Behistun Inscription: Wikis

  
  
  

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Coordinates: 34°23′18″N 47°26′12″E / 34.38833°N 47.43667°E / 34.38833; 47.43667

Bisotun*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Modern day picture of the inscription
State Party  Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii
Reference 1222
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2006  (30th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Behistun Inscription (also Bisitun or Bisutun, Modern Persian: بیستون ; Old Persian: Bhagasthana, meaning "the god's place or land") is a multi-lingual inscription located on Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran, near the city of Kermanshah in western Iran.

Authored by Darius I, the Great sometime between his coronation as king of the Persian Empire in the summer of 522 BC and his death in autumn of 486 BC, the inscription begins with a brief autobiography of Darius I, the Great including his ancestry, lineage etc. Later in the inscription, Darius provides a lengthy sequence of events following the death of Cyrus the Great and Cambyses II in which he fought nineteen battles in a period of one year (ending in December of 521 BC) to put down multiple rebellions throughout the Persian Empire. Darius' inscription states in detail that the rebellions, which had resulted from the deaths of Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses II, were orchestrated by several impostors and their co-conspirators in various cities throughout the empire, each of whom falsely proclaimed kinghood during the upheaval following Cyrus the Great's death.

Darius the Great proclaimed himself victorious in all battles during the period of upheaval, attributing his success to the "grace of Ahura Mazda (God)".

The inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. Babylonian was a later form of Akkadian: unlike Old Persian, they are Semitic languages. In effect, then, the inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script.

Translation of the text was a multi-step and multi-national effort based on earlier work done on the decipherment of the Old Persian script by Georg Friedrich Grotefend in the late 1700s when Grotefend discovered that, unlike Elamite and Babylonian texts, Old Persian text is alphabetic. In the following years, the efforts of Burnouf, Lassen, and Rawlinson (who had the remainder of the inscription transcribed in two parts, in 1835 and 1843) contributed to translating the Old Persian cuneiform text using the Zoroastrian book Avesta as a key, in addition to cross referencing with modern Persian and Vedic languages. [1] With the Old Persian text deciphered, Rawlinson and others were able to then translate the Elamite and Babylonian texts (both of which were ancient translations of the Old Persian text) after 1843.

The ledge below the inscription.

The inscription is approximately 15 metres high by 25 metres wide and 100 metres up a limestone cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana, respectively). The Old Persian text contains 414 lines in five columns; the Elamite text includes 593 lines in eight columns, and the Babylonian text is in 112 lines. The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius I, the Great, holding a bow as a sign of kingship, with his left foot on the chest of a figure lying on his back before him. The prostrate figure is reputed to be the pretender Gaumata. Darius is attended to the left by two servants, and ten one-metre figures stand to the right, with hands tied and rope around their necks, representing conquered peoples. Faravahar floats above, giving his blessing to the king. One figure appears to have been added after the others were completed, as was (oddly enough) Darius's beard, which is a separate block of stone attached with iron pins and lead.[1] Bisotun is also one of the 80 treasures featured on Around the World in 80 Treasures presented by Dan Cruickshank.

The route up to the inscription.

Contents

In ancient history

After the fall of the Persian Empire's Achaemenid Dynasty and its successors, and the lapse of Old Persian cuneiform writing into disuse, the nature of the inscription was forgotten, and fanciful explanations became the norm. For centuries, instead of being attributed to Darius I, the Great, it was believed to be from the reign of Khosroes II of Persia—one of the last Sassanid Kings, who lived over 1000 years after the time of Darius I.

The inscription is mentioned by Ctesias of Cnidus, who noted its existence some time around 400 BC and mentioned a well and a garden beneath the inscription. He incorrectly concluded that the inscription had been dedicated "by Queen Semiramis of Babylon to Zeus". Tacitus also mentions it and includes a description of some of the long-lost ancillary monuments at the base of the cliff, including an altar to "Herakles". What has been recovered of them, including a statue dedicated in 148 BC, is consistent with Tacitus's description. Diodorus also writes of "Bagistanon" and claims it was inscribed by Semiramis.

A legend began around Mount Behistun (Bisotoun), as written about by the Persian poet and writer Ferdosi in his Shahnameh (Book of Kings) circa 1000 AD, about a man named Farhad, who was a lover of Khosroes' wife, Shirin. The legend states that, exiled for his transgression, Farhad was given the task of cutting away the mountain to find water; if he succeeded, he would be given permission to marry Shirin. After many years and the removal of half the mountain, he did find water, but was informed by Khosroes that Shirin had died. He went mad, threw his axe down the hill, kissed the ground and died. It is told in the book of Khosrow and Shirin that his axe was made out of a pomegranate tree, and, where he threw the axe, a pomegranate tree grew with fruit that would cure the ill. Shirin was not dead, according to the story, and mourned upon hearing the news.

Later historical references to the monument

The inscription was noted by an Arab traveller, Ibn Hawqal, during the mid-900s, who misinterpreted the figures as a "teacher punishing his pupils". In 1598, the Englishman Robert Sherley saw the inscription during a diplomatic mission to Persia on behalf of Austria, and brought it to the attention of Western European scholars. His party incorrectly came to the conclusion that it was a picture of "the ascension of Jesus" with an inscription in "Greek".

Biblical misinterpretations by Europeans were rife for the next two centuries. French General Gardanne thought it showed "Christ and his twelve apostles", and Sir Robert Ker Porter thought it represented the "twelve tribes of Israel and Shalmaneser of Assyria". Italian explorer Pietro della Valle visited the inscription in the course of a pilgrimage in around 1621, and German surveyor Carsten Niebuhr visited in around 1764 for Frederick V of Denmark, publishing a copy of the inscription in the account of his journeys in 1777.

Translation

Column 1 (DB I 1-15), sketch by Friedrich von Spiegel (1881)

Niebuhr's transcriptions were used by Georg Friedrich Grotefend and others in their efforts to decipher the Old Persian cuneiform script. Grotefend had deciphered ten of the 37 symbols of Old Persian by 1802, after realizing that unlike the semitic cuneiform scripts, Old Persian text is alphabetic and each word is separated by a vertical slanted symbol.[2][3]

The Old Persian text was copied and deciphered before the recovery and copying of the Elamite and Babylonian inscriptions had even been attempted, which proved to be a good deciphering strategy since Old Persian script was easier to study due to its alphabatic nature and the fact that it had naturally evolved into Middle Persian, and in turn, to the living modern Persian language dialects as well as the Avestan language, used in the Zoroastrian book the Avesta.

In 1835, Sir Henry Rawlinson, an officer of the British East India Company army assigned to the forces of the Shah of Iran, began studying the inscription in earnest. As the town of Bisutun's name was anglicized as "Behistun" at this time, the monument became known as the "Behistun Inscription". Despite its relative inaccessibility, Rawlinson was able to scale the cliff and copy the Old Persian inscription. The Elamite was across a chasm, and the Babylonian four meters above; both were beyond easy reach and were left for later.

With the Persian text, and with about a third of the syllabary made available to him by the work of Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Rawlinson set to work on deciphering the text. Fortunately, the first section of this text contained a list of the same Persian kings found in Herodotus in their original Persian forms as opposed to Herodotus's Greek transliterations; for example Darius is given as the original Dâryavuš instead of the Hellenized Δαρειος. By matching the names and the characters, Rawlinson was able to decipher the type of cuneiform used for Old Persian by 1838 and presented his results to the Royal Asiatic Society in London and the Société Asiatique in Paris.

In the interim, Rawlinson spent a brief tour of duty in Afghanistan, returning to the site in 1843. He first crossed a chasm between the Persian and Elamite scripts by bridging the gap with planks, subsequently copying the Elamite inscription. He was then able to find an enterprising local boy to climb up a crack in the cliff and suspend ropes across the Babylonian writing, so that papier-mâché casts of the inscriptions could be taken. Rawlinson, along with scholars Edward Hincks, Julius Oppert, William Henry Fox Talbot, and Edwin Norris, either working separately or in collaboration, eventually deciphered these inscriptions, leading eventually to the ability to read them completely.

The translation of the Old Persian sections of the Behistun Inscription paved the way to the subsequent ability to decipher the Elamite and Babylonian parts of the text which greatly promoted the development of modern Assyriology.

Later research and activity

Later expeditions, in 1904 sponsored by the British Museum and led by Leonard William King and Reginald Campbell Thompson and in 1948 by George G. Cameron of the University of Michigan, obtained photographs, casts and more accurate transcriptions of the texts, including passages that were not copied by Rawlinson. It also became apparent that rainwater had dissolved some areas of the limestone in which the text was inscribed, while leaving new deposits of limestone over other areas, covering the text.

In 1938, the inscription became of interest to the Nazi German think tank Ahnenerbe, although research plans were cancelled due to the onset Word War II.

Close-up of the inscription showing damage.

The monument later suffered some damage from invading Allied soldiers using it for target practice during World War II.[2]

In 1999, Iranian archeologists began the documentation and assessment of damages to the site incurred during the 20th century. Malieh Mehdiabadi, who was project manager for the effort, described a photogrameteric process by which two-dimensional photos were taken of the inscriptions using two cameras and were later transmuted into 3-D images.[3]

In recent years, Iranian archaeologists have been undertaking conservation works. The site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. [4]

Other historical monuments in the Behistun complex

The site covers an area of 116 hectares. Archeological evidence indicates that this region became a human shelter 40,000 years ago. There are 18 historical monuments other than the inscription of Darius the great in the Behistun complex that have been registered in the Iranian national list of historical sites. Some of them are:

In the first image, Herakles with curly hair and a beard rests on the lion skin. Beside him, an olive tree is seen carved on the wall, while a quiver full of arrows is hanging from it, and a club resting close by. Behind the head of Herakles, an inscription of seven lines in old Greek is written on a smooth space with a frame similar to Greek temples. According to this inscription, the statue was carved in 139 BC on the occasion of a conquest for Seleucid Greeks (Demetrius II Nicator) against Parthian (Mithridates I of Parthia) [that later changed to defeat of the Seleucids].

The second image is a bas relief of Mithridates II of Parthia: this was carved in 123–110 BC and represents Parthian king Mithridates and four of his satraps who are respecting the king. Bas relief of Gotarzes II of Parthia shows the conquest of that king over Meherdates, an Arsacid prince who lived in Rome. An inscription in Greek is seen on the left side of the top outer frame of the relief. Sheikh Ali khan Zangeneh text endowment: According to this text, written in Sloth calligraphy, Sheikh Ali khan Zangeneh, a local ruler of the 17th century, dedicates four shares (out of six) of his properties in Ghareh-vali and Chambatan (local villages) for Sadaats (descendants of the prophet Mohammad), and two remaining shares for the Bisotoun Safavid caravansarai.

See also

References

  1. ^ Lead and lead poisoning in antiquity‎ - Page 160
  2. ^ http://www.chnpress.com/news/?section=2&id=2589 Documentation of Behistun Inscription Nearly Complete
  3. ^ http://www.chnpress.com/news/?section=2&id=2589 Documentation of Behistun Inscription Nearly Complete

Sources

  • Adkins, Lesley, Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2003.
  • Rawlinson, H.C., Archaeologia, 1853, vol. xxxiv, p. 74.
  • Thompson, R. Campbell. "The Rock of Behistun". Wonders of the Past. Edited by Sir J. A. Hammerton. Vol. II. New York: Wise and Co., 1937. (pp. 760–767) [5]
  • Cameron, George G. "Darius Carved History on Ageless Rock". National Geographic Magazine. Vol. XCVIII, Num. 6, December 1950. (pp. 825–844) [6]
  • Rubio, Gonzalo. "Writing in another tongue: Alloglottography in the Ancient Near East". In Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures (ed. Seth Sanders. 2nd printing with postscripts and corrections. Oriental Institute Seminars, 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 33-70. [7]

External links








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