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For biblical characters named Elam, see Elam (Hebrew Bible).
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Elam (تمدن عیلام in Persian) was the first civilization based in Iran, the Ilam province (Elam means "highland"), and the lowlands of Khuzestan, and among the earliest civilizations altogether. Ancient Elam lay to the east of Sumer and Akkad, centered in Susa, in what is now southwestern Iran. The Elamite period is considered to last from ca. 2700 BC to 539 BC, with a preceding Proto-Elamite period beginning around 3200 BC. Its culture played a crucial role in the Achaemenid Persian Empire that succeeded it, and may thus be considered the starting point of the history of Iran.



The Elamites called their country Haltamti (in later Elamite, Atamti), borrowed by the neighboring Akkadians as Elam (the regular proto-Akkadian sound change ha to e indicates this word was borrowed prehistorically). Additionally, the Haltamti were known as Elam in the Hebrew Old Testament, where they are called the offspring of Elam, eldest son of Shem (see Elam (Hebrew Bible)).

The high country of Elam was increasingly identified by its low-lying later capital, Susa, and geographers after Ptolemy called it Susiana. Though primarily centred in the province of Khuzestan for the duration of their empire, the Elamites had extended their civilisation into the province of Fars in prehistoric times. In fact, the modern provincial name Khuzestān is derived from the Old Persian root Hujiyā, which means "Elam."

Elamite language

The Elamite language is unrelated to the neighboring Semitic, Sumerian, and Indo-European languages. Some scholars believe the language may be related to the living Dravidian languages of southern India (see Elamo-Dravidian languages). They have also been connected by some theorists with the Harappan civilisation found in the Indus Valley somewhat to the East, but such links are at best conjectural, as Harappan pictographs have yet to be deciphered. Several stages of the language are attested; the earliest date back to the third milennium BCE, the latest to the Achaemenid Empire.


Ancient Mesopotamia
Cities / empires
Sumer: UrukUrEridu
Akkadian Empire: Agade
Assyria: AssurNineveh
Kings of Sumer
Kings of Assyria
Kings of Babylon
Cuneiform script
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Missing image
Kneeling bull holding a spouted vessel, Proto-Elamite period; 3100–2900 BCE, Iran, kept at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary, reconstruction being based mainly on Mesopotamian sources. Susa was founded in ca. 4000 BC, and during its history fluctuated between subjection to Mesopotamian and Elamite power. The earliest levels (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 undeciphered Proto-Elamite script continue to be present until ca. 2700 BC. The Proto-Elamite period ends with the establishment of the Awan dynasty. The first attestation of the name of the kingdom is in a text of the king Enmebaragesi of Kish, dating to ca. 2650 BC. But we can only really trace Elamite history from records dating to beginning of the Akkadian Empire, ca. 2300 BC.

Elamite civilization grew up east of the Tigris and Euphrates, 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 north and east of Iran are Sialk in Isfahan Province and Jiroft [1] (http://www.chn.ir/english/eshownews.asp?no=4696) 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:

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

Old Elamite Period

Missing image
Golden Vase with Winged Monsters Marlik Region, Tappe Hasanlu, Iran 14th-13th centuries BCE. Excavated by The University of Pennsylvania.

The earliest kings in the Old Elamite period may date to approximately 2700 BCE. We read that the Sumerian king who is the earliest (to date) archaeologically proven to exist through inscriptions, Enmebaragesi of Kish, forced Elam into submission, destroying their weapons. Conflicts with other city-states followed , and this remained characteristic of early Elamite history. These early rulers were succeeded by the Awan (Shustar) dynasty.

The 11th king of this line entered into treaty relations with the great Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2254 - c. 2218 BCE). Yet there soon appeared a new ruling house, the Simash dynasty (Simash may have been in the mountains of southern Luristan). The outstanding event of this period was the virtual conquest of Elam by Shulgi of the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2094 - c. 2047 BCE). Eventually the Elamites rose in rebellion and overthrew the 3rd Ur dynasty, an event long remembered in Mesopotamian dirges and omen texts. About the middle of the 19th century BCE, power in Elam passed to a new dynasty, that of Eparti. The third king of this line, Shirukdukh, was active in various military coalitions against the rising power of Babylon, but Hammurabi (c. 1792 - c. 1750 BCE) was not to be denied, and Elam was crushed in 1764 BCE.

The Old Babylon kingdom, however, fell into rapid decline following the death of Hammurabi, and it was not long before the Elamites were able to gain revenge. Kutir-Nahhunte I attacked Samsuiluna (c. 1749 - c. 1712 BCE), Hammurabi's son, and dealt so serious a defeat to the Babylonians that the event was remembered more than 1,000 years later in an inscription of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. It may be assumed that with this stroke, Elam once again gained independence. The end of the Eparti dynasty, perhaps coming in the late 16th century BCE, is shrouded in silence.

Middle Elamite Period

Missing image
Elamite worshipper, Susa, Iran 12th century BCE, excavated by Ronald de Mecquenem in 1904.

After two centuries for which little is known, the Middle Elamite period opened with the rise to power of the Anzanite dynasty, whose homeland probably lay in the mountains northeast of Khuzestan. Political expansion under Khumbannumena (c. 1285 - c. 1266 BCE), the fourth king of this line, proceeded apace, and his successes were commemorated by his assumption of the title "Expander of the Empire."

He was succeeded by his son, Untash-Gal (Untash (d) Gal, or Untash-Huban), a contemporary of Shalmaneser I of Assyria (c. 1274 - c. 1245 BCE) and the founder of the city of Dur Untash (modern Chogha Zanbil).

In the years immediately following Untash-Gal, Elam increasingly found itself in serious conflict with the rising power of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (c. 1244 - c. 1208 BCE) campaigned in the mountains north of Elam. The Elamites under Kidin-Khutran, second king after Untash-Gal, countered with a successful and devastating raid on Babylonia.

In the end, however, Assyrian power seems to have been too great. Tukulti-Ninurta managed to expand, for a brief time, Assyrian control well to the south in Mesopotamia, Kidin-Khutran faded into obscurity, and the Anzanite dynasty came to an end.

After a short period of dynastic troubles, the second half of the Middle Elamite period opened with the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte (c. 1160 BCE). Two equally powerful kings, and two who were rather less impressive followed this founder of a new dynasty, whose home was probably Susa; and in this period Elam again became one of the great military powers of the Middle East. Tukulti-Ninurta died about 1208 BCE, and Assyria fell into a period of internal weakness and dynastic conflict.

Elam was quick to take advantage of this situation by campaigning extensively in the Diyala River area and into the very heart of Mesopotamia. Shutruk-Nahhunte captured Babylon, and carried off to Susa the stela whereon was inscribed the famous law code of Hammurabi. Shilkhak-In-Shushinak, brother and successor of Shutruk-Nahhunte's eldest son, Kutir-Nahhunte, still anxious to take advantage of Assyrian weakness, campaigned as far north as the area of modern Kirkuk.

In Babylonia, however, the 2nd dynasty of Isin led a native revolt against such control as the Elamites had been able to exercise there, and Elamite power in central Mesopotamia was eventually broken. The Elamite military empire began to shrink rapidly. Nebuchadrezzar I of Babylon (c. 1124 - c. 1103 BCE) attacked Elam and was barely beaten off. A second Babylonian attack succeeded, however, and the whole of Elam was apparently overrun, thus ending the Middle Elamite period.

It is noteworthy that during the Middle Elamite period, the old system of succession, and the distribution of power, appears to have broken down. Increasingly, son succeeded father, and less is heard of delegated authority within a federal system. This probably reflects an effort to increase the central authority at Susa, in order to conduct effective military campaigns abroad, and to hold Elamite foreign conquests. The old system of regionalism balanced with federalism must have suffered, and the fraternal, sectional strife that so weakened Elam in the Neo-Elamite period may have had its roots in the centrifugal developments of the 13th and 12th centuries BCE.

Neo-Elamite Period

Missing image
Ashurbanipal's brutal campaign against Elamite Susa is triumphantly recorded in this relief showing the sack of Susa in 647 BCE. Here, flames rise from the city as Assyrian soldiers topple it with pickaxes and crowbars and carry off the spoils.
Another long period of obscurity separates the Middle and Neo-Elamite periods. In 742 BCE, a certain Huban-nugash is mentioned as king in Elam. The land appears to have been divided into separate principalities, with the central power fairly weak.

The next 100 years witnessed the constant attempts of the Elamites to interfere in Mesopotamian affairs, usually in alliance with Babylon, against the constant pressure of Neo-Assyrian expansion. At times they were successful with this policy, both militarily and diplomatically, but on the whole they were forced to give way to increasing Assyrian power. Local Elamite dynastic troubles were from time to time compounded by both Assyrian and Babylonian interference.

Meanwhile, the Assyrian army whittled away at Elamite power and influence in Luristan. In time, these internal and external pressures resulted in the near total collapse of any meaningful central authority in Elam. In a series of campaigns between 692 and 639 BCE, in an effort to clean up a political and diplomatic mess that had become troublesome for the Assyrians, Ashurbanipal's armies annihilated Susa.

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." (Persians: Masters of Empire, p7-8, ISBN 0-80949104-4)

The Elamite Legacy

Missing image
An Elamite man as depicted in a bas-relief from Persepolis.

The Assyrians thought 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 benefitted from the decline of the Assyrians were the Persians, whose presence around Lake Urmia, i.e. to the north of Elam, is attested from the 9th century BC in Assyrian texts. 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 0-80949104-4). This view is widely accepted today, as experts unanimously recognize the Elamites to have "absorbed Iranian influences in both structure and vocabulary" by 500 BCE. (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". (Elton Daniel, The History of Iran, p. 26)

Most experts go even further and establish a clear chain of cultural continuity between the Elamites and later dynasties of Iran. Elamologist D. T. 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". (The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State, Cambridge World Archaeology, Chap 9 Introduction.).

Thus, not only was "Elam absorbed into the new empire" (Encyclopedia Iranica, Columbia University), becoming part of the millenia 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. (A History of Persia, p38, ISBN 0415326788).

The Elamite language may have survived as late as the early Islamic period. Ibn al-Nadim among other Arab medieval historians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_the_name_Khuzestan#Supporting_Documentation), 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. See Origin of the name Khuzestan for details.

List of rulers

Old Elamite period

Missing image
Elamite god found at Susa, beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE
  • Avan Dynasty
    • Peli (fl. c. 2500 BCE)
    • Tata (precise dates unknown)
    • Ukku-Takhesh (precise dates unknown)
    • Khishur (precise dates unknown)
    • Shushun-Tarana (precise dates unknown)
    • Napil-Khush (precise dates unknown)
    • Kikku-Sive-Temti (precise dates unknown)
    • Lukh-Ishshan (fl. c. 24th century BCE)
    • Khelu (fl. c. 2300 BCE)
    • Khita (fl. c. 2275 BCE)
    • Kutik-Inshushinnak (fl. c. 2240 BCE)
  • Simash Dynasty
    • Gir-Namme (fl. c. 2030 BCE)
    • Enpi-Luhhan (fl. c. 2010 BCE)
    • Khutran-Temtt (precise dates unknown)
    • Kindattu (precise dates unknown)
    • Indattu-Inshushinnak I (precise dates unknown)
    • Tan-Rukhurater (precise dates unknown)
    • Indattu-Inshushinnak II (precise dates unknown)
    • Indattu-Napir (precise dates unknown)
    • Indattu-Tempt (precise dates unknown)

Eparti Dynasty

  • Eparti I (precise dates unknown)
  • Eparti II (precise dates unknown)
  • Eparti III (fl. c. 1850 BCE)
  • Shilkhakha (precise dates unknown)
  • Attakhushu (fl. c. 1830 BCE)
  • Sirukdukh (fl. c. 1792 BCE)
  • Shimut-Wartash (c. 1772 - c. 1770 BCE)

Babylonian Dynasty

Igehalkid Dynasty

Shutrukid Dynasty

Neo-Elamite Dynasty

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 schematization 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] (http://www.elamit.net/)

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: Historiography and nationalism

See also

External links


  • Khačikjan, Margaret: The Elamite Language, Documenta Asiana IV, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto per gli Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici, 1998 ISBN 8887345015
  • Potts, Daniel T.: The archaeology of Elam: formation and transformation of an ancient Iranian state, Cambridge U., 1999 ISBN 0521564964 and ISBN 0521563585de:Reich Elam

es:Imperio Elamita eo:Elamo fr:Élam nl:Susiana no:Elam pl:Elam fi:Elam tr:Elamite İmparatorluğu he:עילם


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