The Elamites & Medians

Category: Before Islam, Medians - Date: May 10, 2020


Elam was the lowland region in what is now Khuzestan province and the first organised settlements appeared as far back as 2600 BC. Elam was close enough to Mesopotamia and the great Sumerian civilisation to feel its influence and the two were regular opponents on the battlefield. The Elamites established their capital at Susa (Shush) and derived their strength through an enlightened federal system of government that allowed states to exchange natural resources unique to each region.

The Elamites believed in a pantheon of gods, and their most notable remaining building, the enormous ziggurat at Choqa Zanbil, was built around the 13th century BC and dedicated to the foremost of these gods. By the 12th century BC the Elamites are thought to have controlled most of what is now western Iran, the Tigris Valley and the coast of the Persian Gulf.

About this time Indo-European Aryan tribes began arriving from the north. These Persians eventually settled in what is now Fars province, around Shiraz, while the Medes took up residence further north, in what is today northwestern Iran. The Medes established a capital at Ecbatana, now buried under modern Hamadan, and first crop up in Assyrian records in 836 BC. Little more is heard of them until, according to Greek historian Herodotus, Cyaxares of Media expelled the Scythians in about 625 BC.

Under Cyaxares, the Medes became a formidable military force, repeatedly attacking the neighbouring Assyrians. In 612 BC, having formed an alliance with the Babylonians, the Medes sacked the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and chased the remnants of this once-mighty empire into history.