2. Society and Economy
Artefact of Elam.
Musicians from Susa. Between 2000 and 1500 BCE.
Stele of Untash-Napirisha, king of Anshan and Susa. Louvre Museum, Paris.
Ancient land in today’s southwestern Iran, east of the Tigris river and north of the Persian Gulf.
Elam was at periods home to strong kingdoms that would have significant influence on Mesopotamia. History of Elam lasts about 2700 years, shifting into Persia around 550 BCE.
Scholars define Elamite history roughly into 4 periods.
About 500 years, around 3200 BCE-around 2700 BCE
About 1100 years, ca. around 2700 BCE-1600 BCE.
About 500 years, ca. 1600 BCE-1100 BCE.
550 years, ca. around 1100-ca. 550 BCE.
After this history of Persia is defined to begin.
These definitions suggest a higher level of accuracy than what is available. There are “dark” ages lasting up to centuries, periods for which we know close to nothing. In many cases, the shifts between periods could well be defined later or earlier with up to a hundred or a couple of hundred years without contradicting any facts.
Considering that Elam has its fame as a great contender to Mesopotamian kingdoms. there are just two periods that stand out clearly:
The Elamite Empire
Ca. 90 years, ca. 1210 BCE-ca. 1120 BCE.
Ca. 220 years, ca. 770-ca. 550 BCE.
Society and Economy
The land of Elam was not a kingdom, but rather a region of kingdoms, kingdoms which at times conquered and controlled the other. At other times, federations were formed for defense or conquest. But through long periods Elam must have consisted of small kingdoms leaving one another at peace.
Through large parts of Elamite history, we know next to nothing.
Elam is known for its matrilinear system of succession. A newly appointed ruler was always referred to as ‘son of a sister’.
Elam was largely a society based upon agriculture. Culturally, Elam achieved less in several fields than its neighbouring countries, and much was imported from them. Writing came from the Sumerians and large elements of the architecture came from Babylonia. There is relatively little literature from Elam, and of religion almost nothing is known.
The history of Elam appears often as one of being just the neighbouring lands of Mesopotamia. For long periods, nothing attests to the history of Elam, nor its rulers. This may well be considered a result of what material researchers have taken interest in. Much about Elam remains undisclosed, and with that, much of the history.
6th millennium BCE: First traces of civilization — making the area of Elam is one of the oldest civilized areas in world history.
Around 3200: Elam emerge as three power centres: Awad in the west, Anshan in the middle and Shimashk to the east. These lands, probably kingdoms, seem to have formed an alliance, which is believed to have come from the threat that Sumer represented.
— The most important city of Elam through history, Susa, finds itself in the border regions between Mesopotamia and Elam. At first it was inhabited by Elamites, later became part of Uruk culture.
Around 2600: King of Lagash (one of the Sumerian city-states), Eannatum, conquers Elam.
— The first significant Elamite power emerges from Awan, called Awan Dynasty.
Ca. 2300: Regions of Susa is conquered by Sargon of Akkad.
Around 2220:The Awan Dynasty falls apart, after being sacked by the Gutians, who would continue into Akkad. Shimashk to the east now rises to regional dominance. The Shimask would prove strong enough to make advances into foreign land, and then in particular the lands of Mesopotamia.
2004: Kindattu, king of Shimashk, attacks Ur, and effectively brings its structures to an end.
1834: Local dynasty of Larsa is replaced by the Elamites, beginning an era of growth and prosperity.
1763: Babylonian king, Hammurabi drives out the Elamite ruler of Larsa, ending this Elamite period.
Around 1600: It is believed that the Kassites, who captured Babylonia, also destroyed Elam.
Around 1210: Under king Shutruk-Nahhunte, the powers of Elam once again rises to power, strong enough to drive the Kassites out of Babylonia. From this came the first (and short-lived) Elamite empire.
Around and after 1200: Shutruk-Nahhunte raids Akkad, Babylon and Eshnunna, carrying home to Susa trophies like the statues of Marduk and Manishtushu, the Manishtushu Obelisk, the Stele of Hammurabi and the stela of Naram-Sin.
1158: The Elamites conquer Babylonia, and loot the cities. This becomes the end of the Kassite dynasty.
Around 1120: Susa and Elam is sacked by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar 1, who brings the statue of Marduk home. This would swiftly lead to the end of the Elamite Empire.
Very little is known from the next 350 years.
Around 770: A new Elamite kingdom rises, but it is not the great power of former times, and finds itself often threatened by the Assyrians.
720: Sargon 2 of Assyria sends military campaigns against neighbouring Elam, but Elam succeeds in its defense.
710 and 708: New wars with Sargon, now the Assyrians take important land in Elam, including it in the Assyrian Empire.
652: Shamash-shum-ukin revolts against Ashurbanipal, and Shamash-shum-ukin gets help from the Babylonians, Arameans, Elamites and Arabs.
645: Elam is conquered by the Assyrians, and annexed to their kingdom. Elam would never again rise to be a great power. It was later conquered and sacked by Media as well as Persia.