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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.


capital city, location unknown, of the Akkadian Empire (c. 2290–2200 BCE), created and maintained by Sargon and his dynastic successors. The city of Akkade and the Akkadian Empire are at the nexus of several interrelated problems: the location of the city; why and how southern Mesopotamia underwent a centralization of regional power, passing from a loose urban confederation in the early third millennium to tight politicoeconomic imperialization under one city in the late third millennium; whether the third-millennium cities of southern Mesopotamia were self-sustaining or were dependent on adjacent regions for essential resources; the reason for the regional extensions of southern Mesopotamian political and economic power in the mid-third millennium; and how the empire functioned and the reasons for its collapse. These historical questions surrounding Akkade make the city the most important ancient West Asian site as yet to be located and excavated.

Knowledge of the city and the empire is mostly derived from settlements and material and epigraphic remains from regions imperialized by the Akkadians, and from Akkadian-period documents copied by later scribes. However, the earliest reference to Akkade occurs in a year date of Enšakušanna (second dynasty of Uruk), who probably ruled within the generation prior to Sargon, founder of the Akkadian dynasty. [See Uruk-Warka.] This singular datum indicates that Akkade was not founded ab novo by Sargon and suggests the limitations of data presently available for understanding the early history of the city and its rise to regional political power.

Contemporary Akkadian-period references, as well as later copies of historical inscriptions, describe Akkade as a bustling imperial capital with temples and palaces, a busy harbor, a large imperial bureaucracy, merchants traveling to distant realms acquiring and dispatching exotic goods, as well as an army capable of marches to the Mediterranean Sea, to the sources of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the conquest of the urban centers in its path. The most famous of the Mesopotamian “city laments,” the Curse of Akkade, composed within a hundred years of the Akkadian imperial collapse, describes the collapse and abandonment of Akkade as symbolic of the collapse of the Akkadian Empire.

Historical references indicate, however, that Akkade was occupied for seventeen hundred years following the collapse of the empire. In the Ur III period the city was the seat of a provincial governor, while the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi mentions the still-functioning Eulmaš Temple of Ištar (Ishtar) within “broad-marted” Akkade. Parts of the ancient city were still settled in the Kassite, Neo-Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian periods, during which archaeological expeditions were repeatedly undertaken in search of Akkadian-period treasure. [See Kassites; Assyrians; Babylonians.] The most famous of these excavations, a program that lasted three years, was directed by a scribe of King Nabonidus of Babylon (r. 555–539) who took an impression of a commemorative inscription excavated within a palace of Sargon's grandson Naram-Sin; the excavator labeled the impression with its provenience as well as his name. The city is last mentioned in a document dated to year 29 of the reign of Darius.

V. Gordon Childe's early characterization of the Akkadian Empire stressed its campaigns of conquest for the acquisition of resources unavailable in southern Mesopotamia, such as metals and timber. Childe's sketch, although still influential among archaeologists, could not consider the progression and the context of expansionary activities directed from Akkade that are now documented in the archaeological and epigraphic records, nor the still earlier sequence of repeated southern Mesopotamian expansions documented in the Late Ubaid, Late Uruk, and Late Early Dynastic II/early Early Dynastic III periods (Childe, 1951).

The detailed Akkadian data suggest that Sargon's longdistance military campaigns were but one stage of the Akkadian expansionary process. These early military campaigns focused on conquest of distant urban centers and the retrieval of plunder. Subsequent military campaigns led by Sargon's successors, particularly Naram-Sin, conquered and then imperialized both irrigation-agriculture southern Mesopotamia and dry-farming northern Mesopotamia. In this second stage of Akkadian expansion, the forces from Akkade first conquered local states and then constructed fortresses and temples for resident Akkadian administrators and functionaries.

Acting in each imperialized province, these Akkadian forces systematically implemented five imperial strategies on behalf of the capital:

  • 1. Reorganized the administrative structure of agricultural production by establishing a streamlined administrative command responsible to authorities in Akkade;
  • 2. Reorganized the spatial structure of regional agricultural production by vacating second-and third-level population centers; concentrated labor forces in urban centers; and constructed city walls to enclose relocated populations;
  • 3. Intensified agro-production by creating imperial domains in Sumer and Akkad for the exclusive production of Akkade-directed taxes and by extended, and perhaps irrigated, cereal production in the imperialized dry-farming regions;
  • 4. Introduced and enforced imperial-standard units of measure for ration-labor work gangs and for regional agricultural production;
  • 5. Extracted imperial taxes, as much as 70 percent of the intensified agro-production, from each reorganized administrative unit, and shipped these agricultural goods by water transport to Akkade.


AKKADE. Figure 1. Flow chart schematizing Akkadian agro-imperialism.

view larger image

This flow of administrators, military forces, and imperialized agricultural produce into and out of Akkade can be modeled (see figure 1) to illustrate the imperial accumulation of agricultural wealth from both Sumer in southern Mesopotamia and Subir, the dry-farming Khabur plains of northern Mesopotamia. [See Sumerians.] Similar relationships were structured at the five other high-productivity dry-farming regions (Susa, Gasur/Nuzi, Erbil, Nineveh, Diyarbakir) surrounding Akkade, where urbanized polities with nucleated labor forces already comprised a preadaptation for Akkadian agricultural imperialism. [See Susa; Nuzi; Nineveh.]

The water-born course of imperialized and convertible agricultural wealth into Akkade from adjacent regions underlies the ideal of regional unification upheld by the Akkadians and successor Mesopotamian empires. It also emphasizes the still-problematic goals of the earlier southern Mesopotamian expansions into these same regions, although the form and regional structure of earlier expansions differed considerably.

The description of the fall of Akkade in the poetic Curse of Akkade portrays a city suffering from reduced Euphrates flow, desiccated irrigation fields, famine, and the incursions of neighboring “barbarians” into the Akkadian heartland. These descriptions have been understood as poetic metaphors by many Assyriologists, but a few have ventured that the descriptions, while poetic, are not necessarily metaphoric. Southern Mesopotamian irrigation agriculture was dependent upon the frequently variable flow of the Euphrates. The documentary evidence for Late Akkadian-period agricultural failure in southern Mesopotamia, and for extended drought in northern Mesopotamia, conforms to the independent data for hemispheric aridification, probably an abrupt climate change, beginning in about 2200 BCE. The gradual aridification and decrease in Euphrates flow that had begun about seven hundred years earlier may explain in part the stages of conflict, unification, and expansion that culminated in Akkade's ascension to regional and transregional power.

The publication In 1972 of two surface surveys of the region of Akkad raised anew the longstanding question of the location of Akkade. The associations of Sargon and Akkade with the city of Kish made these surface reconnaissance observations particularly important for locating the city. [See Kish.] These associations include the paramountcy of Kish within southern Mesopotamia in the pre-Akkadian period, Sargon's service as cupbearer to Ur-zababa, king of Kish, and the historiographic traditions of Sargon's construction of a new city opposite Babylon, which is adjacent to Kish. [See Babylon.]

Ishan Mizyad, one site identified in the Akkad surveys, is located between Kish and Babylon, beside the ancient course of the Euphrates River. It presents several locational, topographic, and settlement-history features that can be associated with Akkade. Recent Iraqi government soundings at the site produced evidence for the Ur III settlement there, and cuneiform texts mentioning Bab-Ea, but did not extend to the site's Akkadian levels (Mahdi, 1986). Bab-Ea, an otherwise unknown toponym, is a likely name for an urban quarter or “gate.” More recent reviews of historical occurrences of the city strongly suggest a location about 50 km (31 mi.) to the northeast, at or near the confluence of the Tigris and the Diyala Rivers. These locational suggestions, if accurate, may require a major reconsideration of the role of the Tigris River in third-millennium southern Mesopotamian history.

[See also Agriculture; Akkadians; and Mesopotamia, article on Ancient Mesopotamia.]


  • Attinger, Pascal. “Remarques à propos de la ‘Malediction d'Accad.’ ” Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archéologie Orientale 78 (1984): 99–121. Full translation of the Curse of Akkade, with an illuminating discussion of its ambiguous or difficult-to-translate passages.
  • Childe, V. Gordon. Man Makes Himself. New York, 1951. Influential sketch of Near Eastern prehistory and early historic developments, including the origins of Mesopotamian cities and empires.
  • Foster, Benjamin R. “Management and Administration in the Sargonic Period.” In Akkad, the First World Empire, edited by Mario Liverani, pp. 25–39. Padua, 1993. Summary of the epigraphic data for Akkadian imperial activity.
  • Gibson, McGuire. The City and Area of Kish. Miami, 1972. Archaeological surface reconnaissance, including an appendix by Robert Adams presenting the settlement data from his earlier Akkade survey.
  • Glassner, J.-J. “La fin d'Akkadé: Approche chronologique.” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires 1 (1994): 8–9. Outline of the sequence, chronology, and actors within the Akkadian collapse events.
  • Mahdi, A. M. “Ishan Mizyad: Important centre agadéene.” Histoire et Archéologie 103 (1986): 65–67. Summary description of brief Iraqi excavations at a site hypothesized to be Akkade.
  • McEwan, G. J. P. “Agade after the Gutian Destruction: The Afterlife of a Mesopotamian City.” Archiv für Orientforschung 29 (1982): 8–15. Synthesis of cuneiform references to Akkade after the imperial collapse.
  • Wall-Romana, Christophe. “An Areal Location of Agade.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49.3 (1990): 205–245. Collection of epigraphic data for a Tigris-region location for Akkade.
  • Weiss, Harvey. “Kish, Akkad, and Agade.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 95.3 (1975): 434–453. Analysis of Kish-area settlement data for the Akkadian period and comparison with epigraphic data for the location of Akkade.
  • Weiss, Harvey, and M.-A. Courty. “The Genesis and Collapse of the Akkadian Empire.” In Akkad, the First World Empire, edited by Mario Liverani, pp. 131–156. Padua, 1993. A model for the development, function, and collapse of the Akkadian Empire, with an emphasis on late third-millennium abrupt climate change and third-millennium variability in Tigris-Euphrates flow.

Harvey Weiss

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