Old Persian language

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Old Persian

Spoken in

speaker further developed to Middle Persian
Official status
Official language in -
Language codes
ISO 639 -1

n / A

ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Under Old Persian means a ancient Iranian language , as official court and family language of the Persian Empire of Achaimenidenherrscher in inscriptions since Darius I is attested. It embodies an old stage of the later Middle Persian and New Persian language and can therefore be regarded as the earliest evidence of an Iranian language still spoken today (in principle) . It is also the earliest Indo-Iranian language documented by contemporary original documents (while Vedic and Avestan are more ancient, but are only documented in more recent manuscripts).

So far it was assumed that Old Persian was used exclusively in royal inscriptions, as well as for religious purposes and for national emblems. The discovery of an old Persian clay tablet from Persepolis , which has been stored in Chicago since 1937, showed that the language was probably also used in exceptional cases in administration.

In contrast to the younger language levels of Persian, Old Persian has a formally more diverse grammar with up to seven cases , three genera and three numbers . The conjugation is compared to the more archaic Avestan but already simplified: The Old Persian has no differentiation of the imperfect , aorist and perfect anymore but knows only a past tense .

Old Persian was written in a separate form of the Persian cuneiform , which is only externally related to the Mesopotamian cuneiform due to its character shapes . It is a clockwise syllabary with syllables of the form V (vowel a, i, u) and KV (consonant vowel). Almost exclusively monumental inscriptions on rocks or buildings have survived. Usually there is an Elamite and a Babylonian version next to the old Persian version .

Notes on grammar


Depiction of the first column of the Behistun inscription

Old Persian has the numbers singular , plural and some forms of dual , the genera masculine, feminine, neuter and six cases: nominative, genitive / dative, accusative, instrumental / ablative, locative and vocative. The genitive and dative cases inherited from Indo-European coincide in Old Persian, as do the ablative and instrumental. There are several declination classes: a-declination (-a, -ā), i-declination, u- (or au-) declination and the consonantic declination.

Number and case a declination i / u declination
mask. fem./(mask.) neutral mask./fem. neutral
Sg. Nom. -a -at the -iš / -uš -iy / -uv
Sg. Gen. -ahyā, -ahya -āyā - -aiš / -auš -
Sg. Acc. -at the -at the -at the -in / -um -iy / -uv
Sg. Instr./Abl. -āyā -auš / -auv
Sg.Lok . -aiy -āyā - -auv / -āvā -auv / -avā / -uvā
Sg. Vok.
Pl. Nom. -ā, -āha -iya -
Pl. Gen. -ānām -ānām - - / - ūnām -
Pl. Acc. -iš
Pl. Instr. -aibiš - -
Pl. Loc. -aišuvā -āuvā -
Dual nom./acc. -īy
Dual Instr./Abl./Dat. -aibiyā -ībiyā
Dual Gen./Lok. -āyā -īyā

Adjectives are declined in the same way.


can be increased:

A) Comparative : - tara- , - θara- and - iyah- B) Superlative : - tama- , - išta-

Personal pronouns

person Singular Plural
1. Adam vayam
2. tuvam -
3. hauv -


Old Persian has the tenses present, perfect, imperfect and aorist, the indicative, subjunctive / subjunctive, optative, imperative and injective modes as well as the diathesis active and medium (them. Pres. - aiy- , - ataiy- ) [passive (- ya - )].

Usually only 1st and 3rd person are attested. The only verbal dual form attested to is ajīva tam “both lived”.

Active present athematic thematically
example "be" "Bring"
1. Sg. a h miy bar āmiy
3rd Sg. as tiy bar atiy
1st pl. a h mahiy bar āmahiy
3rd pl. h atiy bar atiy

The past tense has an augment.

Active past tense athematic thematically
example "to do" "become"
1. Sg. a kunav am a bav am
3rd Sg. a kunau š a bav a
1st pl. a ku a bav āmā
3rd pl. a kunav a a bav a

There are four participles:

  • Present participle Active: active - nt-
  • Present participle Medium: - amna- .
  • Past participle Passive: passive - ta- / - na-
  • Past participle passive: -ata-

Formation of the infinitive: - tanaiy z. B. in utādiš atāvayam bartanaiy (DNb 46f) "and I had the strength to muster"

The Persian cuneiform

The old Persian inscriptions are written in a syllabary, i.e. H. each written character includes a vowel or a consonant with a vowel. The character set consists of 36 characters (3 vowel characters, 22 consonant a characters, 4 consonant i characters, 7 consonant u characters). In addition, the font contains 5 ideograms, a ligature of an ideogram as well as case suffixes, separators and numerals. The following sorting can be found in dictionaries: aiukxgcjt θ ç dnpfbmyrlvs š z h.

Example sentences

θātiy Dārayavahauš xšāyaθiya vazrka xšāyaθiya xšāyaθiyānam xšāyaθiya dahyūvnām
"It proclaims King Darius the Great, King of Kings, King of Countries." (DPh)

manā pitā Vištāspa nāma āha Haxāmanišiya
"My father's name was Hystaspes, an Achaemenid ."

adam Dārayavahauš Pārsa Ariya Ariya-ciça
"I am Darius, Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan tribe." (Dna 8-15)

ima xšaçam HACA Sakaibiš tayaiy para Sugdam amata Yata ā Kusa HACA Hidauv amata Yata ā Sparda tayamaiy Auramazdā frābara haya maθišta bagānām
"This Empire (Persia) by the Scythians behind Sogdia live, from there to Ethiopia and from India to Sparda gave me Auramasda , who is the greatest of the gods. " (DPh)

baga aniya naiy astiy
"There is no other god."


  • Christian Bartholomae : Old Iranian Dictionary. Strasbourg 1904. (Reprint: with addition Berlin et al. 1979)
  • Wilhelm Brandenstein , Manfred Mayrhofer : Handbook of Old Persian. Wiesbaden 1964.
  • Roland G. Kent: Old Persian - Grammar Texts Lexicon. American Oriental Society, 1953.
  • Rüdiger Schmitt : Old Persian. In: Rüdiger Schmitt: Compendium linguarum Iranicarum. Reichert, Wiesbaden 1989, pp. 56-85.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ancientscripts.com