published on 28 April 2011
Elam was an ancient civilization located in what is now southwest Iran. Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary, reconstruction being based on mainly Mesopotamian sources. The city of Susa was founded around 5000 BCE, and during its early history, fluctuated between submission to Mesopotamian and Elamite power.
The earliest Elamite sites 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 BCE, and texts in the still undeciphered Proto-Elamite writing system continue to be present until about 2700 BCE. 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 BCE?), 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 BCE onwards.
The history of Elam is conventionally divided into three periods, spanning more than two millennia.
The Old Elamite period began around 2700 BCE. 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 Awan (or Avan; c. 2400–2100 BCE) and Simash (c. 2100–1970 BCE), 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 Awan 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 Middle Elamite period began with the rise of the Anshanite dynasties around 1500 BCE. 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 later Neo-Elamite period is characterized by a significant migration of Iranians to the Iranian plateau. Assyrian sources beginning around 800 BCE 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). Among these pressuring tribes were the Parsu, first recorded in 844 BCE as living on the southeastern shore of Lake Urmiah, but who by the end of this period would cause the Elamites' original home, the Iranian Plateau, to be renamed Persia proper.
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