Old Akkadian

The last centuries of third millennium were characterized by successive periods of centralization of power under two city-dynasties: Akkad in north and Ur in south. Akkad and Ur were both founded through military means in Babylonia proper and in the surrounding areas, pursued policies of centralization in political, administrative and ideological terms, and collapsed through a combination of internal opposition and external forces. The period between 2340 and 2200 BC during which Akkad dominated the political scene in the ancient Near East is known as the Old Akkadian period.

The founding figure of the Old Akkadian period was Sargon (often referred to as ‘Sargon the Great’), who founded the family of city-rulers that held kingship over Sumer and Akkad throughout the next century and a half. The nature of the rule of the Akkad dynasty differed from previous leadership in Mesopotamia in that it temporarily ended the system of city-states that characterized Babylonia until then and instead began a trend of centralization that would be copied by Mesopotamian leaders to come.

Akkad attained prominence through military might and there is even evidence of standing army. Previous city-rulers remained in place, but now acted as governors of Akkad: the Sumerian term “ensi” previously referred to an independent ruler of a city but now means a governor.

Along this same vein, centralizing policies were also pursued: a new system of taxation ensured that a percentage of the income of each region was siphoned off for the capital; and during reign of Naram-Sin, standardizations of accounting and measurements are attested. For the first time Akkadian was the official language of the government, although Sumerian was still used in the south for local concerns.

The creation of agricultural estates granted by the king to privileged individuals was a novelty introduced by Sargonic kings. The land was taken from local owners, so this practice certainly led to resentment and opposition to Akkadian rule. Akkadian military campaigns reached far, especially under Sargon and Naram-Sin. As the power and influence of the Akkadian dynasty dwindled, other new states were able to develop: the Hurrian Urkesh and Nawar”, and at Mari a dynasty of generals.

The term “Old Akkadian” can also refer to the Akkadian language attested from the earliest periods of Mesopotamian history through to the end of the Ur III period. Based on linguistic and epigraphic criteria, it can be further subdivided into the following categories: the Pre-Sargonic period, the Sargonic period, and the Ur III period (Gelb 1961a, 1; cf. Hilgert 2003; Hasselbach 2005). Most of the earliest evidence of Akkadian comes from personal names and loan words in Sumerian votive inscriptions and administrative documents. The Sargonic period, on the other hand, witnesses an increase in Old Akkadian sources and is therefore often considered to be the quintessential “Old Akkadian period.”

Old Akkadian writing, like other languages that adapted the cuneiform writing system, contains all the features of the Sumerian system: logograms, syllabograms, and auxiliary signs (such as determinatives). Logograms are almost always used to represent nouns or noun modifiers, such as substantives, numerals, adjectives, and participles, but can occasionally represent verbal forms. It is generally understood, however, that originally Old Akkadian only employed logograms to represent nouns, and that cases where they represent verbs indicate the presence and influence of a different system. Gelb mentioned this point in his comprehensive study on Old Akkadian grammar: “The use of Sumerograms to express verbs, contrary to the standard procedure… may reflect the existence of two different systems of cuneiform writing” (Gelb 1961a, 20f). With the discovery of the Ebla archives – which Edzard described as “la grande surprise de l’histoire du Proche-Orient ancien” (Edzard 1994) – we now know that there was in fact at least one other system of cuneiform writing contemporary with the Old Akkadian period.


Sign lists


Biggs, R.D. 1974. Inscriptions from Tell Abu Salabikh. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Biggs, R. D. 1966. “The Abu Salabikh Tablets.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 20, 73-89.

Gelb, I.J. 1961. Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gelb, I.J. 1952. Sargonic Texts from the Diyala Region. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gelb, I.J. 1970. Sargonic Texts in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Gelb, I. and B. Kienast. 1990. Die Altakkadischen Konigsinschriften Des Dritten Jahrtausends v. Chr. FAOS 7. Stuttgart: F. Steiner.

Hilgert, M. 2003. “New Perspectives in the Study of Third Millennium Akkadian.” Cuneiform Digital Library Journal. 2003:4.

Hilgert, M. 2002. Akkadisch in der Ur III-Zeit. Rhema.

Maiocchi. 2009. Classical Sargonic tablets chiefly from Adab in the Cornell University collections. CDL Press: Bethesda, MD.

Martin et al. 2001. “The Fara tablets in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.” Capital Decisions Ltd.

von Soden, W. and W. Rollig. 1991. Das akkadische Syllabar (Analecta Orientalia 42). Gregorian Biblical Book Shop.

Visicato and Westenholz. 2010. Early Dynastic and Sargonic tablets from Adab in the Cornell Univeristy collections. CDL Press.

Westenholz, A. 1975. Old Sumerian and Old Akkadian Texts in Philadelphia Chiefly from Nippur, Vol. 1 Literary and Lexical Texts and the Earliest Administrative Documents from Nippur. Malibu: Undena.

old_akkadian.txt · Last modified: 2015/01/29 20:23 by gombert
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