“The Lie”
The Behistun Inscription

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By the Grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2009 Nathaniel Segal 
Inscriptions from the Behistun Relief

Darius the Great's Foundation Inscription at Behistun;  engraved in the Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite languages after his third regnal year.

Behistun (also Bisitun, Bisutun, or Bisotun), near the town of Jeyhounabad in western Iran, is on a cliff along the road between today's Hamadān and Kermānshāh [former name Bakhtaran], Iran.

Darius's inscriptions surround a relief that represents his defeat of rebels and would-be usurpers during his first year (lined up on the right).  Two servants or soldiers attend to him on the left side of the relief.

A representation of the god, Ahura Mazda, hovers above the entire scene.

Darius made the inscription and relief inaccessible by removing the mountainside below the relief to make sure that "liars" would not alter his account.

See the beginning of the fourth column – from Jona Lendering or from Joseph H. Peterson – for Darius's account of his first year as Great King.

Also see the beginning of the fourth column on this web site.

Photo above:
© Ab Langereis,
Used with permission †.
Behistun Relief - Inscription from Column 1, 1881

Darius's Behistun Inscription – in the Old Persian cuneiform alphabet which Darius calls the Aryan script.

Column 1, lines 1-15, sketched by Fr. Spiegel (1881).

Picture from Wikipedia †

Translations of Column 4
     Sections 53-70
(from line 31 onward):

  – End of Column 4

The Lie - draugâ

The text of column 4 serves as evidence that Darius the Great was a usurper.  Earlier, Darius had claimed in column 1, section 10 (1.26-35) and onward, that:
"This is what was done by me after I became king.  A son of Cyrus, Cambyses by name, of our family – he was king here;  of that Cambyses there was a brother, Bardiya [Smerdis] by name, having the same mother and the same father as Cambyses.  Afterwards, Cambyses slew that Bardiya.  When Cambyses slew Bardiya, it did not become known to the people that Bardiya had been slain.  Afterwards, Cambyses went to Egypt.  When Cambyses had gone off to Egypt, after that the people became evil.  After that the Lie waxed great in the country, both in Persia and in Medîa * and in the other provinces."

11. (1.35-43.)  Darius the King says:  "Afterwards, there was one man, a Magian, named Gaumata;  he rose up from Paishiyauvada;  a mountain named Arakadri – from there 14 days of the month Viyakhna were past when he rose up.  He lied to the people thus:  'I am Bardiya, the son of Cyrus, brother of Cambyses.'  After that, all the people became rebellious from Cambyses (and) went over to him, both Persia and Medîa and the other provinces.  He seized the kingdom;  of the month Garmapada, 9 days were past, then he seized the kingdom.  After that, Cambyses died [one translation: 'by his own hand'; another: 'of natural causes']".

12. (1.43-8.)  Darius the King says:  "This kingdom which Gaumata the Magian took away from Cambyses, this kingdom from long ago had belonged to our family.  After that, Gaumata the Magian took (it) from Cambyses;  he took to himself both Persia and Medîa and the other provinces, he made (them) his own possession, he became king."

13. (1.48-61.)  Darius the King says:  "There was not a man, neither a Persian nor a Mede nor any one of our family, who might make that Gaumata the Magian deprived of the kingdom.  The people feared him greatly, (thinking that) he would slay in numbers the people who previously had known Bardiya;  for this reason he would slay the people, 'lest they know me, that I am not Bardiya the son of Cyrus'.  Nobody dared say anything about Gaumata, the Magian, until I came.  After that I sought help of Ahuramazda;  Ahuramazda bore me aid;  of the month Bagayadi, 10 days were past, then I, with a few men, slew that Gaumata the Magian, and those who were his foremost followers.  A fortress named Sikayauvati, a district named Nisaya, in Medîa – here I slew him.  I took the kingdom from him.  By the favor of Ahuramazda I became king;  Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me."

14. (1.61-71.)  Darius the King says:  "The kingdom which had been taken away from our family, that I put in its place;  I reestablished it on its foundation.  As before, so I made the sanctuaries which Gaumata the Magian destroyed.  I restored to the people the pastures and the herds, the household slaves and the houses which Gaumata the Magian took away from them.  I reestablished the people on its foundation, both Persia and Medîa and the other provinces.  As before, so I brought back what had been taken away.  By the favor of Ahuramazda this I did:  I strove until I reestablished our royal house on its foundation as (it was) before.  So I strove, by the favor of Ahuramazda, so that Gaumata the Magian did not remove our royal house."

(Adapted from Peterson

Darius's Grandiosity

"I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King in Persia, king of countries . . . an Achaemenian"  (column 1, line 1).

Declaration of Good Kingship
A Foundation Text

In antiquity, conquerors and usurpers often issued a text to present themselves as the rightful ruler after the fall of the previous dynasty.  The Cyrus Cylinder, from Cyrus the Great, shows the common elements of Mesopotamian royal propaganda.  After a short struggle, Cyrus wrested control of Babylon from King Nabonidus.  Themes from Cyrus's text are described below by the British Museum and in an article in Wikipedia.

According to the British Museum, the text of the ". . . cylinder . . . reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC[E], kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms."

From Wikipedia:

The Cyrus cylinder, also known as the Cyrus the Great cylinder, is a document issued by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script.  The cylinder was created following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC[E], when Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian king Nabonidus and replaced him as ruler, ending the Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The text of the cylinder denounces Nabonidus as impious and portrays the victorious Cyrus as pleasing to the chief Babylonian god Marduk.  It goes on to describe how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries.  (from "Cyrus cylinder", Wikipedia, retrieved March 24, 2009)


The Cyrus Cylinder The Behistun Inscription

Work in progress Cambyses allegedly slew Bardiya, his brother.  Therefore, Cambyses had forfeited his claim to the throne.

"The Lie waxed great in the country."

Gaumata rose up and he lied to the people, saying:  "I am Bardiya, the son of Cyrus, brother of Cambyses."  He seized the kingdom.

"After that, Cambyses died."  Perhaps he was murdered, likely by Darius and his cohorts.  Darius and his cohorts probably murdered Bardiya also.

"The people feared him [Gaumata] greatly, (thinking that) he would slay in numbers the people who previously had known Bardiya."  ". . . lest they know me, that I am not Bardiya, the son of Cyrus."  How many people have ever been able to recognize their rulers?  People witnessed pomp and circumstance and trusted that the crowned figure was their king.

"Nobody dared say anything about Gaumata . . . until I came."  Perhaps because he was really Bardiya.

"Then I, with a few men, slew that Gaumata, the Magian, and those who were his foremost followers."  Likely, a coup d'état.  The few men – Darius's cohorts.

Note: * Media – I prefer a novel spelling, Medîa, to distinguish between the country's name and the English word 'media'.  I also prefer to pronounce this word 'Medîa' with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable – mee DEE ah.  Similarly, I use a related spelling for the name of the ethnicity which is conventionally spelled 'Median' in English – Medîan, also with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable.  (I am satisfied to use 'Mede' for the ethnicity, too.)  Again, I am distinguishing between the ethnic name and the English word 'median'.  However, on these pages with translations from Lendering and Peterson, I have not changed their spellings 'Media' and 'Median' and 'Medea' and 'Medean' respectively.

The links on this page were checked in May 2009.

† Most or all pictures and images on this page have been retouched by Nathaniel Segal, which means digitally altered from their source versions.

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