Friday, May 10, 2013

History Mystery: Susa Home of the Elamites Part.IV

This lust for treasure resulted in an invaluable service to posterity. Among the loot was a polished basalt stele, or engraved stone, from the Temple of Shamash at Sippar, north-west of Susa. The stele bears the fullest surviving text of the famous Code of Hammurabi, the most complete collection of laws to survive from ancient Mesopotamia. Hammurabi is shown standing in homage before the seated Shamash, the Babylonian Sun god. Nearly 300 laws – dealing with crime, trade, wages, marriage, and a host of other matters – are inscribed in vertical columns below the figures. The new dynasty abandoned Al-Untash-Napirisha and set up a number of the captured monuments in Susa itself, where new temples were built in a distinctive style. The outer walls were made of glazed and moulded bricks, which depicted royal couples and the guardian spirits of the building. Only fragments of the bricks have been found, but survived intact.

It depicts two figure taking part in a ritual, and an inscription reveals that it illustrates the ceremony of the Rising Sun – Sit Shamshi. The ritual takes place between two temples, probably those of Inshushinak and his wife at Susa. Offerings have been placed around the larger of the temples, beside some raised stones. Trees nearby indicate the existence of a sacred grove. The piece suggests yet more unexpected affinities, in this case with the Semitic peoples of the Biblical lands far to the north-west: Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Though the temples are Elamite in style, the simple raised stones recall those worshipped as idols by the Canaanites. The wooded grove was revered by the Semites, who held all green trees sacred, and a miniature vase in the sculpture is similar to an item found in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Underground tombs beside the temple of the god Inshushinak in Susa contain the cremated remains of the royal dead. Partially burnt furniture has been found in these vaults, but the remains of precious gold and silver leaf bear witness to their original splendour. Statuettes of precious metal have also been discovered. Toys and games similar to modern solitaire had been buried there, too.

Ancient relics from earlier eras have also been preserved: stamp seals and cylinder seals, which were already more than 2,000 years old; and exotic axe heads. These relics, imported from eastern Persia, seem to have been placed in the tombs to reinforce the monarchy’s claim to descent from the woman known as the Gracious Mother, the wife of the first Elamite kin, Kindattu, who had reunited Anshan and Susa at the beginning of the second millennium BC. Safe in the vault, they survived the holocaust to come. At the end of the 12th century BC the Babylonians recovered their supremacy and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Elamites. The ancient civilization crumbled as its enemies set it alight. The scale of the fire is almost unimaginable: a thick layer of ash covers the whole of the site of Susa – a terrible reminder of the size of the conflagration which ended Elam’s most glorious period. Darkness fell over the conquered lands for some 400 years, and Elam never fully recovered. During those years, dramatic changes were to transform the Middle East completely. In about 1000 BC, the plateau was engulfed by a wave of Aryan peoples from the Caucasus, from whom Iran derived it name. The Aryans founded the first Persian kingdom at Anshan. Meanwhile, a new power was rising in Mesopotamia – the empire of the Assyrians. Caught between these two power blocs, Elam’s fallen civilization was doomed.

At the end of the 8th century BC, an ambitious king of Susa called Shutur Nahhunte revived some of the splendour of the metropolis, and for a few decades it citizens enjoyed an uneasy peace through alliances first with Assyria, then with Persia. But it was not to last. In 646 BC, the Elamite capital was devastated once more, this time by the merciless ruler of Assyria, Assurbanipal (669-627 BC). Susa was looted, its royal tombs desecrated, and the images of its gods and kings were taken away. But Susa refused to die. The Persians rebuilt the city in the 6th century BC, and it became the administrative capital of their empire. Later, in 331 BC, it fell to Alexander the Great. It continued its role as a trade centre until gradual decline set in during the late Middle Ages, reducing it into a cluster of deserted hillocks overlooking the barren plain of Khuzestan. But in one way the site preserved its history across thousands of years – it has retained its ancient name, in the form of Shush, from the time of the first written records until today.