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Persepolis Fortification Tablets

One of the Persepolis Fortification tablets (Pg798). From H. Koch, Es kündet Dareios der König (1992).
Fortification tablet #798 (from
H. Koch, Es kündet Dareios der König, 1992; ©!!!)
Persepolis fortification tablets: large collection of ancient Persian cuneiform administrative texts, written between 506 and 497 BCE. They are one of the most important sources for the study of the administration of the Achaemenid empire.

Persepolis was one of the capitals of the ancient Persian empire, founded by king Darius I the Great in 518 BCE. It was excavated by the Oriental Institute of Chicago: Ernst Herzfeld and F. Schmidt were working in Persepolis from 1931 to 1939. During the excavations, two archives of cuneiform texts were discovered.

The smallest set of tablets is called the Persepolis Treasury Tablets. There are 139 of them, and they describe payments in silver between 492 and 458.

The collection that is known as the Persepolis Fortification Tabletsis older and larger: there are 20,000 to 25,000 of them, belonging to about 15,000-18,000 documents. Not all tablets have been published; after decades of neglect, the project was started again in 2002 (more).

The Persepolis Fortification Tablets were written in Elamite, the language of the Persian chancellery, and deal with economic transactions (in kind) up till 493 BCE. Only a couple of them are in Aramaic, Phrygian, Old Persian, or Greek. The men in charge of them were Pharnaces and his deputy Ziššawiš. One example:

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

130 liters of barley from the possessions of Amavrta have been received by Barîk-'El as his rations. Given in the town of Ithema, in the twenty-first year [of Darius] in the month Shibar [November/December 501].
[PFT 798]

The ration received by Barîk-'El was some sort of payment for a service he had done to his king. Tablets like these help us understand the administration of the Persian empire. We also know about the issue of passports, orders for payments of silver and gold to the chief treasurer (ganzabara), and the dispatching of judges, accountants, caravans and teams of country laborers.


  • P. Briant, W.F.M. Henkelman, M.Stolper (eds.), L'archive des fortifications de Persépolis. État des questions et perspectives de recherches (2008)

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