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

Map showing the area of the Elamite Empire (in red) and the neighboring areas.
The approximate Bronze Age extension of the Persian Gulf is shown.

The ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil is the largest
remnant of The Elamites through the ages.

Elam is one of the first civilizations on record based in the far west and south-west of what is modern-day Iran (in the Ilam Province and the lowlands of Khuzestan). It lasted from around 2700 BC to 539 BC, coming after what is known as the Proto-Elamite period, which began around 3200 BC when Susa, the later capital of the Elamites began to receive influence from the cultures of the Iranian plateau to the east.

Ancient Elam lay to the east of Sumer and Akkad (modern-day Iraq). In the Old Elamite period, it consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands. Its culture played a crucial role in the Persian Empire, especially during the Achaemenid dynasty that succeeded it, when the Elamite language remained in official use. The Elamite period is considered a starting point for the history of Iran (although there were older civilizations in Iranian plateau like Mani civilization in Azarbaijan and Shar-e sookhteh in Zabol and other indigenous civilizations who lived in Iranian plateau but weren't as established as Elamites).

The Elamite language was not related to any Iranian languages, but may be part of a larger group known as Elamo-Dravidian.

The Elamites called their country Haltamti (in later Elamite, Atamti), which the neighboring Akkadians rendered as Elam. Elam means "highland". Additionally, the Haltamti are 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. Geographers after Ptolemy called it Susiana. The Elamite civilization was primarily centered in the province of what is modern-day Khuzestan, however it did extended into the later province of Fars in prehistoric times. In fact, the modern provincial name Khuzestan is derived from the Old Persian root Hujiya, meaning "Elam".

Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary, reconstruction being based on mainly Mesopotamian sources. The city of Susa was founded around 4000 BC, and during its early history, fluctuated between submission to Mesopotamian and Elamite power. 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 script 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 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 ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil is the largest remnant of The Elamites through the ages.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:

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 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 Avan 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 subjected Elam, but attempted to make Akkadian the official language there. However, with the collapse of Akkad under Sargon's great-grandson, Shar-kali-sharri, Elam declared independence and threw off the Akkadian language.

The last Avan king, Kutik-Inshushinnak was roughly a contemporary of Ur-Nammu. 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. Kutik-Inshushinnak conquered Susa and Anshan, and seems to have achieved some sort of political unity. A few years 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 Elam (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. Sirukdukh, the third ruler of this dynasty, entered various military coalitions to contain the rising power of Babylon. 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 before being overthrown by Hammurabi of Babylon.

The first and most notable Babylonian dynasty ruler was Siwe-Palar-Khuppak, who for some time was the most powerful person in the area, respectfully addressed as "Father" by Mesopotamian kings such as Zimri-Lim of Mari, and even Hammurabi. But Elamite influence in Mesopotamia did not last, and after a few years, Hammurabi established Babylonian dominance in Mesopotamia. Little is known about the latter part of this dynasty, since sources become again more sparse with the Kassite rule of Babylon.

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. 1500­1400) 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. 1400­1210), 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. 1210­1100), 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. 1100­770) - 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 (984-79) 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 (823­11).

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", ie the actual Medes, and the "distant Medes" that would later enter history under their proper names, (Parthians, Sagartians, Margians, Bactrians, Sogdians etc). This pressure of immigrating Iranians pushed the Elamites of Anshan towards Susa, so that in the course of this period, Susiana became known as Elam, while Anshan and the Iranian plateau, the original home of the Elamites, were renamed Persia proper. The Elamite kings, apart from the last three, nevertheless continued to claim the title of "king of Anshan and Susa".

More details of an alliance of Babylonia and Elam against Assyria are tangible from the late 8th century BC. Khumbanigash (743­17) supported Merodach-baladan against Sargon II, apparently with limited success; while his successor, Shutruk-Nakhkhunte II (716­699), 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 was completed by Sargon's son Sennacherib, who dethroned Merodach-baladan and installed his own son Assur-nadin-shumi on the throne of Babylon.

Shuttir-Nakhkhunte was murdered by his brother Khallushu, who managed to capture Assur-nadin-shumi, and was in turn assassinated by Kutir-Nakhkhunte -- who succeeded him, but soon abdicated in favor of Khumma-Menanu III (692­89). 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 fell to the Assyrians only two years later. The reigns of Khumma-Khaldash I (688­81) and Khumma-Khaldash II (680­75) saw a deterioration of Elamite-Babylonian relations, and both of them raided Sippar. Urtaku (674­64) for some time maintained good relations with Assurbanipal (668­27), 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 (664­53) was counter-attacked by Assurbanipal, and was killed following the battle of the Ulaï in 653 BC; and Elam was occupied by the Assyrians. 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:

Neo-Elamite III (646­539)

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 539 BC, Achaemenid rule begins in Susa.

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. This 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.

Some linguists believe 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 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 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 Darius¹ 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 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". 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 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" - 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 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 - A History of Persia, p38.

Post Achaemenid influence

Traditional histories have ended Elamite history with its submergence in the Achaemenids, but Greek and Latin references to "Elymeans" attest to cultural survival, according to Daniel Potts. The traditional name "Elam" appears as late as 1300 in the records of the Nestorian Christians. Elamite Empire