Deciphering Cuneiform




The Behistun Inscription The inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian . The inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script.

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After the last use of cuneiform in the first century A.D. it quickly became forgotten . Not a word of any form of cuneiform could still be read, and  when in the seventeenth century ad reports reached the West of a wedge shaped form of writing on the ancient stones of the Middle East, some  scholars refused to believe that it could actually be a kind of writing.  Today we can read the inscriptions of Darius the Great, the astronomy  of the Babylonians, the laws of the Akkadian kings, and the myths of  the Sumerians. How did this happen?


 The ego of the Persian king Darius (521-486 B.C.) played a not  insignificant role in the decipherment of cuneiform. Darius had his  exploits and decrees inscribed in various public places in and around  his new capital city, Persepolis. His son Xerxes (486-465 B.C.) followed  his example. To ensure that no one missed the point, the inscriptions  were written out in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and  Babylonian Akkadian. But even the glory of kings passes. In the seventeenth century and no one could read a word of Darius' and Xerxes' boasts. No one knew  who had written them, what three languages they were in, or even that  they were in three different languages.


Major Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895, a servant of the East India Company, with a good knowledge of Persian, went to Persia for the purpose of assisting to organize the native army there. oTurning his attention to the inscription of Darius at Behistun, high up in the face of the living wall of rock there, Rawlinson succeeded in copying part of it at great personal risk. In 1838 he forwarded his translation of the first two paragraphs of the Persian text, containing the genealogy of Darius, to the Royal Asiatic Society of London. The feat made a tremendous sensation. In 1846 that he pub- lished a series of memoirs in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, in which he gave to the world a translation of the Persian text at Behistun.






Cuneiform in the

Hittite and

Persian Empires


Famous Works

in Cuneiform