Early Iran (ca. 3,400 - 550 BC)


Elamite kingdom in relation to Mesopotamian city-states, ca. 3rd millennium BC

The advent of pottery and metallurgy set the stage for further transformations in the economy and society of Ancient Iran. Long, winding trade routes connected the peoples of Ancient Iran with other communities in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Central and South Asia. In neighboring Mesopotamia, the emergence of city-states, with complex traditions of art, religion, and kingship exerted a deep influence on Iran. 

The most sophisticated culture in Iran during this era was Elam, whose rulers forged an empire in Khuzestan (modern southwest Iran) and the Lower Zagros Mountains. The region's fertile fields and secluded valleys made for a remarkably prosperous and stable society, centered at the capital city of Susa – a metropolis by Bronze Age standards. The inhabitants of Susa created their own written language, Elamite – which remains imperfectly understood – along with distinct artistic, ceramic, and architectural traditions.

The Elamites’ sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic relationship with Mesopotamian city-states to the west often defined the extent of their reach. As a result, Elamite territorial ambitions waxed and waned in balance with their Mesopotamian rivals. Drained by centuries of wars and destabilized by a changing environment, including the loss of water sources, Elamite cities fell into decline after 1000 BC. However, some rural settlements continued to thrive, suggesting that the quality of life for many was independent of state power.