ELYMAIS (ELAM)
Kamnaskires-Orodes of Elymais

Elymais (the Greek name for Biblical Elam) was an ancient state located in the region southeast of the Tigris River with a capital located in the city of Susa (Shushan).  By the time Seleukos I  added the country to his empire in 308 BC, the native civilization had roots reaching back at least 3000 years.  In 2900 BC the Elamites had already developed a pictographic written language of their own, well before the Mycenaean and Minoan Greeks had even begun to think about creating inventories using their  Linear A and B scripts.  Influenced and spurred on by the high culture of the early Mesopotamian city-states, the rulers of Elymais aspired to emulate their western neighbors.  Nevertheless, the peoples of Mesopotamia proper tended to see the Elamites as undesirable foreigners who did not truly belong to their riverine urban club.  Friction between Mesopotamia and Elymais frequently erupted in war during the third and second millennia BC with the Elamites often suffering at the hands of various Mesopotamian states.  Elymais was incorporated into the Old Babylonian Empire, but freed itself in the thirteenth century, at which time Elamite culture was at its height.  The pictorial and literary arts flourished in the capital, but neither the artistic quality, nor the autonomy of the country, could be maintained forever.

The widespread disruptions and invasions of the twelfth century sapped Elamite strength, and by the eighth century Elymais had been absorbed by the rapidly expanding power of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.  In vain attempts to reassert its independence Elymais joined several doomed Aramean and Chaldaean coalitions against Assyria, but was finally crushed in 646 BC when Ashurnasirpal III destroyed Susa and devastated the countryside.

 With the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, Elymais passed from the sphere of the Assyrians into that of the Chaldaean rulers of Babylon, who used part of the territory to forcibly relocate Jewish notables deported from the defunct kingdom of Judah.  About sixty years later Elymais was incorporated into the Achaimenid Empire founded by Kyros I and Susa was made into a royal residence.  The Seleukids continued to use Susa (refounded as Seleukeia-on-the-Eulaios) as one of their eastern capitals until Parthian expansion in the 180s BC separated it from the western regions of the contracting Seleukid Empire.

Throughout their history the Elamites were known as fierce warriors specializing in the use of the bow.  This tradition continued into the Seleukid period when mounted archers from Elymais were employed in the wars of both Antiochos III and Demetrios II.

Unfortunately, Elymais was both famous for its golden temples and located where Seleukid kings frequently needed to pay their armies.  This combination led to attacks on local temples by Antiochos III and Antiochos IV, both of whom hoped to alleviate their lack of funds through plunder.  The assault of Antiochos III on the temple of Zeus (local Bel?) ended in disaster and the death of the king at the hands of Elamite defenders.  The later attempt of Antiochos IV on the temple of Artemis (local Anahita) was also repelled, but in this case the king escaped with his life, although rumors abounded that the mysterious illness that killed Antiochos IV was a curse visited upon him by the goddess.  Of course, it was also claimed by the Hasmonaean Jews that his disease was a punishment for despoiling their temple.

Shortly after 190 BC a native dynasty was founded by Kamnaskires I Megas Soter, who ruled Elymais and the capital at Susa, but maintained a cordial relationship with the Seleukid court.  Despite being absorbed into the Parthian Empire of Mithradates I around 150, the Kamnaskirids continued to support the attempts of Seleukid kings to destroy their Arsakid overlords.  Unfortunately, much as their ancestors in the eighth and seventh centuries were unable to break Assyrian hegemony with Syrian assistance, the Kamnaskirids of Elymais also gained little from their Seleukid allies.  The Parthian campaign (139 BC) of Demetrios II Nikator, which involved Elamite allied troops, ended in complete disaster.  The Seleukid army was routed and Demetrios himself was captured by the Parthians.

After this debacle all evidence for direct ties between Kamnaskirid Elymais and Seleukid Syria disappears from the historical record. Nevertheless, it is clear from their coins that the Kamnaskirids saw themselves as inheritors of the Seleukid royal tradition.  Early rulers like Kamnaskires I, his successor Kamnaskires II Nikephoros (145-139/8 BC), and the Susian usurper Tigraios (138/7-133/2 BC) commonly employed the image of Seleukid Apollo as a reverse type.  An anchor emblem, apparently derived from a Seleukid prototype, was also popular on Kamnaskirid coinage and that of the succeeding Orodid dynasty which ruled Elymais from the first to the third century AD.

Unfortunately, the history of Elymais and her kings is very shadowy in this period and often little more than the names of the rulers are known.  Sometimes even this is unclear from the coinage, causing five different rulers to be described simply as "indeterminate kings".  It is however known that although Elymais had largely been a client-kingdom under the Arsakid Parthians the relative freedom of the country came to a violent end in AD 227 when it was conquered by Ardashir I, the destroyer of Parthian power and founder of  the Sasanian Persian Empire.



 

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