Tag Archives: Epigraphy

Bīsotūn and the French Enlightenment

Potts, Daniel Thomas. 2018. Bīsotūn and the French enlightenment. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1–32.

This study examines a little-known case of Enlightenment knowledge transmission centred on the rock-cut monument of Darius I at Bīsotūn in western Iran. It discusses a report on the monument published by the cartographer and historian Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville, which originated with the Decalced Carmelite monk Emmanuel de Saint-Albert (born Jean-Claude Ballyet); who transmitted it to Isaac Bellet, a doctor involved in secret negotiations in Constantinople; who in turn sent it to Louis, Duke d’Orléans, in Paris; who passed it on to d’Anville. The collison of scholarly interest, political service and scientific personality offers a fascinating case study of the Enlightenment ‘republic of letters’ in action.

The article is available on academia.edu.

Personal names in Parthian epigraphical sources

pnb-schmitt-2016Schmitt, Rüdiger. 2016. Iranisches Personennamenbuch Band 2/Faszikel 5: Personennamen in parthischen epigraphischen Quellen. (Österreichische Akademie Der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse; Iranische Onomastik 15). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW).
This volume of the Iranisches Personennamenbuch (Lexicon of Iranian personal names) presents a full collection of the personal names attested between 150 BCE and 300 CE in Parthian epigraphical sources, inclusive of patronymics and family names as well as the topographical names derived from personal names. Also non-Parthian and even non-Iranian (Semitic, Latin, etc.) personal names are taken into account, as they are part of the onomastic material attested in an Iranian language. The presentation of the names in principle is the same as in the earlier volumes of the Iranisches Personennamenbuch: First comes a full listing of all references (with the kind of the text and its provenance given in abbreviated form), then a sketchy prosopographical characterisation of the person(s) bearing the name, and finally the section on the morphological and etymological interpretation of the name, in which a cautious judgement is attempted. Here the names attested in the Old Iranian and the other Middle Iranian languages (together with their collateral tradition), now known in much greater numbers than at the time of Ferdinand Justi’s Iranisches Namenbuch (1895), are quoted in a fitting manner. Full indexes make all the names accessible that are quoted by way of comparison.
About the Autor:
Rüdiger Schmitt ist emer. Professor für Vergleichende Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft und Indoiranistik der Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken.

Levantine Epigraphy from the Achaemenid Period

Papyrus with an Aramaic translation of the Behistun inscription's text
Papyrus with an Aramaic translation of the Behistun inscription’s text

Lemaire, André. 2015. Levantine epigraphy and history in the Achaemenid period (539-332 BCE). First edition. (Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology 2013). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Inscriptions discovered since 1980 and fresh epigraph research have revealed much about the Archaeminid period in the Levant (533-332 BCE). André Lemaire concentrates on three areas where new data has shed light on the societies living in the largest empire that the world had known to that date.

Phoenicia played a vital political and economic role in the empire because Persian kings had to rely on the Phoenician navy in their wars against Greece and Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean. Newly discovered inscriptions from Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, as well as the results of research into coins, have illuminated the chronology, history and extent of the Phoenician kingdoms, as well as their influence in Palestine.

New inscriptions have added to our knowledge of the Judean Diaspora in Babylonia, Egypt and Cyprus. The main indirect information about the Exiles previously available to us was in the book of Ezekiel. Now, epigraphic data has revealed not only many names of Exiles but how and where they lived and more about their relationship with Jerusalem.

The third region described is the Persian provinces of Samaria, Judaea and Idumaea, especially during the 4th century BCE. The publication of various, mainly Aramaic, contemporary inscriptions on papyri, ostraca, seals, seal-impressions and coins, sheds new light on the daily life and religion of these provinces. The insciptions help us to understand something of the chronology, society and culture of these three different provinces as well as several Biblical texts in their historical and economic contexts.

With over 90 inscriptions illustrated and fully transcribed, this book provides new insight into a period that has proved difficult to study.

Table of Contents:

  • Levantine epigraphy and Phoenicia: the kingdoms of Aradus, Byblos, Sidon and Tyre during the Achaemenid period
  • West Semitic epigraphy and the Judean Diaspora during the Achaemenid period: Babylonia, Egypt, Cyprus
  • Levantine epigraphy and Samaria, Judaea and Idumaea during the Achaemenid period

About the Author:

André Lemaire (Sorbonne, Paris) has worked, first as a researcher in the French National Center for Scientific Research and later as “directeur d’études ” in the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne, Paris), in the field of West Semitic epigraphy, Levantine history and Hebrew Bible in the first millennium BCE, for more than forty years. He has published many new Hebrew, Aramaic and Phoenician inscriptions as well as new historical interpretations. He is especially interested in the connection between West Semitic epigraphy and the Biblical tradition and was a member of the Editorial board of Vetus Testamentum for 36 years.

Stylistics of Old Persian Royal Inscriptions

Schmitt, Rüdiger. 2016. Stilistik der altpersischen Inschriften. Versuch einer Annäherung. (Veröffentlichungen Zur Iranistik 79). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW).
The present study makes the first attempt to compile in a systematic manner the figures of speech and other stylistic phenomena attested in the corpus of the Old Persian royal inscriptions. For those texts are different from simple prose in that they show clear traces of a stylization that similarly to using certain words and word forms lend them characteristic features of an artificial language. The phenomena to be treated in that context are presented in transcription according to the author’s text edition (Die altpersischen Inschriften der Achaimeniden, 2009) in form of a list without classifying them according to criteria of sound or those of grammar, lexicon, and syntax. References to comparable phenomena in the related languages (not least also in Avestan) are given only quite rarely in order not to distract the reader’s attention from the Old Persian data. The comparison with Avestan or within the ancient Indo-Iranian languages, i. e. in form of “Comparative Stylistics of Indo-Iranian”, has to be planned only after having finished collecting the evidence of the individual languages in full. Suggesting such a study is one of the intentions of the present book.
Rüdiger Schmitt, from 1979 to his retirement in 2004 Professor of Comparative Indo-European Philology and Indo-Iranian Studies at Saarland University in Saarbrücken; born in Würzburg on June 1, 1939; studies from 1958 to 1965 in Würzburg, Erlangen and Saarbrücken, particularly with Manfred Mayrhofer; after publications on Indo-European poetical language, on the Greek and Armenian languages specialized on the ancient Iranian languages, Old Persian epigraphy and, above all, Iranian personal names.

The Elamite version of the Behistun inscription

Aliyari Babolghani, Salman. 2015. The Elamite Version of Darius the Great’s Inscription at Bisotun. Introduction, Grammar of Achaemenid Elamite, Transliteration, Persian Translation, Comparison with other Versions, Notes and Index. Tehran: Nashr-e Markaz.
The monumental inscription of Behistun “‘place where the gods dwell”,  engraved on a cliff about 100 meters off the ground, is located along the road that connected the capitals of Babylonia and Media, Babylon and Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). The relief represent the victory of Darius I. the Great, King of Persia over the usurper Gaumāta and the nine rebels. The scene is surround­ed by a great trilingual inscription in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian.
This Behistun inscription is the most important document of the entire ancient Near East and a major key to understand­ing its languages. It alone made it possible to decipher cuneiform writing and thus to open the door to previously totally unknown ancient civilizations.
The inscription was first studied in 1835-37, 1844, and 1847 by Henry C. Rawlinson was the first scholar who studied the inscription in 1835-37, 1844, and 1847; he edited the Old Persian and Babylonian versions of the text himself, while the Elamite version to Edwin Norris (Norris, Edwin. 1855. Memoir on the scythic version of the Behistun inscription. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 15. 1–213). Up to now, for the Elamite text one still has to rely on Weissbach’s edition and translation of 1911 (Weissbach, Franz Heinrich. 1911. Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden. Leipzig: J.C. Hinriches’sche Buchhandlung), or the German translation of the original Elamite text (Hinz, Walther. 1974. Die Behistan-Inschrift des Darius in ihrer ursprünglichen Fassung. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran NS. 7. 121–34.), while con­sulting more recent Elamite studies, mostly scattered around in journals. The last edition of the inscription was done by Grillot-Susini/Herrenschmidt/Malbran-Labat  (Grillot-Susini, F., C. Herrenschmidt, & F. Malbran-Labat. 1993. “La version élamite de la trilingue de Behistun: une nouvelle lecture.” Journal Asiatique 281:19-59).
The current book in 268 pages, consists of a transcription of the Elamite version of the inscription together with its Persian translation. It is followed by a chapter on the comparison of the Elamite version with Old Persian,  Babylonian and Aramaic versions of the inscription. A comprehensive chapter on Elamite grammar (Writing System, Phonology, Morphology and Syntax) as well as a Glossary and additional notes and index complete the volume.
About the Author:
Salman Aliyari (PhD) is a Tehran based scholar of Ancient Iranian culture and languages, with special focus on  Achaemenid Elamite language.
In Original:

علی‌یاری بابلقانی، سلمان. ۱۳۹۴. تحریر ایلامی کتیبه‌ی داریوش بزرگ در بیستون. پیش‌گفتار، دستور ایلامی هخامنشی، حرف‌نویسی، ترجمه، مقابله با تحریرهای دیگر، یاداشت و واژه‌نامه. تهران. نشر مرکز.

Alīyārī Babolqāni, Salman. 1394š. Taḥrīr-e ʾīlami-ye katibe-ye dāryuš-e bozorg dar bisotūn. Tehrān: našr-e markaz.

From Babylonian to Old Persian Cuneiform

Bergerhausen, Johannes. 2014. Digitale Keilschrift | Digital cuneiform. Mainz: Schmidt.
For three millennia, cuneiform was the dominant writing system in the ancient eastern world. More than half a million cuneiform tablets are still in existence. They are stored in museums and collections, some of them have never been translated.  Ever since the rediscovery of these ancient cultures in the 19th century, the pictographic characters of the world’s oldest script have fascinated researchers and fans alike. Today, the shapes seem surprisingly modern and thrill not just archaeologists and scholars, but typographers, textile designers and tattooists, too.This book presents a typographical journey through time in book form – a key to the ancient cultures or the earliest form of type hype with 544 pages with all known cuneiform characters from Mesopotamian to Babylonian to Ancient Persian, with numerals and punctuation, type tables and background information as well as access to the digital cuneiform font.

The Mount Mugh Documents and Sogdian Epigraphy

Livshits 2015Livshits, Vladimir A. 2015. Sogdian epigraphy of Central Asia and Semirech’e. (Ed.) Nicholas Sims-Williams. (Trans.) Tom Stableford. (Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum. Part II Inscriptions of the Seleucid and Parthian Periods and of Eastern Iran and Central Asia Vol. III. Sogdian). London: School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
This volume presents the Emglish translations of some very important and major works of  Vladimir Aronovich Livshits on the Sogdian language, culture and sources. The volume is arranged in two parts. The first part is a translation of Sogdian documents from Mount Mug (kuh-e moḡ), site of the 7th-8th-century refuge of the rulers of Penjikent in Sogdiana, located in the upper reaches of the Zeravshan in northern Tajikistan, where an important archive of documents written in Sogdian was discovered by A. A. Freiman’s 1933 expedition. Livshits has taken part  first and foremost, in the deciphering of the Mnt. Mug archive of Sogdian documents from Mount Mug.
The second part of the volume, dedicated to the English translations of some ten important articles of Livshits, concerning the Sogdian epigraphy, in which he examines “not only the purely philological problems but also questions of the history and culture of Sogd, aided by his frequent participation in archaeological excavations and journeys to the lands of historical Sogdiana in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kirgizia”.

Continue reading The Mount Mugh Documents and Sogdian Epigraphy

A new inscription of Xerxes? One more forgery

Schmitt, Rüdiger. 2015. A new inscription of Xerxes? One more forgeryARTA: Achaemenid Research on Texts and Archaeology 3. 1–8.

In 2007, a complete collection of inauthentic inscriptions in Old Persian cuneiform script was published. It described and discussed, in detail, (1) ancient texts not originating from the king, who was their supposed author, as well as (2) modern forgeries designed to mislead, and (3) imitations of cuneiform inscriptions fabricated more for ‘fun’ than any more serious intent. Since then, the number of such forged inscriptions has increased. There is now a tapestry including an Old Persian text, which turned out to be an adaptation of Xerxes’ Persepolis inscription XPe. A silver tablet purporting to be that of Darius I’s co-conspirator Otanes is a blatant forgery given the serious grammatical mistakes in the Old Persian . Such forged inscriptions are found on a variety of objects and, in virtually every case, display their individual peculiarities.

Parthian sources online

Parthian Sources Online

This website is a digital collection of texts from the Parthian empire, one of the biggest and longest-lasting empires of antiquity. Under the kings of the Arsacid dynasty (c. 247 BCE to 224 CE), the Parthians ruled a kingdom that stretched from central Asia in the east to the Euphrates river in the west. Their history is a crucial part of the legacy of ancient Iran, though in many respects it is still poorly understood.

Some of the texts here are in ancient Greek. Others are in Parthian, an Iranian language that outlasted the Arsacid empire and remained in use even after the overthrow of the dynasty. Coming soon are a few inscriptions in Latin composed by Parthians living in the territory of the Roman empire.

At the moment this site is a work in progress, with content being added on a regular basis.

This site is authored and maintained by Jake Nabel, a PhD student in the Department of Classics at Cornell University. His research focuses on Parthia’s relationship with Rome, its imperial peer (and sometimes rival) to the west.


Dictionary of the Old Persian royal inscriptions

Schmitt, Rüdiger. 2014. Wörterbuch der Altpersischen Königsinschriften. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

The present volume is closing a gap of the specialist literature felt for some time, because the glossaries and dictionaries available cover the Old Persian vocabulary only in part and are defective in some respects. For preparing a new Old Persian dictionary the situation is quite favourable at present, since a complete edition of the royal inscriptions has been published in 2009 by the author in his book “Die altpersischen Inschriften der Achaimeniden” (Wiesbaden 2009), where only some texts of minor relevance, the inscriptions on vessels, seals (and sealings) and weights, had been ignored. A dictionary like the present comprehensive work probably never had been tackled before for a corpus language like Old Persian, for in order to cope the divergent needs of all sorts of users it contains six separate lists or indexes: lists of (1) the transliterated and (2) the transcriptional word-forms (this one giving a short grammatical definition and a list of all references), (3) the lexicon proper, arranged by word-stems, roots etc. and giving a translation as well as short information about the (syntactical, phraseological or other) use of the word and its etymology, and finally (4–5) reverse indexes of the first two lists and (6) of the dictionary itself (verbal roots, nominal and pronominal stems and indeclinable words being kept apart).

For more information see the ToC and read the Preface (in German) to this volume .

About the Author:

Rüdiger Schmitt, from 1979 to his retirement in 2004 Professor of Comparative Indo-European Philology and Indo-Iranian Studies at Saarland University in Saarbrücken; born in Würzburg on June 1, 1939; studies from 1958 to 1965 in Würzburg, Erlangen and Saarbrücken, particularly with Manfred Mayrhofer; after publications on Indo-European poetical language, on the Greek and Armenian languages specialized on the ancient Iranian languages, Old Persian epigraphy and, above all, Iranian personal names.