Elam was an ancient civilization located in what is now southwest Iran. Elam was centered in the far west and the southwest of modern-day Iran, stretching from the lowlands of Khuzestan and Ilam Province, as well as a small part of southern Iraq.

Situated just to the east of Mesopotamia, Elam was part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic. The emergence of written records from around 3000 BC also parallels Mesopotamian history. In the Old Elamite period (Middle Bronze Age), Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands. Its culture played a crucial role in the Gutian Empire, especially during the Achaemenid dynasty that succeeded it, when the Elamite language remained among those in official use.

The Elamite language has no established affinities with any other, and seems to be a language isolate such as Sumerian; however some researchers have posited the existence of a larger group known as Elamo-Dravidian. Linguists such as Václav Blažek and Georgiy Starostin criticised Elamo-Dravidian Hypothesis and concluded that Elamite language was related to Afroasiatic languages. However, these theories have heavily been criticized.


The Elamites called their country Haltamti[1], Sumerian ELAM, Akkadian Elamû, female Elamītu "resident of Susiana, Elamite".[2] Additionally, it is known as Elam in the Hebrew Bible, where they are called the offspring of Elam, eldest son of Shem (see Elam in the Bible; Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9).

The high country of Elam was increasingly identified by its low-lying later capital, Susa. Geographers after Ptolemy called it Susiana. The Elamite civilization was primarily centered in the province of what is modern-day Khuzestān, however it did extend into the later province of Fars in prehistoric times. The modern provincial name Khuzestān is derived from Persian: Old Persian Hūjiya "Elam" (Old Persian: ������[1]) became Middle Persian Huź "Susiana" and New Persian Xuz, gaining the common New Persian location ending -stån "place" (cf. Sistan "Saka-land").


Template:History of Iran Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary, reconstruction being based on mainly Mesopotamian sources. The city of Susa was founded around 5000 BC, and during its early history, fluctuated between submission to Mesopotamian and Elamite power.

Following recent excavations in Jiroft and Zabol, archaeologists have suggested that a close relationship between the Jiroft civilisation and the Elamite civilisation is evidenced by striking similarities in art and culture, as well as by Elamite language writings found in Jiroft—possibly extending the Elamite presence to as early as 7000 BC.

The earliest levels (22–17 in the excavations conducted by Le Brun, 1978) exhibit pottery that has no equivalent in Mesopotamia, but for the succeeding period, the excavated material allows identification with the culture of Sumer of the Uruk period. Proto-Elamite influence from the Persian plateau in Susa becomes visible from about 3200 BC, and texts in the still undeciphered Proto-Elamite writing system continue to be present until about 2700 BC. The Proto-Elamite period ends with the establishment of the Awan dynasty. The earliest known historical figure connected with Elam is the king Enmebaragesi of Kish (c. 2650 BC?), who subdued it, according to the Sumerian king list. However, real Elamite history can only be traced from records dating to beginning of the Akkadian Empire in around 2300 BC onwards.

Elamite civilization grew up east of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the watershed of the river Karun. In modern terms, Elam included more than Khuzestan; it was a combination of the lowlands and the immediate highland areas to the north and east. Some Elamite sites, however, are found well outside this area, spread out on the Iranian plateau; examples of Elamite remains farther north and east in Iran are Sialk in Isfahan Province and Jiroft [1] in Kerman Province. Elamite strength was based on an ability to hold these various areas together under a coordinated government that permitted the maximum interchange of the natural resources unique to each region. Traditionally, this was done through a federated governmental structure.

The history of Elam is conventionally divided into three periods, spanning more than two millennia. The period before the first Elamite period is known as the proto-Elamite period:

  • Proto-Elamite: c. 3200 BC – 2700 BC (Proto-Elamite script in Susa)
  • Old Elamite period: c. 2700 BC – 1600 BC (earliest documents until the Eparti dynasty)
  • Middle Elamite period: c. 1500 BC – 1100 BC (Anzanite dynasty until the Babylonian invasion of Susa)
  • Neo-Elamite period: c. 1100 BC – 539 BC (characterized by Iranian and Syrian influence. 539 BC marks the beginning of the Achaemenid period)

Old Elamite Period

The Old Elamite period began around 2700 BC. Historical records mention the conquest of Elam by Enmebaragesi of Kish. Three dynasties ruled during this period. We know of twelve kings of each of the first two dynasties, those of Awan (or Avan; c. 2400–2100 BC) and Simash (c. 2100–1970 BC), from a list from Susa dating to the Old Babylonian period. Two Elamite dynasties said to have exercised brief control over Sumer in very early times include Awan and Hamazi; and likewise, several of the stronger Sumerian rulers, such as Eannatum of Lagash and Lugal-anne-mundu of Adab, are recorded as temporarily dominating Elam.

The Avan dynasty was partly contemporary with that of Sargon of Akkad, who not only defeated the Awan king Luhi-ishan and subjected Susa, but attempted to make Akkadian the official language there. From this time, Mesopotamian sources concerning Elam become more frequent, since the Mesopotamians had developed an interest in resources (such as wood, stone, and metal) from the Iranian plateau, and military expeditions to the area became more common.

However, with the collapse of Akkad under Sargon's great-grandson, Shar-kali-sharri, Elam declared independence under the last Avan king, Kutik-Inshushinak (c. 2240–2220 BC), and threw off the Akkadian language, promoting in its place the brief Linear Elamite script.

Kutik-Inshushinnak conquered Susa and Anshan, and seems to have achieved some sort of political unity. Following his reign, the Awan dynasty collapsed as Elam was temporarily overrun by the Guti.

About a century later, Shulgi of Ur retook the city of Susa and the surrounding region. During the first part of the rule of the Simashki dynasty, Elam was under intermittent attack from Mesopotamians and Gutians, alternating with periods of peace and diplomatic approaches. Shu-Sin of Ur, for example, gave one of his daughters in marriage to a prince of Anshan. But the power of the Sumerians was waning; Ibbi-Sin in the 21st century did not manage to penetrate far into Elam, and in 2004 BC, the Elamites, allied with the people of Susa and led by king Kindattu, the sixth king of Simashk, managed to sack Ur and lead Ibbi-Sin into captivity—thus ending the third dynasty of Ur. However, the kings of Isin, successor state to Ur, did manage to drive the Elamites out of Ur, rebuild the city, and to return the statue of Nanna that the Elamites had plundered.

The succeeding dynasty, the Eparti (c. 1970–1770 BC), also called "of the sukkalmahs" because of the title borne by its members, was contemporary with the Old Babylonian period in Mesopotamia. This period is confusing and difficult to reconstruct. It was apparently founded by Eparti I. During this time, Susa was under Elamite control, but Mesopotamian states such as Larsa continually tried to retake the city. Around 1850 BC Kudur-mabug, apparently king of another Elamite state to the north of Susa, managed to install his son, Warad-Sin, on the throne of Larsa, and Warad-Sin's brother, Rim-Sin, succeeded him and conquered much of Mesopotamia for Larsa.

Notable Eparti dynasty rulers in Elam during this time include Sirukdukh (c. 1850 BC), who entered various military coalitions to contain the rising power of Babylon; Siwe-Palar-Khuppak, who for some time was the most powerful person in the area, respectfully addressed as "Father" by Mesopotamian kings such as Zimrilim of Mari, and even Hammurabi of Babylon, and Kudur-Nahhunte, who plundered the temples of Akkad. But Elamite influence in Mesopotamia did not last. Around 1760 BC, Hammurabi drove out the Elamites, overthrew Rim-Sin of Larsa, and established Babylonian dominance in Mesopotamia.

Little is known about the latter part of this dynasty, since sources again become sparse with the Kassite rule of Babylon (from c. 1595 BC).

Middle Elamite Period

The Middle Elamite period began with the rise of the Anshanite dynasties around 1500 BC. Their rule was characterized by an "Elamisation" of Susa, and the kings took the title "king of Anshan and Susa". While the first of these dynasties, the Kidinuids continued to use the Akkadian language frequently in their inscriptions, the succeeding Igihalkids and Shutrukids used Elamite with increasing regularity. Likewise, Elamite language and culture grew in importance in Susiana.

The Kidinuids (c. 1500–1400) are a group of five rulers of uncertain affiliation. They are identified by their use of the older title, "king of Susa and of Anshan", and by calling themselves "servant of Kirwashir", an Elamite deity, thereby introducing the pantheon of the highlands to Susiana.

Of the Igehalkids (c. 1400–1210), ten rulers are known, and there were possibly more. Some of them married Kassite princesses. The Kassite king Kurigalzu II temporarily occupied Elam c. 1320 BC, and later (c. 1230) another Kassite king, Kashtiliash IV, fought Elam unsuccessfully. Kiddin-Khutran I of Elam repulsed the Kassites by defeating Enlil-nadin-shumi in 1224 and Adad-shuma-iddina around 1222–17. Under the Igehalkids, Akkadian inscriptions were rare, and Elamite highland gods became firmly established in Susa.

Under the Shutrukids (c. 1210–1100), the Elamite empire reached the height of its power. Shutruk-Nakhkhunte and his three sons, Kutir-Nakhkhunte II, Shilhak-In-Shushinak, and Khutelutush-In-Shushinak were capable of frequent military campaigns into Kassite Mesopotamia, and at the same time were exhibiting vigorous construction activity—building and restoring luxurious temples in Susa and across their Empire. Shutruk-Nakhkhunte raided Akkad, Babylon, and Eshnunna, carrying home to Susa trophies like the statues of Marduk and Manishtushu, the code of Hammurabi and the stela of Naram-Sin.

In 1158 BC, Shutruk-Nakhkhunte defeated the Kassites permanently, killing the Kassite king of Babylon, Zababa-shuma-iddina, and replacing him with his eldest son, Kutir-Nakhkhunte, who held it no more than three years.

Kutir-Nakhkhunte's son Khutelutush-In-Shushinak was probably of an incestuous relation of Kutir-Nakhkhunte's with his own daughter, Nakhkhunte-utu. He ended up temporarily yielding Susa to the forces of Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon, who returned the statue of Marduk. He fled to Anshan, but later returned to Susa, and his brother Shilhana-Hamru-Lagamar may have succeeded him as last king of the Shutrukid dynasty. Following Khutelutush-In-Shushinak, the power of the Elamite empire began to wane seriously, for with this ruler, Elam disappears into obscurity for more than three centuries.

Neo-Elamite Period

Neo-Elamite I (c. 1100–770)

Very little is known of this period. Anshan was still at least partially Elamite. There appear to have been alliances of Elam and Babylonia against the Assyrians; the Babylonian king Mar-biti-apla-ushur (984–979) was of Elamite origin, and Elamites are recorded to have fought with the Babylonian king Marduk-balassu-iqbi against the Assyrian forces under Shamshi-Adad V (823–811).

Neo-Elamite II (c. 770–646)

The later Neo-Elamite period is characterized by a significant migration of Iranians to the Iranian plateau. Assyrian sources beginning around 800 BC distinguish the "powerful Medes", i.e. the actual Medes, and the "distant Medes" that would later enter history under their proper names, (Parthians, Sagartians, Margians, Bactrians, Sogdians etc.). Among these pressuring tribes were the Parsu, first recorded in 844 BC as living on the southeastern shore of Lake Urmiah, but who by the end of this period would cause the Elamites' original home, the Iranian Plateau, to be renamed Persia proper.

More details are known from the late 8th century BC, when the Elamites were allied with Merodach-baladan to defend the cause of Babylonian independence from Assyria. Khumbanigash (743–17) supported Merodach-baladan against Sargon II, apparently with limited success; while his successor, Shutruk-Nakhkhunte II (716–699), was routed by Sargon's troops during an expedition in 710, and another Elamite defeat by Sargon's troops is recorded for 708. The Assyrian victory over Babylon was completed by Sargon's son Sennacherib, who dethroned Merodach-baladan for a second time, finally installing his own son Ashur-nadin-shumi on the Babylonian throne in 700.

Shutruk-Nakhkhunte II, the last Elamite to claim the old title "king of Anshan and Susa", was murdered by his brother Khallushu, who managed to capture Ashur-nadin-shumi and Babylon in 694. Khallushu was in turn assassinated by Kutir-Nakhkhunte, who succeeded him, but soon abdicated in favor of Khumma-Menanu III (692–89). Khumma-Menanu recruited a new army to help the Babylonians against the Assyrians at the battle of Halule in 691 BC. The battle was indecisive, or at least both sides claimed the victory in their annals, but Babylon was destroyed by Sennacherib only two years later.

The reigns of Khumma-Khaldash I (688–81) and Khumma-Khaldash II (680–75) saw a deterioration of Elamite-Babylonian relations, and both of them raided Sippar. At the beginning of Esarhaddon's reign in Assyria (681–669), Nabu-zer-kitti-lišir, an ethnically Elamite governor in the south of Babylonia, revolted and besieged Ur, but fled to Elam where "the king of Elam took him prisoner and put him to the sword" (ABC 1 Col.3:39–42).

Urtaku (674–64) for some time maintained good relations with Assurbanipal (668–27), who sent wheat to Susiana during a famine. But these friendly relations were only temporary, and Urtaku died during another Elamite attack on Mesopotamia.

His successor Tempti-Khumma-In-Shushinak (664–53) was counter-attacked by Assurbanipal, and was killed following the battle of the Ulaï in 653 BC; and Susa was occupied by the Assyrians. In this same year the Mede state to the north fell to the Scythians under Madius, immediately displacing the Parsu tribe to Anshan—which their king Teispes captured that same year, turning it for the first time into an Indo-Iranian kingdom that would a century later become the nucleus of the Achaemenid dynasty.

During a brief respite provided by the civil war between Assurbanipal and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin, the Elamites too indulged in fighting among themselves, so weakening the Elamite kingdom that in 646 BC Assurbanipal devastated Susiana with ease, and sacked Susa. A succession of brief reigns continued in Elam from 651 to 640, each of them ended either due to usurpation, or because of capture of their king by the Assyrians. In this manner, the last Elamite king, Khumma-Khaldash III, was captured in 640 BC by Ashurbanipal, who devastated the country.

In a tablet unearthed in 1854 by Henry Austin Layard, Ashurbanipal boasts of the destruction he had wrought:

Susa, the great holy city, abode of their Gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed...I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt. [3]

Neo-Elamite III (646–539)

The devastation was however less complete than Assurbanipal boasted, and Elamite rule was resurrected soon after with Shuttir-Nakhkhunte, son of III (not to be confused with Shuttir-Nakhkhunte, son of Indada, a petty king in the first half of the 6th century). Elamite royalty in the final century preceding the Achaemenids was fragmented among different small kingdoms. The three kings at the close of the 7th century (Shuttir-Nakhkhunte, Khallutush-In-Shushinak and Atta-Khumma-In-Shushinak ) still called themselves "king of Anzan and of Susa" or "enlarger of the kingdom of Anzan and of Susa", at a time when the Achaemenids were already ruling Anshan. Their successors Khumma-Menanu and Shilhak-In-Shushinak II bore the simple title "king," and the final king Tempti-Khumma-In-Shushinak boasted no title altogether. In 540 BC, Achaemenid rule begins in Susa.


Under the Parthian period, a kingdom of Elymais existed which survived until its extinction by Sassanid invasion in the early third century AD. It was located in the heartland of ancient Elam. Most of Elymais were probably descendants of the ancient Elamites [4].

Elamite religion

In terms of religion, the Elamites practised polytheism. One of the most important figures in their early pantheon was a goddess named Kiririsha, a name with cognates found in the belief systems of other peoples throughout the region. "The very fact that precedence was given to a goddess, who stood above and apart from the other Elamite gods, indicates a matriarchal approach in the devotees of this religion. In the third millennium, this great mother of gods still held undisputed sway at the head of the Elamite pantheon" [5]. According to "The Cambridge Ancient History" [6]: "the predominance of a supreme goddess is probably a reflexion from the practice of matriarchy, which at all times characterized Elamite civilization to a greater or lesser degree". Elam is the first high-culture of Iran and, along with the Sumerians, is considered one of the most developed societies of the ancient history [7].

Elamite language

Elamite is unrelated to the neighboring Semitic, Sumerian, and Indo-European languages. It was written in a cuneiform adapted from Akkadian script, although the very earliest documents were written in the quite different "Linear Elamite" script. In 2006, two even older inscriptions in a similar script were discovered at Jiroft to the east, leading archaeologists to speculate that Linear Elamite had spread from there to Susa. It seems to have developed from an even earlier writing known as "proto-Elamite", but scholars are not unanimous on whether or not this script was used to write Elamite or another language, and it has not yet been deciphered.

David McAlpine believes Elamite may be related to the living Dravidian languages (of southern India, and Brahui in Pakistan). The hypothesized family of Elamo-Dravidian languages may further prove to be connected with the Indus Valley Civilization somewhat to the East, possibly corresponding to Meluhha in Sumerian records. However, such links are at best conjectural, and Harappan pictographs have also yet to be deciphered.

Several stages of the language are attested; the earliest date back to the third millennium BC, the latest to the Achaemenid Empire.

The Elamite language may have survived as late as the early Islamic period. Ibn al-Nadim among other Arab medieval historians, for instance, wrote that "The Iranian languages are Fahlavi (Pahlavi), Dari, Khuzi, Persian and Suryani", and Ibn Moqaffa noted that Khuzi was the unofficial language of the royalty of Persia, "Khuz" being the corrupted name for Elam.

The Elamite legacy

The Assyrians boasted that they had utterly destroyed the Elamites, but new polities emerged in the area after Assyrian power faded. However, they never again exercised the power of the earlier Elamite empires; they controlled the watershed of the Karun and little beyond. Among the nations that benefited from the decline of the Assyrians were the Persians, whose presence around Lake Urmia to the north of Elam is attested from the 9th century BC in Assyrian texts. Some time after that region fell to Madius the Scythian (653 BC), Teispes son of Achaemenes conquered Elamite Anshan in the mid 7th century BC, forming a nucleus that would expand into the Persian Empire.

Elamite influence on the Achaemenids

The rise of the Achaemenids in the 6th century BC brought an end to the existence of Elam as an independent political power "but not as a cultural entity" (Encyclopedia Iranica, Columbia University). Indigenous Elamite traditions, such as the use of the title "king of Anshan" by Cyrus the Great; the "Elamite robe" worn by Cambyses I of Anshan and seen on the famous winged genii at Pasargadae; some glyptic styles; the use of Elamite as the first of three official languages of the empire used in thousands of administrative texts found at Darius’ city of Persepolis; the continued worship of Elamite deities; and the persistence of Elamite religious personnel and cults supported by the crown, formed an essential part of the newly emerging Achaemenid culture in Persian Iran. The Elamites thus became the conduit by which achievements of the Mesopotamian civilizations were introduced to the tribes of the Iranian plateau.

According to the editors of Persians, Masters of Empire: "The Elamites, fierce rivals of the Babylonians, were precursors of the royal Persians" (ISBN 0-8094-9104-4). This view is widely accepted today, as experts unanimously recognize the Elamites to have "absorbed Iranian influences in both structure and vocabulary" by 500 BC. (Encyclopedia Iranica, Columbia University)

The Elamite civilization's originality, coupled with studies carried out at Elamite sites well spread out over the Iranian plateau, have led modern historians to conclude that "The Elamites are the founders of the first Iranian empire in the geographic sense". [8]

Most experts go even further and establish a clear chain of cultural continuity between the Elamites and later dynasties of Iran. Elamologist DT Potts verifies this in writing, "There is much evidence, both archaeological and literary/epigraphic, to suggest that the rise of the Persian empire witnessed the fusion of Elamite and Persian elements already present in highland Fars". [9]

Thus, not only was "Elam absorbed into the new empire" (Encyclopedia Iranica, Columbia University), becoming part of the millennia old imperial heritage of Iran, but the Elamite civilization is now recognized to be "the earliest civilization of Persia", in the words of Sir Percy Sykes.[10]

Post Achaemenid influence

Traditional histories have ended Elamite history with its submergence in the Achaemenids, but Greek and Latin references to "Elymais" attest to cultural survival, according to Daniel Potts. "Elamite" is mentioned in Acts 2:8 in the New Testament as one of the languages heard at the Pentecost, and from 410 onwards Elam (Beth Huzaye) was the senior metropolitan province of the Church of the East, surviving into the fourteenth century.

Elamite studies

In a 2001 talk, Basello Gian Pietro (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples) stated:

While even today the languages play a basic role in our schematisation and teaching of the past, this stepchild shows us how frail the boundaries of our academic subjects are. While ancient Elamites fought against Assyrians and rebelled against Persians, Elamite studies are strictly bound to Assyriology and Iranian studies. As ancient Elam stood and represented a meeting place between Mesopotamian lowland and Iranian highland, so Elamite studies need to grab and grasp data both from Assyriology and Iranian studies and through many fields of work.

Unfortunately, missing an independent academic subject, we have little specific teaching of Elamite studies. As we employ a foreign designation in referring to ancient Anšan and Susiana, Elamite scholars are often Assyriologists, Iranists or Linguists in their academic background, i.e. they have approached Elam later and from an external point of view. [2]

As opposed to the typical view that Elam is of interest only for its contributions to Iranian or Assyrian culture, or for its unique language, some scholars feel that Elam should be studied in its own right, and not annexed to another cultural tradition.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kent, Roland (1953). Old Persian: Grammar, Texts & Lexicon. American Oriental Series. 33). American Oriental Society. pp. 53. ISBN 0940490331. 
  2. Jeremy Black, Andrew George & Nicholas Postgate (eds.), ed (1999). A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian. Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 68. ISBN 3447042257. 
  3. Persians: Masters of Empire. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-8094-9104-4. 
  4. Iranica.com - ELYMAIS
  5. "African presence in early Asia," p.26, 27
  6. "The Cambridge Ancient History," Volumes 1-4, p.400
  7. "African presence in early Asia," p.25
  8. Daniel, Elton. The History of Iran. pp. 26. 
  9. The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State. Cambridge World Archaeology. Chap 9 Introduction. 
  10. Sykes, Percy (1915). A History of Persia. pp. 38. ISBN 0-415-32678-8. 
  • Quintana Cifuentes, E., Historia de Elam el vecino mesopotámico, Murcia, 1997. Estudios Orientales. IPOA-Murcia.
  • Quintana Cifuentes, E., Textos y Fuentes para el estudio del Elam, Murcia, 2000.Estudios Orientales. IPOA-Murcia.
  • Khačikjan, Margaret: The Elamite Language, Documenta Asiana IV, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto per gli Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici, 1998 ISBN 88-87345-01-5
  • Persians: Masters of Empire, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA (1995) ISBN 0-8094-9104-4
  • Potts, Daniel T.: The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State, Cambridge University Press (1999) ISBN 0-521-56496-4 and ISBN 0-521-56358-5
  • McAlpin, David W., Proto Elamo Dravidian: The Evidence and Its Implications, American Philosophy Society (1981) ISBN 0-87169-713-0

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Elam. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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