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Darius the Great
Old Persian Sample
A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man.
1 baga : vazraka : Auramazda : hya : ima
2 m : bumim : adada : hya : avam : as
3 manam : adada : hya : martiyam : ada
4 da : hya : yiyatim : adada : mart iyahya
Description of the inscription: Darius, Susa e(DSe): On restoration of Order in the Empire; 10 old Persian fragments, representing several copies; 3 Elamite fragments; one nearly complete Akkadian copy and two partial Akk. copies, all on tablets.
(Old Persian, Roland G. Kent, New Haven, 1953)

Old Persian

1) The linguistic setting of old Persian
Old Persian is the name applied to the Persian language used in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaemenian dynasty; it can be localized as the language of the southwestern Persia, or Persis in the narrower sense, and was the vernacular speech of the Achaemenian rulers. The OP inscriptions are commonly accompanied also by translations into Elamite and Accadian, engraved in other types of cuneiform writing, and sometimes by an Aramaic version or an Egyptian hieroglyphic version. Linguistically, OP belongs to the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian or Aryan, which is one of the main divisions of the Indo-European family of languages.

The Iranianian Languages are, like many other sets of languages, divisible on a chronological basis into three periods: Old Persian, Middle Iranian, and New Iranian.
Old Iranian includes two languages represented by texts, Old Persian and Avestan, and a number of other dialects which are but very slighty known.
Old Persian is known by inscriptional texts found in Persis, at Persepolis and the nearby Naqsh-i Rustam and Murghab (Pasargadae); in Elam, at Susa; in Media, at Hamadan and the not too distant Behistan and Elvend; in Armenia, at Van; and along the line of the Suez Canal. They are mainly inscriptions of Darius the Great (521-486 b.c.) and Xerxes (486-65); but others, mostly in a corrupted from the language, carry the line down to Artaxerxes III (359-38).

Among the less known Old Iranian languages the most important was Median, known only from glosses, place and personal names, and its developments in Middle Persian, apart from borrowings in OP, which are of considerable importance for the understanding of OP itself. Others were the language of the Carduchi, presumably the linguistic ancestor of modern Kurdish; Partian, later the language of a great empire which contended against Rome in the time just before and after the beginning ot the Christian era; Sogdian in the northeast, ancestor of the medieval Sogdian; Scythian, the language or languages of the varius tribes known in OP as Saka, located to the east of the Caspian and north of Parthia and Sogdiana, but also to the west of the Caspian on the steppes north of the Euxine Sea (Black Sea).

Dialect mixture in the old Persian inscriptions. Like most or perhaps all other series of documents, the OP inscriptions are not in pure OP dialect, free from admixture from outside. They contain the expected borrowings of names of persons and places, and presumably of some cultural materials. The Aq ura 'Assyria', Babiruy 'Babylon',Mudraya 'Egypt' are from semitic; Izala (a district in Assyria), Dubala (a district in Babylonia), Labanana 'Mt. Lebanon', Haldita- (name of an Armenian) betray their non-Iranian character by l; a few words lack of convincing IE etymology, such as sinkabruy 'carnelian', q armiy 'timber', yaka (a kind of wood), skauq iy 'weak, lowly', or are obvious borrowings, such as mayka- 'inflated skin' from Aramaic. But the main outside influence is that of the Median dialect, seen in phonetic and lexical differences, perhaps also in variant grammatical forms. Aramaic also seems to have had a certain influences on the phrasing and the syntax. There is no evidence that OP itself, at the time of the inscriptions, possessed a literature of any kind apart from these inscriptions themselves.

The Median Dialect was the language of the great Median Empire, which at the death of Cyaxares in 584 extended from Iran to the Halys River; the last Median ruler was Astyages son of Cyaxares, who in 559 was conquered and deposed by his grandson Cyrus, son of Cambyses King of Persis and of Mandane daughter of Astyages. The new ruler naturally took over the Median chancellery and the Median royal titles, and their influence is still seen in the language of the OP inscriptions of Darius and his followers.

Aramaic Influence. Aramaic, a Semitic language, was the international language of southwestern Asia from the middle of the eighth century B.C.; speaker of Aramaic were in charge of all archives for some centuries thereafter. As OP had no developed literary style at the time of the inscriptions, it is to be expected that the style of the inscriptions should reflect the style of Aramaic; and it does. Notable are the short sentences, with repetition of all essential words; certain of the official titles; and the anacoluthic definition of place and personal names.

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

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