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he land of Elam, or Elamais to the Greeks, lay in the highlands to the immediate east of Sumeria and the adjoining region along the coast of the Persian Gulf. To its natives it was Haltamti, to the Assyrians Elamtu, and it appears as the place name of Elam in the bible. To its north lay the Zagros mountains and the city (and associated region of) of Susa, whilst eastward the coast extended to the city (and associated region of Anshan). Elam, Susa and Anshan are often considered together and referred to as Elam, although confusingly in classical times the same region was generally referred to as Susiana (after Susa).
Almost nothing is known about the history of Elam during the 17th-15th centuries B.C.E., but it appears to have suffered greatly from the migrations of the peoples who descended upon the Babylonian plain from the Zagros mountains. Elam rose to prominence again at the beginning of the 13th century B.C.E. The most famous king of that period was Untash-napirisha, who reigned during the first half of the 13th century and built his capital, Dur-Untash, the modern Tchoga Zambil ("Basket Hill"), 25 mi. (40 km.) southeast of Susa. Here was found the best preserved ziggurat, or temple tower, in all of the ancient Near East, still 82 ft. (25 m.) tall. The Elamite language and pantheon became more popular around Susa in the period. Untash-Napirisha honored both the lowland god Inshushinak and the highland god Napirisha in his temple complex.
Little is known of the cultures of Iran during the early Bronze ages. However, it is clear that during these early periods, the rugged broken landscape of the Iranian Plateau, forced man into a variety of relatively isolated cultures. These cultures did not participate in the developments that led to the full urbanised civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia to their west, or in the Indus Valley to their south.
In contrast, the Elamites were the contemporaries of neighbouring cultures to the west in every way. The centre of Elam was (what is now) "Khuzestan". Though geographically, Elam included more than Khuzestan, it was a combination of the lowlands, and the immediate highland areas to the north and east. The major cities of Elam were, Awan, Anshan, Simash, and Susa. Here they had the same high level of civilization as their neighbours, with the same agriculture, the same architecture (the Elamites built Ziggurats too), and the same technology in mathematics and the sciences.
The centre of Elam was (what is now) "Khuzestan". Though geographically, Elam included more than Khuzestan, it was a combination of the lowlands, and the immediate highland areas to the north and east. The major cities of Elam were, Awan, Anshan, Simash, and Susa. Little is known of the cultures of Iran during the early Bronze ages.
Elam was closely connected with Mesopotamia, serving as a source of its raw materials, wood, stone, and metals and as the route for precious metals and stones like lapis lazuli, the blue stone prized by the Mesopotamians, which were brought from as far away as Afghanistan. The Elamites also raided the valleys of the Diyala and the Tigris, and, according to the Sumerian King List, the Awan dynasty, the most ancient royal dynasty in Elam, ruled Sumer for a time. There is a poorly understood treaty between the Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin and an Elamite ruler from around 2200 B.C.E. In the 21st century B.C.E., the kings of the third dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia annexed Elam, and Susa became a seat of Sumerian governors.
However, it is clear that during these early periods, the rugged broken landscape of the Iranian Plateau, forced man into a variety of relatively isolated cultures. These cultures did not participate in the developments that led to the full urbanised civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia to their west, or in the Indus Valley to their south. Elam city was contemporary with its neighbouring cultures in every way.
Shadows of Bronze
During the Early Bronze Age, Elam, Susa and Anshan formed an extension of the same broad cultural region as Mesopotamia, and its cities, citizenry and armies would have been comparable in appearance if perhaps lacking wealth and sophistication to some degree. However, the Elamites spoke their own language and originally wrote it using their own script, though later an adapted form of Akkadian cuneiform was used. Elam_Map Map showing extent of Elamite domains prior to the Gutian invasions.
Elamite history is more difficult to trace than that of Sumerian or Akkadian states because what records once existed were probably destroyed during the Assyrian period, so our information comes from Elam’s enemies. The earliest of these was King Enmebaragesi of Kish, whose conquest of Elam is recorded somewhat before 2500BC as part of the Sumerian King list. We do not get to firm ground with Elamite history until about 2300 BC, during the time of the Akkadian Empire.
However, from the claims and counterclaims of various rulers it is obvious that there were times when Sumerian Kings extended their rule eastward over parts of Elam, and other times when Elamite Kings ruled over parts of Sumer. Eannatum of Lagash was one of those whose domain expanded to include Elam, for example. ‘Many tounged’ Hamazi – to use the epithet attributed to it in the Gilgamesh epic, was a city in Elam that briefly dominated parts of Sumeria under its king Hadanish– although no one knows exactly where this interestingly named city was.
During the reign of Sargon of Akkad (c2300BC), both Susa and Elam were conquered and brought within the Akkadian Empire. The same local rulers often continued in power, but in a subservient role, and these ‘governors’ (as they now effectively were) campaigned against neighbouring hill tribes on the Akkadian Kings behalf. After the fall of the Akkadian Empire the governor of Susa asserted the region’s independence. He was called Kutik-Inshushinak. Having proved a successful commander on behalf of the last Akkadian King, he went on to conquer Anshan to the east of Elam and united the Elamites under his rule. These achievements were soon swept away by the invasion of a barbarous people from the North – the Gutians – who went on to wreak havoc throughout Sumer and Akkad until finally defeated in about 2050BC by a resurgent Sumer led by Ur-Nammu King of Ur. The subsequent Ur III dynasty was itself overrun and destroyed by the Elamites in 2004BC under their king Kindattu.
The following four hundred years are known as the Amorite period in Mesopotamia, during which the old order was swept away and new Amorite dynasties replaced Akkadian rulers. At the beginning of the Amorite period the land must have endured a period of anarchy, with Amorites marauding and sometimes resettling old cities or founding new ones, and the Elamites attacking and taking the cities of Sumeria to the south. There must have been many battles over hundreds of years, as the Sumerian cities either fought to free themselves from foreign rule or submitted to the lordship of the Elamites. The Sumerian city of Larsa emerged as the most powerful of these remergent states, reconquering much of southern Mesopotamia and battling for control of Susa. But the Elamites certainly remained a power in the land, sacking Akkad on one occasion and plundering its temples. One can only imagine a world of politics and diplomacy in which the different Mesopotamian and Elamite states vied with each other to secure alliances and protect their own interests.
The consolidation and rise of Elam in the 12th century B.C.E. coincided with the decline of Babylon during the rule of the last kings of the Kassite dynasty. The Elamites made several raids into Babylonia, plundered Sippar and its temples, and brought as booty to Susa royal monuments including the stele of the Code of Hammurapi now in the Louvre Museum. In 1159 B.C.E. the Elamites seized the city of Babylon itself and captured the statue of Marduk, its god, and snuffed out the long-lived Kassite dynasty. Elam's military ascendancy ended, however, with the renewal of Babylonian power during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I (1125–1104 B.C.E.), who defeated the Elamites, captured Susa, and brought the statue of Marduk back to Babylon.
However, eventually the Elamites were driven out of Mesopotamia altogether by the Babylonians under Hammurabi – the greatest of the Amorite Kings. By 1763BC the Babylonians had taken control of all southern Mesopotamia, including their former ally Larsa, and the power of Elam had been crushed.
Elamite forces in their heyday were very much similar to the armies of other contemporary powers in Mesopotamia, however, they were noted for their archers, implying these made up a greater portion of their forces than in the case of their enemies. Given that Elam lay amongst a mountainous region bordered by savage hill tribes, it is also reasonable to assume that subjugated locals would have provided some of the army’s muscle – at least in the form of auxiliary or light troops. These would have included archers no doubt, but also slingers and javelinmen – the typical armaments of tribal raiders. In other respects the armies would be the same as those of the Mesopotamian states themselves as far as we can tell, and they can be represented by the same army lists.
Decline and Annihilation
The decline of Elam was rapid and there are no further records of its history until the eighth century B.C.E. During this, the last period of Elam's history as an independent state, the Elamites joined forces with the Chaldean tribes in their wars against Sargon and Sennacherib, kings of Assyria, until their final defeat by Assurbanipal (669–627 B.C.E.), who devastated Elam. In a series of bloody battles (647–646 B.C.E.), the Assyrians razed most of the cities of Elam, especially Susa, deliberately desecrating its holy places, and destroying the temple of Inshushinak.
There were attempts at the beginning of the Neo-Babylonian period to rebuild Elam, but they were never totally successful. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire (612–610 B.C.E.), Elam was incorporated into the greater kingdom of Media; and after the defeat of Astyages, king of Media, by Cyrus, the Persian king, it became an integral part of his empire. Cyrus even called himself "King of Anshan," thus adopting the ancient title of the Elamite rulers (see *Cyrus). In the administrative division of the Persian Empire, Elam became the satrapy of Uja, Huja, or Huvja (whence Huz, in Middle Persian, and modern Khuzistan). Susa was rebuilt with magnificent palaces, and became a capital city of the Persian monarchs, second only to Persepolis. The Elamite language continued as the second language after Persian and equal with Akkadian in the royal inscriptions of the kings of Persia. The name Elam was still used in I Maccabees 6:1 (Elymais, ΕλνμαῒϚ, attacked by Antiochus IV Epiphanes) and by Greek and Roman writers (Elamitai, Ὲλαμῖται, Acts 2:9).