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There was no Rosetta Stone to give the translation of the strange characters; nothing but the unyielding problem of unknown names. Unconsciously he followed the method which Grotefend had employed. He compared two inscriptions, in this case at Elwend, which had been set up side by side, and found that they were identically the same except in two short passages of a few characters each.

But the first of these two groups in the first inscription coincided with the second group in the second inscription, and Rawlinson's genius suggested, first, that these groups must be the names of kings concerned in setting up the inscriptions and second, if so, the first name in the first inscription must represent the father of the king who set up the second.

He was right. He took the names of the three most famous Persian kings in history, Hystaspes, Darius, and Xerxes, applied them to his theory, and found that the values for the characters which their names provided stood the test wherever the same characters reappeared in the names.

The threshold was crossed. But although Rawlinson, as well as foreign scholars, had so brilliantly deciphered the value of some of the characters, the names of some of the kings, and even of countries mentioned in the text, the meaning of the inscriptions and the language in which they were couched were still a sealed book.

The Englishman had long been attracted by the problem of the Behistun inscription, and during his sojourn in Persia he set himself to unravel its meaning. By the end of he had so far overcome the difficulties involved in scaling the rock-face and copying the cuneiform text, that he had completed a version of about half of the Persian text, and in this year he forwarded to the Royal Asiatic Society, which has always shown a deep appreciation of scholarship of this nature, a translation of the two first paragraphs of the Behistun inscription, recording the titles and genealogy of Darius.

Unfortunately he was compelled to break into his studies by his being transferred from "the lettered seclusion of Bagdad to fill a responsible and laborious office in Afghanistan," but again found him in the City of the Caliphs, eager to continue his labours. For many years past he applied himself to Zend, the oldest Persian dialect known, and it was his application of this language to the Persian cuneiform inscriptions which brought about his extraordinary exploit of translating the whole of the Persian inscription of Behistun for the first time.

His decipherment of the characters which composed the proper names allowed him first to transliterate the inscription and so know how the words sounded, and his genius for languages then led him to their correct affinities with other dialects. His "Memoir," giving a complete translation with notes was published in Lassen, however, must not be forgotten in according the due meed of praise to the pioneers of translation as well as decipherment, for he, too independently, but simultaneously with Rawlinson , applied himself to the Persepolitan inscriptions with definitely satisfactory results, publishing his rendering of them in Page Rawlinson was not content only with the Persian part of the inscription.

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Catalog Record: The Behistan inscription of King Darius | HathiTrust Digital Library

In he once more, this time with two companions, climbed the rock, crossed the chasm between the Persian and Susian columns, and copied the Susian version. Again in he hoped to attack the Babylonian version, which is cut on two faces of a ponderous overhanging boulder above the sheer face of the Susian columns. To this he did not himself climb, but found a Kurdish boy who scaled the height from a flank, and in a swinging seat took squeezes under Rawlinson's direction.

With the Persian version now thoroughly understood, it was only a matter of time to elucidate the Susian and the Babylonian. The former yielded to the energy of Hinks, Westergaard, de Saulcy, and particularly Norris; the latter to Rawlinson, Hincks, Oppert and Fox Talbot, who showed that the Babylonian was a Semitic language allied to Hebrew.


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The great problem of cuneiform had been solved. Subsequently Professor Williams Jackson in visited the inscription, and, climbing to the Persian ledge, re-examined the lower part this text. But by this time the squeezes which Rawlinson had made of the inscription and stored in the British Museum were decaying, and particularly the Babylonian version, read thus from squeezes, was probably capable of considerable improvement. It was obvious that any advance in our knowledge of text, Persian, Susian and Babylonian, must be made by a collation of the Rock itself, and in the Trustees of the British Museum decided to send an expedition down to the Rock.

To this end Dr. King, and I as his junior, left for Mosul in April, , for Behistun. On our arrival there our first view of the inscription suggested that it must first be attacked from behind, and a spot was found two hundred feet above the sculpture, whence we could shake down two ropes until they reached its face.

Then, after scaling the rock from below to the ledge of the base of the inscription, we were able to tie two cradles to these ropes, adding lengths of stouter rope wherewith we might climb into them. The first part of the ascent from below was an almost perpendicular scramble of 12 feet or so, with handholds on tufts of grass, and footholds on soil or projecting stone; thence upward, in a gentle ascent to the right, the line of approach lay along the smooth rock, broken only by one gap with a sheer long drop to earth beneath.

From here the way up was comparatively easy to the right-hand side of the Persian inscription. After we had evolved this route together, happily without native help, pegs and a rope-rail were fastened along it, making the daily climb a trivial matter. Rawlinson, "Archaeologia," xxxiv. When I was living at Kermanshah fifteen years ago, and was somewhat more active than I am at present, I used frequently to scale the rock three or four times a day without the aid of a rope or ladder: without any assistance, in fact, whatever.

During my late visits I have found it more convenient to ascend and descend by the help of ropes where the track lies up a precipitate cleft, and to throw a plank over those chasms where a false step in leaping across would probably be fatal. Beneath the fifth Persian column was a ledge of some six feet which narrowed almost to nothing near the first column, beyond which, on a salient face, were the three columns of the Susian, of the same height as the Persian, but across a chasm, of which Rawlinson had spoken.

In front of these, too, was a ledge, which we found could be easily reached by swinging across on our ropes. The Babylonian, written on an overhanging boulder twelve feet above this, was a more difficult problem. From a vantage-point high above the inscription our men could raise or lower the cradles to the right height on the face of the inscription, or to the sculpture above the Persian columns; after they had made fast the ends above, we climbed into the cradles and thus sat, collating and photographing the inscriptions and sculptures for the next sixteen days.

We were able to reach and collate the Babylonian overhang by swinging across to the Susian ledge and then climbing the ropes to a ledge above the Susian, and thence, again sitting in the cradles, working our way round the inscribed face of the boulder by hands or knees. The great sculpture was photographed with a hand camera either from here at an angle, or piecemeal direct at five feet distance by pushing the cradles away from the rock with our feet.

The results were published by the Trustee "The Inscription of Darius the Great at Behistun," where full details and photographs will be found. Throughout, what was most striking was great accuracy of Rawlinson's copies.

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The Persian columns alone contain more than fifteen thousand characters, and his work showed surprisingly few errors, considering the difficulties of every kind with which he had to contend. The inscription itself tells the ancient glory of Persia at its zenith, before Darius had challenged Page the Greeks and had been defeated in at Marathon. It begins with the genealogy of Darius, traced direct to Achaemenes, and then refers to the reign of Cambyses, who had preceded Darius, the murder of Smerdis the brother of Cambyses , and the revolt of the Persians during the absence of Cambyses on his campaign in Egypt.

At this moment Gaumata, the Magian, seizing his opportunity, declared himself to be Smerdis, the son of Cyrus, with a claim to the throne.

Behistan Inscription of King Darius Translation and Critical Notes to the Persian Text

Cambyses hastened homewards, but died on the way, and Gaumata, as the Babylonian contract tablets show, held sway for a brief period. It was Darius, the son of Hystaspes, who challenged the usurper, and, marching against him with a small force, slew him and took the throne. But revolts broke out in many of the provinces, and the first years of Darius were spent in subduing them. Nidintu-Bel seized Babylon, claiming to be Nebuchadnezzar; Martiya headed a revolution in Susiana: in Media Phraortes gave himself out to be Khshathritha, of the family of Cyaxares, and led another revolt.

These were dealt with successfully, and the unfortunate pretenders are to be seen with several others, equally unsuccessful, on the sculptured panel above the inscription. The king stands with his arm raised and his foot on Gaumata; behind him are his generals or satraps. Before him, roped one to another, come the recalcitrant chiefs in the following order: Atrina, the first Susian pretender; Nidintu-Bel, of Babylon; Fravartish Phraortes , of Media; Martiza, the second Susian pretender; Citrantakhma, of Sagartia; Vahyazdata, the second pseudo-Smerdis; Arakha, the second Babylonian pretender; Frada, of Margiana; and subsequently, at the cost of destroying part of the Susian inscription, Skunkha, the Scythian, in his high peaked hat was added.

It is a nice point whether the inscription is a finer memorial to the Persian, Darius, who wrote it, or to the Englishman, Rawlinson, who deciphered it. Page In the imperishable stone of a 4,foot Iranian mountain, artisans of Darius the Great carved his vainglorious autobiography almost 2, years ago. The achievements of this king of ancient Persia now Iran they extolled in three different languages of his realm.

This gigantic cliffside boast became, like Egypt's famed Rosetta Stone. Nevertheless, despite numerous attempts to secure a perfect copy of this important document, there remained to our day tremendous gaps in our knowledge of its wording and thus a failure to appreciate its magnitude. By use of 20th-century tools to gain access to the monument, and modern techniques of field archeology to obtain a more accurate record, I was able to achieve what men had long desired: a better, fuller copy, and hence a greater understanding of the Persian's noble monument.

Darius could have found no better or more conspicuous place for his project than the last peak of a long, narrow range which skirts the plain of modern Kermanshah. At the foot of the mountain springs bubble up into a pool of crystal-clear water and supply a small stream, which flows past the village of Bisitun and away into the plain. From time immemorial caravans have watered their beasts at these springs. Here every army which has marched from Iran into Iraq has camped, for the mountain and its springs lie on the age-old caravan trail between Ecbatana modern Hamadan , once a center of the Medes and Persians, and fabled Babylon.

To the ancients themselves the spot was called it the "Place of God," Baga-stana, or Bisitun.

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The monument was not unearned, for Darius became king in B. It was carved so the whole world might be informed of his prowess and of his debt to his god, the "Wise Lord" Ahuramazda. A part of the story is told by a massive relief cut into the limestone mountain feet above the springs and feet above the highest part of the mountain to which man can climb.

There today stands Darius, with high brow and straight nose. On his head rests the Persian war crown, carved with exquisite care to resemble the gold band studded with oval jewels and rosettes worn by the Great King himself. Behind him appear two of his officers, the bearers of his bow and lance. Before him floats the winged figure of the god Ahuramazda, who taught Darius to speak the truth and whose left hand grasps the ring which bestows sovereignty on monarchs.

Beneath the god stand eight rival contenders, their necks roped together, their hands tied behind their backs; a ninth, the archenemy, lies prostrate under the king's left foot, his own knees and hands lifted in agony. A tenth and subsequent foe was pictured a few years later. The relief alone was inadequate for Darius. He also commanded that the story be carved in three languages of the empire: Old Persian, the language of the king and court, inscribed beneath the relief in four and a half columns of closely written texts; in Babylonian, inscribed on two faces of a rock jutting out from the mountainside to the left of the relief; and, to the right of the sculptured panel, in Elamite, the language then spoken at Shush, or Susa "the palace" of the Biblical book of Esther.

Somewhat later, the Elamite inscription was recopied to the left of the relief.


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  4. So inaccessible was the Great King's handiwork that even the citizens of his empire soon forgot the story that was told. Worse still, as hundreds of years rolled by and the languages spoken in his day were succeeded by others, men even lost the ability to understand these tongues or to read the cuneiform scripts in which they were written. But within the last century Darius's lordly monument itself provided the key by which the riddle of these languages and their scripts was solved.

    The story of decipherment began when travelers compared the curious wedge-shaped signs Page at Bisitun with those appearing on other, more accessible monuments in old Turkey and Persia. Sometimes they brought back copies or even samples of these "writings" to Europe, but no man there could read them. By inference, one of the languages with its system of writing was thought to be of Persian origin, for it was very common within Persia, particularly at Darius's former capital, Persepolis.