A Glance at the Elymaean History and Archaeology


1 Bu Ali Sina University

2 -


The Parthian Empire (247 B.C.–224 A.D.), also known as the Arsacid Empire, was a major Iranian politico-cultural power in ancient Iran. Its latter name comes from Arsaces I of Parthia. Who, as leader of the Parni tribe, founded it in the mid-3rd century B.C. when he conquered the region of Parthia in northeastern Iran, then a satrapy (province) in rebellion against the Seleucid Empire. At its height, the Parthian Empire stretched from the northern reaches of the Euphrates, in what is now central-eastern Turkey, to eastern Iran. Researchers believe in a kind of feudal system for Arsacid Iran in which exist some local dynasties ruled by different clans. According to their power, these clans determine the situation inside the empire. Elymaeans were one of these rather mighty clans who established a local dynasty in northern Khuzestan and southern Zagros mountains after the Seleucid extension in Iran, and remained in power until the rise of Sassanid Persians. Although there is no certain proof about the origin of the term “Elymais”, it has been suggested that this is the Graecized form of the more ancient name “Elam”. Classical accounts have mentioned Elymais; however they cannot be quite accurate. After a hundred and half years of the beginning of Elamite and Elymaean studies, there is still no chance to define the exact borders of Elymais and the written documents also cannot help, since they are disorganized and scattered in this domain. Thanks to historical resources and archaeological data, we can analyze the studies recently done on Elymais and explain the importance of the history and geography of this dynasty. Elymaeans raised from Bakhtiari mountains and areas in northeast Khuzestan. They had a great military power and the wealth of their temples came from plundering other regions. Seleucid and Arsacid kings tried to attack these temples, but for most of the time this decision brought nothing but catastrophic consequences for them. Numismatic evidences identify a Kamnaskires as the Elymaean king who conquered Susa and other regions in Khuzestan and Bakhtiari. This was the beginning of almost four-hundred years of conflict between Elymaeans to reach independent kingship and Arsacids to prevent this goal. Eventually the last Elymaean king could not resist the newcomer Sassanids and lost all his kingdom and life to them. This was the end of Elymaean political existence, but the studies have already begun and more researches precede, more this dark part of Iranian history will clarify.  Beside the military importance of the Elymaean territory which has been brought by their domination on the most important passes of the Zagros mountains between Mesopotamia – the western frontier of the Seleucids and Arsacids – and the rest of the Iranian world, strategic position of this region provided Elymaeans with a golden chance to make a huge benefit from inter-regional trade. Consequently, this regional state possessed a focal role in the political geography of the Arsacids King of Kings. On the other hand, aside of geographic – environmental characteristics of this region, cultural – intellectual particularities of the people had lived in, bestowed its artistic customs a specific identity which was distinct from ones of its neighbors in the regarded times. Accordingly, we can recall how the Sasanian art is owed many of its subjects, ideas related to the political culture, and the way in which the Sasanians presented a scene to the Elymaean art. This point would be more clear when one studies their reliefs. Notwithstanding the researches have been done so far, but still cultural characteristics of Elymaean people and their interaction with their overlords are the very interesting subjects with high capability of studying for scholars to deal with. More knowledge on the Elymaeans can help us to analyze the Seleucid/Arsacid political system and the circumstances under which inter-regional interactions had been shaped.


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