Persian Kings


1. Cyrus the Servant of Marduk

Cylinder Inscription


1       [Cyrus (Kurash), king of the world, great king, powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad. . . .]

3 [Nabunaid] . . . a  puny person was placed in the position of lord over [Marduk's] land.*
*Nabunaid (Nabonidus) was the king of Babylon, the city of the god Marduk.

5 He had a model made of the Esagila *. . .  * Marduk's temple in Babylon

for Ur* and the other cities . . . . *city of the moon-god Sin, who was favoured by Nabunaid

The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he turned into abomination; daily he did evil against Marduk's city.

He oppressed its inhabitants under a yoke without relief; he was destroying them all.

9  The Enlil of the gods* became angry . . . .  *that is, Marduk, head of the Babylonian pantheon

The gods who dwelt among them left their abodes . . . .

10 Seeing all their habitations in ruins,

11 and the population of Sumer and Akkad* like dead bodies, Marduk took pity on them.   *Mesopotamia, `Iraq

He scanned every country looking for a friend,

12 searching for an upright ruler to take his hand*.*(in the New Year procession: cp. Isaiah 45.1)

He called upon Cyrus, king of Anshan*; *city in the NE of Elam, Iran

he nominated him to be ruler of all the world*     *(cp. Isaiah 45:3-4; Ezra 1:2).

13 He made the land of Guti and all the Manda hordes*    *that is, the Medes

bow in submission at his feet.

As for the blackheaded people*, whom Marduk gave into his power,   *Mesopotamians

14 he endeavoured to treat them with justice and rectitude*.  *(ina kittim u mesharu)

Marduk the great lord, protector of his people,

looked with pleasure on his good deeds and his upright heart.

15 He (Marduk) ordered him (Cyrus) to march against his city, Babylon;

he set him on the road to Babylon, and went at his side like a friend and comrade.

16 His vast army, their numbers undeterminable like the waters of a river,

with their weaponry packed away, moved forward beside him.

17 He let him into his city Babylon without a fight or a battle, sparing Babylon any misery.

He delivered into his hands Nabunaid the king who had not shown him reverence.

18 The entire population of Babylon, the whole of Sumer and Akkad,

the princes and the governors, bowed to him and kissed his feet.

They were jubilant that the kingship was his, their faces were shining.

19 Gladly they greeted him as the master, by whose aid they had come from death to life;

all the gods having been preserved from ruin and disaster, they praised him and honoured his name.

20 I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king,

king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters,

21 son of Cambyses*, great king, king of Anshan, *(Ka-am-bu-zi-ia)

grandson of Cyrus*, great king, king of Anshan, *(Ku-ra-ash)

descendant of Teispes*, great king, king of Anshan, *(Shi-ish-pi-ish)

22 offspring of an eternal royal line, whose rule Bel* and Nabu hold dear,  *'Lord' (Marduk)

whose kingship they desire for their hearts' delight.

When I entered Babylon peaceably, amid jubilation and rejoicing,

23 I set up the seat of rule in the royal palace.

Marduk the great lord made the Babylonians well-disposed towards me,

and I attended to his worship daily.

24 My many troops moved about peacefully in Babylon;

I did not allow anyone to terrorize the land of Sumer and Akkad.

25 As for the citizens of Babylon, oppressed against the divine will,

I released them from their unseemly yoke.

26 Their dilapidated dwellings I restored, putting an end to their misery.

Marduk the great lord was well pleased with my actions,

27 and to me, Cyrus, the king who worships him,

and to Cambyses, my son, the offspring of my body,

and to all my troops, he graciously gave his blessing;

and standing before him in peace we magnified his high divinity.


29 All the kings sitting in throne rooms, from the four quarters,

from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea*, those dwelling [in houses?],

and from the West Land Amurru all kings living in tents,     *Mediterranean to Persian Gulf *(Amurru)

30 brought me their heavy tribute and kissed my feet in Babylon.

From [Nineveh?], Ashur and Susa,

31 from Agade*, Eshnunna, Zamban, Meturnu, Der to the region of the Gutians,   *Akkad

the holy cities beyond the Tigris, their sanctuaries long in ruins,

32 the gods who dwelt in the midst of them I returned to their places,

and I housed them in permanent habitations.

I gathered all their people and brought them back to their dwellings.

33 The gods of Sumer and Akkad who, to the anger of the lord of the gods,

Nabunaid had brought into Babylon, I resettled, at the behest of Marduk the great lord,

34 at peace in their chapels, their abodes of delight.

May all the gods that I have placed in their sanctuaries

35 daily pray to Bel and Nabu for a long life for me . . .      (lines 36-45 fragmentary)


2.  Cyrus the Servant of Yahweh

Ezra 1:1-4

1 In the first year of Cyrus (Kôresh) the King of Persia, in fulfilment of the word of Yahweh through the mouth of Yirmyahu*, Yahweh stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his empire, and also in writing, as follows: *Jeremiah  29:10-14

2 Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: Yahweh the God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he has ordained that I should build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah.

3 Whoever from among you belongs to his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of Yahweh the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.

4 Every single one, wherever they may be living, shall be assisted by the people of the place with silver and gold, with goods and animals, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.


Isaiah 44-45

44.24 Thus says Yahweh your redeemer, who formed you in the womb:

         I am Yahweh the maker of all, alone stretching  the heavens out,

         spreading the earth out, who was with me?  . . . .

28 I say of Cyrus, He is my shepherd*  *rô‘î, perhaps rê‘î 'my friend'; cp.Cyrus as 'friend' of Marduk

and shall carry out what I desire;             

         I say of Jerusalem, She shall be rebuilt,

         and of the temple, Your foundation shall be laid.


45.1 Thus says Yahweh to Cyrus his anointed*, *'Messiah'

         whom he has taken by the right hand*,   *cp Marduk taking the hand of Cyrus

         subduing nations before him and ungirding the loins of kings;

         before whom doors shall be opened and no gates be closed. (Marduk let him into Babylon )

2 I will go before you and level the bulging hills;

         I will smash doors of bronze, and hack through bars of iron;

3 I will give you treasures stored in darkness and hoards kept in secret places,

         that you may know that it is I, Yahweh, the God of Israel,

         who is calling you by name. (cp. Marduk nominating Cyrus to be world ruler)

4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, Israel my chosen one,

         I have called you by name and honoured you, though you have not known me.

5 I am Yahweh, and there is no other, there is no god but me.

         I gird you, even though you do not know me,

6 so that people may know, from the rising of the sun,

         and from the sunset*, that there is none besides me; *(the West)

         I am Yahweh, and there is no other,

7 fashioner of light and creator of darkness,

         maker of weal* and creator of woe**, *(shalom, peace, welfare) **(ra‘, evil)

         I Yahweh do all these things. . . .


12 I am the one who made the earth, and created humankind upon it,

         mine were the hands that stretched out the heavens, and I gave orders to their whole host.

13 I have stirred him* up in righteousness, and I will level all his paths;  *(Cyrus)

         he shall rebuild my city*and set my exiles free, *(Jerusalem)

         not for a price nor for a bribe;

         Yahweh of Hosts has spoken.


3. Cyrus the Servant of Ahura Mazda

Murghab Inscription B

Kûrush (Cyrus) the great king, son of  King Kabûjiya (Cambyses) , an Akhaemenian. He says: When . . . made . . . .



In 539 B.C.E. Cyrus of Anshan, the founder of the Persian Empire, conquered Babylon and set about winning over the Babylonians and the priests of Marduk. The last king of Babylonia had been Nabonidus (Nabunaid), who was seen as having offended Marduk and the other gods. Cyrus showed religious tolerance, recognizing also Sin the moon god of Ur and Yahweh the god of the Jews (the people of Judah and its capital Jerusalem, most of whom were in exile in Babylonia at that time). It is hard to find an authoritative text telling us which god Cyrus considered to be his own original protective deity; but one trilingual inscription (Elamite, Akkadian, Persian) includes a prayer for protection, addressed to the Iranian god Ahura Mazda (R.G. Kent, Old Persian, 116, Murghab, Pasargadae, B, but the Persian is damaged and this part is missing) The other texts presented here demonstrate his policy of restoring divinities to their sanctuaries and humans to their homes.

The first is from 'the Cyrus cylinder', written in Akkadian cuneiform, and the second group is from the Hebrew Scriptures (Ezra and Isaiah). The Ezra text is also found at the end of Chronicles and constituted the last words in the Hebrew Bible, a message of hope of restoration for Jews of every age, for Cyrus was a Messiah, according to the prophecy in the Book of Isaiah (45:1).

Babylonia revolted against the Persians in the time of Darius the Great (see below, the Bisitun inscription of Darius, par. 18 and 52), but its rebellions were quashed. In 482 King Xerxes I (486-465, Persian Kshayarsha, Hebrew Ahasuerus), the son-successor of Darius, put down a Babylonian revolt, demolished the walls of Babylon, set fire to the temple Esagila, and melted the huge gold statue of Marduk. Darius and Xerxes both attacked Greece, but failed to incorporate it into the Persian empire. Eventually, in 330 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and took over their empire.

Editions and Translations

The cylinder text is edited by W. Eilers in Acta Iranica, 2 (Leiden 1974), 25-34, with French translation. A more complete text is offered by P.-R. Berger, Der Kyros-Zylinder mit dem Zusatzfragment BIN II Nr. 32 und die akkadischen Personennamen im Danielbuch, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 64 (1975) 192-234. In volume 1 of Acta Iranica (Leiden 1974), 29-44, Janos Harmatta shows that the Cyrus cylinder is modelled on a similar cylinder of Ashurbanipal of Assyria (668-627), and in fact the Cyrus text (in its fragmentary last lines) mentions an inscription of Ashurbanipal, in a context of restoring fortifications of Babylon.

English translations:

A.L. Oppenheim, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 315;

T. Fish, in Documents from Old Testament Times (ed. D. Winton Thomas, 1958) 92-94.


1. The Bisitun Rock Inscription

1.      I am Darius (Dârayavaush), Great King, King of Kings, King of Persia, King of Nations; son of Hystaspes (Vishtâspa), grandson of Arsames (Arshâma), an Akhaemenian (Hakhâmanishiya).

2.      King Darius says: My father was Hystaspes (Vishtâspa);

         Hystaspes' father was Arsames (Arshâma);

         Arsames' father was Ariaramnes (Ariyâramna);

         Ariamnes' father was Teispes (Chishpish);

         Teispes' father was Akhaemenes (Hakhâmanish).

3.      King Darius says: For that reason we are called Akhaemenians; from of old we have been nobly born, from of old our family have been kings.

4.      King Darius says: Eight in our family were kings before me; I am the ninth; nine in succession we have been kings.

5.      King Darius says: By the will* of Auramazdâ I am king; Auramazdâ bestowed kingship on me.                  *vashna 'wish'

6.      King Darius says: These are the countries that came to me; by the will of Auramazdâ I am king over them: Persia, Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, those by the Sea, Sardis, Ionia, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Khorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arakhosia, Maka; twenty-three countries in all.

7.      King Darius says: These are the countries that came to me; by the will of Auramazdâ they became my subjects; they brought tribute to me; whatever was said to them by me, by day or by night, that was done.

8.      King Darius says: Within these countries, the loyal vassal I rewarded well; the one who was evil I punished severely; by the will of Auramazdâ these countries respected my law; as it was said to them by me, so was it done.

9.      King Darius says: Auramazdâ bestowed kingship* on me; Auramazdâ brought me help, till I gained possession of this kingdom*; by the will of Auramazdâ I hold this empire*.        *khshaça 'kingship' or 'kingdom' (Sanskrit kshatra 'dominion, rule')

The Rebellion of Gaumâta the Magian

10     King Darius says: This is what was done by me after I became king. A son of Cyrus (Kûrush), named Cambyses (Kambûjiya), of our family, was king here. That Cambyses had a brother, named Smerdis (Bardiya), of the same mother and father as Cambyses. Now Cambyses slew this Smerdis. But when Cambyses slew Smerdis, it was not made known to the people that Smerdis was slain. Thereupon Cambyses went into Egypt (Mudrâya). After Cambyses had gone into Egypt, the people became hostile, and Deceit* increased in the land, in Persia, and in Media, and in other provinces too.

                      *drauga, the 'Lie' or 'Deceit', mentioned in Zarathustra's teaching

11.    King Darius says: Subsequently a man named Gaumâta, a Magian (magush), raised a rebellion in Paishiyâuvâdâ, at the mountain named Arakadrish; fourteen days of the month Viyakhna were past when he raised a rebellion. He lied to the people: I am Smerdis, son of Cyrus, brother of Cambyses. Thereafter all the people became rebellious, and from Cambyses they went over to him, Persia and Media, and other provinces too. He seized the kingdom. Nine days of the month Garmapada were past when he seized the kingdom. Thereupon Cambyses died by his own hand.

12.    King Darius says: This kingdom which Gaumâta the Magian took from Cambyses, belonged to our family from of old; then Gaumâta the Magian took it from Cambyses; he took to himself Persia and Media, and other provinces, he made them his own possession, he became king.

13.    King Darius says: There was not a man, not a Persian, not a Mede, nor anyone of our family, who would take the kingdom from Gaumâta the Magian. The people feared him greatly, for slaying many of those who had known the previous Smerdis. For this reason he slew them, so that no one would know that he was not Smerdis son of Cyrus. No one dared say anything against Gaumâta the Magian until I came. I then prayed to Auramazdâ; Auramazdâ brought me help; ten days of the month Bâgayâdi were past when I, with a few men, slew that Gaumâta the Magian and those who were his foremost followers. The fortress named Sikayauvatish, in the district named Nisaya in Media, that is where I slew him. I took the kingdom from him; by the will of Auramazdâ I became king; Auramazdâ bestowed kingship on me.

14.    King Darius says: The kingdom that had been taken away from our family, I regained; I established it on its foundation as before. I rebuilt the temples that Gaumâta the Magian had destroyed. To the people I restored the pastures and the herds, the household slaves and the houses that Gaumâta the Magian had taken away from them. I established the people in their places, Persia and Media, and other provinces, as before. I brought back what had been taken away. By the will of Auramazdâ I did this; I laboured until I had established our royal house on its foundation as before; I laboured by the will of Auramazdâ, so that Gaumâta the Magian did not remove our royal house. . . .

The Rebellion of Nidintu-Bêl

16.    Thereafter a Babylonian named Nidintu-Bêl (Nadintabaira), son of Ainaira, rose up in Babylon. He deceived the people by saying that he was Nebukadressar (Nabukudrachara) the son of Nabunaid (Nabunaita). . . . He seized the kingdom of Babylon. . . .

18.    The army of Nidintu-Bêl held the Tigris, . . . and it was unfordadable. I transported my army across with (inflated) skins, or by camel, or by horses. . . .

19.    At a town named Zâzâna, beside the Euphrates, . . . Nidintu-Bêl, who called himself Nebukadressar, came against me with an army. . . . By the will of Auramazdâ I utterly overthrew that army of Nidintu-Bêl. The remainder were hurled into the water, and it carried them away. . . .

20.    King Darius says: Nidintu-Bêl then fled to Babylon with a few horsemen. I went on to Babylon also. By the will of Auramazdâ I seized Babylon and took Nidintu-Bêl prisoner. I slew that Nidintu-Bêl in Babylon. . . .

The Rebellion of Phraortes

31.    King Darius says: Then I went forth from Babylon and came into Media. When I arrived in Media, in a town named Kundurush, there this Phraortes (Fravartish) who called himself king in Media came with an army against me to offer battle. When we joined battle Auramazdâ brought me help; by the will of Auramazdâ I utterly overthrew the army of Phraortes; twenty-five days of the month Adukanaisha* were past when we fought the battle.  *Akkadian Nisannu, in springtime

32.    King Darius says: Thereupon this Phraortes fled with a few horsemen to a district in Media named Raga. Then I sent an army in pursuit. Phraortes was seized and brought to me. I cut off his nose and ears and tongue, and put out one eye; he was kept fettered at my gate for all to see. Subsequently I impaled him at Ecbatana (Hagmatana); and the men who were his foremost followers I hung up* in the fortress. . . .          

                      *after flaying, their skins were stuffed with straw and exposed to public view

The Rebellion in Parthia

35.    King Darius says: Parthia (Parthava) and Hyrcania (Varkâna) rebelled against me, declared themselves on the side of Phraortes (Fravartish). My father Hystaspes (Vishtâspa) was in Parthia; the people forsook him, became rebellious. Thereupon Hystaspes went forth with the army that had remained faithful to him. At a town named Vishpauzâtish, in Parthia, he joined battle with the Parthians. Auramazdâ brought me help; by the will of Auramazdâ, Hystaspes utterly defeated the rebel army; twenty-two days of the month Viyakhna were past, when the battle was fought by them. . . .

The Victories of King Darius

52.    King Darius says: This is what I did by the will of Auramazdâ in one and the same year, after I became king: nineteen battles I fought, and by the will of Auramazdâ I overthrew and captured nine kings.

(1)     One was named Gaumâta, a Magian; he lied, saying he was Smerdis (Bardiya), son of Cyrus (Kurush); he made Persia rebellious.

(2)     One was named Âsina, an Elamite (Ûvjiya); he lied, saying he was king in Elam (Ûvja); he made Elam rebellious.

(3)     One was named Nidintu-Bêl, a Babylonian; he lied, saying he was Nebukadressar, son of Nabunaid; he made Babylonia rebellious.

(4)     One was named Martiya, a Persian; he lied, saying he was Imanish, king in Elam; he made Elam rebellious.

(5)     One was named Phraortes (Fravartish), a Mede; he lied saying he was Khshathrita, of the family of Cyaxares; he made Media rebellious.

(6)     One was named Chisantakhma, a Sagartian; he lied, saying he was  king in Sagartia, of the family of Cyaxares (Uvakhshtra); he made Sagartia rebellious.

(7)     One was named Frâda, a Margian; he lied, saying he was king in Margiana; he made Margiana rebellious.

(8)     One was named Vahyazdâta, a Persian; he lied, saying he was  Smerdis, son of Cyrus; he made Persia rebellious.

(9)     One was named Arkha, an Armenian (Arminiya); he lied, saying he was Nebukadressar, son of Nabunaid; he made Babylonia rebellious.

53.    King Darius says: These nine kings I took prisoner in these battles.

The Dangers of Deceit

54.    King Darius says: These provinces that rebelled, Deceit* made them rebellious, so that these men deceived the people. Subsequently Auramazdâ delivered them into my hand; I dealt with them according to my desire**.     *drauga    **kâma

55.    King Darius says: You who shall be king hereafter, guard yourself carefully against Deceit*; the man who is deceitful, punish him severely, if you are thinking, May my land be secure.     *the evil force opposed to Ahura Mazda

56.    King Darius says: This is what I did, by the will of Auramazdâ; in one year I did it. You who shall hereafter read this inscription, let what I have done be believed; do not think it to be deceit.

57.    King Darius says: I hasten to appeal to Auramazdâ, that it is true and not false, what I did in one year.

58.    King Darius says: By the will of Auramazdâ there is also much else done by me which has not been engraved in this inscription; it has not been written down, lest he who shall hereafter read this inscription should think what has been done by me is too much and will not believe it, but take it to be falsehood. . . .

The Blessing and Cursing

60.    King Darius says: Now let what I have done convince you; publish it to the people, do not conceal it; if you do not conceal this statement, but publish it to the people, then may Auramazdâ be a friend to you, may you have offspring in abundance, and long life.

61.    King Darius says: If you should conceal this statement, and not publish it to the people, then may Auramazdâ be an antagonist to you, and may you have no offspring.

62.    King Darius says: What I did in the one year I did by the will of Auramazdâ; Auramazdâ brought me help, and the other gods* that there are.    *bagâha

63.    King Darius says: The reason why Auramazdâ (the god of the Aryans)* brought me help, and the other gods that there are, is that I was not evil,  I was not deceitful, I was not a wrong-doer, neither I nor my family. With rectitude I conducted myself; neither to the weak nor to the powerful did I do wrong. Whoever helped my house, I rewarded him well; whoever did harm, I punished him severely. *'the god of the Aryans' added in  Elamite text

64.    King Darius says: You who are king hereafter, the man who is deceitful or a wrong-doer, to him do not be a friend; punish him severely.

65.    King Darius says: You who shall hereafter see this inscription which I have engraved, or these pictures*, do not destroy them but preserve them for as long as you are in good strength.    *patikarâ

66.    King Darius says: If you shall see this inscription, or these pictures, and not destroy them, but preserve them for as long as your strength lasts, may Auramazdâ be a friend to you, may you have offspring in abundance, and long may you live; and whatever you do may Auramazdâ make it successful for you.

67.    King Darius says: If you shall see this inscription or these pictures, and shall destroy them, and not preserve them for as long as your strength lasts, then may Auramazdâ be an antagonist to you, and may you have no offspring; and whatever you do may Auramazdâ utterly undo for you. . . .

The Conclusion of the Inscription

70.    King Darius says: By the will of Auramazdâ this is the inscription that I made. In addition, it was composed in Aryan on clay tablets and on parchment; furthermore, I made a sculptured image of myself*; moreover, I gave my lineage. It was inscribed and read out before me. Afterwards I sent this inscription everywhere through the provinces. The people worked upon it unitedly.        *cp. the Susa statue inscriptions (No 3 below)

The Addition to the Inscription

71.    King Darius says: This is what I did in the second and third year after I became king. The province named Elam (Uvja) became rebellious. A man named Atamaita, an Elamite, they made their leader. Thereupon I sent forth an army. A man named Gobryas (Gaubaruva), a Persian, my servant, I made their leader. After that, Gobryas marched forth with the army to Elam; he joined battle with the Elamites. Then Gobryas smote and crushed the Elamites, and he captured their leader. He brought him to me, and I slew him. Thereupon the land became mine.

72.    King Darius says: Those Elamites were faithless and Auramazdâ was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Auramazdâ; by the will of Auramazdâ I did to them according to my desire.

73.    King Darius says: Whoever worships Auramazdâ, divine blessing shall be upon him, while alive and when dead.

74.    King Darius says: Thereafter with an army I went to Scythia (Saka), against the Scythians, who wear the pointed cap; these Scythians went from me. When I arrived at the sea, I crossed over it with all my army. Then I utterly defeated the Scythians; another leader I captured, who was brought in fetters to me, and I slew him, their leader named Skunkha, he it was that they seized and brought to me. Then I made another man their leader, according to my desire. Thereupon the land became mine.

75.    King Darius says: Those Scythians were faithless and Auramazdâ was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Auramazdâ; and by the grace of Auramazdâ I did to them according to my desire.


The Bisitun Monument of Darius the Great

(A) Relief sculptures, life-size of the king, but his enemies are puny; one enemy is under his foot; last in the tied line is Skunkha the Scythian (conical hat). Ahura Mazda hovers in the winged sun-disk.

(B) Persian inscription in the new Persian cuneiform alphabet.of thirty-nine characters; and additions at A.

(C) Akkadian translation in the Babylonian cuneiform syllabary.

(D) Elamite translation in cuneiform syllabic script.

In modern times the inscription was first studied by Sir Henry Rawlinson. In 1847 he made a copy of it, though with great difficulty as the monument is carved into the rock at a height of over 300 feet; he resorted to a bosun's chair. Most recently, in 1948 and 1957, George Cameron erected modern scaffolding and obtained latex squeezes of the texts, and photographs of the reliefs. His work on cleaning the face of the rock uncovered parts of the writing that had been hidden from previous researchers.

2. The Suez Canal Inscriptions

(1)     Auramazdâ is a great god, who created the earth below, who created the sky above, who created humankind*, who created happiness for humankind, who made Darius king....                            *(martiya, mortals)

 (2)    King Darius (Dârayavaush) says: I am a Persian; from Persia (Pârsa ) I seized Egypt (Mudrâya); I ordered that this canal should be dug, from the river named Pirâva*, which flows in Egypt, to the sea which extends from Persia. *(Coptic Piero, 'the Great River',  Nile)

(3)     This canal was then dug, as I had ordered, and ships passed through this canal from Egypt to Persia, according to  my desire*.   *kâma

3. The Susa Statue Inscriptions

 Persian, Elamite, Akkadian

(1)     Auramazdâ is a great god, who created the earth below, who created the sky above, who created humankind*, who created happiness for humankind, who made Darius king.       *(martiya, mortals)

(2)     This is the statue of stone that King Darius ordered to be made in Egypt, so that in the future whoever sees it will know that the Persian holds Egypt. . . .

Hieroglyphic Egyptian

(1)     The good god, acting with his own hand, the sovereign ruler of the two crowns of north and south, who inspires fear in human hearts. . . . The son of [Rey?], offspring of the god Atum, the living image of Rey, who set him on his own throne to continue what he himself had begun here below.

(2)     The good god, who rejoices in Truth (Ma‘at), chosen by Atum the Lord of On (Heliopolis) to be the master of all that is encompassed by the Aton (sun-disk), because he recognizes him as his his son and his agent.  He has ordered him to conquer each of the Two Lands*; and the goddess Neith has given him the bow she wields, to overthrow all his enemies, doing as she had done for the benefit of her son Rey, at the first time**, so that he is strong to repulse those who rebel against him, to subdue those who rebel against him in the Two Lands*. *(Upper and Lower Egypt)

                                                         **(at the beginning of time, at the time of the creation of the world)

(3)     The mighty king, great in prestige, master of power like the Ruler of Khem (Letopolis)*, master of his own hand, who crushes the Nine Bows**, whose counsel is effective, whose plans succeed; master of his own arm, when he enters the fray, shooting exactly so that his arrow never misses the mark, his power being like that of the god Montu.

          *Horus Khenty-irty, presiding deity  of Letopolis, Ausim, in the Delta, NW of Memphis                        **foreign nations

(4)     King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Darius*, may he live forever, the Great, King of kings, supreme lord over the entire earth; son of the father-of-god Vishtaspa, the Akhemenid, who has appeared as king of Upper and Lower Egypt on the seat where Horus reigns over the living, like Rey at the head of the gods, eternally.

                      *(hieroglyphic NT-R-Y-W-SH)


         This is a selection of royal inscriptions bequeathed to posterity by Darius II, ruler of the Persian empire in the sixth century BCE; his reign commenced in the year 522, and he was succeeded by his son Xerxes I in 486. Darius was a descendent of Akhaemenes, as was Cyrus and his son and successor Cambyses II; but Darius came from a different branch of the Akhaemenids; he states his royal lineage at the beginning of the Bisitun inscription.

1. The Bisitun Rock Inscription


         The monumental inscription of King Darius the Great, engraved on the Behistun Rock (or Mount Bisitun, Old Persian Baga-stana, 'God-place'), is not only a landmark on the highway between Teheran (in Iran, ancient Persia) and Baghdad (in Iraq, ancient Babylonia), but it is also a landmark on the road leading to the decipherment of several ancient scripts. The words of Darius are recorded in the cuneiform writing used by the ancient Babylonians, but in three different languages: his own Old Persian, with versions in Babylonian (Akkadian) and Elamite. Like the Rosetta Stone which gave the key to Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, this trilingual inscription of Darius opened the door to the mysterious cuneiform texts of ancient West Asia. An Aramaic translation has also survived in a damaged state (cp. par.70). Aramaic was the international diplomatic language of the Persian empire, and it was written in ink on perishable materials using the Semitic alphabet. It originally told of the many battles in his first regnal year, but further exploits were added to it later.


         An interesting religious point is that while Darius seems to be devoted to Auramazda (Ahura Mazda) alone, he suddenly dispels any notion of monotheism by mentioning 'the other gods' (62-63). Some of the gods acknowledged by Darius are named in the Egyptian text of the Susa statue of the king. Ahura Mazda is portrayed in the sculptured pictures accompanying the Bisitun inscription; he is in the style of a Persian king, flying in the winged sun-disk that was originally borrowed from Egypt.


         Note that the king who preceded Darius (his father) was Vishtaspa (Greek: Hystaspes). This was also the name of the benefactor of the prophet Zarathushtra. Were they the same person, or was this simply a recurring name among Iranian rulers? The consequent question is, whether Zarathushtra lived in the sixth century BCE or much earlier.

         Edition and Translation

         The text used for the above translation from the Old Persian is found (with Cameron's new readings) in Roland G. Kent, Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd edn (New Haven 1953), 116-134.


2. The Suez Canal Inscriptions

         This is one of the Old Persian inscriptions found at Suez in Egypt, which records the digging of a Suez canal in the 5th century BCE. Its religious interest is that it has Ahura Mazda as the Creator of the world and of humankind

         Edition and Translation

         R.G. Kent, Old Persian  (1953) 147

3. The Susa Statue Inscriptions

         This is part of the text inscribed on a (headless) statue of Darius the Great. The main inscription is in Egyptian (hieroglyphs), but there is also an introductory note in three other languages, namely Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian, as on the Behistun Rock (see the notes on text 1). Unlike the Suez canal inscriptions, it was not discovered in Egypt but in Iran, at Susa, near a palace of Darius the Great. Most of the texts are inscribed on the folds of the king's robe. The surprising feature of this document is the incorporation of Darius into the framework of the royal theology of Heliopolis, as son of Atum-Rey. Note that the ancient Greek historian Herodotos (II, 110) has Darius visiting Egypt and speaking to the high priest of Ptah about placing a Darius staue in the temple at Memphis.

         Edition and Translations

         François Vallat, L'inscription cunéiforme trilingue (DSab), Journal Asiatique 260 (1972) 247-251 (French translation without original text).
        Jean Yoyotte, Les inscriptions hiéroglyphiques; Darius et l'Egypte, Journal Asiatique
  260 (1972) 253-266 (hieroglyphic text and French translation).