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La Chute d'Akkade: L'Evenement et sa memoire.

The dynasty of Agade ruled Sumer and Akkad for approximately one century, between 2200 and 2100 B.C. Much archaeological and epigraphic data from those hundred-or-so years has been recovered, and yet we know very little about the history of the period. Our vision has been clouded by the work of later poets and propagandists, for the Dynasty of Agade was one that broke new ground in political propaganda and acquired legendary status in the memories of later scribes. More than a thousand years after the fall of the Akkad state, Assyrian writers composed a fictitious autobiography of Sargon, the founder of the dynasty, and compositions concerning him, as well as those dealing with his grandson, Naram-Sin, were revised and copied in the last Assyrian libraries. We therefore know much more about the historiographic reinterpretations of later writers than we do about the times of the Akkad kings - so much so that the end of the dynasty is completely undocumented. There are no contemporary records of the process that led to the fall of the city, nor of the immediate circumstances of that debacle. Unlike any other city in Mesopotamian historiography, Akkad was never fully occupied again, and it appears only rarely in later sources. This fall, its consequences, and the remembrance of the event in Mesopotamian written memory, are the subject of this book by Jean-Jacques Glassner.

In view of the fact that there have been few synthetic monographic treatments of this historical period, the work under review acquires a special status and will undoubtedly be consulted by historians who do not have a working familiarity with all the sources utilized by Glassner. It is therefore important that the author opens his analysis with a general chapter on "the original characteristics of Akkadian imperialism" in which he discusses not only the practical elements of political structure but also argues for the reconstruction of the native ideology of empire of the times. This is followed by the two major chapters of the book: the first is on the "event history" of the Akkadian dynasty, followed by a chapter on the ways in which this series of events was transformed in later memory. The book ends with a short synthesis.

At the very beginning of his work Glassner sounds a series of warnings on the limits of historical understanding. He is very much aware of the paucity of information for a period when texts were rarely dated, the wording of administrative texts was often laconic, and when only selected data were committed to writing. He is also sensitive to the fact that one cannot rely on later secondary sources for the reconstruction of Akkad-dynasty history, even though many modern writers on the subject seem to find these later accounts much too interesting to set aside. Glassner does not reject these sources outright, for he is interested in their status as historiographic documents that shed light on ideas of history from their own times, but he does subject them to historical scrutiny. His caution is commendable as he repeatedly stresses the difficulties encountered in the analysis of isolated and difficult texts.

The period of the ascent of the kings of Agade was the first successful long-term effort at consolidating the city-states of Mesopotamia and of attempts by one center to permanently occupy surrounding territories. The three major aspects of Akkadian imperial policy were, according to the author, the centralization of the state, the agonistic function of the ruler, and the creation and exploitation of large agricultural tracts. All three are complex and must be analyzed on the level of immediate economic praxis, as well as on the ideological level. Administrative centralization is documented in various types of documents, and it is clear that, from the time of Naram-Sin at least, some form of centralized schooling was in effect, providing a uniformity to documents that may mask local distinctions. This can be seen from the standardization of certain writing habits, most notably the abandonment of a specific graphemic constituent, the upward vertical wedge, a seemingly small reform, but one that is almost impossible to explain if one does not posit uniform scribal training. This economic and ideological centralization was not imposed without local opposition, and therefore one is hardly surprised that at the death of each king the provinces revolted time and time again. The tension between Agade and the other city-states was never properly resolved, and the centrifugal forces that were constantly at play eventually led to the internal collapse of the state. The details of this collapse can only be inferred at present, and Glassner has admirably collected and explained the meager evidence available to us.

This is a sober and intelligent presentation of matters that scholars will return to time and time again, and this book will serve as an important guide and starting point for anyone interested in the rise and fall of ancient state formations.
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Author:Michalowski, Piotr
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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