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Old Persian

Old Iranian language of the Achaemenid Empire and ancestor language of Middle Persian

Old Persian is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages (the other being Avestan) and is the ancestor of Middle Persian (the language of Sasanian Empire). Like other Old Iranian languages, it was known to its native speakers as ariya (Iranian).[1][2]

Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets and seals of the Achaemenid era (c. 600 BCE to 300 BCE). Examples of Old Persian have been found in what is now Iran, Romania (Gherla),Armenia, Bahrain, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt,[6][7] with the most important attestation by far being the contents of the Behistun Inscription (dated to 525 BCE).

Recent research (2007) into the vast Persepolis Fortification Archive at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago unearthed Old Persian tablets, which suggest Old Persian was a written language in use for practical recording and not only for royal display.[8]

Origin and overview[edit]

As a written language, Old Persian is attested in royal Achaemenid inscriptions. It is an Iranian language and as such a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The oldest known text written in Old Persian is from the Behistun Inscriptions. Old Persian is one of the oldest Indo-European languages which are attested in original texts.

The oldest date of use of Old Persian as a spoken language is not precisely known. According to certain historical assumptions about the early history and origin of ancient Persians in Southwestern Iran (where Achaemenids hailed from), Old Persian was originally spoken by a tribe called Parsuwash, who arrived in the Iranian Plateau early in the 1st millennium BCE and finally migrated down into the area of present-day Fārs province. Their language, Old Persian, became the official language of the Achaemenid kings. Assyrian records, which in fact appear to provide the earliest evidence for ancient Iranian (Persian and Median) presence on the Iranian Plateau, give a good chronology but only an approximate geographical indication of what seem to be ancient Persians. In these records of the 9th century BCE, Parsuwash (along with Matai, presumably Medians) are first mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia in the records of Shalmaneser III. The exact identity of the Parsuwash is not known for certain, but from a linguistic viewpoint the word matches Old Persian pārsa itself coming directly from the older word *pārćwa. Also, as Old Persian contains many words from another extinct Iranian language, Median, according to P. O. Skjærvø it is probable that Old Persian had already been spoken before the formation of the Achaemenid Empire and was spoken during most of the first half of the first millennium BCE.


Main article: Old Iranian languages

Old Persian belongs to the Iranian language family which is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language family, itself within the large family of Indo-European languages. The common ancestors of Indo-Iranians came from Central Asia sometime in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. The extinct and unattested Median language is another Old Iranian language related to Old Persian (for example, both are classified as Western Iranian languages and many Median names appeared in Old Persian texts) The group of Old Iranian languages was presumably a large group; however knowledge of it is restricted mainly to Old Persian, Avestan and Median. The former are the only languages in that group which have left written original texts while Median is known mostly from loanwords in Old Persian.

Language evolution[edit]

By the 4th century BCE, the late Achaemenid period, the inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III differ enough from the language of Darius' inscriptions to be called a "pre-Middle Persian," or "post-Old Persian." Old Persian subsequently evolved into Middle Persian, which is in turn the ancestor of New Persian. Professor Gilbert Lazard, a famous Iranologist and the author of the book Persian Grammar states:[15]

The language known as New Persian, which usually is called at this period (early Islamic times) by the name of Parsi-Dari, can be classified linguistically as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of Sassanian Iran, itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenids. Unlike the other languages and dialects, ancient and modern, of the Iranian group such as Avestan, Parthian, Soghdian, Kurdish, Pashto, etc., Old, Middle and New Persian represent one and the same language at three states of its history. It had its origin in Fars and is differentiated by dialectical features, still easily recognizable from the dialect prevailing in north-western and eastern Iran.

Middle Persian, also sometimes called Pahlavi, is a direct continuation of Old Persian and was used as the written official language of the country.[16][17] Comparison of the evolution at each stage of the language shows great simplification in grammar and syntax. However, New Persian is a direct descendant of Middle and Old Persian.


Old Persian "presumably" has a Median languagesubstrate. The Median element is readily identifiable because it did not share in the developments that were peculiar to Old Persian. Median forms "are found only in personal or geographical names [...] and some are typically from religious vocabulary and so could in principle also be influenced by Avestan." "Sometimes, both Median and Old Persian forms are found, which gave Old Persian a somewhat confusing and inconsistent look: 'horse,' for instance, is [attested in Old Persian as] both asa (OPers.) and aspa (Med.)."


Main article: Old Persian cuneiform

Old Persian texts were written from left to right in the syllabic Old Persian cuneiform script and had 36 phonetic characters and 8 logograms. The usage of logograms is not obligatory. The script was surprisingly[19] not a result of evolution of the script used in the nearby civilisation of Mesopotamia. Despite the fact that Old Persian was written in cuneiform script, the script was not a direct continuation of Mesopotamian tradition and in fact, according to Schmitt, was a "deliberate creation of the sixth century BCE".

The origin of the Old Persian cuneiform script and the identification of the date and process of introduction are a matter of discussion among Iranian scholars with no general agreement having been reached. The factors making the consensus difficult are, among others, the difficult passage DB (IV lines 88–92) from Darius the Great who speaks of a new "form of writing" being made by himself which is said to be "in Aryan":

King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda this is the inscription which I have made. Besides, it was in Aryan ("ariyâ") script, and it was composed on clay tablets and on parchment. Besides, a sculptured figure of myself I made.

— Behistun Inscription (IV lines 88–92)[21]

Also, the analysis of certain Old Persian inscriptions are "supposed or claimed" to predate Darius the Great. Although it is true that the oldest attested Old Persian inscriptions are from Behistun monument from Darius, the creation of this "new type of writing" seems, according to Schmitt, "to have begun already under Cyrus the Great".

The script shows a few changes in the shape of characters during the period it was used. This can be seen as a standardization of the heights of wedges, which in the beginning (i.e. in DB) took only half the height of a line.


The following phonemes are expressed in the Old Persian script:

Front Back
Close iu
Open a

Notes: Lycian 𐊋𐊆𐊈𐊈𐊀𐊓𐊕𐊑𐊏𐊀 Kizzaprñna ~ 𐊈𐊆𐊖𐊀𐊓𐊕𐊑𐊏𐊀 Zisaprñna for (genuine) Old Persian *Ciçafarnā (besides the Median form *Ciθrafarnah) = Tissaphernes suggests /t͡s/ as the pronunciation of ç (compare [1] and Kloekhorst 2008, p. 125 in [2] for this example, who, however, mistakenly writes Çiçafarnā, which contradicts the etymology [PIIr. *Čitra-swarnas-] and the Middle Persian form Čehrfar [ç gives Middle Persian s]).

The phoneme /l/ does not occur in native Iranian vocabulary, only in borrowings from Akkadian (a new /l/ develops in Middle Persian from Old Persian /rd/ and the change of /rθ/ to /hl/). The phoneme /r/ can also form a syllable peak; both the way Persian names with syllabic /r/ (such as Brdiya) are rendered in Elamite and its further development in Middle Persian suggest that before the syllabic /r/, an epenthetic vowel [i] had developed already in the Old Persian period, which later became [u] after labials. For example, Old Persian Vᵃ-rᵃ-kᵃ-a-nᵃ /wr̩kaːna/ is rendered in Elamite as Mirkānu-,[23] rendering transcriptions such as V(a)rakāna, Varkāna or even Vurkāna questionable and making Vrkāna or Virkāna much more realistic (and equally for vrka- "wolf", Brdiya and other Old Persian words and names with syllabic /r/).

While v usually became /v/ in Middle Persian, it became /b/ word-initially, except before [u] (including the epenthetic vowel mentioned above), where it became /g/. This suggests that it was really pronounced as [w].



Old Persian stems:

  • a-stems (-a, -am, -ā)
  • i-stems (-iš, iy)
  • u- (and au-) stems (-uš, -uv)
  • consonantal stems (n, r, h)
-iš -iy -uš -uv
SingularDualPlural SingularDualPlural SingularDualPlural SingularDualPlural
Nominative -iš-īy-iya-iy-in-īn-uš-ūv-uva-uv-un-ūn
Vocative -i-u
Accusative -im-iš-um-ūn
Dative -aiš-aiš-auš-auš
Genitive -īyā-īnām-īyā-īnām-ūvā-ūnām-ūvā-ūnām
Locative -auv-išuvā-auv-išuvā-āvā-ušuvā-āvā-ušuvā

Adjectives are declinable in similar way.


Active, Middle (them. pres. -aiy-, -ataiy-), Passive (-ya-).

Mostly the forms of first and third persons are attested. The only preserved Dual form is ajīvatam 'both lived'.

Athematic Thematic
Sg. 1.pers. miybarāmiy
3.pers. astiybaratiy
Pl. 1.pers.mahiybarāmahiy
3.pers. hatiybaratiy
Athematic Thematic
'do, make''be, become'
Sg. 1.pers. akunavamabavam
3.pers. akunaušabava
Pl. 1.pers. akuabavāmā
3.pers. akunavaabava


Proto-Indo-IranianOld PersianMiddle PersianModern Persianmeaning
*Hasura MazdʰaHAuramazdā (𐎠𐎢𐎼𐎶𐏀𐎭𐎠)Ohrmazd 𐭠𐭥𐭧𐭥𐭬𐭦𐭣Hormazd هرمزدAhura Mazda (supreme God)
*Haĉwasaspaaspasb اسب/asp اسپhorse
*kaHmaskāma (𐎣𐎠𐎶)kāmkām کامdesire
*daywasdaiva (𐎭𐎡𐎺)dēwdiv دیوdevil
*ĵrayasdrayah (𐎭𐎼𐎹)drayādaryā دریاsea
*ĵʰastasdasta (𐎭𐎿𐎫)dast 𐭩𐭣𐭤dast دستhand
*bʰagasbājibājbāj باج/باژtoll
*bʰraHtābrātar (𐎲𐎼𐎠𐎫𐎠)brâdarbarādar برادرbrother
*bʰuHmišbūmi (𐏏)būm 𐭡𐭥𐭬būm بومregion, land
*martyasmartya (𐎶𐎼𐎫𐎡𐎹)mardmard مردman
*māHasmāha (𐎶𐎠𐏃)māh 𐭡𐭩𐭥𐭧māh ماهmoon, month
*wasr̥vāharawahārbahār بهارspring
*stʰuHnaHstūnā (𐎿𐎬𐎢𐎴𐎠)stūnsotūn ستونstand (column)
*ĉyaHtasšiyāta (𐏁𐎡𐎹𐎠𐎫)šādšād شادhappy
*Hr̥tasartaardord اردorder, truth
*dʰrawgʰasdruj (𐎭𐎼𐎢𐎥)drughdorugh دروغlie
*ĉwáHdʰaHspadaspah 𐭮𐭯𐭠𐭧sepah سپاهarmy

See also[edit]


  1. ^cf.Gershevitch, Ilya (1968). "Old Iranian Literature". Handbuch der Orientalistik, Literatur I. Leiden: Brill. pp. 1–31., p. 2.
  2. ^Gnoli, Gherardo (2006). "Iranian Identity ii. Pre-Islamic Period". Encyclopædia Iranica. 13. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  3. ^"Old Persian Texts". Avesta – Zoroastrian Archives.
  4. ^Kent, R. G. (1950) "Old Persian: Grammar Texts Lexicon", p. 6. American Oriental Society.
  5. ^"Everyday text shows that Old Persian was probably more commonly used than previously thought". University of Chicago News Office. June 15, 2007. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  6. ^Lazard, Gilbert (1975). "The Rise of the New Persian Language". In Frye, R. N. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Iran. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 595–632.
  7. ^Ulrich Ammon; Norbert Dittmar; Klaus J. Mattheier; Peter Trudgill (2006). An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society. Sociolinguistics. 3 (2nd ed.). Walter de Gruyter. p. 1912.
  8. ^Bo Utas (2005). "Semitic on Iranian". In Éva Ágnes Csató; Bo Isaksson; Carina Jahani (eds.). Linguistic convergence and areal diffusion: case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic. Routledge. p. 71.
  9. ^Schmitt 2008, p. 78 Excerpt: "It remains unclear why the Persians did not take over the Mesopotamian system in earlier times, as the Elamites and other peoples of the Near East had, and, for that matter, why the Persians did not adopt the Aramaic consonantal script.."
  10. ^Behistun T 42 - Livius.
  11. ^Stolper, M. W. (1997). "Mirkānu". In Ebeling, Erich; Meissner, Bruno; Edzard, Dietz Otto (eds.). Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie. Volume 8: Meek – Mythologie. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter. p. 221. ISBN . Retrieved 15 August 2013.


  • Brandenstein, Wilhelm (1964), Handbuch des Altpersischen, Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz
  • Hinz, Walther (1966), Altpersischer Wortschatz, Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1984). Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft: Alter Orient-Griechische Geschichte-Römische Geschichte. Band III,7: The History of Ancient Iran. C.H.Beck. ISBN .
  • Kent, Roland G. (1953), Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, New Haven: American Oriental Society
  • Kuhrt, A. (2013). The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period. Routledge. ISBN .
  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas (1996), "Iranian languages", Encyclopedia Iranica, 7, Costa Mesa: Mazda: 238-245
  • Schmitt, Rüdiger (1989), "Altpersisch", in R. Schmitt (ed.), Compendium linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden: Reichert: 56–85
  • Schmitt, Rüdiger (2000). The Old Persian Inscriptions of Naqsh-i Rustam and Persepolis. Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum by School of Oriental and African Studies. ISBN .
  • Schmitt, R. (2008), "Old Persian", in Roger D. Woodard (ed.), The Ancient Languages of Asia and the Americas (illustrated ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 76–100, ISBN 
  • Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2005), An Introduction to Old Persian(PDF) (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Harvard
  • Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2006), "Iran, vi. Iranian languages and scripts", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 13
  • Tolman, Herbert Cushing (1908), Ancient Persian Lexicon and the Texts of the Achaemenidan Inscriptions Transliterated and Translated with Special Reference to Their Recent Re-examination, New York/Cincinnati: American Book Company

Further reading[edit]

  • Edwin Lee Johnson (1917), Historical grammar of the ancient Persian language, Volume 8 of Vanderbilt oriental series, American book company, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Edwin Lee Johnson (1917), Historical grammar of the ancient Persian language, Volume 8 of Vanderbilt oriental series, American book company, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Herbert Cushing Tolman (1892), Grammar of the Old Persian language: with the inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings and vocabulary, Ginn, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Herbert Cushing Tolman (1893), A guide to the Old Persian inscriptions, American book company, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Edwin Lee Johnson (1910), Herbert Cushing Tolman (ed.), Cuneiform supplement (autographed) to the author's Ancient Persian lexicon and texts: with brief historical synopsis of the language, Volume 7 of Vanderbilt oriental series, American Book Co., retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Herbert Cushing Tolman (1908), Ancient Persian lexicon and the texts of the Achaemenidan inscriptions transliterated and translated with special reference to their recent re-examination, by Herbert Cushing Tolman .., Volume 6 of Vanderbilt oriental series, American Book Company, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Herbert Cushing Tolman (1908), Ancient Persian lexicon and the texts of the Achaemenidan inscriptions transliterated and translated with special reference to their recent re-examination, by Herbert Cushing Tolman .., Volume 6 of Vanderbilt oriental series, American Book Company, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Darius I (King of Persia) (1908), Translated by Herbert Cushing Tolman (ed.), The Behistan inscription of King Darius: translation and critical notes to the Persian text with special reference to recent re-examinations of the rock, Volume 1, Issue 1 of Vanderbilt University studies ATLA monograph preservation program Volume 3384 of Harvard College Library preservation microfilm program (reprint ed.), Vanderbilt University, ISBN , retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Darius I (King of Persia) (1908), Herbert Cushing Tolman (ed.), The Behistan inscription of King Darius: translation and critical notes to the Persian text with special reference to recent re-examinations of the rock, Volume 1, Issue 1 of Vanderbilt University studies, Vanderbilt university, retrieved 2011-07-06
  • Harvey, Scott L.; Slocum, Jonathan. "Series Introduction". Old Iranian Online. The University of Texas at Austin Linguistics Research Center.
  • Windfuhr, Gernot L. (1995), "Cases in Iranian languages and dialects", Encyclopedia Iranica, 5, Costa Mesa: Mazda, pp. 25–37, archived from the original on 2007-11-04
  • Stolper, Matthew W.; Tavernier, Jan (2007). "From the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project, 1: An Old Persian Administrative Tablet from the Persepolis Fortification". Arta. 1.
  • "An Old Persian text in the Persepolis Fortification Archive". Persepolis Fortification Archive Project. Posted by Chuck Jones. June 18, 2007.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Asatrian, Garnik (2010), Etymological Dictionary of Persian, Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, 12, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 

Old Persian cuneiform

semi-alphabetic cuneiform script

Old Persian cuneiform

Old Persian cuneiform syllabary (left), and the DNa inscription (part II, right) of Darius the Great (circa 490 BC), in the newly created script.

Script type


Time period

525 BC – 330 BC
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesOld Persian

Parent systems

ISO 15924Xpeo, 030 Edit this on Wikidata, ​Old Persian

Unicode alias

Old Persian

Unicode range


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 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

Old Persian cuneiform is a semi-alphabetic cuneiform script that was the primary script for Old Persian. Texts written in this cuneiform have been found in Iran (Persepolis, Susa, Hamadan, Kharg Island), Armenia, Romania (Gherla),Turkey (Van Fortress), and along the Suez Canal.[4] They were mostly inscriptions from the time period of Darius I, such as the DNa inscription, as well as his son, Xerxes I.[5] Later kings down to Artaxerxes III used more recent forms of the language classified as "pre-Middle Persian".[4]


Old Persian cuneiform is loosely inspired by the Sumero-Akkadiancuneiform; however, only one glyph is directly derived from it – l(a) (𐎾), from la (𒆷). (la did not occur in native Old Persian words, but was found in Akkadian borrowings.)

Scholars today mostly agree that the Old Persian script was invented by about 525 BC to provide monument inscriptions for the Achaemenid king Darius I, to be used at Behistun. While a few Old Persian texts seem to be inscribed during the reigns of Cyrus the Great (CMa, CMb, and CMc, all found at Pasargadae), the first Achaemenid emperor, or Arsames and Ariaramnes (AsH and AmH, both found at Hamadan), grandfather and great-grandfather of Darius I, all five, specially the later two, are generally agreed to have been later inscriptions.

Around the time period in which Old Persian was used, nearby languages included Elamite and Akkadian. One of the main differences between the writing systems of these languages is that Old Persian is a semi-alphabet while Elamite and Akkadian were syllabic. In addition, while Old Persian is written in a consistent semi-alphabetic system, Elamite and Akkadian used borrowings from other languages, creating mixed systems.


Old Persian cuneiform was only deciphered by a series of guesses, in the absence of bilingual documents connecting it to a known language. Various characteristics of sign series, such as length or recurrence of signs, allowed researchers to hypothesize about their meaning, and to discriminate between the various possible historically known kings, and then to create a correspondence between each cuneiform and a specific sound.

Archaeological records of cuneiform inscriptions[edit]

The first mention of ancient inscriptions in the newly-discovered ruins of Persepolis was made by the Spain and Portugal ambassador to Persia, Antonio de Goueca in a 1611 publication.[6] Various travelers then made attempts at illustrating these new inscription, which in 1700 Thomas Hyde first called "cuneiform", but deemed were no more than decorative friezes.[6]

Proper attempts at deciphering Old Persian cuneiform started with faithful copies of cuneiform inscriptions, which first became available in 1711 when duplicatas of Darius's inscriptions were published by Jean Chardin.[7][8] Around 1764, Carsten Niebuhr visited the ruins of Persepolis, and was able to make excellent copies of the inscriptions, identifying "three different alphabets". His faithful copies of the cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis proved to be a key turning-point in the decipherment of cuneiform, and the birth of Assyriology.[9][10]

The set of characters that would later be known as Old Persian cuneiform, was soon perceived as being the simplest of the various types of cuneiform scripts that has been encountered, and because of this was understood as a prime candidate for decipherment. Niebuhr identified that there were only 42 characters in this category of inscriptions, which he named "Class I", and affirmed that this must therefore be an alphabetic script.[7]

Münter guesses the word for "King" (1802)[edit]

This Old Persian cuneiform sign sequence, because of its numerous occurrences in inscriptions, was correctly guessed by Münter as being the word for "King". This word is now known to be pronounced xšāyaϑiya(𐎧𐏁𐎠𐎹𐎰𐎡𐎹), and indeed means "King".[11][12]

In 1802, Friedrich Münter confirmed that "Class I" characters (today called "Old Persian cuneiform") were probably alphabetical, also because of the small number of different signs forming inscriptions.[7] He proved that they belonged to the Achaemenid Empire, which led to the suggestion that the inscriptions were in the Old Persian language and probably mentioned Achaemenid kings.[13][7] He identified a highly recurring group of characters in these inscriptions: 𐎧𐏁𐎠𐎹𐎰𐎡𐎹. Because of its high recurrence and length, he guessed that this must be the word for “king” (which he guessed must be pronounced kh-sha-a-ya-th-i-ya, now known to be pronounced xšāyaϑiya).[13] He guessed correctly, but that would only be known for sure several decades later. Münter also understood that each word was separated from the next by a slash sign (𐏐).[13]

Grotefend guesses the names of individual rulers (1802–1815)[edit]

Main article: Georg Friedrich Grotefend

Grotefend extended this work by realizing, based on the known inscriptions of much later rulers (the Pahlavi inscriptions of the Sassanid kings), that a king's name is often followed by “great king, king of kings” and the name of the king's father.[11][12] This understanding of the structure of monumental inscriptions in Old Persian was based on the work of Anquetil-Duperron, who had studied Old Persian through the ZoroastrianAvestas in India, and Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, who had decrypted the monumental Pahlavi inscriptions of the Sassanid kings.[14][15]

Grotefend focused on two inscriptions from Persepolis, called the "Niebuhr inscriptions", which seemed to use the words "King" and "King of Kings" guessed by Münter, and which seemed to have broadly similar content except for what he thought must be the names of Kings:[16]

  • Niebuhr inscription 1, with the words "King" (𐎧𐏁𐎠𐎹𐎰𐎡𐎹) highlighted: "King" and "King of Kings" appear in sequence.

  • Niebuhr inscription 2, with the words "King" highlighted: "King", "King of Kings" and again "King" appear in sequence.

Old Persian alphabet, and proposed transcription of the Xerxes inscription, according to Grotefend. Initially published in 1815.[17]Grotefend only identified correctly eight letters among the thirty signs he had collated.[18]
Hypothesis for the sentence structure of Persepolitan inscriptions, by Grotefend (1815).
Relying on deductions only, and without knowing the actual script or language, Grotefend obtained a near-perfect translation of the Xerxes inscription (here shown in Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian): "Xerxes the strong King, King of Kings, son of Darius the King, ruler of the world" ("Xerxes Rex fortis, Rex regum, Darii Regis Filius, orbis rector", right column). The modern translation is: "Xerxes the Great King, King of Kings, son of Darius the King, an Achaemenian".[16]

Looking at similarities in character sequences, he made the hypothesis that the father of the ruler in one inscription would possibly appear as the first name in the other inscription: the first word in Niebuhr 1 (𐎭𐎠𐎼𐎹𐎺𐎢𐏁) indeed corresponded to the 6th word in Niebuhr 2.[16]

Looking at the length of the character sequences, and comparing with the names and genealogy of the Achaemenid kings as known from the Greeks, also taking into account the fact that the father of one of the rulers in the inscriptions didn't have the attribute "king", he made the correct guess that this could be no other than Darius the Great, his father Hystapes who was not a king, and his son the famous Xerxes. In Persian history around the time period the inscriptions were expected to be made, there were only two instances where a ruler came to power without being a previous king's son. They were Darius the Great and Cyrus the Great, both of whom became emperor by revolt. The deciding factors between these two choices were the names of their fathers and sons. Darius's father was Hystaspes and his son was Xerxes, while Cyrus' father was Cambyses I and his son was Cambyses II. Within the text, the father and son of the king had different groups of symbols for names so Grotefend assumed that the king must have been Darius.[12]

These connections allowed Grotefend to figure out the cuneiform characters that are part of Darius, Darius's father Hystaspes, and Darius's son Xerxes.[12] He equated the letters 𐎭𐎠𐎼𐎹𐎺𐎢𐏁 with the name d-a-r-h-e-u-sh for Darius, as known from the Greeks.[16][19] This identification was correct, although the actual Persian spelling was da-a-ra-ya-va-u-sha, but this was unknown at the time.[16] Grotefend similarly equated the sequence 𐎧𐏁𐎹𐎠𐎼𐏁𐎠 with kh-sh-h-e-r-sh-e for Xerxes, which again was right, but the actual Old Persian transcription was wsa-sha-ya-a-ra-sha-a.[16] Finally, he matched the sequence of the father who was not a king 𐎻𐎡𐏁𐎫𐎠𐎿𐎱 with Hystaspes, but again with the supposed Persian reading of g-o-sh-t-a-s-p,[19] rather than the actual Old Persian vi-i-sha-ta-a-sa-pa.[16]

By this method, Grotefend had correctly identified each king in the inscriptions, but his identification of the phonetical value of individual letters was still quite defective, for want of a better understanding of the Old Persian language itself.[16] Grotefend only identified correctly the phonetical value of eight letters among the thirty signs he had collated.[18]

Guessing whole sentences[edit]

Grotefend made further guesses about the remaining words in the inscriptions, and endeavoured to rebuild probable sentences. Again relying on deductions only, and without knowing the actual script or language, Grotefend guessed a complete translation of the Xerxes inscription (Niebuhr inscription 2): "Xerxes the strong King, King of Kings, son of Darius the King, ruler of the world" ("Xerxes Rex fortis, Rex regum, Darii Regis Filius, orbis rector"). In effect, he achieved a fairly close translation, as the modern translation is: "Xerxes the Great King, King of Kings, son of Darius the King, an Achaemenian".[16]

Grotefend's contribution to Old Persian is unique in that he did not have comparisons between Old Persian and known languages, as opposed to the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone. All his decipherments were done by comparing the texts with known history.[12] However groundbreaking, this inductive method failed to convince academics, and the official recognition of his work was denied for nearly a generation.[12] Grotefend published his deductions in 1802, but they were dismissed by the Academic community.[12]


The quadrilingual "Caylus vase" in the name of Xerxes I confirmed the decipherment of Grotefend once Champollion was able to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.[20]

It was only in 1823 that Grotefend's discovery was confirmed, when the French archaeologist Champollion, who had just deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs, was able to read the Egyptian dedication of a quadrilingual hieroglyph-cuneiform inscription on an alabaster vase in the Cabinet des Médailles, the "Caylus vase".[20][21] The Egyptian inscription on the vase was in the name of King Xerxes I, and Champollion, together with the orientalist Antoine-Jean Saint-Martin, was able to confirm that the corresponding words in the cuneiform script were indeed the words which Grotefend had identified as meaning "king" and "Xerxes" through guesswork.[20][21] The findings were published by Saint-Martin in Extrait d'un mémoire relatif aux antiques inscriptions de Persépolis lu à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, thereby vindicating the pioneering work of Grotefend.[22][23]

More advances were made on Grotefend's work and by 1847, most of the symbols were correctly identified. A basis had now been laid for the interpretation of the Persian inscriptions. However, lacking knowledge of old Persian, Grotefend misconstrued several important characters. Significant work remained to be done to complete the decipherment.[24] Building on Grotefend's insights, this task was performed by Eugène Burnouf, Christian Lassen and Sir Henry Rawlinson.

The decipherment of the Old Persian Cuneiform script was at the beginning of the decipherment of all the other cuneiform scripts, as various multi-lingual inscriptions between the various cuneiform scripts were obtained from archaeological discoveries.[12] The decipherment of Old Persian was the starting point for the decipherment of Elamite, Babylonian and ultimately Akkadian (predecessor of Babylonian), especially through the multi-lingual Behistun Inscription.


Most scholars consider the writing system to be an independent invention because it has no obvious connections with other writing systems at the time, such as Elamite, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Hittite cuneiforms.[25] While Old Persian's basic strokes are similar to those found in cuneiform scripts, Old Persian texts were engraved on hard materials, so the engravers had to make cuts that imitated the forms easily made on clay tablets.[8] The signs are composed of horizontal, vertical, and angled wedges. There are four basic components and new signs are created by adding wedges to these basic components.[26] These four basic components are two parallel wedges without angle, three parallel wedges without angle, one wedge without angle and an angled wedge, and two angled wedges.[26] The script is written from left to right.[27]

The script encodes three vowels, a, i, u, and twenty-two consonants, k, x, g, c, ç, j, t, θ, d, p, f, b, n, m, y, v, r, l, s, z, š, and h. Old Persian contains two sets of consonants: those whose shape depends on the following vowel and those whose shape is independent of the following vowel. The consonant symbols that depend on the following vowel act like the consonants in Devanagari. Vowel diacritics are added to these consonant symbols to change the inherent vowel or add length to the inherent vowel. However, the vowel symbols are usually still included so [di] would be written as [di] [i] even though [di] already implies the vowel.[28] For the consonants whose shape does not depend on the following vowels, the vowel signs must be used after the consonant symbol.[29]

Compared to the Avestan alphabet Old Persian notably lacks voiced fricatives, but includes the sign ç (of uncertain pronunciation) and a sign for the non-native l. Notably, in common with the Brahmic scripts, there appears to be no distinction between a consonant followed by an a and a consonant followed by nothing.

  • logograms:
    • Ahuramazdā: 𐏈, 𐏉, 𐏊 (genitive)
    • xšāyaθiya "king": 𐏋
    • dahyāuš- "country": 𐏌, 𐏍
    • baga- "god": 𐏎
    • būmiš- "earth": 𐏏
  • word divider: 𐏐
  • numerals:[30]
    • 1 𐏑, 2 𐏒, 5 𐏒𐏒𐏑, 7 𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏑, 8 𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏒, 9 𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏑
    • 10 𐏓, 12 𐏓𐏒, 13 𐏓𐏒𐏑, 14 𐏓𐏒𐏒, 15 𐏓𐏒𐏒𐏑, 18 𐏓𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏒, 19 𐏓𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏑, 20 𐏔, 22 𐏔𐏒, 23 𐏔𐏒𐏑, 25 𐏔𐏒𐏒𐏑, 26 𐏔𐏒𐏒𐏒, 27 𐏔𐏒𐏒𐏒𐏑, 40 𐏔𐏔, 60 𐏔𐏔𐏔,
    • 120 𐏕𐏔

Alphabetic properties[edit]

Although based on a logo-syllabic prototype, all vowels but short /a/ are written and so the system is essentially an alphabet. There are three vowels, long and short. Initially, no distinction is made for length: 𐎠a or ā,𐎡i or ī,𐎢u or ū. However, as in the Brahmic scripts, short a is not written after a consonant: 𐏃h or ha,𐏃𐎠hā,𐏃𐎡hi or hī,𐏃𐎢hu or hū. (Old Persian is not considered an abugida because vowels are represented as full letters.)

Thirteen out of twenty-two consonants, such as 𐏃h(a), are invariant, regardless of the following vowel (that is, they are alphabetic), while only six have a distinct form for each consonant-vowel combination (that is, they are syllabic), and among these, only d and m occur in three forms for all three vowels: 𐎭d or da,𐎭𐎠dā,𐎮𐎡di or dī,𐎯𐎢du or dū. (k, g do not occur before i, and j, v do not occur before u, so these consonants only have two forms each.)

Sometimes medial long vowels are written with a y or v, as in Semitic: 𐎮𐎡𐎹dī,𐎯𐎢𐎺dū. Diphthongs are written by mismatching consonant and vowel: 𐎭𐎡dai, or sometimes, in cases where the consonant does not differentiate between vowels, by writing the consonant and both vowel components: 𐎨𐎡𐏁𐎱𐎠𐎡𐏁cišpaiš (gen. of name Cišpi- 'Teispes').

In addition, three consonants, t, n, and r, are partially syllabic, having the same form before a and i, and a distinct form only before u: 𐎴n or na,𐎴𐎠nā,𐎴𐎡ni or nī,𐎵𐎢nu or nū.

The effect is not unlike the English [dʒ] sound, which is typically written g before i or e, but j before other vowels (gem, jam), or the Castilian Spanish[θ] sound, which is written c before i or e and z before other vowels (cinco, zapato): it is more accurate to say that some of the Old Persian consonants are written by different letters depending on the following vowel, rather than classifying the script as syllabic. This situation had its origin in Assyrian cuneiform, where several syllabic distinctions had been lost and were often clarified with explicit vowels. However, in the case of Assyrian, the vowel was not always used, and was never used where not needed, so the system remained (logo-)syllabic.

For a while it was speculated that the alphabet could have had its origin in such a system, with a leveling of consonant signs a millennium earlier producing something like the Ugaritic alphabet, but today it is generally accepted that the Semitic alphabet arose from Egyptian hieroglyphs, where vowel notation was not important. (See Proto-Sinaitic script.)


Main article: Old Persian (Unicode block)

Old Persian cuneiform was added to the Unicode Standard in March 2005 with the release of version 4.1.

The Unicode block for Old Persian cuneiform is U+103A0–U+103DF and is in the Supplementary Multilingual Plane:

Old Persian[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
U+103Ax 𐎠𐎡𐎢𐎣𐎤𐎥𐎦𐎧𐎨𐎩𐎪𐎫𐎬𐎭𐎮𐎯
U+103Bx 𐎰𐎱𐎲𐎳𐎴𐎵𐎶𐎷𐎸𐎹𐎺𐎻𐎼𐎽𐎾𐎿
U+103Cx 𐏀𐏁𐏂𐏃𐏈𐏉𐏊𐏋𐏌𐏍𐏎𐏏
U+103Dx 𐏐𐏑𐏒𐏓𐏔𐏕
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ abKent, R. G.: "Old Persian: Grammar Texts Lexicon", page 6. American Oriental Society, 1950.
  2. ^Bachenheimer, Avi: "Old Persian: Dictionary, Glossary and Concordance", pages 27–92.
  3. ^ abKramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN .
  4. ^ abcdKramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN .
  5. ^ abKent, R. G.: "Old Persian: Grammar Texts Lexicon", page 9. American Oriental Society, 1950.
  6. ^Niebuhr, Carsten (1778). Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und andern umliegender Ländern [Account of travels to Arabia and other surrounding lands] (in German). vol. 2. Copenhagen, Denmark: Nicolaus Möller. p. 150. ; see also the fold-out plate (Tabelle XXXI) after p. 152. From p. 150: "Ich will auf der Tabelle XXXI, noch eine, oder vielmehr vier Inschriften H, I, K, L beyfügen, die ich etwa in der Mitte an der Hauptmauer nach Süden, alle neben einander, angetroffen habe. Der Stein worauf sie stehen, ist 26 Fuß lang, und 6 Fuß hoch, und dieser ist ganz damit bedeckt. Man kann also daraus die Größe der Buchstaben beurtheilen. Auch hier sind drey verschiedene Alphabete." (I want to include in Plate XXXI another, or rather four inscriptions H, I, K, L, which I found approximately in the middle of the main wall to the south [in the ruined palace at Persepolis], all side by side. The stone on which they appear, is 26 feet long and 6 feet high, and it's completely covered with them. One can thus judge therefrom the size of the letters. Also here, [there] are three different alphabets.)
  7. ^Sayce, Rev. Arnold H. (1908). The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions (2nd ed.). London, England: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. 9.
  8. ^ abKent, R. G.: "Old Persian: Grammar Texts Lexicon", page 10. American Oriental Society, 1950.
  9. ^ abcdefghSayce, Archibald Henry (2019). The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions. Cambridge University Press. pp. 10–14. ISBN .
  10. ^ abcMousavi, Ali. Persepolis: Discovery and Afterlife of a World Wonder. Walter de Gruyter. p. 120. ISBN .
  11. ^Heeren, A. H. L. (Arnold Hermann Ludwig) (1857). Vol. 2: Historical researches into the politics, intercourse, and trade of the principal nations of antiquity. / By A.H.L. Heeren. Tr. from the German. H.G. Bohn. p. 332.
  12. ^Kramer, Samuel Noah (1971). The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press. p. 12. ISBN .
  13. ^ abcdefghiAndré-Salvini, Béatrice (2005). Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. University of California Press. p. 129. ISBN .
  14. ^Heeren, Arnold Hermann Ludwig (1815). Ideen über die Politik, den Verkehr und den Handel der vornehmsten Völker der alten Welt (in German). Bey Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. p. 562.
  15. ^ abThe Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun: Decyphered and Tr.; with a Memoir on Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions in General, and on that of Behistun in Particular. J.W. Parker. 1846. p. 6.
  16. ^ abHeeren, A. H. L. (Arnold Hermann Ludwig) (1857). Vol. 2: Historical researches into the politics, intercourse, and trade of the principal nations of antiquity. / By A.H.L. Heeren. Tr. from the German. H.G. Bohn. p. 333.
  17. ^ abcPages 10–14, note 1 on page 13 Sayce, Archibald Henry (2019). The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions. Cambridge University Press. pp. 10–14. ISBN .
  18. ^ abBulletin des sciences historiques, antiquités, philologie (in French). Treuttel et Würtz. 1825. p. 135.
  19. ^Saint-Martin, Antoine-Jean (January 1823). "Extrait d'un mémoire relatif aux antiques inscriptions de Persépolis lu à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres". Journal asiatique (in French). Société asiatique (France): 65–90.
  20. ^In Journal asiatique II, 1823, PI. II, pp. 65—90 AAGE PALLIS, SVEND. "EARLY EXPLORATION IN MESOPOTAMIA"(PDF): 36.
  21. ^Maurice Pope: "The Story of Decipherment", Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1975 and 1999, pp. 101–103.
  22. ^Windfuhr, G. L.: "Notes on the old Persian signs", page 1. Indo-Iranian Journal, 1970.
  23. ^ abWindfuhr, G. L.: "Notes on the old Persian signs", page 2. Indo-Iranian Journal, 1970.
  24. ^Daniels, Peter T.: "The World's Writing Systems", page 134. Oxford University Press, 1996
  25. ^Daniels, Peter T.: "The World's Writing Systems", page 136. Oxford University Press, 1996
  26. ^Daniels, Peter T.: "The World's Writing Systems", page 135. Oxford University Press, 1996
  27. ^Unattested numbers are not listed. The list of attested numbers is based on Kent, Ronald Grubb. Old Persian: Grammar, Text, Glossary (in Persian). translated into Persian by S. Oryan (1384 AP ed.). Tihrān: Pizhūhishkadah-i Zabān va Gūyish bā hamkārī-i Idārah-i Kull-i Umūr-i Farhangī. pp. 699–700. ISBN .
  • Windfuhr, Gernot L (1970). "Notes on the old Persian signs". Indo-Iranian Journal. 12 (2): 121–125. doi:10.1007/BF00163003. hdl:2027.42/42943. S2CID 161528694.
  • Daniels, Peter T; William Bright (1996). The World's Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 134–137.
  • Kent, Roland G. (1950). Old Persian; grammar, texts, lexicon. New Haven: American Oriental Society.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]




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Old Persian Cuneiform

Darius I (550-486 BC) claims credit for the invention of Old Persian Cuneiform in an inscription on a cliff at Behistun in south-west Iran. The inscription dates from 520 BC and is in three languages - Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian. Some scholars are sceptical about Darius' claims, others take them seriously, although they think that Darius probably commissioned his scribes to create the alphabet, rather than inventing it himself.

Notable features

Used to write:

Old Persian, the language used in the cuneiform inscriptions of Achaemenian dynasty and the vernacular of the Achaemenian elite. Old Persian was spoken in southwestern Persia, an area known as Persis, and belongs to the Iranian branch or the Indo-Aryan family of languages.

Old Persian Cuneiform


Old Persian logograms


Old Persian numerals

Download alphabet charts for Persian (Excel)

Sample text

Sample inscription in Old Persian Cuneiform

Photo by Simon Ager, taken in the British Museum.

Transliteration and translation

Sample text in Old Persian Cuneiform

Sample text provided by Fereydoun Rostam


Details of the Old Persian script and language

Old Persian cuneiform fonts
Esnaashari & Sarhadi's Old Persian Unicode Font (Zip)

Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London:

ALPHABETUM - a Unicode font specifically designed for ancient scripts, including classical & medieval Latin, ancient Greek, Etruscan, Oscan, Umbrian, Faliscan, Messapic, Picene, Iberian, Celtiberian, Gothic, Runic, Old & Middle English, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Old Nordic, Ogham, Kharosthi, Glagolitic, Old Cyrillic, Phoenician, Avestan, Ugaritic, Linear B, Anatolian scripts, Coptic, Cypriot, Brahmi, Old Persian cuneiform:

Cuneiform scripts

Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite, Old Persian Cuneiform, Sumerian, Ugaritic

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The Sound of the Middle Persian / Pahlavi language (Numbers, Greetings, Words \u0026 Sample Text)

The Culture Behind Farsi Translation

Farsi, or Persian, is an Indo-European language. If you’ve paid attention to the news of late, you know that Farsi is the national language of Iran. It’s also spoken in Tajikistan (in a much older form), parts of Afghanistan (Dari Persian), and a few small areas in Pakistan.

With Iran playing such a pivotal role in the Middle East and Central Asia, Farsi translation is an important topic for civilian and military leaders and planners as well as international business people interested in investing in a volatile region.

This Indo-Iranian language is the modern incarnation of Old Persian, which was the language of the mighty Persian Empire.


Not up on your Persian history?

Well, you could watch the movie 300, in which the Persians were the bad guys (much to the dismay of modern Iranians), or you could take a moment and reflect on the accomplishment of Ancient Persia.

Up until 1935, Iran was known as Persia. The Achaemenid Empire, or First Persian Empire, battled the Ancient Greeks for years on end, vying for power and trade. While Alexander, the Greek king of Macedon, was known as “the Great” in the West, he was referred to as “the Accursed” in Persia. Alexander’s defeat of the Persian king Darius III not withstanding, the Persian Empire’s contribution to world culture is pretty impressive.

Modern Iranians can boast of ancestors who created a tolerant empire, bartered with coinage (a first), constructed a world wonder known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built one of the the planet’s first highways (before Romans started building major roads), set up a compressive tax collecting system (fun), and, oddly enough, gave monotheism its global kick start.


Zoroastrianism was the religion of ancient Persian

Zoroastrianism was the religion of ancient Persian, long before the advent of Islam. This early monotheist creed is credited with influencing later monotheist beliefs such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Considering how significant these religions are today, it seems the forefathers of modern Iranians had quite an effect on contemporary society.


History Plays An Important Role in Translation

For people interested in Farsi translation, it’s critical that they take into account the history of the language.

Over the centuries, Farsi and its antecedents have been written in a variety of scripts, and employed in a variety of writings. Religious, secular, philosophical, and bureaucratic concepts have all been put down in Farsi over the ages. Modern Persian is based on the Arabic script, reflecting the influences of Islam on the nation of Iran.

The history of this country is a long and rich one. That’s something you should remember when translating from Farsi into English or dealing with English to Farsi translations.


Persian translator ancient


1 : adam : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : vazraka : xshâyatha : xshâyathiy

2 ânâm : xshâyathiya : Pârsaiy : xshâyathiya : dahyûnâm : Visht

3 âspahyâ : puça : Arshâmahyâ napâ : Haxâmanishiya : thâtiy :

4 Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : manâ : pitâ : Vishtâspa : Vishtâspahyâ : pitâ : Arsh

5 âma : Arshâmahyâ : pitâ : Ariyâramna : Ariyâramnahyâ : pitâ: Cishpish : Cishp

6 âish : pitâ : Haxâmanish : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâthiya : avahyarâ

7 diy : vayam : Haxâmanishiyâ : thahyâmahy : hacâ : paruviyata : âmâtâ : ama

8 hy hacâ : paruviyata :hyâ :amâxam : taumâ : xshâyathiyâ : âha : th

9 âtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : VIII : manâ : taumâyâ : tyaiy : paruvam

10 xshâyathiyâ : âha : adam navama : IX : duvitâparanam : vavam : xshâyathi

11 yâ : amahy : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : vashnâ : Auramazd

12 âha : adam : xshâyathiya : amiy : Auzamazdâ : xshaçam : manâ : frâbara : th

13 âtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : imâ : dahyâva : tyâ : manâ : patiyâisha : vashn

14 â : Auramazdâha : adamshâm : xshâyathiya : âham : Pârsa : Ûvja : Bâbirush : A

15 thurâ : Arabâya : Mudrâya : tyaiy : drayahyâ : Sparda : Yauna : Mâda : Armina : Kat

16 patuka : Parthava : Zraka : Haraiva : Uvârazmîy : Bâxtrish : Suguda : Gadâra : Sa

17 ka : Thatagush : Harauvatish : Maka : fraharavam : dahyâva : XXIII : thâtiy : Dâra

18 yavaush : xshâyathiya : imâ : dahyâva : tyâ : manâ : patiyâita : vashnâ : Au

19 ramazdâha : manâ : badakâ : âhatâ : manâ : bâjim : abaratâ : tyashâm : hacâma

20 : athahya : xshapava : raucapativâ : ava : akunavayatâ : thâtiy : Dârayava

21 ush : xshâyathiya : atar : imâ : dahyâva : martiya : hya : âgariya : âha : avam : u

22 bartam : abaram : hya : arika : âha : avam : ufrastam : aparsam : vashnâ : Auramazdâ

23 ha : imâ : dahyâva : tyanâ : manâ : dâtâ : apariyâya : yathâshâm : hacâma : athah

24 ya : avathâ : akunavayatâ : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : Auramazdâ

25 maiy : ima xshaçam : frâbara : Auramazdâmaiy : upastâm : abara : yâtâ : ima : xshaçam :

26 hamadârayaiy : vashnâ : Auramazdâha : ima : xshaçam : dârayâmiy : thâ

27 tiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : ima : tya : manâ : kartam : pasâva : yathâ : xsh

28 âyathiya : abavam : Kabûjiya : nâma : Kûraush : puça : amâxam : taumây

29 â : hauvam : idâ : xshâyathiya : âha : avahyâ : Kabûjiyahyâ : brâ

30 tâ : Bardiya : nâma : âha : hamâtâ : hamapitâ : Kabûjiyahyâ : pasâva : Ka

31 bûjiya : avam : Bardiyam : avâja : yathâ : Kabûjiya : Bardiyam : avâja : kârahy

32 â : naiy : azdâ : abava : tya : Bardiya : avajata : pasâva : Kabûjiya : Mudrâyam

33 : ashiyava : yathâ : Kabûjiya : Mudrâyam : ashiyava : pasâva : kâra : arika : abava

34 : pasâva : drauga : dahyauvâ : vasiy : abava : utâ : Pârsaiy : utâ : Mâdaiy : ut

35 â : aniyâuvâ : dahyushuvâ : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : pa

36 sâva : I martiya : magush : âha : Gaumâta : nâma : hauv : udapatatâ : hacâ : Paishi

37 yâuvâdâyâ : Arakadrish : nâma : kaufa : hacâ : avadasha : Viyaxnahya : mâh

38 yâ : XIV : raucabish : thakatâ : âha : yadiy : udapatatâ : hauv : kârahyâ : avathâ

39 : adurujiya : adam : Bardiya : amiy : hya : Kûraush : puça : Kabûjiyahyâ : br

40 âtâ : pasâva : kâra : haruva : hamiçiya : abava : hacâ : Kabûjiyâ : abiy : avam :

41 ashiyava : utâ : Pârsa : utâ : Mâda : utâ : aniyâ : dahyâva : xshaçam : hauv

42 : agarbâyatâ : Garmapadahya : mâhyâ : IX : raucabish : thakatâ : âha : avathâ : xsha

43 çam : agarbâyatâ : pasâva : Kabûjiya : uvâmarshiyush : amariyatâ : thâtiy

44 : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : aita : xshaçam : tya : Gaumâta : hya : magush : adîn

45 â : Kabûjiyam : aita : xshaçam : hacâ : paruviyata : amâxam : taumâyâ : â

46 ha : pasâva : Gaumâta : hya : adînâ : Kabûjiyam : utâ : Pârsam : utâ

47 : Mâdam : utâ : aniyâ : dahyâva : hauv : âyasatâ : uvâpashiyam : akutâ : hau

48 v : xshâyathiya : abava : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : naiy : âha : martiya :

49 naiy : Pârsa : naiy : Mâda : naiy : amâxam : taumâyâ : kashciy : hya : avam : Gau

50 mâtam : tyam : magum : xshaçam : dîtam : caxriyâ : kârashim : hacâ : darsham : a

51 tarsa : kâram : vasiy : avâjaniyâ : hya : paranam : Bardiyam : adânâ : avahyar

52 âdiy : kâram : avâjaniyâ : mâtyamâm : xshnâsâtiy : tya : adam : naiy : Bard

53 iya : amiy : hya : Kûraush : puça : kashciy : naiy : adarshnaush : cishciy : thastana

54 iy : pariy : Gaumâtam : tyam : magum : yâtâ : adam : arasam : pasâva : adam : Aura

55 maz(d)âm : patiyâvahyaiy : Auramazdâmaiy : upastâm : abara : Bâgayâdaish :

56 mâhyâ : X : raucabish : thakatâ : âha : avathâ :adam : hadâ : kamnaibish : martiyaibi

57 sh : avam : Gaumâtam : tyam : magum avâjanam : utâ : tyaishaiy : fratamâ : mar

58 tiyâ : anushiyâ : âhatâ : Sikayauvatish : nâmâ : didâ : Nisâya : nâ

59 mâ : dahyâush : Mâdaiy : avadashim : avâjanam : xshaçamshim : adam : adînam : va

60 shnâ : Auramazdâha : adam : xshâyathiya : abavam : Auramazdâ : xshaçam : manâ : fr

61 âbara : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : xshaçam : tya : hacâ : amâxam ta

62 umâyâ : parâbartam : âha : ava : adam : patipadam : akunavam : adamshim : gâtha

63 vâ : avâstâyam : yathâ : paruvamciy : avathâ : adam : akunavam : âyadan

64 â : tyâ : Gaumâta : hya : magush : viyaka : adam : niyaçârayam : kârahyâ : abi

65 carish : gaithâmcâ : mâniyamcâ : vithbishcâ : tyâdish : Gaumâta : hya :

66 magush : adînâ : adam : kâram : gâthavâ : avâstâyam : Pârsamcâ : Mâdamc

67 â : utâ : aniyâ : dahyâva : yathâ : paruvamciy : avathâ : adam : tya : parâbarta

68 m : patiyabaram : vashnâ : Auramazdâha : ima : adam : akunavam : adam : hamataxshaiy :

69 yâtâ : vitham : tyâm : amâxam : gâthavâ : avâstâyam : yathâ : paruvamciy :

70 avathâ : adam : hamataxshaiy : vashnâ : Auramazdâha : yathâ : Gaumâta : hya : magu

71 sh : vitham : tyâm : amâxam : naiy : parâbara : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyath

72 iya : ima : tya : adam : akunavam : pasâva : yathâ : xshâyathiya : abavam : thâtiy

73 : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : yathâ : adam : Gaumâtam : tyam : magum avâjanam : pa

74 sâva : I martiya : Âçina : nâma : Upadarmahyâ : puça : hauv : udapatatâ : Ûvjai

75 y : kârahyâ : avathâ : athaha : adam : Ûvjaiy : xshâyathiya : amiy : pasâva : Ûv

76 jiyâ : hamiçiyâ : abava : abiy : avam : Âçinam : ashiyava : hauv : xshâyathiya

77 abava : Ûvjaiy : utâ : I martiya : Bâbiruviya : Naditabaira : nâma : Ainairahy

78 â : puça : hauv : udapatatâ : Bâbirauv : kâram : avathâ : adurujiya : adam : Nab

79 ukudracara : amiy : hya : Nabunaitahyâ : puça : pasâva : kâra : hya : Bâbiruviya

80 : haruva : abiy : avam : Naditabairam : ashiyava : Bâbirush : hamiçiya : abava : x

81 shaçam : tya : Bâbirauv : hauv : agarbâyatâ : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâya

82 thiya : pasâva : adam : frâishayam : Ûvjam : hauv : Âçina : basta : anayatâ : abiy : mâ

83 m : adamshim : avâjanam : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : xshâyathiya : pasâva : adam : Bâ

84 birum : ashiyavam : abiy : avam : Naditabairam : hya : Nabukudracara : agaubatâ

85 : kâra : hya : Naditabairahyâ : Tigrâm : adâraya : : avadâ : aishtatâ : utâ

86 abish : nâviyâ : âha : pasâva : adam : kâram : mashkâuvâ : avâkanam : aniyam : usha

87 bârim : akunavam : aniyahyâ : asam : frânayam : Auramazdâmaiy : upastâm

88 : abara : vashnâ : Auramazdâha : Tigrâm : viyatarayâmâ : avadâ : avam : kâram :

89 tyam : Naditabairahyâ : adam : ajanam : vasiy : Âçiyâdiyahya : mâhyâ : XXVI : rau

90 cabish : thakatâ : âha : avathâ : hamaranam : akumâ : thâtiy : Dârayavaush : x

91 shâyathiya : pasâva : adam : Bâbirum : ashiyavam : athiy : Bâbirum : yathâ : naiy : up

92 âyam : Zâzâna : nâma : vardanam : anuv : Ufrâtuvâ : avadâ : hauv : Nadita

93 baira : hya : Nabukudracara : agaubatâ : âish : hadâ : kârâ : patish : mâm : hamaranam :

94 cartanaiy : pasâva hamaranam akumâ : Auramazdâmaiy : upastâm : abara : vashnâ : Aurama

95 zdâha : kâram : tyam : Naditabairahyâ : adam : ajanam : vasiy : aniya : âpiyâ : âhyatâ : â

96 pishim : parâbara : Anâmakahya : mâhyâ : II : raucabish : thakatâ : âha : avathâ : hamaranam akumâ

1. (1.1-3.) I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King in Persia, King of countries, son of Hystaspes, grandson of Arsames, an Achaemenian.

2. (1.3-6.) Darius the King says: My father was Hystaspes; Hystaspes' father was Arsames; Arsames' father was Ariaramnes; Ariaramnes' father was Teispes; Teispes' father was Achaemenes.

3. (1.6-8.) Darius the King says: For this reason we are called Achaemenians. From long ago we have been noble. From long ago our family had been kings.

4. (1.8-11.) Darius the King says: there were 8 of our family who were kings before me; I am the ninth; 9 in succession we have been kings.

5. (1.11-2.) Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda I am King; Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me.

6. (1.12-7.) Darius the King says: These are the countries which came to me; by the favor of Ahuramazda I was king of them: Persia, Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, (those) who are beside the sea, Sardis, Ionia, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, Maka: in all, 23 provinces.

7. (1.17-20.) Darius the King says: These are the countries which came to me; by the favor of Ahuramazda they were my subjects; they bore tribute to me; what was said to them by me either by night or by day, that was done.

8. (1.20-4.) Darius the King says: Within these countries, the man who was loyal, him I rewarded well; (him) who was evil, him I punished well; by the favor of Ahuramazda these countries showed respect toward my law; as was said to them by me, thus was it done.

9. (1.24-26.) Darius the King says: Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me; Ahuramazda bore me aid until I got possession of this kingdom; by the favor of Ahuramazda I hold this kingdom.

10. (1.26-35.) Darius the King says: This is what was done by me after I became king. A son of Cyrus, Cambyses by name, of our family -- he was king here of that Cambyses there was a brother, Smerdis by name, having the same mother and the same father as Cambyses. Afterwards, Cambyses slew that Smerdis. When Cambyses slew Smerdis, it did not become known to the people that Smerdis had been slain. Afterwards, Cambyses went to Egypt. When Cambyses had gone off to Egypt, after that the people became evil. After that the Lie waxed great in the country, both in Persia and in Media and in the other provinces.

11. (1.35-43.) Darius the King says: Afterwards, there was one man, a Magian, named Gaumata; he rose up from Paishiyauvada. A mountain named Arakadri -- from there 14 days of the month Viyakhna were past when he rose up. He lied to the people thus: "I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus, brother of Cambyses." After that, all the people became rebellious from Cambyses, (and) went over to him, both Persia and Media and the other provinces. He seized the kingdom; of the month Garmapada 9 days were past, then he seized the kingdom. After that, Cambyses died by his own hand.

12. (1.43-8.) Darius the King says: This kingdom which Gaumata the Magian took away from Cambyses, this kingdom from long ago had belonged to our family. After that, Gaumata the Magian took (it) from Cambyses; he took to himself both Persia and Media and the other provinces, he made (them) his own possession, he became king.

13. (1.48-61.) Darius the King says: There was not a man, neither a Persian nor a Mede nor anyone of our family, who might make that Gaumata the Magian deprived of the kingdom. The people feared him greatly, (thinking that) he would slay in numbers the people who previously had known Smerdis; for this reason he would slay the people, "lest they know me, that I am not Smerdis the son of Cyrus." Nobody dared say anything about Gaumata the Magian, until I came. After that I sought help of Ahuramazda; Ahuramazda bore me aid; of the month Bagayadi 10 days were past, then I with a few men slew that Gaumata the Magian, and those who were his foremost followers. A fortress named Sikayauvati, a district named Nisaya, in Media -- here I slew him. I took the kingdom from him. By the favor of Ahuramazda I became king; Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me.

14. (1.61-71.) Darius the King says: The kingdom which had been taken away from our family, that I put in its Place; I reestablished it on its foundation. As before, so I made the sanctuaries which Gaumata the Magian destroyed. I restored to the people the pastures and the herds, the household slaves and the houses which Gaumata the Magian took away from them. I reestablished the people on its foundation, both Persia and Media and the other provinces. As before, so I brought back what had been taken away. By the favor of Ahuramazda this I did: I strove until I reestablished our royal house on its foundation as (it was) before. So I strove, by the favor of Ahuramazda, so that Gaumata the Magian did not remove our royal house.

15. (1.71-2.) Darius the King says: This is what I did after I became king.

16. (1.72-81.) Darius the King says: When I had slain Gaumata the Magian, afterwards one man, named Asina, son of Upadarma -- he rose up in Elam. To the people he said thus: "I am king in Elam." Afterwards the Elamites became rebellious, (and) went over to that Asina; he became king in Elam. And one man, a Babylonian, named Nidintu-Bel, son of Ainaira -- he rose up in Babylon; thus he deceived the people: "I am Nebuchadrezzar the son of Nabonidus." Afterwards the Babylonian people all went over to that Nidintu-Bel; Babylonia became rebellious; he seized the kingdom in Babylon.

17. (1.81-3). Darius the King says: After that I sent (a message) to Elam. This Acina was led to me bound; I slew him.

18. (1.83-90). Darius the King says: After that I went off to Babylon, against that Nidintu-Bel who called himself Nebuchadrezzar. The army of Nidintu-Bel held the Tigris; there it took its stand, and on account of the waters (the Tigris) was unfordable. Thereupon (some of) my army I supported on (inflated) skins, others I made camel-borne, for others I brought horses. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda we got across the Tigris. There I smote that army of Nidintu-Bel exceedingly; of the month Asiyadiya 26 days were past, then we fought the battle.

19. (1.90-6). Darius the King says: After that I went off to Babylon. When I had not arrived at Babylon, a town named Zazana, beside the Euphrates -- there this Nidintu-Bel who called himself Nebuchadrezzar came with an army against me, to deliver battle. Thereupon we Joined battle; Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda I smote that army of Nidintu-Bel exceedingly. The rest was thrown into the water, (and) the water carried it away. Of the month Anamaka 2 days were past, then we fought the battle.

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Old Persian


Old Persian


  • The consonants x, c, th, p, b, f, y, l, s, z, š, ç, h, are often transliterated xa, ca, tha, pa, ba, fa, ya, la, sa, za, ša, ça, ha
  • The 3 vowels characters are transliterated â, î, û

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Similar news:

For the first time, a text has been found in Old Persian language that shows the written language in use for practical recording and not only for royal display. The text is inscribed on a damaged clay tablet from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, now at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The tablet is an administrative record of the payout of at least 600 quarts of an as-yet unidentified commodity at five villages near Persepolis in about 500 B.C.

“Now we can see that Persians living in Persia at the high point of the Persian Empire wrote down ordinary day-to-day matters in Persian language and Persian script,” said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. “Odd as it seems, that comes as a surprise — a very big surprise.”

Old Persian writing was the first of the cuneiform scripts to be deciphered, between about 1800 and 1845. When the script was cracked, scholars saw that the Old Persian language was an ancestor of modern Persian and a relative of Sanskrit. Knowing that, they could understand the inscriptions of Darius, Xerxes and their successors, the kings of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the mid-sixth century B.C. and destroyed by Alexander the Great and his successors after 330 B.C.

Until now, most scholars of Old Persian thought that Old Persian script and language were used only for the inscriptions of kings on cliff faces or palaces, or else to identify vessels of precious metals or other luxury goods that were connected with the kings and their palaces. To write records of administration or business, the Persians relied on languages and scripts — Aramaic, Babylonian, Elamite, and others — already in use at the advent of the Empire.

The Persepolis Fortifaction tablets were excavated at the imperial palace complex of Persepolis, in southwestern Iran, by the Oriental Institute in the 1930s and, through the permission of the Iranian government, were sent to the Oriental Institute in 1937 on a long-term loan for purposes of translation and analysis.

The Archive includes tens of thousands of clay tablets and fragments with texts in Elamite, an indigenous language already written in Iran for almost 2,000 years before the Persian Empire was founded. It also includes hundreds of clay tablets and fragments with texts in Aramaic, a Semitic language already used for practical recording over much of the Near East since the days of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires (ninth to sixth centuries B.C.).  It also includes thousands of tablets with no texts at all, but with impressions of seals.

But over the years of study, a few extraordinary items have also been discovered among the Persepolis tablets: a text in Phrygian (a language of western Anatolia, in modern Turkey), a text in Greek, and now a text in Persian, the language of the Empire’s rulers.

“Most of the scribes around Persepolis could speak and write more than one language, and this text might be just a quirky experiment done by one of them,” said Matthew W. Stolper, head of the Oriental Institute’s Persepolis Fortification Archive Project. “But it might also be the tip of an iceberg.” He explained that in 500 B.C., just as now, administrative records did not work as isolates, only as items in much larger files. Before 1933, there was only one known example of an Achaemenid administrative tablet written in Elamite, but since the discovery of  the Persepolis Fortification Archive there are thousands. Like that first Achaemenid Elamite tablet, this Old Persian tablet “could also be the first forerunner of something much bigger.”

Because there are no other such documents in Old Persian, interpreting this one depends on comparisons with the Elamite and Aramaic documents with which it was found. “The Old Persian tablet departs so much from expectations that its authenticity would have been questioned if it had not been found in the Fortification Archive,” said Stolper, the John A. Wilson Professor in the Oriental Institute.

“This shows how important it is to keep the Persepolis Fortification texts together, to keep the Archive intact,” Stein said. “Unexpected discoveries are still being made, and the meaning and reliability of every piece depend on its connections with the whole information system of the entire Fortification Archive.”

Members of the Oriental Institute’s Persepolis Fortification Archive Project first announced the discovery of the Old Persian tablet in November, 2006, at a colloquium at the Collège de France and the University of Chicago’s Paris Center. They described the document in greater detail at a meeting of the American Oriental Society in March, 2007. An article by Stolper and Jan Tavernier, of the University of Leuven (Belgium), with images and discussion of the tablet and the text is now available from the online journal ARTA at


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