The Art of Elamites (1)
A two horned figure wrestling with
The destruction of the great old city of Ur in Mesopotamia by the Elamites in about 2000 BCE left a deep impression on the contemporary Mesopotamians.
Two Sumerian lamentations on clay tablets reflect the memory of this event: the lament over the destruction of Ur and the lament over the fate of Ibbisin, the last king of Ur, who was led away into captivity. A few lines of the latter lament describing the fate decreed by the great gods Anu and Enlil follow in translation: "... hostile Su people and Elamites will attain the inhabitants (of UR), the king [of Sumer] will have to leave the palace, Ibbisin will have [to go] to the country of Elam, (go) from the Sabu mountain, the "breast" of the mountain range, to the end of Anshan; like a bird which left its abode, like a stranger [he will not return] to his city."
Not only the king of Ur, whose dynasty had ruled over all of Mesopotamia and Elam, but also the patron goddess of Ur, Ningal, seem to have been led away into captivity. This statue was not the only one which was taken to Elam. Several centuries later an Elamite king Shutruk-Nakhunte dragged two of the greatest works of Mesopotamian art from the town of Sippar (north of Babylon on, the Euphrates) to Susa: the stele of Naramsin of the Akkad dynasty and that of Hammurabi of Babylon. The French excavators of Susa discovered these monuments, as well as others which had been brought from Eshnunna in the Diyala valley, in north-eastern Mesopotamia.
The divine and royal statues of the ancient Near East were meant to assure for the king the enduring protection of the deity, well being and a long life. Reliefs which showed a military victory of a ruler or his performance of a ritual action were surely intended to eternalize the effectiveness of such deeds. In the country of their origin works of art of this type must have been considered charged with beneficial power. Hostile intruders therefore would destroy them or lead them into captivity as representative of the conquered peoples--like Ningal of Ur. Often the conqueror had the original inscription erased and his own name and even a record of his conquest engraved on the captured statue or stele. To erase the name of a person literally meant to kill his memory.
The Art of Elamites (2)
With the destruction of Ur the Elamites under a king of Simash liberated themselves from Mesopotamian tutelage, but not for long. The successors of the Third Dynasty of Ur as rulers of Mesopotamia, the kings of Isin and of Larsa, continued a policy, developed earlier in relations with Elam, of "military pressures and diplomatic marriages". In the course of the second millennium BCE, however, some forceful Elamite ruler occasionally succeeded not only in establishing his independence from Mesopotamian interference but also in extending briefly his influence on regions lying on the western borders of Elam. In turn, some powerful kings of Mesopotamia like Hammurabi of Babylon claimed at least partial domination of Elam. Between these highlights in the political history of Elam and Mesopotamia there were long periods in which no major military engagement is recorded between the two countries. In some measure exchange of goods and ideas certainly must have taken place between Susa and several of the rich Mesopotamian towns, especially Lagash, Larsa and Eshnunna. But Babylonian texts from the first half of the second millennium indicate a decline in the assumed large-scale trade of earlier times, when ships are thought to have plied the Persian Gulf with timber, silver and tin from [p. 45] Susa and to have returned with agricultural products such as barely and oil.
The clay tablets on which historical texts were written and on which merchants recorded their business transactions mention towns and countries of Elam, but they rarely give any indication of their geographical location. Anshan, which seems at times to have been the most important region of Iran aside from Elam, may have been situated in the Bakhtiari mountains. Susa probably dominated the entire plain irrigated by the Kerkha and Karun rivers. Strong rulers of Susa probably also reigned over the green pastures of the valleys of Luristan, which would have been of great importance for the supply of the capital with sheep--and later with horses for the army.
Little is known about the internal history of Elam. The texts which contain historical information are not numerous and are not yet fully understood by modern scholars. The language, Elamite, is neither Semitic nor Indo-European, and its relation to other languages is not yet clarified.
In periods of strong influence from Mesopotamia the texts, economic and legal records, were written in Sumerian and Akkadian, that is, in the languages of Mesopotamia. There are indications that the genuinely Elamite business practice was entirely oral, so that writing need not have been an integral element of Elamite culture.