Behistun Inscription

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Behistun Inscription

Behistun Inscription (bāhĭsto͞onˈ, bə–, bēhĭsˈto͝on) or Bisutun Inscription (bēso͞oto͞onˈ, bēsə–), cuneiform text, the decipherment of which was the key to all cuneiform script and opened to scholars the study of the written works of ancient Mesopotamia. The inscription in Old Persian, in Susian (the Iranian language of Elam), and in Assyrian is chiseled on the face of a mountainous rock c.300 ft (90 m) above the ground at Behistun, Persia (modern W Iran). A bas-relief depicting Darius I with a group of captive chiefs is carved together with the inscription. Although the rock was known in ancient times (Diodorus attributed the carvings to Semiramis), it was not until 1835 that Sir Henry Rawlinson scaled it and copied the inscriptions. Rawlinson translated the Persian section of the inscription, which later led to the entire decipherment of the Assyrian text.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Behistun Inscription


an inscription of the ancient Persian king Darius I (ruled 522–486 B.C.), cut on the cliff of Behistun Rock (Bisitun, Bisotun), in the territory of present-day Iran, approximately 100 km west of Hamadan. The inscription consists of the so-called great inscription and a series of small ones. The former is divided into three large texts with identical content, written respectively in three types of cuneiform in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. The inscription first became accessible after H. Rawlinson copied it in 1835–47 and substantially deciphered it. The Persian cuneiform text supplied the key to the cuneiform writing of other ancient eastern peoples.

The content of the Behistun inscription provides the official version of events unfolding in the Achaemenid state after the death of Cyrus II, chiefly from 522 to 519 B.C. The inscription tells of the rebellion of the magus Gaumata, his murder by conspirators from the Persian aristocracy, and the crowning of Darius I. It also describes subsequent rebellions and their suppression and the campaign of Darius I in Middle Asia.


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Dandamaev, M. A. “Bekhistunskaia nadpis’ i antichnye avtory o Bardii—Gaumate.” Kratkie soobshcheniia In-ta narodov Azii AN SSSR, 1962, issue 46.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.