VIB | Introduction

The Vologaeses Inscription at Behistun (VIB) is an Arsacid-era inscription at Behistun, a site of great importance in the history of ancient Persia. It is best known for the trilingual inscription of Darius I, the king whose reign is traditionally regarded as the high-point of the Achaemenid Persian empire.

Figure from Gropp / Najmabadi 1970: 200
The basic shape of the monument is evident from the pictures below. The central figure is a king, who is making a dedication on the small altar that bears the inscription. He is flanked by two attendants, presumably Parthian dignitaries. The frontal depiction of the figures is typical of Parthian art.

The text of the VIB is fragmentary, but at the very least it tells us something about Arsacid titulature. The author’s name was Vologaeses / wlgš / Walaxš (on the name, see this article at Encyclopaedia Iranica). For two reasons, he was almost certainly an Arsacid king. The first is his use of the epithet MLKyn MLK’ / šāhān šāh, or “king of kings,” a title held by the Arsacids until their overthrow by the Sasanians. The second is the name “Vologaeses” itself. No Achaemenid or Seleucid king bore this name. It was used during the Sasanian period: one fifth century CE Sasanian king had it, as did some of the figures mentioned in the SKZ (see chapters 44 and 48, available on this site). I am aware of no scholar who has attributed this inscription to the Sasanian period, however.

Vologaeses with the altar that bears the inscription. Credit: Marco Prins at Livius

By contrast, several Arsacid kings were named Vologaeses. The first ruled in the mid-first century CE, the last in the early third century CE; the VIB must therefore fall between these dates.

One of the two Parthian nobles attending King Vologaeses. Credit: Marco Prins at Livius

But a little more precision may be possible. Line 6 of the inscription is in poor shape, but an ‘l’ seems to have been visible, and the authors of the text used here restored the line “[w]l[gšy].” This would mean that the Vologaeses who dedicated the inscription also had a father named Vologaeses. Proceeding on this reconstruction, the possibilities can be narrowed down a bit. Vologaeses I did not, so far as the Greco-Roman literary sources tell us, have a father named Vologaeses (though his paternity is not entirely clear). The existence of Vologaeses II, presumably a son of Vologaeses I, was only ever a conjecture based on the numismatic evidence, and his existence is now doubted: see esp. Sinisi 2012. That leaves:

→Vologaeses III (father unknown);
→Vologaeses IV (father unknown);
→Vologaeses V (son of IV); and
→Vologaeses VI (son of V).

Certainty is impossible, but it would appear that, on balance, Vologaeses V and VI are the most likely dedicators. Perhaps the monument dates to the late second or early third century CE.

The other Parthian noble attendant of King Vologaeses. Credit: Marco Prins at Livius

The inscription itself was apparently already in rough shape when it was studied by Gropp and Najmabadi in 1970. Their report is in German, but I translate their description of the rock here:

Gropp / Najmabadi 1970: 200 (translation by Jake Nabel)

“Before the cliffs of Behistun (well known for the inscription of Darius) there lies on the mountain’s slope a large, four-sided block with a relief that shows a Parthian ruler sacrificing at an altar along with two companions. It had escaped previous viewers that the altar bore an inscription in Parthian, as the photo by the Persian photographer Rostami (taken in a sharply glancing light) clearly shows (Taf. 101.1). The inscription is so weathered that it is only visible for around 20 minutes a day in the glancing light of the sun. Even a latex squeeze showed no details because of the many small eroded areas on the surface. I perched before the stone several times and reached the following result [drawing and text follow].

For scholarly discussions of the inscription, see Kleiss 1970: 147–9; Kawami 1987: 43–5; von Gall 1996: 85–88; Mathiesen 1992: 175; Fowler 2005: 140.

Back to the VIB Main Page