Elam

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Elam

Elam (ē´ləm), ancient country of Asia, N of the Persian Gulf and E of the Tigris, now in W Iran. A civilization seems to have been established there very early, probably in the late 4th millennium BC The capital was Susa, and the country is sometimes called Susiana. The land included a hot, rich plain and hill country to the east. In historical times the Elamites were known as a warlike people who rivaled and threatened Babylonia. The population was neither Sumerian nor Semitic. Their language survives in a copious cuneiform literature. The Elamites seem to have maintained their independence steadily, despite invasions and counterinvasions. At the beginning of the 2d millennium the Elamites invaded Babylonia and founded a dynasty at Larsa. Shortly thereafter they became masters of Uruk, Babylon, and Isin. In the 18th cent. BC, Hammurabi was able to keep the Elamites from expanding. A century later an Elamite king, Kutir-Nahunte, revived a kingdom that flourished. However, the golden age of Elam came in the 13th and 12th cent. BC The Elamite civilization grew strong; there was a literary renaissance and great development of architecture and sculpture. Elam drew much of its artistic inspiration from Mesopotamia and carried back to Susa such important monuments as the stele of Naram-Sin and the code of Hammurabi. Tchoga-Zanbil, excavated in 1952, was the Elamite religious center with its great ziggurat. By the 7th cent. BC, however, the rising power of Assyria threatened Elam. Sargon of Assyria, Sennacherib, and Esar-Haddon all attacked the Elamites, but Susa fell only to Assurbanipal, who sacked the city. Possibly the house that in the person of Cyrus the Great took over the rule from the Medes and created the Achaemenid empire was originally Elamite. At any rate Susa became a favored provincial capital of Persia as is revealed by its great palace of the Achaemenid kings. Mention is made of Elam in Isa. 22.6; Jer. 49.34–39.

See W. Hinz, The Lost World of Elam (1964, tr. 1973).

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