Readers will immediately see that I’ve changed the look of workofmemory just a bit. The headline photograph now features an object that I find of particular fascination: an inscribed gold tablet found in a stone box in the southeastern corner of the main hall of the Apadana in Persepolis, along with a silver foundation plaque, with the same text written in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (late 6th Century BCE). The text (DPh) translates:
Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of Countries, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian.
Saith Darius the King: This is the kingdom which I hold, from the Scythians who are beyond Sogdiana, thence unto Ethiopia; from Sind, thence unto Sardis – which Ahuramazda the greatest of the gods bestowed upon me. Me may Ahuramazda protect, and my royal house.
(Translation by Kent 1953: 137)
The references to Ahuramazda here and elsewhere suggest some relationship between Zoroastrianism and the court of Darius. The question I have concerning this document is: why inscribed gold (and silver)? We know of tiny gold tablets in the Orphic traditions inscribed in Greek with various eschatological visions from about a century later (discussed in a previous post), as well as small gold leaves, of Achaemenid provenance, inscribed with the images of Zoroastrian magi found in the so-called Oxus treasure, in modern day Tajikistan. Is there any relationship between these traditions? Moreover, did the magi preserve important texts in gold, or use them as votives?
Later traditions from the 8th Century CE tell stories of Alexander the Great scattering or destroying the Avestan texts – the texts of the Zoroastrians – after he conquered Persepolis; and in one version, that of at-Ta’labi, the gold texts were melted down by Alexander to be used as coin to pay his armies (on which, see Van Bladel 2009: 33-35). Perhaps that is meant to explain why such textual riches as the Persian empire held were ultimately lost to humanity. We’re only left with suggestive fragments.