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Corporate Strategy as an Art (VII): The Bronze Age – Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.

Have a beautiful Sunday. I usually do not write over the weekends, but I promised to finish this theme. Here we are, let´s continue our journey. We are now concluding our saga between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. Today is the turn to explore the art of the Akkadians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians.

Akkadian Culture: 

akkadian empire map

The empire of Sargon, late 24th century BCE. Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia

Akkadian head of Sargon

Sargon Head.

According to the sources of history, the Akkadian empire started with Sargon (the Great) of Akkad. Sargon conquered and ruled the Sumerians, all of Mesopotamia and parts of what is now Syria, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and perhaps, Cyprus. His dynasty included his sons Rimush and Manishtusu and his grandson Naram-Sin. Sargon´s and his successors´ reign started around the 2,334 BCE and it felt down by 2,083 BCE. Under Sargon’s rule, he continued improving the structure needed for trade. He devoted resources to road construction, improved the irrigation systems by connecting vital trade sources between the southern part (Sumer), Akkad and the northern cities of Mesopotamia.

Akkadian naram

Rock relief depicting the victory of the Akkadian king Naram Sin after defeating Lulubis, tribes who came from the Zagros mountains west of Iran.

He also established a postal system for communication using the clay cuneiform tablets format. Sargon’s Sons spent several years crushing the Sumerian rebellions, which show us the conflictive context of his empire. Naram-Sin, grandson of Sargon campaigned and tried to maintain his legacy, but, supposedly, “Naram-Sin’s pride in deifying himself angered their Gods, and shortly the Akkadian empire was ravaged by wars and famine until the collapse of this empire in 2193 BCE”.

During the Akkadian empire, they were the governors and administrators in over 65 different cities. Despite the rebellions of the Sumer and northeastern states, the Akkadians engaged in numerous building projects. By reading carefully these sources, it seems to me that the Akkadian period was particularly important beyond their public works. Sargon scribes documented everything in cuneiform tablets. We can see the encouragement of arts (particularly writing) and sciences (math) through the archaeology pieces discovered. Sargon also standardized weights and measures for use in trade and daily commerce, initiated a system of taxation which was fair to all social classes. “He also created, trained, and equipped a full-time army – at least in the city of Akkad – where, as an inscription reads, 5400 soldiers “ate bread daily” with the king”.

Assyrian Culture.  The Assyrians were a Semitic group of people who adopted the Phoenician-Canaanite-Hebrew language, that later developed into the Aramaic.


Mesopotamian Chronology. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0 Author: Venal

Assyrians archers

Assyrian Archers

Historians have divided the rise and fall of the Assyrian Empire into three periods: The Old Kingdom, The Middle Empire, and The Late Empire (also known as the Neo-Assyrian Empire which belongs to the Iron Age). Assyria was a major political and military power in ancient Mesopotamia. At its peak, the Assyrian Empire stretched from modern-day Iraq in the east to Turkey in the west and Egypt in the south. The Assyrians frequently conflicted against the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and the Hittite Empire of Turkey.

Assyrian cuneiform tablet

Cuneiform tablet case impressed with four-cylinder seals in Assyrian and Anatolian styles. Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony. ca. 20th–19th century B.C.

Assyria is named after its original capital, the ancient city of Assur or Ashur, situated on the west bank of the Tigris River in modern-day Iraq. This empire started around 1750 BCE. Nevertheless, their most remarkable pieces of art weren´t produced until the Late Empire period matching the Iron Age. The Assyrian Empire is considered the greatest Mesopotamian empire because of its size, the efficiency of its bureaucracy and its powerful military strategies. I have chosen to write about the Assyrian Old Kingdom and the Middle Empire with one specific purpose. I will leave the Late Assyrian Empire arts for the Iron Age publications. Let´s find out why.

Old Kingdom: The Assyrian story seems to begin in the city of Ashur, where scholars date the founding of the city to 1900 BCE (surviving ruins). Its early kings, who worshipped the god Ashur, were called the “kings who lived in tents,” which implies a nomadic people rather than a settled, agricultural one. Throughout the Old Kingdom era, at times Ashur and other Assyrian cities came under the control of the Akkadian Empire under Sargon the Great. At other times, Assyria was a vassal state to Ur’s Third Dynasty in southern Mesopotamia.

Assyrian private letter

Cuneiform tablet with a small second tablet: private letter Period: Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony. ca. 20th–19th century B.C. Source: The MET

Ashur grew prosperous due to trade. Assyrian traders set up businesses in a trade colony they established in Karum Kanesh, Anatolia (what is now Turkey). Assyrians traded wool and finished cloth to Kanesh, where they exchanged it for silver, tin and other metals. Thousands of clay tablets found in Kanesh discuss this profitable trade network. The wealth generated by this trade gave Ashur the strength and security necessary for eventual empire-building. Assyria’s opponents in the Old Kingdom included Hittites, Amorites, Hurrians, Mitanni, Elamites as well as the populations from the south of Mesopotamian, Babylonians, and Sumerians.

Assyrian art lawsuit

Cuneiform tablet: a record of a lawsuit Period: Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony. ca. 20th–19th century B.C.

The Middle Empire: Assyrian cities were subjugated by a succession of outsiders: Babylonians under Hammurabi, Hittites, and Mitanni-Hurrians. From 1791 to 1360 B.C. control over Assyria passed back and forth, although Assyria itself remained stable. Between 1307 to 1275 BCE, expanded the Assyrian empire.

Afterward, the entire Mesopotamian and Near East region entered what’s called the Bronze Age Collapse. For 150 years, from 1250 to 1100 B.C. all the Near East civilizations—the Egyptians, Greeks, Cyprians, Syrians, Mesopotamians—all disintegrated to a certain extent, except for the Assyrians who held steady. Scholars believe that drought and climate change caused this collapse, along with the attendant ills of famine, disruption of trade, wars, and disease. Tiglath Pileser I took the Assyrian throne in c. 1115 B.C. at the end of the Bronze Age breakdown. The Neo-Assyrian art during the Iron age will be revisited later.

Babylonian Culture: King Hammurabi and His Code of Law


Code of Hammurabi. Source: Louvre Museum

Babylon reached its first height with the reign of the great King Hammurabi (1792 to 1750 B.C.), an Amorite prince, the sixth of his dynasty. The Amorites were a semi-nomadic people who migrated east into Mesopotamia from Syria´s territories. During the reign of Hammurabi’s father, Babylon’s kingdom contained only a few cities: Babylon, Kish, Borsippa and Sippar, but expanded later. King Hammurabi’s first few years were focused to improve the lives of his people through improving agriculture and irrigation (always a prime goal for Mesopotamian kings), strengthening his city’s defenses and building public spaces, roads, and temples. His first act was a jubilee, a forgiveness of the people’s debts, which of course, made him popular among the people.

babylonian stela

This terracotta tablet is a smaller version of the original law code stela of King Hammurabi to be used in schools and courts. The tablet was found at Nippur Iraq. It is from the Old Babylonian era, 1790 BCE. (Istanbul Archaeological Museums/Ancient Orient Museum, Istanbul, Turkey).

Hammurabi who created the first Babylonian empire used all of Sargon’s weapons and tactics. He was known to create alliances, then later end them, conquering his former allies. Hammurabi’s reputation included damming up and diverting a city-state’s water sources. The Later Neo-Babylonian Empire (626 to 539 B.C.) repeated his successes.

Even when he conquered cities, Hammurabi looked after the people under his governance. He made sure vital irrigation canals and dams functioned, maintained the infrastructure of the cities in his control and built splendid temples to the gods. While Sargon the Akkadian emperor continually had to put down revolts, his empire stretched from Syria to the Persian Gulf. Hammurabi called his empire Babylonia.

Hammurabi’s Law Code: Hammurabi promulgated his Code of Law circa 1772 BCE. Hammurabi’s harsh laws sought to avoid the blood feuds that could easily arise among people of different cultures and languages settling and trading in his empire. Hammurabi’s empire lasted only his lifetime. The control he had established over Mesopotamia dwindled away until the city itself was sacked in 1595 B.C. by the Hittites.

Summary of the Mesopotamian Bronze Age:

Regardless of which empire was leading the region (Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians or Babylonians), there are similarities in their corporate strategy for the region:

  1. Location mattered: All of the Mesopotamian cultures knew their strategic positioning for economic prosperity: In terms of trade of goods and services, the Mesopotamians knew their strategic location was a juncture for commerce from everywhere (From the south via maritime -Persian gulf, From the east – Persian Region, from the North – Anatolia, Armenia and from the West – The Mediterranean sea, Jordan-Libano-Israel, and Egypt.
  2. Investments in crucial sectors for prosperity: Each and all of the Mesopotamian cultures during the bronze age were aware of the importance of investments in specific kind of public works for the benefit of their own industries growth. The region needed irrigation systems and water integrative management (dams, levees, irrigation channels). The cities invested in roads to make trade and commerce easier. Each empire invested heavily in buildings related to education, to sciences (math, astronomy, innovation of new discoveries), to religion (temples), to the king´s or rulers leadership (palaces), or to make nature produce max food surplus (agricultural plantations and gardens). Each of the Mesopotamian cultures invested.
  3. Writing and communication:  These guys knew why, what, how and when to write. Even though the cuneiform language was quite different between Sumerians and the rest (Babylonians, Akkadians, and Assyrians), they have had traditions of centuries sharing their languages through commerce. Babylonians-Akkadians and Assyrians shared more or less the same east Semitic language at a certain point during the Bronze Age, and they had dictionaries and specialized translators in between to communicate with the Sumerians.  The concept of bilingualism was inherent to the Mesopotamian cultures. Sumerians knew they needed dictionaries to learn to communicate with the rest and they were able to do it.
  4. Preservation of their cultures: All the Mesopotamian bronze age cultures had a passion to preserve and save everything in writing. Law Writing was a rare art made only by professionals. Scribes were important because they preserved their history (traditions), their laws, their diplomatic actions and war epics, their transactions (economy), their arts and sciences, their building developments. The Mesopotamians kept thousands of clay tablets of letters, law documents, which have been discovered just around 100 years ago. I expect more discoveries about them in the future.
  5. The organization of the Mesopotamian societies was pivotal to the law and law enforcement. They tried to put an order in the middle of chaos and battles. Hammurabi´s code is one of the examples. Even though we don´t agree with some of the harsh laws or extreme punishments of Hammurabi´s code, it is interesting to observe the role of regulation and law enforcement in these incipient societies. In addition, their dependence on the military force and military tactics for expansion has been registered. The Mesopotamians put their own society in order by using the law. They also created and used a judicial system. That gives us a hint about the role of the government in terms of security. It is curious to me to find that the Mesopotamian strict mental frames and on-guard disposition to protect their territories, triggered the expansion of their economic growth and societies success.
  6. Finally, arts and sciences development were paired with their economic development. The quality of their sculptures, painting, architecture, literature or other art creations reflects their corporate strategy. The quality of the last artistic productions made by Assyrians and Babylonians is extremely professional which shows them with a high level of intelligence.
  7. Too big to fail. All of these Mesopotamian disappeared with time. We can name many causes. They were conquered by others by force or military power. Once a culture develops and shows splendor, too much radiance attracts others to conquer them. Natural causes can be recalled: drought and climate change events caused some of them to collapse. Probably, along with the attendant ills of famine, disruption of trade, wars, and disease.

I invite you to visit the websites below. They can provide better stimulation for you to learn and see the artistic creations and the millenarian ancestors’ lessons for our present and future.

Next week we will continue our sailing journey through the art of the Bronze Age. It will be the turn for India and China Bronze Age artistic creations. We are going to India first.

Stay tuned. Blessings.bee

Sources of Reference utilized to write this article:

Disclaimer: All the presentation slides shown on this blog are prepared by Eleonora Escalante MBA-MEng. Nevertheless, all the pictures or videos shown on this blog are not mine.  I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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