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Old Akkadian Letters


Around 2334 BC (Middle Chronology) Sargon overturned the rule of Lugalzagesi - originally a king of Uruk who managed to take control of most of southern Mesopotamia – and established a new ruling dynasty. Sargon, whose name has been suggested to mean “true king” or “the king is legitimate,” was originally from the northern city of Akkad. His previous profession is unknown, although later tradition claims that he was as cupbearer in the court of Kish. Sargon and his descendents, collectively called the Sargonids, ruled Mesopotamia for over a hundred years, created the first known empire in history, and established many of the later quintessential Mesopotamian traditions of kingship. The Sargonids were revered in later Mesopotamian literature, their inscriptions were copied, and fictional tales of their deeds were composed by later generations of scribes.

The state under the Sargonids was highly organized and consisted of a new type of hierarchical bureaucracy and centralized government. Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin (2254-2218 BC) was the first Mesopotamian king to introduce the concept of divine kingship, which strengthened the ideology at the center of their rule. This new form of government brought with it new bureaucratic and administrative methods of organization, including the introduction of the Akkadian language into the education of the literate officials. Old Akkadian was presumably the language of writing in the north before the rise of the Akkad state, but it was now used in the south alongside the Sumerian language (Michalowski 1993, 20).

Basic Typology

These letters typically begin with the standard formula: enma PN1 ana PN2.

Sample Texts

Gir 19


  1. en-ma
  2. iš-ku-un-dda-gan
  3. a-na lugal-ra
  4. GAN2-lam ͗a3-ru-uš
  5. u3 maš2-anše u3-ṣu-ur
  6. a-pu-na-ma
  7. gu-ti-um-ma-mi3
  8. GAN2-lam
  9. u-la a-ru-uš
  10. a taq-bi2
  11. a-na ½ da-na-ta
  12. ma-aq-qa2-di3
  13. su-si-ib-ma
  14. at-ta2
  15. GAN2-lam ͗a3-ru-uš
  16. ki guruš-guruš
  17. u-wa-ka3-mu
  18. ti-bu-tam2
  19. li-se11-u3-ni-kum-ma
  20. maš2-anše a-na uruki-lim
  21. su2-ta2-ri2-ib


  1. šum!-ma maš2-anše-mi3
  2. gu-ti-u3 it-ru-u3
  3. u3 a-na-ku8
  4. mi2-ma u-la a-qa2-bi
  5. ku3-babbar-am a-na-da-kum
  6. e#-li2
  7. na- ͗a3-aš2 dlugal-ka3-li2-lugal-ri2
  8. u3-ma2
  9. šum-ma maš2-anše
  10. gu-ti-u3 a2-ru-u3
  11. in ra-ma-ni-ka3
  12. lu ta2-na-da-nu
  13. a-na-lim-ma ki a-la-kam
  14. ku3-babbar-am <la> a-na-da-nu-kum
  15. u3 at-ta2 maš2-anše
  16. u2-la ta2-na-ṣa-ar
  17. iš-pi2-ki2
  18. ki2-nu-tim
  19. a-ri2-iš-ka3
  20. mu-bi lu ti-da

“Thus (says) Ishkun-Dagan to Lugalra: Work the field and guard the flocks! Just don’t say to me: “It is (the fault of) the Gutians; I could not work the land!” Man outposts every mile, and then you will be able to work the land! If the soldiers attack, you can raise help and have the herd brought into the city. In the event that (you tell me) “the Gutians have rustled the flocks,” I will say nothing about it and (just) pay you the money. Look here, I swear by the life of (King) Shar-kali-sharri that if the Gutians rustle the flocks, and you have to pay from your own assets, I will (re)pay you the money when I arrive in town. But even if you don’t succeed in guarding the herds, I will ask you for the correct (amount) of the field rent (that you owe me)! … you should know (this)!” (Michalowski 1993, 28)

Overview of corpus

There are over 150 published Old Akkadian letters (go here for the Old Akkadian letters on CDLI), coming primarily from Girsu, Adab, Gasur, Kish, Eshnunna, Mugdan, and the “Mesag” archive (from the Sumerian city Sagub, located in the Umma-Lagash area). Most of the letters are between 10 and 25 lines long, and concern personal matters, legal affairs, real estate matters, economic concerns, etc. In the majority of cases, the commissioner of the letter is requesting something of the addressee: a good, a service, or an individual.

(return to Text Typologies)
(return to Letters from Mesopotamia)

old_akkadian_letters.txt · Last modified: 2015/01/08 10:39 (external edit)
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