While Mesopotamia now holds the laurel wreath as the birthplace of the civilisation, it is Akkad which is regarded as the first empire in history–even though no one knows exactly where it was located. Before we get into the archeology of it, the premise I would like to begin with is: what exactly distinguishes an empire from a civilisation?
Even in recent times, when we speak of the British Empire–but we have never called it a ‘civilisation’ and with good reason. A civilisation implies the creation of a new way of life that was progressive. It took society onwards and forwards; marking a golden age in history.
While warfare, ancient or otherwise, has always been a highly organised affair–empire ‘builders’ of past ages indulged in a particular brand of war. It was a war where the victors delighted in violence, warfare and mass suffering. There is a marked ruthlessness that characterises the creation of these empires.
But in the end, the empire itself crashes and burns–and is nowhere to be found. Not even on a map.
The Akkadian Empire
in Assyria, the act of going to war was a religious obligation. They were convinced that armed conflict was the only way to defeat Chaos: the disorder that was created by humans in subversion to a divinely ordered cosmos.
This was, however, not the worldview that prevailed at the beginning of Mesopotamian history. While quarrels and disputes did exist even during during early history, there came a point when a group of people began to delight in violence.
The Akkadian Empire, in particular, relied on brute force vis-a-vis its military rulers. For the first time in human history, the number of casualties numbered the thousands. It altered the conduct and ethics of war.
Unlike other kings that had sat on the throne before him, Naramsin was a military ruler. It was his military conquests which defined his legacy as a king. The ethos and the ethics that had both defined and limited war, seemingly disappeared.
The hallmark moments of every military leader’s rule is the confiscation of the wealth of other peoples, the destruction of their language and culture, as well as the enactment of laws that created continued strife.
Terror and fear were Naramsin’s answer to any sign of resistance. Not satisfied with simply defeating his enemies and their city walls, he subjected entire populations to massacres to ensure that surviving populations remained docile to his rule.
Naramsin even deified himself–which was not the modus operandi prior to that point. This solidified the stance that one should not, under any circumstances, question the king’s absolute authority. The notion that kingship allowed for the mass subjugation of other human beings through war, violence and physical aggression was not a perspective that had been sanctioned, let alone actualised.
With this ‘victory’, a new form of rule was inaugurated. This era marked a peak in warfare; orchestrated by one of the world’s great powers–and self-deified ruler.
Technology was a key factor that allowed for this ‘victory’ to occur. In particular, arrows were considered superior to the spear or sword. This approach, however, rested on the assumption that the annihilation of an enemy is the prime objective of battle.
Military revolutions have profound effects on and off the battlefield. They were the basis of state power and the means of continued dynastic survival. But it was taken to excess, the bow they once fired–returned to them.
Even though the historical records of that era remain, the location of Akkad remains a mystery.