Ancient Land of Elam

Iran’s cultural history dates back to around 6000 BC. Clay figurines from this era have been found in various places on the Iranian plateau and the Louvre in Paris has a good collection. A lot of what we know about the people inhabiting the land comes from Mesopotamian cuneiform texts. Mesopotamia was certainly the center of civilization up to 600 BC. Rich agriculturally but lacking in other resources.

According to Mesopotamian texts, the Eastern part of their land, Elam, was occupied by a people called the Elamites. Indigenous to the country, and speaking an agglutinative non-Semitic language still not well understood to this day. Khuzestan was the center of their loosely organized federation of states which stretched north into Lurestan, south to Fars, and as far as Bushehr on the Gulf. Important Elamite Cities such as Awan or Simash are still to be located. Other important Elamite sites however have been excavated such as Choga Zanbil, Haft Tape, and Susa on the Khuzestan plain; and Tape Malyan (Anshan) on the Marv Dasht plain near Persepolis in Fars.

Susa was always the pride and joy of the Elamites and later the Persians, a city that stood for 5000 years until totally sacked and raised to the ground by the Mongols in the 13th C AD, maybe a reason why we have to refer to Mesopotamian texts for the history of Elam.

The Elamites’ mountainous land gave them wood, marble, alabaster, lapis lazuli, metal ores, precious stones all of which were sought by the Mesopotamians who were rich agriculturally but short on raw materials. Susa soon became a trading center with routes stretching as far as Sistan, Balouchestan, Afghanistan, and India.

The love-hate relationship that existed between the Elamites and their Mesopotamian neighbors-the Assyrians heightened c. 647 BC when Elam then a mighty kingdom fell to Ashurbanipal. Who recorded his devastation of Susa as an act of avenge for the humiliations the Elamites had inflicted on the Mesopotamians over the centuries. “I devastated the land of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt,” he said.

Upon the death of the ruthless Ashurbanipal, his own royal cities were being sacked by the enemies he had created amongst them the powers now developing in Iran namely the Medes and the Persians. Iran which basically means the land of the Aryans was since 1000 BC being inhabited by Indo-Europeans who had begun migrating entering the plateau from beyond the Caucasus via routes around the Caspian Sea. Those settled in the northern and central areas were called the Medes and those settled in the Fars area were called the Persians. These Indo-European newcomers were soon involved in the conflicts between the Elamites, Babylonians, and Assyrian empires. The Medes were victorious from these conflicts when they defeated the Assyrians in 612 BC destroying Nineveh. In 550 BC Cyrus, challenged the Median Astyages-his wife’s grandfather-and captured the Median Capital Ekbatana ( Hamadan ). Cyrus then made peace with the Medians and consolidated a Persian/ Median Empire by utilizing Median and Persian administrators (satraps). Having consolidated his eastern fronts, he then set to take Babylon, which fell to his hands without a shot being fired. In contrast to Ashurbanipal’s salt sowing statements, this is what Cyrus had to say when he conquered Babylon:

“….When I, well-disposed, entered Babylon, I established the seat of government in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk, the great God, caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to…me. I sought daily to worship him. My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. I did not allow any to terrorize the land of Sumer and Akkad. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well being. The citizens of Babylon… I lifted their unbecoming yoke. Their dilapidated dwellings I restored. I put an end to their misfortunes….”.

This he inscribed in cuneiform on a clay cylinder which was discovered in 1879 and is now know as his declaration of the “Rights of Nations”, now kept at the British Museum, London.

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