Illustrated introduction to Ancient Persia, £8.99
Achaemenid, about 486-465 BC
From Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, south-west Turkey)
Old Persian inscription
This jar comes from the western part of the Achaemenid Empire. It is inscribed with the words 'Xerxes Great King' in Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian and Egyptian.
The Achaemenid Persians used a cuneiform script quite different from Akkadian cuneiform, and was probably an artificial royal creation of Darius I (521-486 BC). All the inscriptions written in this script ('Old Persian') appear either on buildings and rockfaces in Iran or on smaller portable objects probably emanating from his court. They are almost always accompanied by versions in other languages, and this vessel has Elamite (a language spoken in south-western Iran), written in cuneiform, and Egyptian, written in hieroglyphs. This demonstrates the extent of the Achaemenid Eempire, which stretched from Egypt and the Aegean to the Indus.
The most famous trilingual inscription (Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian) is carved on the cliff face at Bisitun dominating the main road leading to Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). It was created by Darius I and gave a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding his accession to the throne. It began to be deciphered in the early nineteenth century. The greatest advance in understanding it was made by Henry Rawlinson who was able to make so-called 'squeezes': paper impressions of the long inscriptions obtained by physically pushing a special sort of thick paper, softened by water, into the letters. This resulted in an exact copy of these inaccessible inscriptions, which was a vital tool in their decipherment.
C.T. Newton, A history of discoveries at Ha (London, Day & Son, 1963)
F.H. Weissbach, Der Keilinschriften der Achaem (, 1911)