Cotton from Dilmun
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Categories: Ancient

Cotton from Dilmun

An eroded ziggurat against the background of the blue sky with bushes and depressions in the foreground
Tschoga Zanbil, the greatest surviving ziggurat in Elam (modern Khuzestan). Photo by Sean Manning, May 2016.

In Achaemenid studies, Wouter Henkelman’s book The Other Gods Who Are is famous for using some very difficult sources to argue that we should not think about Iranians replacing and subjugating Elamites, but that the ancient Persians we know were the product of hundreds of years of interaction between Iranian-speakers and Elamite-speakers sharing the highlands of Fars, so that by the time of Cyrus or Darius it was hard to say what was Iranian and what was Elamite. Elam had traditionally included both lowland Susa and highland Anšan, and by the time of Cyrus the difference between mountain and plain may have felt more real than any difference in language or religion inside one region.

As this study aims to show, the religious landscape of the Achaemenid heartland was a fascinating and variegated tapestry woven from Elamite and (Indo-)Iranian traits. It will be argued that, though heterogeneous, this landscape was nevertheless a unity that was treated as such by the administrators at Persepolis. ‘Iranian’ and ‘Elamite’ cults were not only treated alike, but were actually not separated in clearly distinct sections. The gods venerated and the cults sponsored were only so because they were considered to be Persian, i.e. as belonging to the rich intercultural milieu of first-millennium Fārs. (p. 58)

As I take my first glance through it, I find that it has other treasures:

One question that arises at this point is whether [the hoard of silverware from] Kalmākarra is an exception, or an indication of the overall level of prosperity in the period under discussion [ie. the century after the Assyrian invasions around 640 BCE]. Confirmation of the thesis that ‘Kalmākarra’ is not an exceptional case is the rich inventory of a stone burial chamber, discovered by chance in 1982 at Arǧān near Behbahān in eastern Khūzestān. The funerary deposits, in and outside of a bronze coffin, included an elaborate bronze stand (or ‘candelabrum’), a large gold ceremonial object (‘ring’), a dagger decorated with precious stones and gold filigree, a silver rod, a bronze lion beaker and a large bowl with engraved scenes. Four of the objects have an Elamite inscription reading “Kidin-Hutran, son of Kurluš.” Apart from metal objects, the tomb also contained remains of embroidered garments. The 98 gold bracteates, also found in the coffin, may have been sewn to one or several of these garments. There is now a communis opinio on the tomb’s date: the later seventh or early sixth century BC (i.e. contemporaneous with the Kalmākarra hoard and the Acropole texts).[79] The Arǧān find is of major importance for its international context. The tomb inventory displays a range of different styles and iconographic themes (Phoenician, Syrian, Elamite, Assyrian) and some objects probably reached Kidin-Hutran via long-distance trade. This is particularly true for the textiles found in the tomb, at least three of which are made of cotton – these are, in fact,among the earliest Near Eastern examples of cotton garments. As Javier Álvarez-Mon argues, maritime trade between Elam and Dilmun, where cotton was grown in this period, is the most likely source of the fabric or the raw material (Álvarez-Mon [forthc. 1]).

Besides the regional network described above, there is some evidence for relations that involve longer distances. An Acropole text (s 158 rev.5-6) attests to exchanges with the “king of the Egyptians” ( BE EŠŠANA AŠ mi-iz-ri-[ib-be-]na).[101] There is also some evidence for Elamite-Urartean trade and perhaps political contacts.

– Wouter Henkelman, The Other Gods Who Are, Achaemenid History XIV, pp. 30, 31, 48

Henkelman thinks that the domestication of the camel opened new trade routes through the Syrian desert, like those which later made Palmyra rich. Dilmun is a very old and traditional name, but in earlier periods it referred to somewhere in the Persian gulf where merchants from Mesopotamia met visitors from distant lands. In the third millennium BCE, cities in southern Mesopotamia had been trading through Dilmun with Maka and Meluhha (somewhere around the Indus Valley?) In the second millennium, however, that trade seems to have been interrupted (perhaps something to do with whatever happened to the Harappans?) I did not know that through all the thundering and righteous violence of the Assyrian kings, those old trade routes had come back into use.

Edit 2021-12-29: fixed links and formtting broken when WordPress introduced the block editor

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0 thoughts on “Cotton from Dilmun

  1. Pavel Vaverka says:

    Interesting post Sean, I didn’t read as many books, articles about Persians as You, but still I think we can agree, that Persian state was tribal confederacy with different people. But, I don’t think there wasn’t for contemporaries clear drawing line, who is Elamite, Persian, Mede or something between, for us centuries later it is certainly hard, to identify their etnicity, perhaps in future we know more about these differencies.

    I appreciate your new info about functioning of old trade routes durig Neo-Assyrian empire. Assyrians were for me firstly resourceful tradesmen with very long tradition, their military excellency came later. I think it was in their interest to let it bussines go as usual.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Those early Assyrian traders in Anatolia were sure busy! I feel like specialists in Iranian archaeology are having trouble communicating the results of their research and publishing their finds in places where people will find them. Although that is sort of the same in Greek archaeology too: there are all kinds of publications in German and Modern Greek (and Slavic languages) which the Anglophones in the ‘hoplite debate’ do not seem to use. We don’t need to use our big academic brains to imagine whether a particular kind of helmet is heavy or light, or whether tapered spears are hard to make with hand tools, when we can weigh finds or ask specialists in the history of wood-working.

      I can only handle German, but the pictures and captions in books in other languages can still be useful.

      1. Pen Name says:

        If the articles are available in digital format folks could try using a translation service, but you would probably not be able to search on them to find them first. Are there still abstracts that could be used to locate them? Google translate has its issues, but the gist usually comes through, for example:

        The translation is spotty, but the gist comes through for most of it. for example “pour faire défiler ceux qui peuvent marcher” gets translated as ” to scroll those who can walk” but should probably be “to line up and march off those who can walk” and “les anglophones doivent se pencher très près des mourants” get google translated as “look very close to the dying” rather than “lean close to the dying”.

        1. Sean Manning says:

          I know that some of the publications on Greek arms and armour in German came out in the 1990s and oughties, just a bit too early for them to be easily accessible online. A lot of new archaeological things appear online immediately or shortly after publication (and some agencies have rules that you can’t get a grant for a new excavation until you have published your last excavation, to stop archaeologists digging things but never recording them). Archaeologists probably know how to search for the literature in different languages and separate the things with overviews from the details about pottery and textile fragments, but I don’t know if everyone has that skill.

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