The Behistun Inscription
In Antiquity, Bagastâna, which means "place where the gods dwell", was the name of a village and a remarkable, isolated rock along the road that connected the capitals of Babylonia and Media, Babylon and Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). Many travellers passed along this place, so it was the logical place for the Persian king Darius I the Great (r.522-486) to proclaim his military victories. He essentially copied an older relief at Sar-e Pol-e Zahab.
The famous Behistun inscription was engraved on a cliff about 100 meters off the ground. Darius tells us how the supreme god Ahuramazda choose him to dethrone an usurper named Gaumâta, how he set out to quell several revolts, and how he defeated his foreign enemies.
The monument consists of four parts.
- A large relief (5½ x 3 meters) depicting king Darius, his bow carrier Intaphrenes and his lance carrier Gobryas. Darius overlooks nine representatives of conquered peoples, their necks tied. A tenth figure, badly damaged, is laying under the king's feet. Above these thirteen people is a representation of the supreme god Ahuramazda. This relief is based on older monuments, further along the road, at Sar-e Pol-e Zahab.
- Underneath is a panel with a cuneiform text in Old Persian, telling the story of the king's conquests (translation). The text consists of four columns and an appendix and has a total length of about 515 lines.
- Another panel telling more or less the same story in Babylonian. The appendix ("column five") is missing.
- A third panel with the same text in Elamite (the language of the administration of the Achaemenid Empire). This translation of the Persian text has a length of 650 lines. Again, the appendix is missing.
In the text Darius describes how the god Ahuramazda choose him to dethrone the usurper Gaumâta (522 BCE). After this event, king Darius set out to quell several revolts. This is also depicted above the text, where we see the god and the king, the slain usurper, and seven men representing seven rebellious people. While artists were making this monument, Darius defeated foreign enemies (520-519 BCE); these victories were duly celebrated by a change in the initial design, adding two new figures to the right.
When the carvings were completed, the ledge below the inscription was removed so that nobody could tamper with the inscriptions. This allowed the monument to survive (and made it impossible for humans to read the texts).