This ancient legend
tells the story
was the first of the Akkadian
rulers, ruling in Mesopotamia
from 2234-2279 BCE, but the story
sometime in the first millennium BCE, well over 1000 years after his death
. This fact is vital in discerning the purpose of this text.
Sargon’s origins are still unclear, and it is presumed that he was not of royal blood and usurped the throne. There is no evidence of his true lineage; he claims to initially have been the king of Kish, a city which has not yet been located. He founded a new dynasty and quickly came to control southern Mesopotamia, also known as Akkad or Agade. Furthermore, the Sumerian translation of his name is Sharrukin, which means ‘True King’. He would not have felt the need to reify his legitimate rule if he truly was of royal blood.
According to the text, Sargon was conceived and borne in secret in the city of Azupiranu. His mother was a high priestess and he did not know his father. Upon birth, his mother put him in a reed basket which she had sealed with pitch and sent him down the river. He was picked up by a man named Aqqi as he was drawing water. He then claims to have worked in an orchard, and that the great goddess Ishtar blessed him. As result, he says he ruled for fifty-five years over the ‘black headed folk’, the Sumerians. He then briefly discusses his military prowess. Finally, he wishes all that has occurred to him upon his successor. The tablet is then broken, and the text is incomplete.
The first thing that strikes the modern reader is the sharp parallel between Sargon’s birth and the birth of Moses as described in the Bible. Both were sent down the river in a reed basket waterproofed with pitch. Much more than a simple coincidence, this exemplifies the influence of Mesopotamia literature on the Bible. Other examples include the Babylonian Creation Epic and the Babylonian Flood Epic.
The most vital aspect of this story is its propagandistic purpose. It was written in the roughly 700 BCE. At this time, the Assyrian throne had been usurped and kingship was taken by a man who named himself Sargon II. He ruled Assyria from 722-705 BCE, and was definitely not of the royal line. Upon assuming power, he built a new capital on virgin soil and called it Dur-Sharrukin (also known as Khorsabad), the Fort of Sharrukin (the True King).
He named himself after the first Sargon, who was a very well known and highly respected king, although he had ruled over 1500 years prior. This was one of many links he forged between himself and the prior ruler in order to legitimate his reign. During his reign, many texts were authored glorifying the first Sargon, and as a result, legitimating the second Sargon’s reign. The birth legend tried to draw parallels between the two kings, showing that the Sargon’s murky origins validate Sargon II’s similarly murky history.
It is also important to look at the target audience. At this time, literacy was reserved for scribes, priests, and high officials. Common citizens not only did not know how to read, but did not have access to many of the existing documents, such as this. This was most likely limited to the king’s palace or sent off to foreign rulers, and had a very limited audience. It was authored in order to reinforce Sargon II’s power among his inner court.
This exemplifies George Orwell's statement in 1984, "Who controls the present, controls the past, who controls the past, controls the future." Propaganda was a major function of Assyrian art and literature.
Many other accounts glorifying Sargon I were written during the reign of Sargon II, such as exaggerated claims of military supremacy and conquest.