Behistun or Bisotun: town in Iran, site of several ancient monuments, including a famous inscription by the Persian king Darius I the Great. The full Persian text is here.
The Behistun Inscription
In Antiquity, Bagastâna, which means "place where the gods dwell", was the name of a village and a remarkable, isolated rock along the road that connected the capitals of Babylonia and Media, Babylon and Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). Many travellers passed along this place, so it was the logical place for the Persian king Darius I the Great (r.522-486) to proclaim his military victories. He essentially copied an older relief at Sar-e Pol-e Zahab.
The famous Behistun inscription was engraved on a cliff about 100 meters off the ground. Darius tells us how the supreme god Ahuramazda choose him to dethrone an usurper named Gaumâta, how he set out to quell several revolts, and how he defeated his foreign enemies.
The monument consists of four parts.
- A large relief (5½ x 3 meters) depicting king Darius, his bow carrier Intaphrenes and his lance carrier Gobryas. Darius overlooks nine representatives of conquered peoples, their necks tied. A tenth figure, badly damaged, is laying under the king's feet. Above these thirteen people is a representation of the supreme god Ahuramazda. This relief is based on older monuments, further along the road, at Sar-e Pol-e Zahab.
- Underneath is a panel with a cuneiform text in Old Persian, telling the story of the king's conquests (translation). The text consists of four columns and an appendix and has a total length of about 515 lines.
- Another panel telling more or less the same story in Babylonian. The appendix ("column five") is missing.
- A third panel with the same text in Elamite (the language of the administration of the Achaemenid Empire). This translation of the Persian text has a length of 650 lines. Again, the appendix is missing.
In the text Darius describes how the god Ahuramazda choose him to dethrone the usurper Gaumâta (522 BCE). After this event, king Darius set out to quell several revolts. This is also depicted above the text, where we see the god and the king, the slain usurper, and seven men representing seven rebellious people. While artists were making this monument, Darius defeated foreign enemies (520-519 BCE); these victories were duly celebrated by a change in the initial design, adding two new figures to the right.
When the carvings were completed, the ledge below the inscription was removed so that nobody could tamper with the inscriptions. This allowed the monument to survive (and made it impossible for humans to read the texts).
This page was created in 1997; last modified on 4 April 2017.
BISOTUN iii. Darius's Inscriptions
iii. Darius’s Inscriptions
The monumental relief of Darius I, King of Persia, representing the king’s victory over the usurper Gaumāta and the nine rebels (cf. ii, above), is surrounded by a great trilingual inscription in Old Persian (text DB in Kent, Old Persian), Elamite, and Babylonian. This 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; in that sense it has had a value comparable to that of the Rosetta stone for Egyptology.
Over the millennia all the inscriptions on the rock at Bīsotūn, especially the Babylonian version, have suffered severe damage from erosion by rain and drifting sand and from seasonal torrents. Calcareous deposits on the engraved cuneiform characters caused by water seepage have obscured several passages, but at the same time they have preserved them from weathering. Further damage has been done in this century by soldiers marching along the highway below the range and using the figures in the relief as shooting targets. As a consequence of all these circumstances all three versions contain undecipherable portions and gaps. We must be thankful for the fact that after the monument had been completed the king ordered the stairway removed and the path and part of the cliff sheared off, eliminating all means of access to the relief and inscriptions, which until recently have thus been accessible only by means of a steep and difficult climb up the rock face.
Darius was presumably inspired to choose Bīsotūn as the site for his triumphal rock relief by the existence of such a relief sponsored by the local ruler Anubanini, king of the Lullubi tribes (r. ca. 2000 b.c.), at Sar-e Pol-e Zohāb at the so-called Gates of the Zagros mountains (also Gates of Asia) ca. 150 km west of Bīsotūn. It is quite possible that Darius traveled along Mt. Bīsotūn in the spring of 521 b.c., when he followed the old route from Babylon via Sar-e Pol to Media, where, on 8 May 521 near the town of Kunduruš, he fought the rebellious Fravartiš, who called himself Xšaθrita (DB 2.64-70, par. 31). It may also have been near Bīsotūn that Darius had won that decisive victory over Gaumāta of which he informs us in DB 1.55-61 (par. 13): “In the month Bāgayādiš 10 days were past [i.e., on 29 September 522]; then I with a few men slew that Gaumāta the Magian, and those who were his foremost followers. (There are) a fortress by name Sikayuvatiš (and) a district by name Nisāya in Media,—there I slew him. I deprived him of the kingdom. By the favor of Ahura Mazdā I became king. Ahura Mazdā bestowed the kingdom upon me.” Furthermore, certain formulas reminiscent of Urartian ones suggest that Darius may also have been inspired at least indirectly by the rock inscriptions of the Urartian kings. At any rate, work on the Bīsotūn relief began soon after the overthrow of the rebellious Margian Frāda on 28 December 521, thus early in the year 520 b.c.
History of research. The inscription was first studied in 1835-37, 1844, and 1847 by Henry C. Rawlinson, who had himself let down by ropes from the top of the cliff; he edited the Old Persian and Babylonian versions of the text himself (Rawlinson, 1846-47, 1849, 1851) but entrusted his paper impressions of the Elamite version to Edwin Norris for publication (Norris, 1855). By making his copies of the trilingual inscription available to scholars, Rawlinson paved the way for the decipherment of the Elamite and Babylonian writing systems and helped establish Assyriology, or cuneiform studies, as a distinct branch of learning.
Research on the inscriptions themselves was continued mainly by A. V. Williams Jackson, who in 1903 made a partial examination of the text and took the first photographs of it (see Jackson, 1903, 1906); by L. W. King and R. C. Thompson in 1904; and finally by George G. Cameron, who in the fall of 1948 made latex impressions and studied the entire text, including the first Elamite version, which had previously been regarded as completely illegible. Cameron’s squeezes of most of the Babylonian version were later seriously damaged in an unfortunate accident, but he took new ones in the spring of 1957.
An edition of the Old Persian version was published by Roland G. Kent in 1950 in his edition of the Old Persian texts (pp. 116-35, including text, critical apparatus, and English translation along with a grammar of Old Persian and a glossary). The second edition (1953) incorporated the readings published by Cameron (1951). The most recent translation (in German) is that by Rykle Borger and Walther Hinz (1984), based primarily on the Old Persian version and with an almost complete apparatus giving the divergences between the versions. An edition and translation of the Babylonian version was published by Elizabeth N. von Voigtlander for the Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum in 1978 (without illustrations). The Aramaic translation of the Bīsotūn inscription was published and translated by A. Cowley in his Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., 1923, and more recently by Jonas C. Greenfield and B. Porten for the Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum (1982). See further the Bibliography, which gives the publications that should still be consulted.
An up-to-date edition of the Old Persian text is an urgent desideratum, since the text as Kent printed it, has been emended on a great number of major or minor points. For the Elamite text one still has to rely on Weissbach’s edition and translation (1911), while consulting more recent Elamite studies, mostly scattered around in journals. Even Voigtlander’s edition of the Babylonian version, based on the squeezes made by Rawlinson and Cameron, because it does not include photographs or even a hand copy, cannot be verified in any respect. Thus this most important document of the Achaemenid era is still in need of reliable critical editions.
Arrangement of the inscriptions. The Old Persian version of the big inscription is engraved beneath the panel of sculptures; the so-called “first” Elamite version occupies the space to the right of the relief and the Babylonian one the space to the left. The second Elamite version, which was necessitated by an extension of the relief sculptures into the zone of the original text, was engraved diagonally to the left below the relief (Figure 21). In addition, there are minor inscriptions on the free parts of the relief panel itself and on its lower margin (DBa-1; Figure 22).
Apparently it was the relief that was intended to be the centerpiece of the whole monument; the main inscriptions, as Figure 21 clearly shows, are related spatially not to one another but to the relief. Research since the 1960s, conducted mainly by Trümpelmann, Heinz Luschey, Hinz, Voigtlander, and Borger, has demonstrated that there were several stages in the genesis of both the relief and the inscriptions. These stages are summarized in Table 8.
The monument was created between the end of Darius’s first regnal year (in March, 520 b.c.) and after the end of his third (in 518 b.c.), and the first main inscription was in Elamite. Whether or not a preceding shorter version of the text (e.g., one containing pars. 1-51 only) ever existed is an open question; at any rate the final draft designed for engraving contained pars. 1-69. This inscription was in Elamite, which must have been the official language of the royal court until ca. 520 b.c., when the Babylonian and Old Persian versions were added (stages III and IV). Since the Old Persian script did not exist at that time the words were dictated by the king in Old Persian for translation into Elamite by bilingual Elamite scribes in the royal chancellery, where the text was to be preserved as the model for all later versions. Thus we see that, in contrast to the other trilingual inscriptions of the Achaemenid kings, the Bīsotūn inscription was not trilingual from the beginning but evolved through rather complex processes. The small inscriptions accompanying the figures in the relief must have been engraved in the same sequence as the main text: first Elamite, then Babylonian, and finally Old Persian. However, only the Elamite version of the small inscription DBa, placed on the relief itself, belongs to stage I and must have been engraved before the main Elamite text, as proved by differences in the titles of the king in paragraph 1 between the two texts (see Weissbach, pp. 8-9, 74, and 75 note b). One has the impression that the relief and DBa are more personal, conveying the immediacy of events, whereas the main inscription is the product of cool officialdom. The minor inscriptions DBb-j seem to form a separate group (which was then translated into Babylonian) and may thus be somewhat later.
Soon after the Elamite original was inscribed (presumably at the beginning of 519 b.c.), the Babylonian version was added on a projecting slope that looks like a huge clay tablet leaning against the rock, not on a perpendicular flat surface, as all the other texts. Engraving began at a level well above the top of the relief, but, when it became apparent that the entire text would not fit on the rock face, the left face of the projection was also dressed, and engraving continued there, beginning with fine 36. From that point on, the lines continue across both faces of the rock and are more than 4 m long. Later in the same year the Old Persian text was added. Though a translation of the Elamite text, it probably represents what the king regarded as the definitive version. It must have been read out to him for his approval and edited by him before engraving; this would account for the occasional omissions and minor changes. In Old Persian the text received an additional paragraph (par. 70). Today this paragraph is badly damaged, but its essentials can be recovered from its Elamite version (DB 1). Owing to lack of space, this paragraph could no longer be added at the end of the main Elamite text but had to be fitted into the free space above the relief to the left. The added paragraph (DB 4.88-92, par. 70) makes it perfectly clear that this was the first time Old Persian cuneiform was used and that the script was created expressly for this purpose: “Says Darius the king: By the will of Ahura Mazdā that is my script, which I made. Also, it was in Aryan, and it was placed (?) on clay tablets and parchment. Also, I made my name (?). Also, I made the lineage. And it was inscribed and was read before me. After that I sent this script everywhere into the lands. The people learned (?) (it).” In addition to Darius’s statement there is proof from the script itself that this was the first inscription to be written in Old Persian cuneiform. It differs from all other Old Persian texts in the shape of two signs: In the later texts all the signs fill the line to the top, while in DB both the word divider and the first vertical wedge of the y sign are only half as high as the rest. Furthermore, the word divider in DB is an oblique wedge and not an angle as in the later inscriptions (see Hinz, 1973, p. 24).
The Elamite text later had to be moved. After the defeat of the Elamites under Atamaita (not portrayed on the relief) and the Scythians under Skunkha in Darius’s second and third regnal years (DB 5), the figure of Skunkha had to be added to the right end of the queue of subdued rebels. It had thus to be cut into the first Elamite text, which had to be completely abandoned and therefore was meticulously copied and placed to the left of the Old Persian version. This second Elamite text was carved on a carefully dressed surface where the rock with the Babylonian version had been undercut. In the final stage, six more paragraphs recording the recent events were added to the Old Persian text in a separate, fifth, column.
It was noted above that the Elamite text of DBa (10 lines paralleling pars. 1-4 of the main Elamite text), which accompanies the figure of the king himself, must have been inscribed before the Elamite version of the main inscription was composed. There was no room for a Babylonian version of this short text; the Old Persian one (18 lines) must, as Figure 21 shows, be later than
DB 1 (the Elamite equivalent of DB OPers. par. 70).
Altogether the inscriptions occupy an area 7.80 m high and 22 m long. The first Elamite inscription is to the right of the relief (King and Thompson, who could read only a few words of the poorly preserved and much weathered text, called it “supplementary texts”); it is in four columns, totaling 323 lines. The second Elamite inscription is arranged in three columns of 81, 85, and 94 lines respectively, totaling 260 lines. Even though it was written after the Old Persian version, it does not contain the final paragraph 70. According to Cameron (1960, pp. 59-61), the two Elamite versions are largely identical.
The Babylonian text flanking the relief on the left is arranged in one single column containing 112 lines (some of them exceptionally long). Like the Elamite text it does not contain the final paragraph 70. The placement of the text and the empty space after it show clearly that this was the original arrangement. Voigtlander (p. 73) distinguishes eight engravers. The Old Persian version is placed directly below the relief in 5 columns of 96, 98, 92, 92, and 36 lines respectively, for a total of 414 lines (about 3,600 words).
The eleven minor inscriptions DBa-k identify the persons in the relief (DBa the king, DBb Gaumāta, DBc-k the nine rebellious pretenders to the throne), to whom they are placed as close as possible. The Elamite versions of DBc-j (3-8 lines each) are located directly above the heads of the figures; DBb was of necessity placed beneath the figure of Gaumāta, who lies prostrate under Darius. The Babylonian versions (3 or 4 lines) appear directly below the figures, DBb below the Elamite text. The Old Persian versions of these minor inscriptions (6-12 lines) were added above the Elamite ones wherever possible. The Old Persian DBe, however, was carved on the pretender’s skirt, because the winged emblem of Ahura Mazdā hovering over the scene extended above the Elamite text. DBb (Gaumāta) was placed directly under Darius himself. DBk (Skunkha), added later, is only in Elamite and Old Persian (2 lines each).
Copies of the Bīsotūn inscription. According to paragraph 70, Darius had copies and translations of the Bīsotūn inscription circulated to all the provinces of his empire. Parts of such copies in Babylonian have been found at Babylon and in an Aramaic translation at Elephantine. Dandamaev and others have claimed that it was also translated into other languages, such as Greek, but for lack of any conclusive supporting evidence this must remain an open question. It should be noted, however, that a number of statements in the histories of Herodotus look like literal translations of the inscription and suggest that the Bīsotūn text could have been known to the Greek author (see, e.g., Martorelli).
The two fragments of the inscription found in Babylon, though very small, are important because they show that the complete Bīsotūn inscription was made public in Babylon (Voigtlander, pp. 63-66). The first (BE 3627, renumbered Berlin VA Bab. 1502) is a piece (26 cm high, 40 cm long) of a basalt block containing the remains of 13 lines each from two columns, corresponding to lines 55-58 and 69-72 of the Bīsotūn text; it offers only a few additions to the Babylonian version of Bīsotūn and cannot be an exact copy of it; in fact, it seems closer to the Elamite and Old Persian texts. The second fragment (Bab. 41446, apparently now lost) contains only 5 lines of a few words each, corresponding to lines 91-95 and 108-09 of the Bīsotūn text. These two fragments, as well as some anepigraphic blocks preserved at Babylon, may come from a single monument, which U. Seidl (pp. 125-30) attempted to identify as a copy of Darius’s Bīsotūn relief and inscription.
The remnants of an Aramaic translation found on papyrus fragments at the Jewish military colony of Elephantine/Jeb in Egypt, dating from as late as ca. 420 b.c., are more important. There are two sheets and dozens of fragments, written in large, handsome letters but so badly damaged that not a single line is complete. The extant fragments no doubt represent a translation copied from an older document preserved as an important historical record by provincial governors and made known to the people in public readings or published copies. The copying of the official translation by scribes in the royal chancellery may have been inspired in this particular instance by special events during the reign of Darius II (see Greenfield and Porten, p. 3). The Aramaic text is composed in official or Imperial Aramaic and resembles the Babylonian version quite closely, though the exact relationship between this and the other versions, especially the Babylonian, has yet to be established. According to Greenfield and Porten 79 lines on five columns, of ca. 190 lines on eleven columns of the original papyrus scroll, have been partly preserved; there is no evidence that a second recension existed, as Cowley had assumed. The Aramaic version diverges from the Old Persian one in the passage between those sentences that correspond approximately to pars. 44 and 49 of the Babylonian and pars. 55, 60-61 of the Old Persian text (lines 64 and 71-73 respectively). As a matter of fact, a part of the final paragraph (ll. 50-60) of Darius I’s tomb inscription at Naqs-e Rostam (DNb) addressed to future kings has been incorporated into these sections of the Aramaic translation (see Sims-Williams), but we do not know when and how this took place.
Contents of the inscription. The great inscription on the rock at Bīsotūn is unique in scope and historical importance, for it is the only text of an Achaemenid king that contains a narrative of historical events. It must be interpreted as a genuine res gestae, whose author chose this medium for self-expression and self-justification. In the preamble to the inscription, Darius proclaims his title to the kingship as the legitimate successor of his relatives Cyrus II and Cambyses II, justifying his claim by the argument that only he was able to recover the power that the usurper Gaumāta had taken away from the Achaemenid dynasty. He recites his own ancestry and gives a list of the twenty-three lands (including Persia) that belonged to the empire when he became king in 522 b.c. (DB 1.12-17, par. 6); this is the oldest known list of provinces in Iranian literature. The subsequent part of the introduction presents an account of the events that had led to the killing of Gaumāta and to Darius’s accession to the throne on 29 September 522 b.c.
In the body of the text Darius then describes at great length (DB 1.71-4.32, pars. 15-53) the activities of his accession year and of the first year of his reign: The main narrative includes the series of struggles against the pretenders and rebels whom Darius had to defeat in order to secure the crown. In contrast to the relief, in which these nine so-called “Liar-Kings” are pictured in chronological order according to the date of their overthrow, the inscription describes the campaigns in a general geographical sequence. The order on the relief is as follows: 1. Gaumāta, the first “false Smerdis” (slain on 29 September 522); 2. Āçina (delivered up to Darius perhaps in mid-December, 522, though no date is given); 3. Nadintabaira/Nidintu-Bēl (taken prisoner shortly after 18 December 522); 4. Fravartiš (taken prisoner and impaled shortly after 8 May 521); 5. Martiya (no date given); 6. Čiçantaxma/Tritantaikhmes (seized on 15 July 521, according to the Babylonian version, as interpreted by Borger, pp. 24f.); 7. Vahyazdāta, the second “false Smerdis” (taken prisoner on the same day); 8. Araxa (seized on 27 November 521 and impaled shortly afterward); 9. Frāda (defeated and, as expressly stated by the Babylonian version [1.70], executed on 28 December 521). In contrast to this, the order given in the main part of the inscription and in the short summary of par. 52 (DB 4.2-31) is the following: 1. Gaumāta; 2. Āçina; 3. Nadintabaira; 4. Martiya; 5. Fravartiš; 6. Čiçantaxma; 7. Frāda; 8. Vahyazdāta; 9. Araxa. Five times Darius boasts that he accomplished all these things in one and the same year, and that this boast may be true (as sworn by Darius himself in DB 4.43-45, par. 57) has recently been argued in a cogent and compelling manner by Borger, pp. 20ff.: If the murder of Gaumāta is eliminated from this “one year,” all the events from the first victory over the Babylonians on 13 December 522 (the twenty-sixth day of the ninth month) until the overthrow of Frāda on 28 December 521 (the twenty-third day of the same month in the following year) did indeed happen in one year, for the accession year of Darius I had, as we know from other evidence, an intercalary month and thus lasted from 27 March 522 to 13 April 521 b.c. (see Parker and Dubberstein, pp. 7, 30). In the fifth column of the Old Persian version (not in the others) there is a short postscript recording the operations finished in the second and third years, namely, the campaigns against the Elamites under Atamaita and the Scythians with the pointed caps led by Skunkha.
The inscription may be summarized as follows (based chiefly on the German translation by Borger and Hinz):
I (OPers. 1.1-26 pars. 1-9): the king’s name, titles, and ancestral line; the sphere and mode of his government.
II (1.26-71 pars. 10-14): the murder of Smerdis by Cambyses; Gaumāta’s rebellion; the death of Cambyses; the assassination of Gaumāta; Darius’s accession to the throne.
III (1.71-2.5 pars. 15-20): the rebellions of Āçina in Elam and of Nadintabaira in Babylon; their execution.
IV A (2.5-8 par. 21): list of the nine provinces that became rebellious during Darius’s stay in Babylon.
IV B (2.8-13 pars. 22-23): the rebellion of Martiya in Elam and his execution.
IV C (2.13-92 pars. 24-34): the rebellion of Fravartiš in Media and his execution in Ecbatana; several victories gained during the same period by the king’s generals (the text is quite vague in some respects) over rebellious Armenians; the rebellion of Čiçantaxma in Sagartia and his execution.
IV D (2.92-3.10 pars. 35-37): Parthia and Hyrcania, having joined the rebellious Fravartiš, are defeated by Darius’s father, Hystaspes.
IV E (3.10-21 pars. 38-39): the rebellion of Frāda in Marv and his overthrow by Dādṛšiš.
IV F (3.21-53 pars. 40-44): the rebellion of Vahyazdāta in Persia and his execution.
IV G (3.54-76 pars. 45-48): the events provoked by a follower of Vahyazdāta in Arachosia and brought to an end by the satrap Vivāna.
V (3.76-4.2 pars. 49-51): the rebellion of the Armenian Araxa in Babylon and his execution.
VI A (4.2-32 pars. 52-53): summary of the nine pretenders to the throne and the nineteen battles fought with them.
VI B (4.33-36 par. 54): the reasons for the rise and suppression of these rebellions: the “Lie” (drauga) and Ahura Mazdā respectively.
VI C (4.36-40 par. 55): warning against the “Lie.”
VI D (4.40-50 pars. 56-58): the king solemnly reiterates his love of truth (hašiya).
VI E (4.50-52 par. 59): the uniqueness of Darius’s achievements.
VI F (4.52-59 pars. 60-61): the king’s appeal to future people to disseminate the text.
VI G (4.59-67 par. 62-63): Ahura Mazdā’s assistance to Darius.
VI H (4.67-80 pars. 64-67): the king appeals to future kings and those who will see the Bīsotūn monument.
VII (4.80-88 pars. 68-69): the six followers assisting Darius against Gaumāta; an admonition to future kings to uphold the descendants of those followers [end of the original text].
VIII (4.88-92 par. 70): the introduction of the new writing and the spread of the text (see above).
IX A (5.1-20 pars. 71-73): the rebellion of Atamaita in Elam and its overthrow by Gobryas.
IX B (5.20-36 pars. 74-76): Darius’s victory over the Scythians under Skunkha.
Comparison of the three versions. It is quite clear that there is a close resemblance between the Aramaic and Babylonian versions, on one hand, and between the Elamite and Old Persian ones, on the other, but the particulars are rather complex. It has been repeatedly supposed that the Bīsotūn text was originally written in both Aramaic and Elamite (see, e.g., Dandamaev and Wiesehöfer) or in Aramaic alone (Borger, p. 28, who alleged that only the Aramaic text seems actually to describe nineteen battles), but the evidence for these assumptions is inconclusive.
The introductory formula that divides the Old Persian text into seventy-six “paragraphs” (“says Darius the king”) is also attested in the Elamite and Babylonian versions, but in considerably fewer instances, distinguishing only fifty-four and fifty-five paragraphs respectively, instead of sixty-nine. The subdivision of these two versions is identical, except that the division corresponding to par. 69 in the Old Persian version is missing in Elamite. Of other discrepancies and similarities to be found among the three versions of the Bīsotūn text the following may be mentioned (see, recently, Schmitt, pp. 107ff.). A peculiarity of the Babylonian and Aramaic versions is the inclusion of the numbers of enemies killed or captured. These two versions also agree on month names and various other, especially geographical names, including those of Iranian origin. (In contrast to the Elamite forms, the Babylonian and Aramaic ones do not show the dialectological features of Old Persian.) The Babylonian version also contains additions relevant only to Babylonian readers, not found in the Aramaic version.
Evaluation. The value of the inscription as an historical source and the truth of its statements can be judged in particular by a number of correspondences in detail with the histories of Herodotus. These passages include the accounts of the death of Smerdis and the revolt of Gaumāta the Magian, the list of Darius’s six fellow conspirators (Herodotus, 3.70.1-2, and DB 4.80-86 par. 68), as well as individual statements like the claim that Smerdis had the same father and mother as Cambyses (Herodotus, 3.30.1, and DB 1.29ff.).
The Bīsotūn inscription is also a valuable piece of literature. Among its prototypes are certainly the Assyrian Royal Annals, chiefly those from the time of Assurbanipal (see Harmatta). In contrast to such texts, however, DB reflects the narrative models and repetitive style that are so characteristic of oral poetry. For example, each paragraph of the text begins with the formula “Says Darius the King” and thus purports to be in the words of Darius himself. As the ensuing declarations are expressed in the first, rather than the third, person, however, the entire text is technically complex: Within the paragraphs, the direct speech of the king is always introduced as a quotation, so that the text as a whole appears to be in the words of a narrator.
The Old Persian text, the one that Darius himself considered standard, is characterized by its brief, lapidary style and its rather variegated language lacking in bombast. The recurring acknowledgment that Darius owes his power to the will and aid of Ahura Mazdā functions as a kind of topos. Although the sentences sometimes seem a little awkward, the diction must be recognized as elevated, even impressive. The simple, matter-of-fact tone continually reveals the care with which Darius weighed his words. In his inscription the king appeals to the readers of the inscription and to his successors to keep the relief and the inscriptions in good repair and to pass on its account of the king’s achievements and his aspirations to the future (pars. 55-69), and the copies of the king’s utterances must have been dispatched to his subjects throughout the empire for the same reason. The text was thus created expressly for historical instruction, though it was of less consequence to Darius from what source people should receive it, whether from the inscription on the rock at Bīsotūn itself or from one of the copies.
General. R. Borger, Die Chronologie des Darius-Denkmals am Behistun-Felsen, Göttingen, 1982.
G. G. Cameron, “Darius Carved History on Ageless Rock,” The National Geographic Magazine 98, 1950, pp. 825-44.
Idem, “The Monument of King Darius at Bisitun,” Archaeology 13, 1960, pp. 162-71.
M. A. Dandamaev, Persien unter den ersten Achämeniden (6. Jahrhundert v. Chr.), tr. H.-D. Pohl, Wiesbaden, 1976.
J. Harmatta, “Königliche Res Gestae und epische Dichtung,” in H. Klengel, ed., Gesellschaft und Kultur im alten Vorderasien, Berlin, 1982, pp. 83-88.
W. Hinz, “Die Entstehung der altpersischen Keilschrift,” AMI, N.S. 1, 1969, pp. 95-98 (about the stages of the composition).
Idem, Neue Wege im Altpersischen, Wiesbaden, 1973, pp. 161.
Idem, Darius und die Perser. Eine Kulturgeschichte der Achämeniden I, Baden-Baden, 1976.
A. V. Williams Jackson, “The Great Behistun Rock and Some Results of a Re-examination of the Old Persian Inscriptions on It,” JAOS 24, 1903, pp. 77-95 (cf. idem, Persia Past and Present: A Book of Travel and Research, New York, 1906, pp. 186ff.).
Kent, Old Persian, pp. 107b-108b (with references).
H. Luschey, “Studien zu dem Darius-Relief von Bisutun,” AMI, N.S. 1, 1968, pp. 63-94.
A. Martorelli, “Storia persiana in Erodoto. Echi di versioni ufficiali,” Rendiconti del Istituto Lombardo 111, 1977, pp. 115-25.
E. Norris, “Memoir on the Scythic [today called Elamite] Version of the Behistun Inscription,” JRAS 15, 1855, pp. 1-213.
R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75, Providence, 1956.
H. C. Rawlinson, “The Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun, Decyphered and Translated; with a Memoir on Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions in General, and on that of Behistun in Particular,” JRAS 10, 1846-47; 11/1, 1849 (unfinished).
Idem, “Analysis of the Babylonian Text at Behistun,” JRAS 14/1, 1851.
R. Schmitt, “Zur babylonischen Version der Bīsutūn-Inschrift,” Archiv für Orientforschung 27, 1980, pp. 106-26 (about the relationship between the three versions).
U. Seidl, “Ein Relief Dareios’ I. in Babylon,” AMI, N.S. 9, 1976, pp. 125-30.
N. Sims-Williams, “The Final Paragraph of the Tomb-Inscription of Darius I (DNb, 50-60).
The Old-Persian Text in the Light of an Aramaic Version,” BSOAS 44, 1981, pp. 1-7.
L. Trümpelmann, “Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Monumentes Dareios’ I. von Bisutun und zur Datierung der Einführung der altpersischen Schrift,” Archäologischer Anzeiger 82, 1967, pp. 281-98.
W. Vogelsang, “Four Short Notes on the Bisutun Text and Monument,” Iranica Antiqua 21, 1986, pp. 121-40.
F. H. Weissbach, Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden, Leipzig, 1911, repr. 1968, pp. xi-xiv (with references).
J. Wiesehöfer, Der Aufstand Gaumātas und die Anfänge Dareios’ I, Bonn, 1978, pp. 3-42, 226-29.
Text editions and translations. R. Borger and W. Hinz, “Die Behistun-Inschrift Darius’ des Grossen,” in Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments 1/4: Historisch-chronologische Texte 1, Gütersloh, 1984, pp. 419-50.
G. G. Cameron, “The Old Persian Text of the Bisitun Inscription,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 5, 1951, pp. 47-54.
Idem, “The Elamite Version of the Bisitun Inscriptions,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 14, 1960, pp. 59-68 (corrigenda to the Elamite text).
A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., Oxford, 1923 (repr. Osnabrück, 1967), pp. 248-71.
Dandamaev, pp. 243-54 (German tr.).
R. N. Frye, The History of Ancient Iran, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft III/7, Munich, 1984, pp. 363-68 (Eng. tr.).
J. C. Greenfield and B. Porten, The Bisitun Inscription of Darius the Great. Aramaic Version, Corpus Inscr. Iran., pt. I, vol. V: Texts I, London, 1982 (text, Eng. tr., and commentary).
W. Hinz, “Die Zusätze zur Darius-Inschrift von Behistan,” AMI, N.S. 5, 1972, pp. 243-51 (bilingual text and Germ. tr. of par. 70; text and Germ. tr. of DB col. 5).
Idem, “Die Behistan-Inschrift des Darius in ihrer ursprünglichen Fassung,” AMI, N.S. 7, 1974, pp. 121-34 (Germ. tr. of the original Elamite text).
Kent, Old Persian, pp. 116-35 (OPers. text with Eng. tr.).
L. W. King and R. C. Thompson, The Sculptures and Inscription of Darius the Great on the Rock of Behistûn in Persia, London, 1907 (trilingual text with Eng. tr.).
F. W. König, Relief und Inschrift des Koenigs Dareios I am Felsen von Bagistan, Leiden, 1938 (Germ. tr.).
F. Vallat, Corpus des inscriptions royales en élamite achéménide, Ph.D. thesis, Paris, 1977, pp. 81-142.
E. N. von Voigtlander, The Bisitun Inscription of Darius the Great: Babylonian Version, Corpus Inscr. Iran., pt. I, vol. II: Texts I, London, 1978 (Babylonian text, including the Babylon fragments, and Eng. tr.).
Weissbach, pp. 8-79 (trilingual text with Germ. tr.).
Figure 19. Site plan of Bīsotūn
Figure 20. The landscape around Bīsotūn: “Paradise of the Ḵosrows” (From Huff, 1985)
Figure 21. The positions of the Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian versions of the major trilingual inscription DB on the rock at Bīsotūn. Source: King and Thompson, pl. VI; corrected by Borger, fig. 2; adapted by R. Schmitt
Figure 22. The positions of the minor Old Persian (“Per.”), Elamite (“Sus.”), and Babylonian (“Bab.”) inscriptions DBa-1 (“A-L”) on the Bīsotūn relief. Source: King and Thompson, pl. XIII; corrected by Borger, fig. 1.
Table 8. The Different Stages in the Genesis of the Bīsotūn Monument
Plate X. The Darius relief at Bīsotūn
Plate XI. The head of Darius
Plate XII. The Ionic column base
Plate XIII. The Seleucid relief of Heracles
Plate XIV. Sasanian capital with relief of Ḵosrow II
Plate XV. Sasanian capital with relief of Anāhīd
Plate XVI. Tarāš-e Farhād
Plate XVII. Miniature of Farhād and Šīrīn, Bodleian Library, Oxford
Plate XVIII. The old Caravansary
Plate XIX. Inscribed block from Sonqorābād
Last Updated: March 8, 2013
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 3, pp. 299-305