Inscriptions, royal spaces and Iranian identity: Epigraphic practices in persia and the ancient Iranian world

Matthew P. Canepa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


I am the Mazda-worshipping lord Shabuhr, king of kings of Iran and Non-Iran, of divine nature, son of the Mazda-worshipping lord Ardaxshir, king of kings of Iran, of divine nature, grandson of the lord Pabag the king. I am the sovereign of the Kingdom of Iran. I hold the following lands: Persia… Shabuhr I (239/40–270/2 CE), Kaʿba-ye Zardosht inscription from Naqsh-e Rostam, Iran, §1-2. I am Darius the great king, king of kings, king in Persia, king of lands of all races, son of Vishtaspa, of the line of Achaemenes, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Iranian of Iranian lineage. Darius, king of kings, proclaims: By the will of Ahura Mazda these are the lands I held outside of Persia.… Darius I (522–486 BCE), tomb inscription from Naqsh-e Rostam, Iran, (DB §2-3). From the height of the Achaemenid Empire in the early fifth century BCE to the fall of the Sasanian Empire in the mid-seventh century CE, inscriptions played an important role in the development and expression of kingship in Persia and the ancient Iranian world. As with many aspects of the long history of Iranian kingship, stunning continuities and deep ruptures mark Iranian epigraphic practices. Invasions of new peoples and the growth of new empires introduced new scripts and languages, which often displaced those of the previous regime. New visual and architectural traditions modified the ways in which patrons deployed texts and viewers experienced them. Although such cultural discontinuities often rendered the texts of fallen empires' inscriptions incomprehensible or even alien, the inscriptions themselves continued to be powerful visual and topographical features of the landscapes of Persia and the wider Iranian world. Their very presence made the sites where they were carved popular and powerful, with some accumulating inscriptions from multiple dynasties as new regimes responded to their presence, if not their content. Inscriptions played an important role in articulating Iranian culture's sense of space and became a focal point for struggles over cultural memory and Iranian royal identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationViewing Inscriptions in the Late Antique and Medieval World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781316136034
ISBN (Print)9781107092419
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2015.


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