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Pre-Achaemenid Iran: Khuzestan and surrounding areas




As time went on prehistoric settlements in Iran began to cluster, agriculture developed, and these settled clusters formed larger villages. These villages began trading with one another, jobs became specialized, and societies and civilizations developed. Before the monumental Achaemenid dynasty, Iran had many civilized centers, Perhaps the most developed of which was Elam, centered around the modern-day province of Khuzestan.


Elam never became the metropolis that cities like Babylon and Ur were, but its contacts with larger civilization did foster its civilized advancement. The main cities in Elam were Shoosh (founded in 4000BCE), Anwan, Anshan, and Simash. From early times (around 3200BCE) Elam began to form a larger more civilized society. Cities emereged as trading centers, irrigation was employed, and agriculture was cultivated, and animals were domesticated. Writings from this period are written in an undeciphered script termed Proto-Elamite. Proto-Elamite is thought to have been the predecessor of the Elamite language. The Elamite language is itself a mysterious language, not directly related to any known languages or language group. Some linguists, such as David McAlpin, propose that Elamite is part of the Dravidian language group. Citing similarities in vocabularly and some grammatically similarities. Other linguists have criticized McAlpin's finds claiming that the grammatical similarities are superficial, and the vocab cognates are exaggerated. Critics such as Blažek consider Elamite a much earlier offshoot from the language family tree, perhaps a Nostratic (the hypothetical mother language of all Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, and Uralic languages) descendant. A full overview of Blažek's arguments can be found here.

Elam, after an early restive period, became a vassal to the Sumerian state of Ur. Elam later revolted and sacked the Sumerian civilization. Later Sumeria was invaded by the Semitic Akkadians who entered from the west. They enforced their Semitic language upon Sumer and under Sharrukin (Sargon the great) expanded their military empire into Elam. The main reason for the subjugation of Elam was its connections with the Iranian plateau. While Elam was based in southwestern Iran, it evidently held sway over Iranian settlements elsewhere in Iran (proven by the fact that Elamite tablets are found as far away as central Iran and Baluchistan). These settlements had access to many natural resources that the Mesopotamian Akkadians lacked. During Naram Sin's rule the Elamites began slowly gaining power and reconstructing their cultural base. Under Shar Kali Sharri's rule, the Elamites revolted and declared independence.

The Elamite kings had established a system of government full of checks and balances to maintain power and stability. Each region had its own system of government, and local rulers. In turn each of these local rulers were subordinate to the king ruling out of Shoosh. However the king's power was checked in turn to prevent any ruler from being too tyrannical. The king shared power with a viceroy, usually his brother. Meanwhile a prince also shared the power, often the king's son, or his nephew. This triumvirate helped maintain order, at least through the Old Elamite period and much of the middle Elamite period. Should the king have died he would be succeeded by the viceroy. The next brother, closest in age to the king would be viceroy, and the prince remained prince. Only once all brothers perished would the prince become king.

The previous dynasty (called "Avan") of Elamite king was soon overthrown by a new dynasty, the Simashki. Meanwhile in Mesopotamia, after years of rule by the Semitic Akkadians, was briefly sacked and ruled by the Gutians, Iranic nomads from the Zagros mountains. Eventually a Sumerian, Ur-Nammu, reinstated Sumerian overlordship in Mesopotamia, devising a sophisticated legal code, organizing the military, and reconstructing the state structure. In the period that ensued this 3rd dynasty of Ur, repeatedly attempted to invade Elam and greater Iran. This came again out of a necessity for natural resources. Mesopotamia policy usually consisted of brief periods of diplomatic persuasion, which unsatisfactorily always gave way to periods of warring. The results were mixed, Shulgi, Ur-Nammu's son did briefly conquer Shoosh. Elam constantly formed military alliances to fend off the Sumerian incursions and under Kindattu, the Elamites sacked Ur, destorying the city, robbing it of its wealth, and crushing the third dynasty of Ur.

With the Sumerians out of the picture the Semitic-speaking Amorites infiltrated southern Mesopotamia, gaining power and eventually reviving it. The rivalry between Elam and Mesopotamia again restarted. Numerous raids by the Amorites are recorded. Gungunum of the city-state of Larsa is known to have plundered much of Elam. However, Elam, not to be caught flat-footed, extracted revenge in alliance with other tribes of the Zagros region. The Elamites instated numerous puppet leaders in Mesopotamia, particularly Larsa.Elam reigned in control until around 1790BCE, when the great Hummurabi, immortalized through his law code, regained control of Babylon and reasserted Babylonian dominance.
But with his death there was a void in Babylonian leadership with no one strong enough to fill the hole, leading to a internal upheaval as Elam regrouped. Elam was quick to extract revenge, thrashing Babylon so badly that the poor inhabitants painfully recalled these events 1,000 years on. After this short run of power Elam gradually declined. The Kassites, another nomad tribe originating from the Zagros mountains sacked Babylon and ruled for a few hundred years. The Kassites spoke a language of unknown descendance, agglutinative in form much like Elamite. The Elamite civlization is divided into three periods; the gradual decline of power, which finished around 1500BCE, ended the Old Elamite period.

The early Elamite dynasties, like the Shushtar and Simash revolved around a triumvirate, with a complex system of checks and balances to make sure that no one got too much power. During the Middle Elamite period the Anzanite dynasty took control taking much more of a despotic system, allowing for tighter military control. The triumvirate system, steeped in political balance and stability, did not serve well for an Elam looking for conquest. The government was far more centralized with its seat of power in Shoosh. The Middle Elamite Period is characterized by great cultural revival, internal strengthening, a brief run of power, and then decline. The first family of rulers, the Kidinuids made use of Semitic languages for writing. The following Igihalkids and Shutrukids used Elamite more and more frequently. These rulers also financed building projects and developed Elam. During the Shutrukid dynasty, Shutruk-Nakhkhunte and his sons invaded Kassite Babylon, crushing it and killing the king Zababa-shuma-iddina. Elam at the height ot its power put a puppet in charge of Babylonia. He was soon ousted and Elam began its declince.

Ironically when Huban Nugash took power, beginning the New Elamite Period, Elam moved closer Babylon. Eventually they formed an alliance with the Baylonians to help fend off the semitic Assyrians. Unfortunately the Assyrians proved to strong, destroying Elam. Because the marshes which made Elam difficult to traverse had dried up the Assyrians could easily bypass the rugged mountain passes (the summerians called Elam Nim, meaning 'elevated place'). The brutal Assyrians under Ashurbanipal raped, looted, pillaged, murdered the Elamites while grounding salt into the ground to ruin their crops. The Assyrian cut off the head of the Elamite king and hung his head on a necklace along with the heads of other decapitated leader. The Elamites had already been weakend by internal division and fighting that its capture at the hands of Assyria was inevitable. The final king of Elam, Khumma-Khaldash III, was caught and killed by Ashurbanipal. Some cities managed to revive themselves and reign in fragments here after under continual harrasment by other powers. But Elam as a power had been destroyed and the region itself was to remain in ruins until its incorporation into the Persian empire when Darayavaush the great built his palace at Shoosh.

Archaeological testaments to the feats of the Elamites are still to be found in and around Khuzestan. The Haft Tepe, located south of Shoosh, is a group of mounds where important remains of the Elamite city of Kabnak where found. Kabnak was founded by Tepti-Ahar, the last monarch of the Kidinuid dynasty, and became his capital. At the site many skeletons were uncovered inside the vaulted-roof chambers. Artistic endeavors also persist. Ceramics, tiles, and vases have been found, often depicting, with great detail, mythological motifs. These include geometric patterns, local fauna, and figurines of people and gods. Tools and remains of powder along with text references indicate the use of make-up, particularly among the royal women.

The ruins of the Chogha Zanbil (top right picture), a ziggurat, marks the location of a once Elamite cultural and religious institution. Originally walls encompassed a massive 800 X 1200M complex which included the ziggurat, courtyards, and temples. Outside the walled interior lay the palaces and tombs. The fields outside this small city were irrigated with advanced irrigation systems with elaborate channels and reservoirs built out of burnt bricks. The complex was built under the Elamite king Untash-Napirisha in 1250BC and was orgininally called Dur Untash. It was constructed as a monument to the god Inshushinak. The ziggurat itself is composed of 5 square blocks atop one another nearing a height of 50M.The ziggurat was made of sun-dried bricks and held together with cement. The outside of the ziggurat was decorated with metallic-color blue and green glazed bricks similar to those at Darayavaush's Shoosh palace. Other decorations included ivory and opaque glass mosaics. Many believe that Untash-Napirisha desired to continue expanding the complex, however construction ended after his death. The site continued to be inhabited and used for ceremonial functions until the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal destroyed the site in 640BCE.

Elamite religion is largely unknown. However the Elamites most certainly believed in a Polythiestic plethora of deities. Among the figures many were borrowed from, and some were lent to Babylon. Indeed all these figures took the same characteristics that are common to all human civilizations. From raging gods to nuturing goddesses and in-between. More on fertility goddess found at haft tepe can be found here. Most of the outlying Iranian areas also believed in a similar assortment of gods, though sometime throughout this ancient period the prophet Zoroaster appeared with his monotheistic religion. To find out more about Zoroaster click here

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Elam


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