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Old Persian Sample
O man, that which is the command of Ahuramazda, let this not seem repugnant to thee; do not leave the right path; do not rise in rebellion.
martiya: hya: auramazdaha: framana: hauv
taiy: gasta: ma: qadaya: paqim: tyam: rasta
m: ma: avarada: ma: stabava
Darius, Naqy-i-Rustam. (DNa)
(Old Persian, Roland G. Kent, New Haven, 1953)

2) The Script of old Persian
The Script of the old Persian inscription is, as we have said, of the cuneiform type: that is, the characters are made of strokes which can be impressed on soft materials by a stylus having an angled end. The OP inscriptions, being on hard materials, must have been made with engraving tools with which the strokes impressed on soft materials were imitated. There was no tradition from antiquity as to the significance of the characters, nor was any OP inscription accompanied by a version in a previously known system of writing; modern scholars were therefore obliged to start from the very beginning in the task of decipherment.

Early steps in the decipherment. OP inscriptions and writing are mentioned in a number of ancient authors, from Herodotus onward, and are remarked upon and described by certain modern travelers early in the seventeenth century, who published parts of inscriptions from Persepolis in the accounts of their travels. The first inscription to be piblished in complete form was DPc(Darius, Persepolis c), given by Chardin in 1711. Better copies of several were given in 1778 by Carsen Niebuhr, who recognized that the inscriptions were composed in three systems of writing, and that the writing ran from left to right: the direction of the writing was shown by two copies of XPe(Xerxes, Persepolis e) with somewhat differing line-divisions. O.G. Tychsen in 1798 discovered that the three systems of writing represented three different languages, and that a recurring diagonal wedge in the simplest of the three types was a word-divider; but he wrongly assigned the inscriptions to the Parthian period. Friedrich Muenter in 1802 indepently identified the word-divider, and thought that a frequently recurring series of characters must be the word for 'king'; he assigned that inscriptions to the Achaemenian period.

G.F. Grotefend of Frankfurt in 1802 applied himself to the problem of the decipherment, and by a comparison of DPa and XPe(in Niebuhr's copies) he made the fist real progress. He assumed that the inscriptions were inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings, that they consisted essentially of the names and titles of the kings, and that those in the simplest type of writing were in Persian, closely resembling the language of the Avesta. He was helped by Silvestre de Sacy's recent decipherment of the royal titles in Pahlavi,'..., great king, king of kings, king of Iran and non-Iran ,son of ..., great king,' etc., which guided him as to what to expect. To facilitate the exposition, we set the two inscriptions in parallel columns:


Darayavauy :
xyayaqiya : vazraka :
xyayaqiya :
                  xyayaqiyanam :
xyayaqiya : dahyunam :
Viytaspahya :

puVa :  Haxamaniyiya :
hya : imam : tacaram : 


xyayarya :
xyayaqiya : vazraka :
xyayaqiya :
                  xyayaqiyanam :

Darayavhauy :
puVa :  Haxamaniyiya :

Grotefend recognized correctly that the names of two different kings were followed by titles, 'great king, king of kings', and then a third similar title in the one which was lacking in the other; that then followed the name of the king's father, who was the same person in one inscription as the king in the other, and that in the other the fother did not bear the title king. He decided upon Darius, whose father Hystaspes had not been king, rather than under Cyrus, since Cyrus and his father Cambyses had names beginning with the same letter whereas the corresponding two names in the inscription began with different characters; he thought the name of Artaxerxes to be too long. Thus he saw in the three names Hystaspes, Darius, Xerxes, in the transliteration of which he used the later Iranian pronunciations:


g      o      sch      t      a      s      p
d      a        r        h      e      u     sch
kh     sch    h        a      r     sch     a


vi      i      ya      ta      a      sa      pa     
da     a      ra      ya     va      u       ya
xa     ya     ya      a      ra       ya      a

Thus he had identified, for all but the inherent a the characters a, u, x (his kh), t, d, p, r, s, y (his sch), and elsewhere he identified f. But his reliance on the later pronunciations misled him sorely, and of the 22 different signs in DPa and XPe he got only 10 correctly, and even for two of these he admitted two values each (a and e, p and b). Apart from the three names, 'king' and 'great' were the only words which he idetified correctly; later (1815) he identified the name 'Cyrus' in CMa(Cyrus, Murghab a). But the remainder of his readings, even in these inscriptions, is sorry stuff, and he could never realize in later years that the foundations which he had laid had been built upon and improved.

G.F. Grotefend

Abstracted from : Old Persian, Roland G. Kent, New Haven, 1953

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