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Elam (ēˈləm), 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 B.C. 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. B.C., 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. B.C. 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. B.C., 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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ancient state (third millennium to the mid-sixth century B.C.) situated east of the lower Tigris, in the southwestern part of the Iranian Plateau, in what is now the Iranian regions of Khuzestan and Loristan. Elam’s most important regions were Barahshe, Simash (or Simashki), and Anshan (or Anzan); major cities included Awan, Susa—the capital of Elam—and Adamdun. Elam was an early slaveholding state. Slave labor was widely used in temple domains and royal households, as well as by private citizens.

In the third millennium B.C. there were frequent armed clashes between the Elamites and the states of Mesopotamia. In the second half of the third millennium B.C., Elam repeatedly came under Akkadian rule. It gained independence under the last king of the Awan dynasty, Puzur-Inshushinak, who was the first ruler of the united kingdom of Elam, which existed in the 23rd and 22nd centuries B.C After the brief supremacy of the Guti at the end of the third millennium B.C., supreme rule over Elam was exercised by the kings of the Simash dynasty, who were initially dependent on the rulers of the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 21st century B.C.). However, Elam soon freed itself from this dependence, and Elamites even settled in southern Mesopotamia for a short while, in the kingdom of Larsa. The last ruler of the Simash dynasty was dethroned in the mid-19th century B.C. by Eparti, who founded a new dynasty in Anshan.

During the reign of the Anshan rulers in the first half of the second millennium B.C. and earlier, a system of government existed in Elam that allowed dyarchy and sometimes even triarchy. At times, the rulers of Elam created a strong centralized state, rivaling the Mesopotamian states. In the second half of the 14th century B.C. Elam was conquered by the Kassites. Under the king Untash-Napirisha (1275–40 B.C.), it was freed from Kassite dependence, and under Kidin-Hutran (1237–05 B.C), the Elamites began incursions into Kassite Babylonia. A political upsurge, begun in the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte I (c. 1185–55 B.C.), brought about the fall of the Kassite dynasty in Babylonia (c. 1155). The borders of Elam were significantly expanded under Shilhak-Inshushinak (1150–20 B.C.). At the end of the 12th century B.C Elam was forced to concede Babylonia’s supremacy in southern Mesopotamia.

The history of Elam in the following centuries is not known. In the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., the kings of Elam were allied with Babylonia and waged a joint struggle against Assyria. Ashurbanipal subjugated Elam in 639 B.C.; however, Assyria’s supremacy was short-lived, since Assyria ceased to exist at the end of the seventh century B.C. Elam, torn by internal political strife, was seized first, in the early sixth century B.C., by Media and later by Persia.

The history of Elam’s artistic culture is closely linked with the art of the countries of Mesopotamia. Among the remains of the fourth to mid-third millennia B.C., found mainly in Susa, are hand-modeled ceramic vessels decorated with black geometric painted designs, noted for their strict elegance of composition and flat seals. Among the remains from the second millennium B.C. are the ruins of a complex of religious and secular buildings in Dur-Untash, rock reliefs on the Kurangan cliff (northwest of Shiraz), expressive stelae with reliefs, pottery, cylindrical seals, and small clay and bronze sculptures.


Iusifov, Iu. B. Elam: Sotsial’ no-ekonomicheskaia istoriia. Moscow, 1968.
König, F. Die elamischen Königsinschriften. Graz, 1965.
Cameron, G. G. History of Early Iran. Chicago, 1936.
Hinz, W. Das Reich Elam. Stuttgart, 1964.
Labat, R. Elam, 1600–1200 B.C. Cambridge, 1963.
Labat, R. Elam and Western Persia, c. 1200–1000 B.C. Cambridge, 1964.
Porada, E. Iran anden: L’art à l’époque preislamique. Paris, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an ancient kingdom east of the River Tigris: established before 4000 bc; probably inhabited by a non-Semitic people
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005