The Sumerian Sargon Legend

The Sumerian Sargon Legend presents a dramatic tale involving omens, intrigue, and divine destiny. The story begins when the supreme gods An and Enlil decide to end Ur-Zababa’s rule over the city of Kish. The young Sargon of Akkad, then serving as the king’s cupbearer, has a prophetic dream in which the goddess Inanna submerges Ur-Zababa (or Sargon himself) in a river of blood. Sargon relates his dream to Ur-Zababa, who feels threatened and schemes to have him killed, not once but twice—first by the chief smith, then by another king, Lugalzagesi. In avoiding Ur-Zababa’s murderous traps, Sargon is supported by the goddess Inanna, who remains constantly at his right side. Though the ending is fragmentary, the text suggests that Sargon eventually prevails and becomes king of Kish.

This story about Sargon’s early career and rise to power has come down to us through cuneiform tablets dating from the Old Babylonian period, though the original text would have been composed much earlier, probably during the Ur III dynasty. As a historical-literary work, the Sumerian Sargon Legend combined fact and fiction within a narrative poetic structure, drawing from biographical and folklore traditions to promote the image of a divinely favored king who rose from humble origins to rule a vast empire. Stories such as this would have resonated with later Mesopotamian kings who sought to emulate Sargon’s success.

Sources: Cooper and Heimpel (1983); Cooper (1985); Afanas’eva (1987); Alster (1987); “Sargon and Ur-Zababa,” ETCSL: t.2.1.4.

Image: Fragmentary text from the Sumerian Sargon Legend, c. 1800-1700 BCE (First Dynasty of Babylon). Clay, 6.2 x 7.2 x 2.5 cm. Louvre Museum, AO 7673; TCL 16,73. Photo: Louvre Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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