Curse of Akkad - What happened to Sumer
Timo Niroma (email@example.com)
4 Aug 1996 19:31:36 GMT
I argued in January-February in sci.archaeology mostly about Sumer,
which had been in the point of my interest already for some 15 years.
The massive amount of comments has made me rethink the whole history
of Sumer anew. Besides it has awaked my interest about the heirs of
Sumer - Babylon and Assyria - plus I have had to deepen my knowledge
about Egypt, especially the Old Kingdom, but also a little bit of the
Now I think it's time to reopen the issue with mainpoints being the
Akkadian period, the 3rd dynasty of Ur and the mystery why it was so
easy for Hammurabi to take over Sumer and replace it with Babylonia.
The most nasty question is what happened to Sumer. Why was it so mighty
in 2500 BC and why was it in ruins in 2100 BC? The rosegarden began to
bloom already about 3000 BC. Is thousand years some magical amount of
time for great cultures? No, I don't believe so. There must be some
definable and definite reason why this mighty empire fell.
I begin by going right to the point.
The lamentation called "Curse of Akkad" from about 2100 BC:
"The large fields and acres produced no grain,
The flooded fields produced no fish,
The watered gardens produced no honey and wine,
The heavy clouds did not rain.
On its plains where grew fine plants,
'lamentation reeds' now grow."
A serious calamity overtook Sumer. The primeval waters (the sea water)
rose to the surface. So no fresh waters could not reach the fields and
gardens. The gods of Sumer who had charge of irrigating Sumer were
desperate. The Sumerian gods acted like ministers in today's society.
The Tigris did not rise. "There was no good water in its channel." The
salty sea water had spoiled by its inundation the fresh water
Was it a tsunami that sweeped over the lowland southern part of
Mesopotamia? Was it followed by a centuries-long dry period, when there
was no rain? Not much today either.
"Famine was severe, nothing was produced,
At the small rivers, there was no washing of the hands.
The waters rose not high.
The fields were not watered,
There was no digging of irrigation ditches.
In all the lands there was no vegetation,
Only weeds grew."
What really happened to Agade? "The gates of Agade, how they lay
prostrate. The holy Inanna leaves untouched their gifts. Inanna's
temple is fear-ridden since she has gone from the city, left it." And
so in a very short time, "in not five days, not ten days", lordship and
kingship departed from Agade, the gods turned against her, and Agade
The counsel left Agade and the good sense of Agade turned to folly.
Then "Enlil, the raging flood which has no rival, because of his
beloved house which has been attacked, what destruction wrought", he
lifted his eyes to the mountains and brought down the Gutians, "it
covered the earth like the locust", so that none could escape his
power. Communication, whether by land or sea, became impossible
throughout Sumer. "The herald could not proceed on his journey, the
sea-rider could not sail his boat. Brigands dwelt on the roads, the
doors of the gates of the land turned to clay, all the surrounding
lands were planning evil in their city walls." As a result, dire famine
came upon Sumer.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enlil was the storm god. It seems that this
climate god was accused of the famine, the flood, the "locusts", all
the destruction. "Like the locusts"? What was it then. Sand? Sand
storms, flood storms, a total devastation. Sounds more like a natural
disaster than some enemy country attacking.
At the time when Sumer was overrun by Gutians from Iran, Sumer was
already under the rule of the northern Akkadians, and was ruled by
Sargon's grandson Naram-Sin. "Communication by land or sea became
impossible throughout Sumer and famine ravaged the country and its
people", says Samuel Kramer. This happened about 2200-2100 BC.
But why did the Gutians come from Iran? And did the Gutians do this
havoc? Why were Akkadians suddenly so weak that Gutians could conquer
the country? To me it seems more likely that the havoc was caused by
some natural catastrophe and the Gutians fled from it. Remember that
the Indus cultures of Harappan and Mohenjo-Daro were also destroyed.
The whole Indus culture vanished and the people in Mohenjo-Daro had a
violent end. As if Mahabrata would have spoken of this catastrophe. Did
it? May be.
I think it's really a great and grave mistake to accuse or even suppose
that the Gutians conquered or destroyed anything. There was in Sumer
a similar interregnum 2200-2050 as there was in Egypt between the Old
and Middle Kingdoms. What had happened? Indus and Iran (Dilmun?) were
destroyed, Sumer and Egypt in very bad shape.
Sumer was the first to recover, Egypt came later, Indus never
recovered. But the second coming of Sumer was very short, maybe from
2100 to 1950 BC. Ur-Nammu founded a dynasty at the city of Ur. It is
called the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ur-Nammu and his descendants were very
capable and energetic and at a short moment it looked like the 3rd
dynasty of Ur would have returned Sumer its previous glory.
But impossible is impossible. The Garden of Eden was not anymore a
paradise. It was becoming a fruitless desert uncapable of supporting
agriculture and its associated infrastructure. Elamites from the east
and Amorites from the west searched and found Eufrat and Tigris and
wandered wherever and however they wanted.
It was only Hammurabi in about 1800 BC (I prefer this earlier date)
from north, near Kish, more accurately from Babylon, who finally
stopped the interregnum. Sumer wasn't anymore. Babylonia was built on
its ruins. Don't be too hard towards Hammurabi, his laws were a
necessity to stop the Mesopotamian interregnum, in which he succeeded.
Harvey Weiss writes in "The Sciences" (NYAS): "Only a hundred years
before the collapse, Sargon of Akkad had wrested the Sumerian city-
states from Lugalzaggesi of Umma, then stormed across the plains of
Mesopotamia. The Akkadian Empire controlled trade from the silver mines
of Anatolia to the lapis lazuli mines of Badakshan, from the cedar
forests of Lebanon to the Gulf of Oman. ... To the south, irrigation
canals were extended ... Then, abruptly, things fell apart. Sometime
around 2200 BC seasonal rains became scarce, and withering storms
replaced them. The winds cut through northern wheat fields and
blanketed them in dust. They emptied out towns and villages, sending
people stumbling south with pastoral nomads, to seek forage along
rivers and streams. ..." Weiss has suggested with Robert Adams that
northern Mesopotamia had been abandoned for 300 years, means from 2200
BC to 1900 BC, triggering a massive southern migration. Clay tablets
showed that the southern population had doubled within a hundred years
of the Akkadian collapse.
Here was the place for the 3rd dynasty of Ur. Somewhere between 2100
and 1950 BC. Why did it not succeed? I think it was the dust and salty
water that had spoiled the soil and I think that this was a global
event (more in later parts) that made these areas much drier than they
had been. Agriculture was not any more possible.
It is interesting to note that a defense line against invaders from
north was built sometimes between 2000 and 1950 BC between Agade and
Sippar. A defense against migration, overpopulation, not against a
I have used in the previous rounded dendro-years. The Baillie
measurements (publ. 1993) plus the 1996 dendros (see Nature), gives a
possibility to give more accurate dates in the hope that the dendro-
dates are at last fixed and not floating any more. Thus:
So newest dendro-calibration gives to the catastrophe an exact year:
Third Dynasty of Ur
And would confirm to Hammurabi the years 1792-1750 BC.