Who was the first person in recorded history?
October 4, 2008 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Who was the first person mentioned in recorded history? I remember that my high school history teacher said it was Sargon I of Akkad, but I can't find any reference to that anywhere.
posted by borkingchikapa to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I understand your question.

Do you mean, what individual is named in the oldest piece of writing we know of? Or what individual is claimed to be a long way back, in some newer piece of writing?

I'm not sure the question is definitively answerable either way.
posted by Class Goat at 2:22 PM on October 4, 2008

posted by mikewas at 2:37 PM on October 4, 2008

A bit related: Enheduanna is likely the first named author in history, she is an author of hymns to goddess Inanna, composed ~2200BC. From wikipedia: The hymns she wrote to Inanna celebrate her individual relationship with Inanna, thereby setting down the earliest surviving verbal account of an individual's consciousness of her inner life. From wikipedia on Sargon: Sargon is regarded as one of the first individuals in recorded history to create a multiethnic, centrally ruled empire, and his dynasty controlled Mesopotamia for around a century and a half. So, I bet he's not the first individual because Egyptian earliest dynasties start at around ~3000BC. First Pharaoh Narmer might be the first recorded person.
posted by rainy at 2:48 PM on October 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

with regards to that region,
"The earliest name on the list whose existence has been authenticated through recent archaeological discoveries is that of En-me-barage-si of Kish (ca. 2600 BC)."
(That's from the Sumerian King List.)

Second to that is Narmer, from Egypt; older (31st century BCE! WTF!) but more questionable as to his actual historicity.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 2:50 PM on October 4, 2008

Also I have to add that Adam is way too short to be a proper near-eastern name, and there's absofuckingloutely no evidence for his existence.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 2:51 PM on October 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anything your high school history teacher said on this subject is almost certainly no longer true.

Outside of Egypt (meaningful translation of Hieroglyphs starts in the mid 1800s), history prior to the late iron age is a very recent field of study. Nearly all of it relying on languages first translated in the mid 1900s and not really understood until well into the later half of the 20th century.

It is a living, rapidly changing field. Most of the known ancient writings (clay tables especially) have not yet been translated and studied and only a tiny fraction of known sites have been excavated.
posted by Riemann at 3:34 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

The chapters of Genesis that deal with Adam were probably finalized around the 4 or 5 century BCE from overlapping myths dating from perhaps the 10th century. So, most of the other individuals mentioned up thread would be considerably older.

One of the complicating problems is that so much of ancient story telling is first handed down by word of mouth, then put to writing, before often being lost, destroyed, and only sometimes rediscovered.

For example the Iliad was written sometime in the 7th, 8th, or perhaps 9th century BCE, but much of the narrative and many of the characters (some historical, others not) are much older.
posted by wfrgms at 3:53 PM on October 4, 2008

Some writings are amazingly old. The Epic of Gilgamesh is thought to date back more than 3000 years, and though the first major translation of it came out in 1880 a newly revised and more complete translation appeared just 7 years ago.

It's an epic poem, heroic fantasy, but it may be loosely based on a real person who lived in the 27th century BCE.

So as Riemann says, this is a time of amazing ferment in the study of ancient writings, and I'm sure that new winners of the "Oldest" title emerge regularly.
posted by Class Goat at 4:35 PM on October 4, 2008

The very first ruler of whom we have positive evidence is Enmebaragesi, king of Kish (circa 2700 b.c.). In the King List, an ancient record of the rulers of Sumer, he is noted as having ‘carried away as spoil the weapons of Elam.’ Around the time of Enmebaragesi’s campaign against Elam came the earliest account of a long-distance campaign. King Gilgamesh of Uruk needed cedar for construction of a temple, and set off for the mountains: ‘I will cut down the cedar. An everlasting name I will establish for myself! Orders…to the armorers will I give….’ And Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316 b.c.) provided history with the name of its first career conqueror. -- historynet

The confirmed existence of Enmebaragesi leads to the inference that Gilgamesh was also historical, but similar proof does not exist.
posted by dhartung at 9:38 PM on October 4, 2008

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