1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Behistun

BEHISTUN, or Bisitun, now pronounced Bisutum, a little village at the foot of a precipitous rock, 1700 ft. high, in the centre of the Zagros range in Persia on the right bank of the Samas-Ab, the principal tributary of the Kerkha (Choaspes). The original form of the name, Bagistana, “place of the gods” or “of God” has been preserved by the Greek authors Stephanus of Byzantium, and Diodorus (ii. 13), the latter of whom says that the place was sacred to Zeus, i.e. Ahuramazda (Ormuzd). At its foot passes the great road which leads from Babylonia (Bagdad) to the highlands of Media (Ecbatana, Hamadan). On the steep face of the rock, some 500 ft. above the plain, Darius I., king of Persia, had engraved a great cuneiform inscription (11 or 12 ft. high), which recounts the way in which, after the death of Cambyses, he killed the usurper Gaumata (in Justin Gometes, the pseudo-Smerdis), defeated the numerous rebels, and restored the kingdom of the Achaemenidae. Above the inscription the picture of the king himself is graven, with a bow in his hand, putting his left foot on the body of Gaumata. Nine rebel chiefs are led before him, their hands bound behind them, and a rope round their necks: the ninth is Skunka, the chief of the Scythians (Sacae) whom he defeated. Behind the king stand his bow-bearer and his lance-bearer; in the air appears the figure of the great god Ahuramazda, whose protection led him to victory.[1] The inscriptions are composed in the three languages which are written with cuneiform signs, and were used in all official inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings: the chief place is of course given to the Persian language (in four columns); the three Susian (Elamitic) columns lie to the left, and the Babylonian text is on a slanting boulder above them; a part of the Babylonian has been destroyed by a torrent, which has made its way over it. In former times the second language has often been called Scythian, Turanian or Median; but we now know from numerous inscriptions of Susa that it is the language of Elam which was spoken in Susa, the capital of the Persian empire.

In 1835 the difficult and almost inaccessible cliff was first climbed by Sir Henry Rawlinson, who copied and deciphered the inscriptions (1835-1845), and thus completed the reading of the old cuneiform text and laid the foundation of the science of Assyriology. Diodorus ii. 13 (cf. xvii. 110), probably following a later author who wrote the history of Alexander’s campaigns, mentions the sculptures and inscriptions, but attributes them to Semiramis. At the foot of the rock are the remainders of some other sculptures (quite destroyed), the fragments of a Greek inscription of the Parthian prince Gotarzes (A.D. 40; text in Dittenberger, Orientis graeci inscr. selectae, no. 431), and of an Arabic inscription.

See Sir Henry Rawlinson in the Journ. R. Geog. Soc. ix., 1839; J. R. Asiatic Soc. x. 1866, xiv., 1853, xv., 1855; Archaeologia, xxxiv., 1852; Sir R. Ker Porter, Travels, ii. 149 ff.; Flandin and Coste, Voyage en Perse, i. pl. 16; and the modern editions of the inscriptions, the best of which, up to the end of the 19th century, were: Weissbach and Bang, Die altpersischen Keilinschriften (1893); Weissbach, Die Achaemenideninschriften zweiter Art (1890); Bezold, Die (babylonischen) Achaemenideninschriften (1882). A description of the locality, with comments on the present state of the inscriptions and doubtful passages of the Persian text, was given by Dr A. V. Williams Jackson in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, xxiv., 1903, and in his Persia, Past and Present (1906). Dr Jackson in 1903 climbed to the ledge of the rock and was able to collate the lower part of the four large Persian columns; he thus convinced himself that Foy’s conjecture of ārštām (“righteousness”) for Rawlinson’s abištām or abaštām was correct. A later investigation was carried out in 1904 on the instructions of the British Museum Trustees by Messrs. L. W. King and R. C. Thompson, who published their results in 1907 under the title, The Inscription of Darius the Great at Behistûn, including a full illustrated account of the sculptures and the inscription, and a complete collation of the text.

 (Ed. M.) 

  1. A passage in the inscription runs:—“Thus saith Darius the king: That which I have done I have done altogether by the grace of Ahuramazda. Ahuramazda, and the other gods that be, brought aid to me. For this reason did Ahuramazda, and the other gods that be, bring aid to me, because I was not hostile, nor a liar, nor a wrongdoer, neither I nor my family, but according to Rectitude (ārštam) have I ruled.” (A. V. Williams Jackson, Persia, Past and Present)