About 30 km east of the city of Kermânshâh, western Iran, on the rocky face of Mount Prâw stands the magnificent rock relief and inscription of Darius the Great. As the most important Achaemenid document and the world’s longest cuneiform declaration, the inscription is located on a high rock which overlooks the ancient and crowded road from Medes to Babylon. The name Bisotün is a later idiom for the Middle Pahlavi name of Bahistâna or Baghestân meaning “the Seat of Gods”. Plentiful historic sites and relics from different eras at a short distance from the inscription attest to the symbolic and divine status of the mountain. Up to now there are inscribed 28 relics on the list of Iran National Heritage Sites and 13 of which have been registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2005.
Dating back to 520 BC, the inscription belongs to a time when Darius won a harsh sequence of battles against the numerous rebels all around the Empire and succeeded in establishing his authority on the legacy of Cyrus the Great. Not long before Cambyses I, the son of Cyrus the Great campaigned against Egypt whilst he had secretly murdered her brother Bardiyâ, to prevent him from his claim to the throne. Realizing this event, a magi named Geumât pretended to be Bardiyâ and seated on the thrown while Cambyses was fighting in Egypt. He desired to come back to the throne as soon as he could but he died due to an unknown cause on the way back. Darius, the son of Vishtâsb, a patrician from another line of the Achaemenids rose against this foulness, penetrated to Geomât’s palace with the help of six of his allies, killed him and announced himself as the king. This was strongly refused by several Iranian Satraps and triggered rebellions that needed to be suppressed by Darius forces in the next 2 years. 19 battles occurred during this chaotic period and in the end, he conquered 9 of them throughout the Empire. To honor these tremendous achievements, he commanded to depict the portrait of defeated outlaws in a detailed cuneiform inscription in the place known as Bisotün. To make his subordinate nations aware, Darius ordered to transcript the text and send it to all his Satrapies, samples of which were found in Egypt and Babylon.
With an overall dimension of 22×7/8 m. the relic consists of two pieces of rock relief and the inscription. In the pictorial part, Darius is depicted bigger on the left side facing the symbolic representation of Ahura Mazda which appears in the shape of a winged man flying at the top center of the scene. Darius puts his left foot on the chest of the fallen Geumât while raising his right hand to take the ring of power from Ahura Mazda. Geumât raised his both hands begging for mercy while the 9 defeated rebels’ hands and necks are bound by ropes on the right side. These captives are the ones who falsely called themselves king shortly after the death of Bardiya and staged a rebellion. Behind Darius stand Vindafrana and Geoberava, two of his close allies.
Most probably Darius was inspired by a very old rock relief located in Sar-e Pol-e Zahâb, 140 km west of Bisotün, which belongs to Ânu Bânini, a Lülübi king and dates back to around 2000 BC to make a similar scene. In the second scene, the king, Ishtar and a queue of defeated rebels are depicted.
All around the bas-relief, there is a trilingual inscription that narrates the story behind the scene. Content of the inscriptions includes introducing Darius by his words, story of Cambyses and Geomât, reclaiming the throne and domination on the rebels throughout the Empire, injunction of lying and encouraging the truth, blessings for the people and the county, gratitude to Ahura Mazda for his aid to overcome the enemies and establishment of peace and finally advice to the future rulers and men who read the inscription. By the time Darius ordered craftsmen to carve the reliefs of Bisotün the Achaemenid Empire did not have its particular system of writing yet, therefore, the letters were either Elamite or Babylonian. Inevitably, Bisotün’s inscriptions at the first were created using these last two handwritings which was not worthy enough for the Empire. Thus, Elamite, Babylonian and Aramean scribes were commanded to invent Achaemenid’s private script. With 37 cuneiform signs, they created the Old Persian script which was a mixture of alphabetical and syllabic writings. Later on, the Old Persian version of the inscription was added to the Elamite and Babylonian script during the final stages of the construction.
The outstanding rock relief and inscriptions of Bisotün along with the other 28 adjacent sites and relics ranging in date from the Paleolithic period through 17 century AD are now welcoming tourists and researchers from all around the world.