Iranian History/The Elamites

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Origins[edit]

The Elamites called their country Haltamti meaning 'highland' which the Akkadians rendered as Elam. Some people believe that the Elamites are the descendants of Elam, the eldest son of Shem of the Old Testament and hence the name.

Proto-Elamite[edit]

The period between 3200 and 2700BC when the Elamite civilization gradually evolved is known as proto-Elamite period. This was the period when the Jiroft and Zayandeh Rud civilizations flourished in Iran. Tappeh Sialk is one of the prominent monuments of this period.

The script of the proto-Elamite people is yet to be deciphered and bears a striking resemblance to the Indus script.


The Old Elamite Period 2700 - 1600BC[edit]

The Old Elamite period began in about 2700BC when King Peli commenced the Awan Dynasty of Elam. However around 2600BC, Elam was conquered by the legendary king Enmebargesi of Kish of whom we know from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Later, however, the Elamites established their independence and under the later Awans even controlled Sumer. But, there were also intermittent periods when Elam was on the decline and Sumerian rulers like Eannatum and Lugal-Ale-Mundu established their sovereignty over Elam.

The Sumerian king lists mention three successive kings who reigned collectively for a period of 356 years. In 2350BC, Sargon of Akkad inflicted a crushing defeat on the forces of the Avan king Luhi-Ishan and degraded them to the level of vassals. The capital city of Anshan was however not reached by the Akkadians and under Kutik-Inshushinak (or Puzur-Inshushinak) in 2240BC, the Awans not only regained their freedom but even established their control over Sumeria. Kutuk-Inshushinak is described as a blood thirsty monarch who destroyed 70 cities a day. However, he is also credited with having revived Elamite rule in Northern Mesapotamia, Sumer and Akkad, improved the administration of the Elamite kingdom and having extended a temple dedicated to Inshushinak.

A hundred years after the Awan restoration, Elam was attacked by Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi of Ur who put an end to the Awan dynasty. However, Elam regained its freedom under the Shimashki Dynasty whose kings concluded marriage alliances with the rulers of Ur. In 2004BC, the Elamites allied with Susa and attacked Ur putting an end to the Third dynasty.

The Shimashkis were succeeded by the Eparti dynasty. Notable rulers of this dynasty include Sirukhdukh (c.1850BC),Siwe-Palar-Khuppak who was addressed as "Father" by Mesapotamian kings and Kudur-Nahhunte.


Middle Elamite Period 1500-1100BC[edit]

The Middle Elamite Period is characterized by the integration of Susa into the Elamite Empire and adoption of the Elamite language in place of Akkadian by Susiana.

During the Middle Elamite period, three dynasties ruled the kingdom one after the other. They are the Kidinuid,who used the titles 'King of Susa and Anshan' and 'servant of Kirwashir',the Igihalkid and Shutrukid dynasties. The Igihalkids intermarried with the Kassites. In around 1320BC, the Kassite king Kurigalzu II occupied Elam and the Elamite power wasnt restored until 1240BC when Khiddin-Kutran I of Elam repulsed the Kassites.

Choghazanbil2.jpg

Under the Shutrukids (1210–1100BC), the Elamite empire reached the height of its power. Shutruk-Nakhkhunte who ruled from 1185BC to 1155BC was the greatest monarch of the Shutrukid dynasty. 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.

However, Shutruk-Nakhkhunte is famous today for the famous tablet inscription that he caused to be inscribed:

I am Shutruk Nahunte, King of Anshand and Susa, Sovereign of the land of Elam. I destroyed Sippar, took the stele of Naram-Sin, and brought it back to Elam, where I erected it as an offering to my god. Shutruk Nahunte - 1158 B.C.

In 1158BC, Shutru-Nakhkhunte defeated the Kassites of Babylon, killing their king and breaking their power permanently. Following the death of Shurtu-Nakhkhunte's son, Kutir-Nakhkhunte, Lgihalkid power began to decline rapidly.

The Neo-Elamite Period 1100 - 539 BC[edit]

The Neo-Elamite period is further subdivided into Neo-Elamite I(1100-770BC),Neo-Elamite II(770-646BC) and Neo-Elamite III periods (646-539BC)

Very little is known about the Neo-Elamite I period. During this period, there seems to have been constant wars between the Elamites and Babylonians on one side and the Assyrians on the other.


The Neo-Elamite II period witnessed the migration of the present-day Iranians into the Iranian plateau. The first historical references to the Medes (Mada) date to 835BC when they are mentioned in an inscription of ShalmanesserII, King of Assyria, who relates that after having subjugated the Zimri who held the Zagros Mountains he lead an expedition to Media and defeated the Medes. The Assyrian chronicles also mention the Parsu or the Persians living on the south-eastern shore of Lake Urmia in the year 844BC.

Susa-destruction.jpg

In the late 8th century BC, the Elamites allied with the Babylonian king Merodach-baladan against the Assyrians but were defeated by Shutruk-Nakhkhunte II (716-699BC) in 710BC. In 700BC, the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib dethroned Merodach-baladan and installed his own son on the Babylonian throne. Another battle was fought between the Babylonians and the Assyrians at Halule in 691BC which ended without either side achieving victory.

There was continuous warfare betweent the Elamites and the Assyrians during the reigns of Elamite monarchs Khumma-Kaldash I and Khumma-Kaldash II. Urtaku (674-664BC) maintained friendly relations with the Assyrians but during the end of his reign, the Elamites launched an invasion of Mespotamia and the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal responded by counter-attacking Elam and killing Urtaku's successor in 653BC. In this same year the Mede state to the north fell to the Scythians, immediately displacing the Parsu tribe to Anshan, which their king Teispes captured that same year. Civil war broke out in Elam and the government was rendered unstable. Perceiving his chance, Assurbanipal launched a massive invasion of Elam in 646BC and destroyed Susa altogether.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."

However, the destruction wrought wasnt so great as Assurbanipal claims in this inscription of his. The Elamites revived and ruled Susa till its conquest by Cyrus the Great in 539BC. This last period, when Elam was ruled by a set of weak kings is known as the Neo-Elamite III period.