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The Bīsitūn Inscription


Artifact: Rock relief
Provenience: Kermanshah Province, Iran
Period: Persian
Current location: Kermanshah Province, Iran
Text genre, language: Royal inscription; Old Persian, Elamite, Akkadian
CDLI pages

Description: This tri-lingual inscription has 414 lines in Old Persian cuneiform, 260 in Elamite cuneiform, and 112 in Akkadian cuneiform (Bae: 2008). Copies of the text have been found elsewhere, notably in Babylon and Elephantine, Egypt. Accompanying a narrative scene in relief, the inscriptions are carved on the face of Mt. Bīsitūn about 30 km east of the city Kermanshah, above an important trade route ultimately connecting Babylonia to India - the Royal Road of Achaemenid times. The inscriptions give an account of king Darius’s accession to the throne of the Persian empire. According to the narrative, after Cambyses, son of Cyrus, ruling from Egypt, killed his brother Smerdis in secrecy, a Magi called Gaumata seized the throne in Persia and claimed to be Smerdis. Cambyses died and Darius, taking the throne, deposed the impostor Gaumata with the help of the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda. The inscription also describes a series of rebellions that were quelled and describes the extent of the Persian empire; the relief depicts king Darius standing, with two supported behind him, facing 9 bound, captive rulers, a tenth lying under Darius’ feet; A winged disc representing Ahuramazda hovers overhead. The Bīsitūn Inscription is considered important in the decipherment of cuneiform in the 19th century in large part by Rawlinson, though Cathcart (2011) has shown that other inscriptions, primarily studied by Edward Hincks, were just as pivotal in decipherment process. (Kathryn E. Kelley, University of Oxford)


(Old Persian) Rawlinson, H.C. 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 Vol. 10, pp. i-lxxii, 1-265, 268-350, i-xx, 1-24.(1848).

(Old Persion, Akkadian, and Elamite) Kiup, L. and R.C. Thompson, Editors. The Sculptures and inscription of Darius the Great on the rock of Bihistun in Persia. A new collation of the Persian, Susian, and Babylonian texts with English translations, etc. British Museum: London (1907).


Old Persian version: Schmitt, Rüdiger. The Bisitun Inscriptions of Darius the Great: Old Persian Text. Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicum, Vol. 1, Part 1. (1991).

Babylonian version: Rawlinson, H.C. Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia. Vol. III, plate 39f.

Von Voigtlander, Elizabeth N. "The Bisitun Inscription of Darius the Great, Babylonian Version". Corpus Incsriptionum Iranicarum. Part I, Inscriptions of Ancient Iran. Volume 2. London:(1978)

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