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Kish Tradition

The phrase Kish Tradition, though vague, represents its status somewhere between a Kish Civilization and a Kish Culture.

The Kish Tradition brings to mind two things: the lingual, writing, bureaucratic, measures and religious facets of a new culture in Sumer called the Kish tradition; and the export of this culture from Kish beginning in the Early Dynastic III era, and especially under Sargon and his successors, thus redefining Sumer and greatly influencing the rest of Mesopotamia.

Much like the esoterically labeled Sumerian Problem and Uruk Expansion, the Kish Tradition is best understood if thought of as an explanation to a problem. In this case, modern scholars found that the initial kaleidoscope of local Sumerian dialects gave way in the Early Dynastic III era to a Semitic language (Akkadian) written in Sumerian cuneiform. Sumerian began its descent into becoming a dead language. Written Akkadian used the syllabic values of cuneiform characters (ie, using the characters for lap and ease to spell the Spanish word for pencil, lápiz), and also reused some Sumerograms but with different sound values (ie, the symbol for a house is the same whether an English house or Spanish casa). Sumerologists have thus decided to identify a Kish Tradition (something between a Kish civilization and a local Kish culture) in light of this apparent shift since Kish is the epicenter in light of its growing dominance. For comparison, students can reflect on how Uruk was once an epicenter from which traditions spread throughout Mesopotamia (though the types of traditions and their mechanisms of spreading were different). The Kish Tradition, with its lingual dimension, thus replaced Sumerian culture and the Sumerian language was utterly dead except when used, rarely, to archaize. However, Kish and Sumerian were not entirely different, and Sumerian religous and literary traditions were translated but unchanged.

The Kish tradition first spread when Early Dynastic city-states reached out for trade and diplomatic exchange with their neighbors and the use of the Kishite (a dialect of Akkadian at Kish) began to spread, particularly the spoken Akkadian language and the Akkadian speakers' Semitic names). This is evidenced by tablets at Nippur, Abu Salabkih, Farah (ancient Sharrupak), Mari and Ebla, but can also be extrapolated from statuary, seals and small decorative items. Meanwhile, Uruk, Ur, Umma and Lagash all operated independently religiously and militarily. This changed when Sargon seized Kish, thus becoming King of Kish, and conquered Mesopotamia. From his seat at Kish (later his new capital at Akkad) he furthered the spread of the Kish Tradition by implementing lingual, bureaucratic and religious reforms across his territory; in particular, he instituted Akkadian as the language of bureaucracy, thus wiping Sumerian from its final stronghold as the language of state. Sumerian was no longer the lingua franca of everyday use anyways, as is shown by the use of Akkadian personal, geographic and divine names while their Sumerian counterparts slipped into obscurity. Under the shadow of Sargon's enormous hegemon, outside city-states also adopted the Kish Tradition to varying degrees.




An identical writing system was implemented throughout Sargon's territory. As early as the Early Dynastic III era, cities as far north along the Euphrates as Ebla and Mari adopted a Sumerian writing system but with Akkadian names; this occurred via strong scribal contacts between Kish and Ebla, and Ebla and Mari, pushing the Kishite (language of the Kish area) influenced languages along the Euphrates. Sargon implemented Akkadian as the language of government, as Sumerian had long since been replaced in everyday usage by Akkadian. However, written Akkadian borrowed the syllabic symbols of Sumerian cuneiform; and many Sumerograms, the symbols used in Sumerian cuneiform, remained the same (for example, the symbol for a house is the same whether it's sounded out as English house or Spanish casa).


The sexagesimal decimal system became standardized Abu Salabikh, Ebla and Mari. Incidentally, it would determine the modern world's own sexagesimal system of keep track of seconds of time.


A standard system of measures, which also influenced Ebla.


Month names and year dates were identical throughout the kingdom, rather than being dictates by individual city-states' own kings (under Sargon, reduced to mere provincial rulers). Interestingly, rebellious city-states which seceded and became independent (with varying degrees of success) would began implementing their own month names. Of note, the standard month names in use were Semitic. The year dates at Abu Salabikh and Mari were identical.


Semitic personal, divine and geographical names became prevalent. Gods' native Sumerian names were replaces with new Semitic Akkadian names.


Sargon began the tradition of the entu, the high priestess for both the moon god Nanna at Ur and the Heaven god An at Uruk. For such powerful gods, only the best earthly wife would suffice and the king's own daughter was thus appointed; she had a residence within the temple courtyard of Nanna's temple at Ur called the giparu. The entu tradition persisted, and even later usurpers would allow the entu to die of natural causes before appointing his own daughter.