Since ancient times, lowland Khuzestan has proved a favorable site for human settlements. Whereas the Iranian plateau did not experience the rise of urban, literate civilization in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BC. on the Mesopotamian pattern, lowland Khuzestan did. At this time, it became home to the most powerful and longest-lived civilization in Iran before the arrival of the Aryans that of Elam. The origin of the Elamites is entirely unknown. Their language has no known ancient relatives and no modern descendants.
Their script was ﬁrst pictographic and then cuneiform. It seems that most of their religious habits were the same as those of Mesopotamia, except for the snake cult, which was distinct and foreign. Their temples took the form of Ziggurats, man-made mountains reminiscent of the surrounding highlands. In contrast with the agricultural economy of Mesopotamia, the Elamite economy was based on trade, as well as on the mining and export of raw materials.
Geographically, the Elamite kingdom encompassed more than Khuzestan. It united the lowland with the immediate highland areas to the north and east. This area was maintained through a federated governmental system, with an overlord in power over vassal princes. The overlord ruled from Susa, a federal capital, or Anshan. Elamite history is usually divided into three main phases: The Old, Middle, and Neo-Elamite periods.
In all three periods Elam was closely involved with Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, sometimes through peaceful trade, but more often through war. In like manner, Elam was often a participant in the events on the Iranian plateau. The earliest kings in the Old Elamite period may have appeared somewhere around 2,700 B.C. They were succeeded by the Awan (Shustar) dynasty, and soon afterward by Simash rulers. About 1,900 B.C. the power in Elam passed to a new ruling house, that Eparti. The third king of this line, Shirukdukh, was contemporaneous with Hammurabi and was often involved in military campaigns against the Babylonian kingdom, most of which ended in Elamite’s surrender.
After Hammurabi’s death, however, the Elamites managed to gain their independence after such a devastating raid on Babylonia that it was recalled more than 1,000 years later in an inscription of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal. The end of the Eparti dynasty, which may have come in the late 16th century B. C. is buried in silence. After two centuries of which historical sources reveal nothing, the Middle Elamite period opened with the rise to power of the Anzanite dynasty. Its ﬁﬁh king Untash-Gal is the most famous, particularly as the founder of the city of Dur- Untash (modern Chogha-Za’nbil).
The years following Untash-Gal are marked by constant wars with the powerful Assyria, which ﬁnally overthrew the Anzanite rulers. After a short period of dynastic troubles, the second half of the Middle Elamite period opened with the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte, who turned Elam into one of the greatest military powers in the Middle is East. He captured Babylon and carried off to Susa the stela, on which was inscribed the famous law code of Hammurabi. (The original is now in the Louvre museum, but the National Museum in Tehran has a copy.)
Shutruk-Nah hunter’s immediate successors continued with vigorous war campaigns, and for at least a short period the Elamite domain included most of Mesopotamia east of the Tigris River and reached eastward almost to the site of Persepolis (226-261). Before long, however, the Elamite Empire began to shrink rapidly. Nebuchadrezzar I of Babylon attacked Elam and overran most of its territory. The center of the Elamite power was shifted again to the east of their traditional territory, and the government took refuge in Anshan. The old system of succession and federalism undoubtedly suffered, and fraternal strife weakened Elam, thus ending the Middle Elamite period and sowing seeds of the inevitable power collapse.
During the Neo-Elamite period, the country appears to have been divided into separate principalities, with the central power fairly weak This time is marked by constant external pressure from Assyria and Babylon. Additionally, by 850 BC. small tribal groups of Aryan stock, including the Persians and the Medes, inﬁltrated the mountains of Kurdestan and Pars, encircling Elam and threatening its borders.
In a series of campaigns between 692 and 639 B.C. the armies of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal destroyed Susa and brought the Elamite kingdom to its catastrophic end, “sowed it with salt”, in the conqueror’s own words. Later, Elam formed a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire, and Susa became one of the capitals of the Persian realm. Elamites are mostly renowned for their metalwork and an imposing temple in Chogha-Zanbil, today the oldest standing building in Iran. Other important ethnic groups in Iran contemporary with Elamites were the Kassites, the Urartians, and Mannai. Kassites are believed to have originated in the Zagros Mountains.
First mentioned in the late 3rd millennium B.C., they remained an influential power in the Middle East, until succumbing ﬁrst to the Elamites and then to the Persians. The kingdom of Urartu, which arose in the 9th century B.C., was centered in northwestern Iran and extended into present-day Turkey and Armenia. The Mannai kingdom was located to the southwest of the Urartians and was taken over by them in about 800 BC. The Urartians themselves were overcome by the Armenians toward the end of the 7th century BC.