attained. We must picture the combined Turanian and Semitic race as a people very different from those fishermen and hunters who had struggled for a precarious existence at Nippur and Susa some four thousand years before. The men of Sargon's time had been accustomed to writing and had kept chronological records for at least a thousand years. They were traders who had travelled wide, seeking their gains through all western Asia and even as far as Egypt, a land which they looked on, much as we look on China today, as being at the edge of the world, curious and very far away, and half barbaric.

Thus the proud citizens of Sumer and Akkad had become fully aware of their own progress above all other nations. Not only were they travelers and historians; they were financiers, bankers, passing their profits on loan from hand to hand, and keeping watchful reckoning of contracts. They were engineers who had planned and carried out a most remarkable system of dykes and canals, fertilizing and protecting from flood all their river valley. They were scientific farmers. They were artists of considerable ability and skill; poets of rather ruder vein; and, above all, they were astronomers who had attained to a really noteworthy knowledge and understanding of the movements of the heavenly bodies. Sargon is given the credit of having rearranged and finally established the signs of the zodiac as we employ them today. Our calendar, like our writing and our laws, like our religion, and like almost every branch of our civilization, dates back to the land of Sumer and Akkad.

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Read about Biography of King Sargon of Akkad in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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