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Episode 20 - Akkad 4 Sargon, the Next Generation

Sargon had two sons and both will sit on the throne. Rimush will do all the work, while Manishtushu will enjoy all the rewards. Both are fairly interesting on their own, but suffer from being the interlude between two fascinating characters, Sargon and Naram-sin, and thus are less remembered then they perhaps deserve.

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Episode 19 - Akkad 3 Sargon at war

Here is the meat of the Sargon Legend, his conquests. But he wasn't just conquering for the sake of conquest, his empire was formed from a vision which shows his very deep understanding of logistics, international trade, economies of scale. And all this, as we will see, is what makes his kingdom the world's first empire.

I put in a little promotion for the History of Persia podcast because it is pretty neat. I don't plan on advertising on this show unless I have enough audience to quit my day job, which is a long way away, but I do want to promote other shows you may be interested in. Anyway, click the link to check it out.

There is a whole lot of uncertainty in nearly every line of today's show. For me, the line between myth and history, especially in this early period, is super blurry, and I almost think it is a distinction that simply didn't exist in these times. And so I am perfectly content with treating this first as a story and only secondarily as an histo…

Episode 18 - Akkad 2 Sargon at Peace

What did Akkadian power look like on the ground, and what did daily life look like for the average Sumerian during this period? Today I will use the occasion of the rise of the Akkadian Empire to pause and look at the human condition below that of gods and kings, since there are now enough sources to put together that we can at least sketch these things for the first time in human history. Not much story this week, just discussion of how things were. We will return to the story of the grand sweep of the empire next week.

Where was Akkad? No one even knows. But in the map below, it is almost certainly somewhere in a box between modern Baghdad and ancient Kish, on either the Tigris or Euphrates rivers. That location was strategically critical since it meant Sargon could easily send men down either river, downstream being easier than upstream, with commands or weapons at relatively short notice. This in addition to his road network puts him in a strong central location for governing the …

Episode 17 - Akkad 1 Sargon Rising

Today we look at the rise of the world's first empire, following the story of Sargon of Akkad's rise from the son of a gardener to the king of Sumer and Akkad. His rise and empire is bigger than can be fit into a single episode, but the Legend of Sargon's rise to power should be enough to whet your appetite for the coming Akkadian series.

His rise to power has a lot of uncertainty. One note during the initial war against Lugalzagesi, some think that Lugalzagesi actually conquered Kish with Sargon's help, but that Sargon revolted and conquered Uruk, then the two armies marched and met in battle. I can almost sort of see where this idea comes from, but as far as I can tell it involves pretty heavy interpretation of very fragmentary texts, and while it would make a nice story, I think it is too complicated and unlikely to consider the best interpretation of events. I am not saying it didn't happen like this, it could well have, and would make for an even better story,…

Episode 16 - Lagash 2 Reform and Corruption in Lagash

Last time was the rise, this time is the fall of the city of Lagash, into corruption and military defeat. Can the hero of the people, great reformer Urukagina, save his city from certain destruction? No, he can't, but he will try. The three big names today are Enmetena, Urukagina, and Lugalzagesi as witness the dramatic end of an era.

Again, I need to put my disclaimer up saying that many of these events have different interpretations, I have just chosen the one that seems best to me. I am not a scholar and am only working from other people's translations, but the story I am telling seems like the best interpretation here. So have a picture of Enmetena from Wikipedia:

Look at this, a good hundred years of history, the golden age of Lagash, dismissed in a pair of episodes and almost completely forgotten outside dusty books and whatever the internet equivalent of dusty books it. Dusty podcasts. I have family members who were literally weeping after the last election, convinced t…

Episode 15 - Lagash 1 Kings and Wars in Lagash

War; war never changes. Forty five hundred years ago the men of Lagash made war against the city of Umma over water rights, the very first battle for which we have recorded details. This episode begins the history of the city of Lagash and looks at the rough reality of ancient battle.

So, I dun goofed. There were many battles and campaigns between Lagash and Umma over about 150 years, and in this episode I mistakenly conflated a campaign fought by king Eannatum with a campaign fought by the subsequent king Enannatum. The specifics of the battle of Black Dog Hill are from the later Enannatum tablet and speak of his victory there, and while other of the details here are from the first campaign recorded in the Stele of Vultures. Honestly, the course of the two campaigns, and indeed most Sumerian military actions of the early dynastic period, followed a pretty similar flow. March out, have a battle, attack the now defenseless city, return with plunder, or be defeated in the battle and go …

Episode 14 - Anunnaki 5 Ea, Tales from Creation

The god of wisdom and crafting is the chillest of the gods, that is when he is not turning his family tree into a family telephone poll. The most generous and the most distressingly criminal of the gods, Ea has some of the most unique stories.

It is really hard to make a story about the god of semen family friendly, but he is one of the top 3 gods in the pantheon and shows up all the time, and it would honestly be misleading to just tell the myths of him being gentle without also telling about the time he raped six generations of his own daughters in a swamp. Because he is a very good person, as far as gods go, it is just that women have a certain place in bronze age society, and it is easy to forget that this place is very, very, very low.

I seriously can't express how hilarious and fascinating I find the Sumerian meaning of life to be. They literally believed that they were basically clay robots who existed solely to provide luxuries so that the gods could leisure, and anything …