"Susa was a principal city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires (capital of the Elamites) and was originally known to the Elamites as 'Susan’ or 'Susun’. The Greek name for the city was Sousa and the Hebrew, Shushan."


But when was Susa mentioned with that name in written documents? Do we have Proto-Elamite or Old-Assyrian/Akkadian documents that are using this particular name? I'm particularly interested on this because of the name etymology and meaning, what is said to relate to female name Susan, lily flower, number six, even horse.


The Hebrew Bible is among the early texts mentioning Susa (under the Hebrew name of Shushan which is the same world as a lily) but there exist somewhat older, Sumarian documents that mention Susa, e.g. Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta where Susa is quoted as a place obedient to Inanna, a goddess of love. This text is from the 21st century BC but similar Sumerian texts going back to the 25st century BC may exist. The Sumerian civilization probably existed 4,000 BC and could have used the "same" words. They began to write around 3,000 BC.

Susa comes from the name of the local deity, Inshushinak. Conveniently, this word "works" in English. God Inshushinak was "in Shusha". Most sources logically say that the relationship is the other way around: Inshushunak "means" the lord of Susa.

The Sumerian language – the most ancient known written language – was a language isolate which makes conclusions about the relationship of their words to words in other languages particularly problematic. (Can the beginning "in" of the deity's name be identified with "in" in English, for example?) It is hard to claim that its words are related to words such as "six" if linguists don't even agree to which modern languages Sumerian was closer.

It's easy to get carried away and propose relationships most of which are almost certainly coincidental. For example, šuša could be claimed to be related to the Czech word "šuškat" (whispher) or "šiška" (conifer cone) or "sušák" (dryer) or "sušit" (dry) or "sušenka" (a dry cookie) or even "šůsovat" (slang for fast direct Alpine skiing) but is there any reason to think that the similarity is more than a coincidence? Most of such short combinations of sounds are being used in every language.

The Sumerian word has affected lots of names in the Elamite culture. The Elamite language was another language isolate, however.

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    The Sumerian documents are not "somewhat older" than the Hebrew Bible, but a lot older (thousands of years). – fdb Aug 20 '15 at 13:19
  • Not "thousands". The Sumerian text I mentioned is from the 21st century BC while oldest texts of the Hebrew Bible have existed from 11th or 10th century - so this difference is one thousand of years. But the events that the Bible is supposed to remember are older than the Bible. For example, the classic (possibly mythological) date for Exodus is 1446 BC which is just 500 years or so after the Sumerian text above, and it's among the older ones. There are also claims that Egyptian evidence places Exodus at 2450 BC which would be older than the Sumerian text. – Luboš Motl Aug 20 '15 at 13:56
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    The Exodus is not a historical event. Anyway, the "classic" dating of the Exodus to 1446 or earlier is not found in any text from before the Christian era. The Seder Olam (1st century AD) puts the Exodus exactly 1000 years before the Seleucid era, that is 1311 BC. – fdb Aug 20 '15 at 15:01
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    Perhaps more to the point, @fdb, is that the parts of the Bible that mention Shushan are the books of Esther, Daniel and Nehemiah - all of which are among the latest books of the Bible (traditional dating 5th or 4th centuries BCE, a lot later than the Sumerian texts). – user438 Aug 20 '15 at 17:06
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    @LubošMotl. That was exactly my point. The "classic" dating is worthless historically. – fdb Aug 20 '15 at 18:03

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