Notebook, 1993-

[From: Porada, Edith [With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson]. The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic Cultures. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. Art of the World. 1962.}

Preface --- 1.Geography and Trade --- 2.Beginnings of Art --- 3.The Art of The Early Urban Civilization --- 4.The Art of the Akkad and Post-Akkad Periods in Western Iran; Contemporary Art Works of North-Eastern Iran --- 5.The Art of the Elamites --- 6.The Bronzes of Luristan --- 8.Finds of The Late Second and Early First Millennium B.C. at Sialk Near Kashan --- 9.The Finds of Hasanlu - The Art of the Manneans --- 10.The Treasure of Ziwiye --- 11.The Art of the Medes --- 12.The Art of the Achaemenids --- 13.The Art of The Seleucids --- 14.The Art of the Parthians --- 15.Sasanian Art

The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic

Chapter Five - Notes for this chapter

The Art of the Elamites
The destruction of the great old city of Ur in Mesopotamia by the Elamites in about 2000 B.C. 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.' [1]

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. [2] 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. [3]

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.

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 B.C., 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. [4]

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. [5]

It is interesting to note some evidence of similarly oral business practice in the records found in the Hurrian region of northern Mesopotamia, in Nuzi near Kirkuk. Furthermore, other characteristics common to the legal documents of both Susa and Nuzi exist. This points to a relationship also manifested in the considerable proportion of Hurrian proper names found among the princes who played a role in the political history of the country. [6] Such relations between the populations of northern Mesopotamia and Elam are also reflected in the numerous Mitannian or Hurrian-style cylinder seals found at various sites in Iran. Only at Susa and in its immediate vicinity, where local Susian seal-cutters established a distinctive Elamite tradition was there a pronounced scarcity of seals of Mitannian or Hurrian style in the excavations.

These cylinder seals which were found at Susa and at the neighbouring site of Tchoga Zanbil serve to establish a framework of glyptic art in Elam from the Old Elamite period of the early second millennium B.C., through the Middle Elamite period of the second half of the second millennium, to the Neo-Elamite period of the early centuries of the first millennium B.C. [7] Occasionally this framework may serve for the classification of larger works of art which are uninscribed and undated. For this reason we begin the discussion of Elamite art with the cylinder seals. [p. 46]

Cylinder seals were produced in great numbers in the Old Babylonian period, about 1900 to 1600 B.C. The same is true of Susa, where we call the style of the seals Old Elamite. These Old Elamite cylinders conform to the Old Babylonian ones in the ubiquitous rendering of scenes of worship, a motif inherited from the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur. But certain details characterize seals as originating in Susa: for example, a tree at the end of a scene, or the placing before the deity of an offering-table bearing a bird, or some sacrificial animal, rarely a fish. [In Babylonia the tree design is not found in seals of that period, and the deity or its image is never shown partaking of food or even receiving a food offering.] Here distinctive ritual practices of Elam manifest themselves, practices which are reflected several centuries later in Assyria. These Old Elamite cylinders are often made of the black bitumen found near the oil-fields of the region. This material can be worked very easily, and the seal-cutter could indicate the surface of an object by a series of short incisions, as in the throne and the palmtree of Figure 20. The imprint of such a cylinder seal shows ragged outlines and looks crude. A second style is smoother. The example of the latter shown here has a curious tree growing from a knoll. The branches of the tree with their leaves or blossoms not only grow upward but also point downward. This might have been a means to fill the field, but one should not rule out the representation of a candelabra-like artificial construction. Perhaps the style of this cylinder is slightly later than that of Figure 20. [8]

A Middle Elamite style of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. is here represented by a cylinder which can be dated approximately on the basis of similar imprints found on tablets of Nuzi. [9] It shows a carefully engraved scene with several figures. One of these is marked as a deity by a horned crown and sits on a throne, the back of which ends in an animal's head. This feature can be traced to other cylinders of the group, in which the god actually sits on an animal. We encounter here the characteristic Iranian practice of decorating and enlivening inanimate objects with animal heads. Both deity and worshipper [p. 47] have narrow waists; the worshipper who carries a sacrificial goat in his arms has his hair cut 'en brosse' or swept upward, a feature often observed in renderings of Elamites. In a subsidiary scene a worshipper appears before a standing deity, and in the upper register a lion pursues a horned animal, an ancient Mesopotamian and Iranian motif which appears in many different styles until the latest periods of Iranian art. This cylinder was found in a sanctuary in Luristan where it had probably been brought from Susa.

The next stage of Elamite cylinder seals became known through Ghirshman's discovery of a deposit of such seals in chapels of the sanctuary of Tchoga Zanbil. With few exceptions these cylinder seals probably belong to the latter part of the Middle Elamite period, in which King Untashgal [c. 1265-1245 B.C.] [10] built the sanctuary. A considerable number of these cylinders, of which we give one example here, resemble the early Kassite cylinders of Babylonia, dated in the fifteenth century B.C., in the use of attenuated figures carved with thin lines by means of a fine drill. However, the scene of adoration or worship shown here is characterized as typically Elamite by the servant who holds a fan behind the throne. The shelf with vessels in the upper field and the small goblin, more human than ape-like, are also long-lived Elamite motifs. This scene of worship of a deity may not have differed much from an audience with one of the great lords of Elam.

Most of these cylinders of Kassite style, which are among the finest found at Tchoga Zanbil, and others of good quality were made of deep blue glass. Such use of glass may ultimately go back to Egyptian influence. The seals of a much cruder style, here called common style, were made of a related composition, namely faience. An example of the common style shows a simplified version of the scene just described. Here the worshipper has taken over the function of the servant with the fan. The seated figure, probably a deity, raises a vessel to his mouth. The action here depicted and the shape of the vessel are most characteristic of this group of cylinder seals.

A later Neo-Elamite version of the scene is given in Figure 25. The smaller size of the cylinder and the proportions of the figures are comparable to those of [p. 48] Assyrian cylinders of the ninth century B.C. This dating is also suggested by the pointed headgear of the seated figure found in a Neo-Elamite relief from Susa [11] and in a rock relief at Naqsh-i Rustem, which will be discussed later.

Among the cylinders with religious themes we have chosen one which shows kneeling gods surrounded by streams of water that seem to issue from their shoulders and from their arms or their hands. [12]

From the fearful and destructive world of demons which can be successfully fought only with the help of the very same demons, if these are properly manipulated, comes the winged lion-headed figure of another cylinder seal. With his bird claws the demon stands on two kneeling ibexes and with each hand raises a gazelle by the hind legs. A related theme is shown in Figure 28, but there are several reasons for suggesting a later, possibly early Neo-Elamite origin for this seal. Such a date would be important for the classification of some of the Luristan bronzes which the demon resembles in abbreviation of form and in the curved slender neck. The figures are attenuated and lack the solid verticality of the preceding seal. Moreover, the wedge-shaped fillers are not found in any other seal from Tchoga Zanbil, but they are reminiscent of the single wedges of cuneiform writing occasionally scattered in the field of Assyrian cylinders of the early first millennium B.C. Lastly, the cylinder is made of bitumen and was not found in the chapels with the other cylinders, which are mostly of faience or glass. [p. 50]

Faience continued as a favoured material for seals in Elam , and a cylinder from Susa which again shows the pursuit of a horned animal by a lion belongs even more certainly to the early first millennium B.C. Here, too, the vertical composition has given way to oblique inclination of the animal bodies, and plants of a type common in Assyrian cylinders of the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. rise from the ground-line. Of special interest is the cross, which has branches between the arms. This motif occurs in somewhat related manner on Luristan bronzes and may still be found in Sasanian textile patterns.

The next cylinder shows two griffins hovering over a creature which looks like a snake with a bull's head but which may merely present one of those curious abbreviations of animal bodies that occur in Elamite and even in Proto-Elamite art from the earliest to the latest periods. [13] The fact that the griffins have again filled out and show more rounded forms suggests that they are to be placed in the first millennium, in the late ninth or eighth--perhaps even in the early seventh--century B.C.

Two cylinders which may serve to date other works, one of faience, the other of bitumen, show horned animals flanking a tree. The simplified example in which the branches of the tree end in globules was found in one of the chapels at Tchoga Zanbil; the more elaborate version was found at Susa. It shows a tree with a crown consisting of five pointed oval leaves which remind one of the outline of date -palm blossoms. This type of tree design is typical of the late and post-Kasite [p. 51] period of Babylonia, between the thirteenth and eleventh centuries B .C., and even survived into later times. Curiously enough, there are not many examples of such a tree design at Susa, and none has so far been found at Tchoga Zanbil. However, one does find the design on bronzes from Luristan. Perhaps the frequency of the motifs should be investigated for indications of stylistic links, but this is still a task for the future.

On the basis of the chronological division into Old, Middle and Neo-Elamite periods suggested for the cylinder seals, we may now discuss some other Elamite works of art.

No architectural remains from the first half of the second millennium B.C. were observed and described at Susa, and no traces of buildings have been preserved. It is therefore impossible to form an opinion of Elamite architecture at Susa during this period.

In the minor arts, however, a definite style manifests itself, a style characterized by the use of animal bodies and animal heads on vessels and other objects. Our plate shows the foot of an object carved in bitumen [14] with the foreparts of an ibex whose head and neck are worked in the round. Nose and beard of the animal are broken off; nevertheless, the animal sculpture is quite expressive, which is in part due to accentuation of the eyes with white shell inlays. Hair is indicated by rows of sharply engraved and short, often slightly curved lines. The style is reminiscent of the Old Elamite cylinder seals which are also made of bitumen and which show similar rows of incised lines to suggest surface patterns.

The same workshop which produced the object just discussed may have also made the ram-headed bowl found in a coffin between the hands of the deceased. [15] The sides of the bowl represent in side view the extended body of the ram whose neck and head are carved in the round at one end of the bowl. The position in which this vessel was found suggests that such vessels decorated with animal forms lent themselves well to ritual purposes.

The finest example of a bowl of this type was found in the northern Mesopotamian town of Ishchali, in the Diyala valley. [16] Three recumbent ibexes, their heads and necks turned at right angles to the rest of the body and partly worked in the round, were originally carved along the circumference of the bowl, but only one of the animals is preserved. The body is simplified to almost geometric forms, and the hair is stylized in rows of hatchings running in opposite directions like a herring-bone pattern. Although minor differences can be observed between the bowl from Ishchali and the bowl and fragmentary foot of an object [p. 52] from Susa here reproduced, the existence of a large number of such vessels in the finds excavated at Susa, as against the unique example from Ishchali, and the material of these vessels, which is typical of works of art made at Susa, offer sufficient indications on which to postulate the origin of the group in Elam. The appearance of the single piece in Ishchali can be explained by the fact that one of the trade-routes went from Susa to Mesopotamia over Kurdistan, the route nowadays crossing through Kermanshah and into Iraq over passes that lead into the Diyala valley. [17]

If our Elamite bowls are correctly dated in the time of the dynasties of Isin and Larsa in Babylonia, that is, in the twentieth and nineteenth centuries B.C., when a very naturalistic style prevailed in Babylonian art, the abstraction noted in the decoration of these bowls must correspond to a specifically Elamite taste at that period. A distinctively Elamite feature may also be the way in which the head of [p. 53] the animal decorating the bowl is turned at right angles to the body in relief and carved partly or entirely in the round. This device for enlivening the decoration of a bowl was used in Mesopotamia only in the time of the early urban development shortly before and after 3000 B.C. Perhaps its use at Susa in the Old Elamite period--and later--shows that there this early device was retained with the same tenaciousness which characterizes the retention of earlier features in the artistic production of Iran through the centuries.

Two metal objects dated by the excavator of Susa, De Mecquenem, in a period corresponding to our Old Elamite period, present other features which are not Babylonian and may therefore be Elamite or generally Iranian. A small golden falcon with spread wings has its claws pulled up close to the body as if the bird were seen in flight from below. The representation of the falcon with short thick neck and short beak is a characteristic of later Iranian art, as is the position of the legs. For example, a cauldron attachment from Hasanlu, made about one thousand years later, shows a bird of the same type, similarly positioned. The wings and tail of the bird from Susa seem to have been made in two pieces, of which the lower was a flat plate while the upper one was made in open-work. Together the two pieces formed cells for an inlay of a blue composition. [18] The technique in which cells or cloisons of gold or some other metal are made to hold inlays of some material like blue lapis lazuli, red carnelian or white shell was known quite early in Western Asia, as shown by finds from the Royal cemetery of Ur. [19] An even earlier origin was postulated for small pieces of jewelry, decorated in the same technique, found in a child's grave at Susa, but the date of that jewelry seems somewhat uncertain. [20] Nevertheless, there can be no doubt about the fact that the technique of decoration used for the falcon from Susa was known in Western Asia before the Old Elamite period. The blue composition used for the inlays of the falcon, however, is not attested for the early periods and may indicate that the object should not be dated before the second half of the second millennium B.C.

The second object supposedly of Old Elamite date is a socketed head of a bird or reptile made of silver, perhaps the top of a standard. Within the opened mouth of the creature a pattern of scales can be seen, [21] which makes it more likely that this is the head of a reptile, perhaps a tortoise. The 'tail' shown at the back of the head may imitate in metal the coloured cords, rolled up at the ends, used on standard-tops made of impermanent materials. [22]

No comparable work from the early second millennium B.C. is known from Western Asia. The plain geometric forms, given almost demonic life by the large eye peering out from under the thick brow, are comparable rather to later Iranian renderings of animals. It is possible that the head is incorrectly dated and that it was made only after the middle of the second millennium B.C., when Mitannians and Hurrians ruled in northern Mesopotamia and Kassites in the south and the prevalent taste favoured a geometric style there and also in Elam--as shown by the large number of Mittanian or Hurrian cylinders found in Iran and by the existence of at least one fine cylinder seal in Mitannian style with an Elamite inscription. [23] It is also possible, however, that the standard-top really belongs to a time before 1500 B.C. and that it prefigures the geometric style of a later age. This would mean, however, that the geometric style had its inception with standards and similar pieces and that it originated in Persia.

The Middle Elamite period is the only period of Elamite rule which has yielded [p. 54] coherent architectural remains--the sanctuary of Tchoga Zanbil a few miles from Susa. Here Ghirshman excavated a ziggurat and surrounding chapels and temples as well as a palace and various interesting installations. [24] The ziggurat, a temple tower, rises like a massive mountain from the flat and empty plain. Once fields and gardens probably surrounded the sanctuary and supplied the priests and other employees with grain and vegetables. The fact that the soil can be made exceedingly fertile by artificial irrigation is proved by an American and Dutch project for growing sugar-cane in fields located only a few miles from Tchoga Zanbil. In Tchoga Zanbil and Susa the temperature rises to 140 degrees in the summer. But in the desert the heat is dry and bearable in the shade, and nights are even cool. The great question whether or not the ancient inhabitants of Tchoga Zanbil and Susa sought out the cool and refreshing air of the mountain valleys of Luristan during the summer months cannot be answered today because we have too little evidence. The tendency of the present-day inhabitants of the towns of Khuzistan is to seek protection from the mid-day heat in subterranean rooms and to emerge only in the evening. Only the nomads wander with their herds of sheep and goats into the mountains in summer and return in winter to the plain around Susa and Tchoga Zanbil. [p. 55]

The sanctuary of Tchoga Zanbil was separated from the surrounding plain by an outer wall which measured 1200 x 800 metres. An inner wall enclosing the ziggurat and its courts measured 400 x 400 metres. It was pierced by seven gates of varying importance, all leading to the courts of the ziggurat. It is this inner wall which appears in the photograph in Plate 11; above it rise the three storeys of the ziggurat which remain of the original five-storeyed building. The single storeys look like square terraces built one above the other; in reality each storey rises directly from the ground. According to the excavator, R. Ghirshman, the two outer lowest storeys were first built around a central open court. Subsequently the higher storeys were concentrically encased in this court, with the highest storey rising in the middle.

In the second storey from the base several rooms were built behind the southeastern façade. Ghirshman interprets the complex as the lower temple [25] in which the god Inshushinak, to whom the entire Ziggurat was dedicated, was worshipped during the day. At night the god was thought to return to heaven, perhaps striding with gigantic steps up the ziggurat to the top, where a small temple is assumed to have stood. From this point the god would have ascended to heaven, and here he would have landed again in the morning. All this has been deduced from Mesopotamian parallels, however, and may or may not apply to Elamite beliefs. [p. 57]

The few human beings, priests and dignitaries who were admitted to the upper storeys would have had to climb narrow stairs with very high steps, partly covered by brick vaults and partly open to provide light for the stairs. The visual impression of the ziggurat was mainly determined by the horizontal lines of the terraces and by the regular alternation of salients and niches which formed the principal decorative elements here, as in the mud-brick decoration for which no earlier prototype is known is a triple-arched niche found to have decorated a round platform which had four such niches. [26] Two other platforms were found at Tchoga Zanbil, but they were too badly damaged to show any details. The curvature of these architectural forms contrasts strikingly with the prevalent rectangular forms employed in Babylonian architecture.

The principal gate which gave access to the courts surrounding the ziggurat was situated on the south-eastern side of the complex. It was called the 'Royal Gate' by the excavator both because of its large size and because of its decoration of glazed bricks and 'nails' with pommels holding flat tiles in place. The pommels bore the name of the builder of the ziggurat, Untashgal. They were covered with blue glaze like the tiles, which also had a restrained decoration of quarter-rosettes in the angles. Other tiles were decorated with disks of white and black glass in various sizes. Some of the bricks were blue, others green; some had circles with a white or blue centre, or white lozenge shapes on a lapis-lazuli blue background. The strong colour of these glazed bricks and tiles must have given a very festive air to the 'Royal Gate' as seen from the ziggurat. [27]


[Porada, Edith [With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson]. The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic Cultures. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. Art of the World. 1962.]



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