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The ancient Persian alphabet


When the Persian king Darius I the Great (522-486) ordered the Behistun inscription to be made, he also ordered the making of a special, Persian alphabet, which he called 'the Aryan script'. It consists of thirty-six signs indicating syllables and eight ideograms for the words 'king', 'country' (2x) 'good', 'god', 'earth', and 'Ahuramazda' (3x). A slanting wedge (\) is used as a word divider.

This alphabet was mainly used for royal inscriptions; the last text in the 'Aryan script' can be dated to the fourth century BCE.

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The signs

A
I
U
KA
   
KU
XA
       
GA
   
GU
CA
       
JA
JI
   
TA
   
TU
THA
       
ÇA
 
 
 
 
 DA
 DI
DU
 NA
 
 
NU
 PA
 
 
 
 
 FA
 
 
 
 
 BA
 
 
 
 
 MA
MI 
MU 
YA 
 
 
 
 
 RA
 
 
RU 
LA
 
 
 
 
 VA
VI 
 
 
SA
 
 
 
 
 ŠA
 
 
 
 
 ZA
 
 
 
 
 HA
 
 
 
 
xšâyathiya
'king'
dahyâuš
'country'
dahyâuš
'country'
Ahura
Mazda
Ahura
Mazda
Ahura
Mazda
(genitive)
bûmiš
'earth'
baga
'god'
   
one
two
three
ten
twenty
fourty
hundred
       

 

Inscription DPa from the palace of Darius, Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins.
Inscription DPa
from Persepolis

An example (DPa)

Inscription on the doorposts of the inner room of the Palace of Darius I the Great in Persepolis, above figures of the king and attendants.

Drawing of inscription DPa.

da-a-ra-ya-va-u-ša \ xa-ša-a-ya-tha-i-ya \
va-za-ra-ka \ xa-ša-a-ya-tha-i-ya \ xa-ša-a-
ya-tha-i-ya-a-na-a-ma \ xa-ša-a-ya-tha-i-ya \
da-ha-ya-u-na-a-ma \ vi-i-ša-ta-a-sa-pa-ha-ya-
a \ pa-u-ça \ ha-xa-a-ma-na-i-ša-i-ya \ ha-
ya \ i-ma-ma \ ta-ça-ra-ma \ a-ku-u-na-u-ša

Dârayavauš xšâyathiya
vazraka xšâyathiya xšâ-
yâthiânâm xšâyathiya
dahyunâm Vištâspahy-
a puça Haxâmanišiya
hya imam taçaram akunauš

Darius, the king
great, king of ki-
ngs, king of 
countries, Hystasp-
es' son, an Achaemenid,
who built this palace.

Darius, the great king, king of kings, king of countries, Hystaspes' son, an Achaemenid, built this palace.

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