The Underrated Civilization of Elam: The Sukkalmah Dynasty

Elam: The Sukkalmah Dynasty (1900-1500 BC): Read time - 5 minutes 24 seconds
Elam

What’s up it’s The History Buffs😎. Check out our sources, timeline of events, and defined terms at the bottom. Enjoy‼️

The Rivers of Elam

Psssst – hey kid, you want to learn about a random civilization? If so, you’re in luck because we’re here to talk about Elam. Despite often being a powerful civilization in the Bronze Age, Elam is often overshadowed by other civilizations like Babylon or Phoenicia. They haven’t even been featured in any of the Civilization games.

The Bronze Age:  A period from about 3500-1000 BC in the Middle East when the first urban civilizations developed using tools primarily made from bronze.

Elam: A territory in southern Iran, roughly equivalent with modern Khuzestan, Fars, and the surrounding provinces from about 3300-550 BC.

From about 3300-550 BC, the Elamites ruled southern Iran. The border usually looked like the border between modern-day Iraq and Iran because big mountains. However, on a few occasions, they pushed beyond their traditional borders to rule their neighbors. The height of this expansion was during the reign of the Sukkalmah Dynasty (1900-1500 BC).

That lasted just long enough for one of Elam’s friendly Mesopotamian neighbors to invade and kill the official king and leave the Sukkalmahs in charge of the whole country. A decision that would change the known world.

Mesopotamia: Refers to the fertile plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Over time, the region included civilizations like Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and Babylon. Borders Elam.

Sukkalmah: An Elamite title meaning “Grand Regent” or “Prime Minister,” which gradually replaced the Kings of Shimashki. Usually treated as the third major Elamite dynasty.

Rise of an Empire

1831 BC marked the beginning of Elamite expansion into Mesopotamia. Elam would support revolutions within cities and pit kingdoms against each other. Other invasions outright annexed territory in northeastern Mesopotamia.

Around 40 years later, while Elam continued expanding in the south and east, a minor city on the in the northwest was exploiting the chaos. This was the young city of Babylon, ruled by its young king, Hammurabi. Yes, that Hammurabi. He took his father’s fledgling empire and expanded rapidly into southern Mesopotamia, subduing the cities weakened by decades of fighting in Elam’s wars.

Babylon: A city on the Tigris River that began to dominate southern Mesopotamia around 1800 BC. It was so successful that the whole region became known as Babylonia and was home to several empires over the following 1300 years.

Hammurabi: The founder of the first Babylonian Empire who came to power in 1792 BC. Most famous for the Law Code of Hammurabi, which indirectly influenced legal codes for millennia, including the US Constitution.

Elam largely ignored Babylon, which would later prove a mistake on Elam’s part. There is a reason many people today have heard of Babylon, but not Elam. 

The "Regent" known as "Daddy"

Siwe-palar-huppak became the new Sukkalmah in 1778 BC, ushering in an age of prosperity. Elam dominated trade like that one rich kid with all the Pokemon cards. In the east, luxury goods were imported from India. In the south, Elam controlled trade in the Persian Gulf, importing incense from Bahrain. In the north, Elam controlled the flow of precious stones and tin from modern Afghanistan which was essential to bronze making. 

Siwe-palar-huppak: The Sukkalmah of Elam at the height of their territory and political influence in the Middle East, from 1778-1763 BC.

With this dominance in trade, Elam could manipulate the market like congress. They controlled the flow of strategic resources to their rivals and on top of that levy taxes. Elamite influence spread so far that even city-states hundreds of miles away in western Syria would plead with Siwe-palar-huppak to help in their wars.

This was because Elam’s army was seemingly unstoppable. Siwe-palar-huppak could field armies of tens of thousands in multiple theaters at a time when most wars were only fought between city-states with a few thousand troops total.

The Sukkalmah was regarded as the highest ranking king east of Egypt. Kings in the ancient near east customarily called their political equals “brother” and their superiors “father.” Only Siwe-palar-huppak was called “father” by the other kings in the Middle East. 

Siwe-palar-huppak would soon realize that you can’t be daddy forever… I’m sorry that was really weird

It wouldn't be a story if the underdogs lost

Things took a turn in 1767 BC, when Siwe-palar-huppak forged an alliance with Hammurabi’s Babylon and the king of Mari, Zimri-Lim. These three powers joined together to target their mutual neighbor, the kingdom of Eshnunna. Eshunna was in between all three of their kingdoms, which basically meant it was free real estate. All three planned to seize territory and Zimri-Lim wanted a direct border with Elam to avoid additional taxes on the tin trade.

Mari: A city state founded in central Syria around 2500 BC, which became an important kingdom during the early Bronze Age.

Zimri-Lim: The current king of Mari.Sources indicates that he believed that women were just as capable leaders as men. How progressive!

Eshnunna: A city state founded around 3000 BC, which became a powerful kingdom around 2000 BC.  

I threw a bunch of names out there, so here’s your little cheat sheet.

  • Siwe-palar-huppak = Elam
  • Hammurabi = Babylon
  • Zimri-Lim = Mari
  • Eshuanna = Free real estate
Mari, Babylon, Elam, and Eshuanna circled.

As is often the case in history, Siwe-palar-huppak got greedy. After defeating Eshnunna, he annexed the entire territory into Elam and kept the tin tax in place, cutting both of their allies out of the spoils. Adding insult to injury, Siwe-palar-huppak forced the kings of Mari and Babylon to swear an oath that they would never communicate with each other unless he was involved.

The cities of Eshnunna that you hold, do they not belong to me? Release them and submit them to my yoke, otherwise I will pillage your country! My army would set out to the city Mankisum and it would cross the river at that spot. At the head of my army I myself would cross the river and invade your country. 

– a letter from Siwe-palar-huppak to Hammurabi

👉What did Ancient People Joke About?

👉The Russian Peasant who Negotiated Peace with the Germans in WW1

👉How did the Mujahideen get Soviet Weapons from the CIA?

Every Friday, I send history like this straight to your inbox! All you have to do is enter your email😎 
I promise, no spam or green eggs and ham. Just history😃

Launching October 28th!

Appeasement never works

Hammurabi was immediately infuriated, but it took longer for Zimri-Lim to abandon his alliance with Elam. Mari had other threats on its western and northern frontiers and relied on peace with Elam to secure those borders.

Siwe-palar-huppak unsurprisingly didn’t give a shit and invaded Mari, occupying its cities. At this point, Zimri-Lim knew that Elam wouldn’t stop so he finally allied with Babylon to take down Elam. Remember kids, appeasement never works.

The enemies of Elam spent three years striking up alliances with independent tribes and city-states in far western Syria to build up an army that could challenge Siwe-palar-huppak’s forces. Seeing this, Siwe-palar-huppak launched a preemptive attack in 1765 BC, sacking one of Bayblon’s cities. This was to serve as a warning to Hammurabi against further insubordination.

“From now on, as long as I live, I shall indeed be the enemy of Siwe-palar-huppak. I shall not let my servants or my messengers mingle with his servants, and I shall not dispatch them to him. I shall not make peace with Siwe-palar-huppak without the approval of Zimri-Lim… If I plan to make peace with Siwe-palar-huppak, I shall certainly consult with Zimri-Lim” 

An oath sworn by Hammurabi to the Zimri-Lim before invading Elam

Artifact of an Elamite soldier. Apparently this man was packing.

History>Game of Thrones

The next year, Babylon and Mari launched a joint invasion of Elamite territory. As the Babylonian force marched to Elam, an almost 30,000 strong Elamite army launched a surprise attack into Babylonian territory. 

They besieged the northern Babylonian city of Hiritum by building ramps up the side of the city walls. As Hammurabi’s forces approached to relieve the city, they opened up the irrigation canals that ran along the walls – and under the siege ramps. 

The Elamite earthworks and the soldiers building them were washed away just as the Babylonian army arrived. The Elamites tried to retreat but were cut down by the Babylonians.

Meanwhile, the Elamite general who had previously invaded Mari defected to Mari himself. This left Elam’s western border completely undefended when Mari joined Hammurabi’s invasion. The underdogs raided and burned Elamite land with impunity and were able to seize control of all of Siwe-palar-huppak’s conquered territory in Eshnunna.  

Siwe-palar-huppak was forced to retreat into Elam’s traditional borders. In a last-ditch attempt, the Sukkalmah desperately tried to support Hammurabi’s enemies in the city-states of Eshnunna and southern Mesopotamia, but it was no use. Hammurabi snuffed out any resistance to his rule. 

One year later, Hammurabi would betray his former ally, Zimri-Lim. He invaded and conquered Mari, bringing the first Babylonian Empire to its greatest extent. Lesson to be learned, the power of friendship is powerful, but not eternal.

End of an Empire

Back in Elam, these defeats, coupled with the loss of the tin trade, crippled Siwe-palar-huppak’s empire. Elam would disappear from historical records for almost 400 years. When it emerged, the Sukkalmahs were gone and Elam would never be so powerful again. 

While Elam will never have the same level of clout as Babylon, it played an important part in history. Sometimes, the goal of a side character is to help the main characters shine, and oh how Hammurabi shined.

“The ruler of Elam had set his sights on the entire country, but then he changed his mind and wanted to devour the land of Babylon. If my Lord’s god had not intervened, he would have caused a situation as if the people of Babylon would never have existed. Now, however, when a messenger of the sukkal of Elam mentions Hammurabi, he says sweetly: “There is peace.”

A letter from Hammurabi to the King of Mari.

The Stele of Hammurabi, depicting Hammurabi handing down his law code.

Man, that sucks. Even when you finally get some press, it’s just an origin story for Babylon.

Timeline of Events - Terms - Memes - Sources

3500 BC: The beginning of the Bronze Age.

3300 BC: Elamite culture and early writing begin at Susa.

1831 BC: The first Elamite invasion of Mesopotamia under the Sukkalmahs

1792 BC:  Hammurabi becomes king of Babylon and expands into southern Mesopotamia.

1778 BC: Siwe-palar-huppak becomes Sukkalmah and makes an alliance with Mari.

1767 BC: Elam, Babylon, and Mari ally to conquer Eshnunna. Siwe-palar-huppak cuts his allies out of the promised rewards for their victory. The height of Elamite political power.

1766 BC: Siwe-palar-huppak violates his alliance with Mari and conquered their cities. Mari and Babylon begin plotting against Babylon.

1765 BC: Siwe-palar-huppak preemptively raids Babylonian territory as a warning to Hammurabi against war with Elam.

1764 BC: Babylon and Mari form a new alliance to seek revenge on Siwe-palar-huppak and force Elam out of all territory conquered since 1831. Elam is destabilized and enters another historical dark age.

1763 BC: Hammurabi betrays his own allies and conquers Mari for his own Babylonian Empire.

1390 BC: The first surviving Elamite records under a new post-Sukkalmah dynasty of kings are written.

1000 BC: The end of the Bronze Age

550 BC: The last independent Elamite kingdom falls to the Persian Empire.

* All dates are approximate according to the Middle Chronology for Bronze Age history.

Babylon: A city on the Tigris that began to dominate southern Mesopotamia around 1800 BC. It was so successful that the whole region became known as Babylonia and was home to several empires over the following 1300 years.

Bronze Age: A period from about 3500-1000 BC in the Middle East when the first urban civilizations developed using tools primarily made from bronze.

Elam: A territory in southern Iran, roughly equivalent with modern Khuzestan, Fars, and the surrounding provinces from about 3300-550 BC.

Eshnunna: A city-state founded around 3000 BC in the Diyala River Valley, which became a powerful kingdom around 2000 BC. Conquered by Elam 1767 and Babylon in 1764 BC. 

Hammurabi: The founder of the first Babylonian Empire who came to power in 1792 BC. Most famous for the Law Code of Hammurabi, which indirectly influenced legal codes for millennia, including the US Constitution.

Mari: A city-state founded in central Syria around 2500 BC, which became an important kingdom during the early Bronze Age.

Mesopotamia: Refers to the fertile plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Over time, the region included civilizations like Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and Babylon.

Sukkalmah: An Elamite title meaning “Grand Regent” or “Prime Minister,” which gradually replaced the Kings of Shimashki. Usually treated as the third major Elamite dynasty.

Siwe-palar-huppak: The Sukkalmah of Elam at the height of their territory and political influence in the Middle East, from 1778 – 1763 BC.

Zimri-Lim: The current king of Mari. Sources indicates that he believed that women were just as capable leaders as men. How progressive!

Sources:

The Elamite World edited by Javier Álvarez-Mon, Gian Pietro Basello, and Yasmina Wicks

The Oxford Handbook of Iranian History edited by Touraj Daryaee

The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State by Daniel T. Potts

King Hammurabi of Babylon by Marc Van De Mieroop

“Elam i. The History of Elam” by F. Vallat, Encyclopaedia Iranica https://iranicaonline.org/articles/elam-i

“Elam ii. The archeology of Elam” by Elizabeth Carter, Encyclopaedia Iranica https://iranicaonline.org/articles/elam-ii

“Susa ii. History During the Elamite Period” by Francois Vallat, Encyclopaedia Iranica https://iranicaonline.org/articles/susa-ii-history-during-the-elamite-period

“Anshan” by J. Hansman, Encyclopaedia Iranica https://iranicaonline.org/articles/anshan-elamite-region

Image credits:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Codice_di_hammurabi_03.JPG under GNU Free Documentation License

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reception_seal_Sukkalmah_dynasty_1940-1600_BCE_Susa_Louvre_Museum_Sb_1440.jpg under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ancient_Near_East_1800BC.svg under Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sword-AO_20876-P5280879-gradient.jpg by Rama under CeCILL license

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nude_man_with_weapons_Ur_III_Shimashki_dynasty_2000-1940_BC.jpg by ALFGRN under  the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:History_History_4Y1A6591_(23792823204).jpg by Ninara under  the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eparti_II.png by Iraninfo1970 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Share!

Facebook
Twitter