The Neo-Assyrian Birth Legend

The Neo-Assyrian Birth Legend expanded on the literature about Sargon of Akkad’s humble origins, drawing from biographical traditions as well as folklore themes including the infant exposure motif. In this ‘pseudo-autobiographical’ text, likely composed during the reign of Sargon II (722-706 BCE), Sargon described his early life as foundling raised by a gardener, who became a gardener himself, favored by the goddess Ishtar. After boasting of his many heroic achievements and conquests, he challenged future kings to match his success. The following excerpt is from the beginning, lines 1-14.

“Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkade, am I. My mother was an en-priestess(?), my father I never knew. My father’s brother inhabits the highlands. My city is Azupiranu, which lies on the bank of the Euphrates. She conceived me, my en-priestess mother, in concealment she gave me birth, She set me in a wicker basket, with bitumen she made my opening watertight, She cast me down into the river from which I could not ascend. The river bore me, to Aqqi the water-drawer it brought me. Aqqi the water-drawer, when lowering his bucket, did lift me up, Aqqi the water-drawer did raise me as his adopted son, Aqqi the water-drawer did set me to his gardening. While I was (still) a gardener, Istar did grow fond of me, And so for [. . .] years I did reign as king, The black-headed people, I did rule and govern.”

Translation: Westenholz (1997). Other Sources: Lewis (1976/1980); Pritchard (1969).

Image: Fragment of a Cuneiform Tablet with the Birth Legend of Sargon of Akkad, from the Library of Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BCE). Clay, 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.6 cm. Excavated in Nineveh (Kouyunjik, Iraq). British Museum, K.3401. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5.

%d bloggers like this: