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The Elamites

Iranian History - The Elamites

The Age of the Elamites is divided by historians into three distinct periods

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1. Old Elam 2600-1900 BC

Earthen tablets record the names of two dynasties dating from this period, the Awan dynasty (2600-2100 BC) and the Simash dynasty (2100-1900 BC). Wars with Mesopotamia, particularly the city of Ur, had already begun, both sides wishing to safeguard their access to raw materials. Records state that the Sumerian king Shulgi of the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2094-c. 2047 BC) captured Susa but Elam eventually rebelled and in turn overthrew the Sumerians.

2. Middle Elam 1900-1100 BC

Wars between Elam and Sumer continued during this period. In 1746 BC the world's first lawmaker, Hammurabi, crushed Elam and captured Susa. Before long however, his son, Samsuiluna, was dealt a defeat at the hands of King Kutir Nakhunte I of the Elamites that was so serious that it was remembered 1,000 years later in an inscription of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal.

In the 13th century BC another great King of this period, Untash Gal, built the holy city of Chogha Zambil on the banks of the Ulai River. The kings of Elam, known as "god-rulers", had strong links with religion and would come to the city for important religious ceremonies.

The relative weakness of the Assyrian Empire at the beginning of the 13th century BC inspired King Shutruk-Nahhunte to move on Babylon. He captured the city and seized the stela inscribed with the laws of Hammurabi, removing it to Susa where it was excavated some 3,000 years later.

However, Elamite power in central Mesopotamia was never well consolidated and King Nebuchadrezzar I of Babylon (c. 1124-c. 1103 BC) eventually dealt a telling blow to the Elamites that effectively brought an end to the Middle Elam period.

Qom, Iran

Ziggarat at Chogha Zanbil

Qom, Iran

Entrance gate to the complex at Chogha Zanbil

3. Late Elam 800-620 BC

Of the three centuries between the end of Middle Elam and the beginning of this new period we know nothing at all. By the time Elam reappears in the archaeological record, the central authority of Susa has receded and separately ruled principalities are in the ascendancy.

The 8th and 7th centuries BC saw a new wave of Assyrian expansion and attempts by Elam to interfere with Mesopotamian affairs, often in alliance with Babylon. However, limited successes in this policy were not enough to prevent Assyrian advances. Meaningful central authority had almost totally collapsed by the time the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal destroyed Susa. He went on to destroy Chogha Zambil, killing almost the entire population of the city.

Will Yong and Kazem Vafadari

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