Tuesday, May 7, 2013

History Mystery: Susa Home of the Elamites Part.III

The records of the master of the house have been found. They mention the royal grants awarded to him, name his farm workers, and list the huge quantities of grain needed to sow his fields. They also reveal his extensive business interest, listing creditors in distant towns. He even had a debtor as far away as Liyan (present-day Bushehr) on the Persian Gulf. Later, other dignitaries set up residence in the quarter, notably Rabibi, a royal chamberlain. His house, fitted out like Temti-wartash’s, offers a delightful insight into daily life. There were classrooms where children learned the difficult cuneiform script of the period. Their exercise involved copying words, written by the teacher, onto large clay tables, stored in holes in the ground to keep them cool and malleable. Family vaults beneath the aristocratic houses have yielded numerous funerary items. To preserve the identity of the dead, portraits modeled from clay were painted and placed beside the corpse’s head.

They obviously seek to capture the likeness of subject – unusual in the Middle East at a time when portraits usually conformed to conventional stereotypes. The most remarkable of them shown a man with a square-cut, fringed Elamite hairstyle. His doleful expression evokes the rough and ready peasant stock of a people living close to the mountains. Women are shown smiling faintly, and wearing their hair plaited in a diadem. Small terracotta figures of naked women, probably from the same period, were excavated from the streets. They were broken when found. Pregnant women probably wore them as a charm, throwing them away once they had delivered their child. Couples intertwined in their beds and mothers suckling babies were also represented – imagery designed to encourage bigger families and, indirectly, a larger city. Susa and Anshan gradually drifted apart, but in the 13th century BC the new Anzanite dynasty restored the union. Its prince3s declared ‘expansionist’ aims.

For hundreds of years, only the Senitic Akkadian script had been used at Susa. But the new kings had their inscriptions drawn up in the language of Anshan, as well as in Akkadian. It was a clear statement of pride in the traditions of the plateau. Little is known about the greatest king of the line, Untash-Napirisha (c.1275-1240 BC), except for his great building programme. He also embellished Susa with masterpieces of metalwork. The most important surviving relic is a life-sized headless statue of his queen, Napirasu. Even without its head, this cast bronze figure weighs 1,750 kg (almost 2 tons) – the largest metal statue ever found in the Middle East. But an even more impressive memorial to his reign is the temple and place complex with he built for himself about 30 km (18 1/2 miles) south-east of Susa. This testament to his majesty was called Al-Untash-Napirisha, nowknown as Chogha Zanbil, with lies on the edge of a plateau dominating the river Ab-e Dez. The approach to the complex was by river, then through the royal gate which also served as a law court (the custom in the Middle East). Within the first enclosure, a number of places were built for the use of the royal family. Below one palace were the tombs in which the king and his family would be buried. Banquets were held at each funeral, and the bodies cremated. Not far from this funeral palace was a temple dedicated to Nusku, the Mesopotamian god light and fire. The high altar of the temple was exposed to the sky – it was possibly a cremation site, and certainly a centre of fire worship.

 Inside the walls of the first enclosure, a second enclosure housed the temples of various Elamite gods, and within, a third enclosure housed the major temples, including the sanctuary of the great gods Inshushinak, patron of Susa, and Naprisha, paton of Anshan uplands. The goddess wives of the two major deities also had temples dedicated to them. They were fully recognized alongside the gods, a tradition mirrored in the mortal world – Elamite women occupied powerful positions in both government and religion. Not long after the construction of Al-Untasha, the Elamite kingdom passed through a brief period of crisis. Then, in the 12th century BC, a new dynasty cast its eyes on distant horizons to restore the realm’s prestige. To the west, the Babylonian dynasty of the Kassites had been ruling for almost 500 years. The new Elamite king, Shutruk Nahhunte, overthrew the dynasty and captured an immense haul of booty. He returned to Susa with statues, monuments, and a host of other trophies.

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