chapter  8
Ventures and adventures of the Persian language
ByEHSAN YARSHATER
Pages 21

The focus of this article is the Persian language, that is, the state language of Persia today, and I should like to begin with its forebears. Its parent is called Middle Persian or Pahlavi. It was originally the language of the Persian tribes who settled in southern Persia and it became the official language of the Sassanid state under their rule (224-651 ce). It had begun to take shape, however, much earlier, toward the end of the Achaemenid period; but its documents appear only with the Sassanid Ardashir’s inscription (third century), which reads: “Majesty [bag] Ardashir, king of kings of Iran, son of his majesty Pabag the king, whose origin is from the gods.” Some of the early Sassanid kings were eager to make their deeds and exploits known for posterity and at the same time oblige Orientalist epigraphers! We should particularly be thankful to Shapur I, the second Sassanid monarch, for his long inscription, carved on the walls of a building at Naqsh-e Rostam, near Persepolis, in three languages: Middle Persian, Parthian, and Greek. The reason it was written in these language is that Parthian was the language of the Arsacids (247 bce-224 ce) who ruled Persia before the Sassanids for some five hundred years, and in early Sassanid times still many people, particularly in Parthia, today’s Khorasan and Gorgan, spoke that language, and Shapur did not want them to miss his message; and Greek was a legacy of the Hellenistic period in Persia which began with Alexander’s conquest of Persia in 330 bce and continued during the Seleucids and, to a certain extent, the reign of the Arsacids. Shapur I’s inscription is most interesting and extremely historically valuable, second only to Darius’s inscription at Bisotun. Shapur I names his father Ardashir, his grandfather Pabag,

his ancestor Sāsān, his queen of queens Aduranāhid, his four sons, and the high officials of his court and the courts of his father and his grandfather, but the most important topic of the inscription is the account of his extensive conquests in the eastern Roman provinces, which comprised Iraq, Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia, and which took place between 256 and 261 in the course of several campaigns. He relates his defeating of two Roman emperors, Gordianus and Valerianus (the latter taken prisoner), and his forcing a third one into an advantageous peace agreement. Being a good Zoroastrian, either by faith or expediency, he also mentions all the pious and charitable foundations, namely, fire temples, that he endowed for the peace and happiness of his soul and the souls of his parents and his queen, his sons, and even some dignitaries of his court.