Two cultural groups formed the principle elements in the population of Mesopotamia before the beginning of history and in the millennium thereafter (the 3rd millennium BCE - c.2350-2200 BCE). These are the Sumerians and the Akkadians. They lived peacefully together and created in mutual fertilization, by symbiosis and osmosis, the conditions for a common high civilization. Mesopotamian sources in all periods seem to be free of strong racial ideologies or ethnic stereotypes. Enemies, both groups and individuals, may be cursed and reviled heavily, but this applies more strongly to the ruler of a nearby city than to one of a remote territory.

Akkadians were semi-nomads in the Near East. Even at the time that a large part of the population in Mesopotamia had a sedentary (non-migratory) life in settlements, large groups of people (nomads) at the same time are migrating. Nomads roam from place to place in search for pasture and moving with the season. Semi-nomads graze their small live stock near the fields of the settlements, often trading for goods obtained elsewhere and having all kinds of other interactions. This characteristic is still present in the Near East today. Nomads leave little archeological trace and are illiterate, so not much is known about them by direct means.

However, some description does appear in written form: recorded by the Sumerians and later by the Akkadians. Some of the (semi-)nomads, either as individuals or as groups, mix with the sedentary population and become sedentary themselves. In times of political or economical crisis they may do so by force, but they adapt quickly to the current civilization and even to the dominant language. Their increased influence on the society is manifested by a change in type of personal names. Sometimes the names are the only remains of their original language. In their new positions, they often stimulate further cultural development.

A few centuries later the first Akkadian king Sargon of Akkad ruled over an empire that included a large part of Mesopotamia. Apparently Semitic speaking people have lived for centuries amidst the Sumerians and gradually became an integral part of the Sumerian culture. We don't hear much about them in the first part of the 3rd millennium, because the (scholarly) language used in writing is Sumerian.

First excavations in the Near East. During excavations in 1843 and 1845 AD large collections of clay tablets were found carrying cuneiform signs. They pointed to a forgotten Assyrian civilization which was hinted at in the bible and in Greek scripts (Herodotus). The decipherment of the language was in essence completed in 1851 and the language was first called Assyrian. Nowadays Assyrian is considered a dialect of Akkadian. The branch of science dealing with the language and the civilization was called Assyriology. The name now applies to a much wider field: the study of all the civilizations in Mesopotamia and all related questions. Assyriology rests on information from archeological excavations on the one hand and on the study of written documents.





Akkadian, the oldest known member of the family of Semitic languages, succeeded Sumerian as the vernacular tongue of Mesopotamia and was spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians over a period of nearly two thousand years.

It was written in the cuneiform script invented by the Sumerians, and the surviving documentation covers the period from 2350 BC to the first century AD.

Deciphered in the 1850s, Akkadian is the medium of innumerable documents from daily life as well as a vast literature, including the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, the quest of a man for eternal life.



Clay Tablets

On Sumerian clay tablets dated around 2900-2800 BCE found in Fara, Semitic (Akkadian) names are attested for the first time. It concerns the names of kings in the city Kish. Kish is in the north of Babylonia where according to the Sumerian King Lists `kingship descended again from heaven' after the great Flood. The proper names often contain animal names like zuqiqïpum `scorpion' and kalbum `dog'. Kings with Semitic names are the first postdiluvial kings to rule Kish. They started the first historical period called the Early Dynastic Period.



Akkadian period, reign of Naram-Sin