Sargon the Great of Akkad (fl. c. 2370-2314) is one of the greatest heroes of ancient Mesopotamian history , the one who founded the Akkadian Empire (c. 2370-2190), the very first world empire. The Akkadian myths and legends reflect the folkloric motifs that had over time been associated with these mighty god-kings, among which their view of Sargon as the Dumuzi who had returned. They provide an insider’s view of the popular traditions that arose from the speculative thinking of that time. What is also of particular importance is the cultic practice of the sacred marriage. Sargon’s birth is linked to that cultic ritual, which explains why he was regarded in such strange and exceptional terms.
Story of the birth of Sargon (early second millennium BC) Louvre Museum. ( 0x010C / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Sargon’s Birth Legend
The first great ruler of the Akkadian Empire and founder of the Akkadian imperial dynasty was Sargon the Great. His name was written as Sarru kenu , meaning “true, rightful king”. A life-size bronze portrait head, believed to be a representation of him, was found at Nineveh. It shows him as a typical Semite with a bearded face which stands in stark contrast with the clean-shaven faces of the Sumerian rulers.
The narrative of the legend of Sargon’s birth is of vital importance. Although the available texts, on literary grounds, are dated later than c. 2039 BC, there is good reason to believe the story had already been known in Akkadian times. For example, the compiler of the Sumerian King List must have had knowledge of this story as he recorded some details of it in a note, namely the part telling that Sargon was raised by a “date grower”.
“King Sargon” (Šar-ru-gi lugal) on the Victory stele of Sargon ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The Sargon birth legend was written as an autobiography, with the king himself telling the story of his own birth: “ Sargon, strong king, king of Agade [Akkad], am I. My mother was a high priestess, my father I do not know… My mother, a high priestess, conceived me, in secret she bore me. She placed me in a reed basket, with bitumen she caulked my hatch. She abandoned me to the river from which I could not escape. The river carried me along; to Aqqi, the water drawer, it brought me. Aqqi, the water drawer, when immersing his bucket lifted me up. Aqqi, the water drawer, raised me as his adopted son. Aqqi, the water drawer, set me to his garden work [that is, cultivation of the date palm]. During my garden work, Ishtar loved me (so that) 55 years I ruled as king .”
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Dr Willem McLoud is an independent South African scholar whose main interests are ancient Middle Eastern studies, Kantian philosophy and philosophy of science. Willem’s main areas of study regarding the ancient Middle East are the Sumerian, Akkadian and early Egyptian civilizations, with special focus on the Uruk and Akkadian Periods in Mesopotamian history as well as the Old Kingdom Period in Egyptian history. He is the author of The Nephilim: Kings of an Epic Age: Secrets and Enigmas of the Sumerians and Akkadians
Top Image : Life size bronze portrait head believed to be of Sargon, restored ( Public Domain )
By: Dr Willem McLoud