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The Old Persian language is one of the two attested Old Iranian languages (besides Avestan). Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, seal of the Achaemenid era (c. 600 BCE to 300 BCE). Examples of Old Persian have been found in what is now present-day Iranmarker, Iraqmarker, Turkeymarker and Egyptmarker the most important attestation by far being the contents of the Behistun inscriptionmarker (dated to 525 BCE).


Old Persian is an Old Iranian language and a member of the Southwestern Iranian language group. As an Iranian language, Old Persian is also a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Avestan, the only other attested Old Iranian language, does not belong to the same geographic division as Old Persian and is typologically distinct.

Language evolution

By the 4th century, the late Achaemenid period, the inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III differ enough from the language of Darius' inscriptions to be called a "pre-Middle Persian," or "post-Old Persian." Old Persian subsequently evolved into Middle Persian, which is in turn the nominal ancestor of New Persian.Professor Gilbert Lazard, a famous Iranologist and the author of the book Persian Grammar states:
The language known as New Persian, which usually is called at this period (early Islamic times) by the name of Parsi-Dari, can be classified linguistically as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of Sassanian Iran, itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenids.
Unlike the other languages and dialects, ancient and modern, of the Iranian group such as Avestan, Parthian, Soghdian, Kurdish, Pashto, etc., Old Middle and New Persian represent one and the same language at three states of its history.
It had its origin in Farsmarker and is differentiated by dialectical features, still easily recognizable from the dialect prevailing in north-western and eastern Iran.

Middle Persian, also sometimes called Pahlavi is a direct continuation of old Persian, and was used as the written official language of the country.Consequently, Modern Persian is one of the few Indo-European languages which has extant writing in its old, middle and modern form. Comparison of the evolution at each stage of the language shows great simplification in grammar and syntax. In fact according to available documents, Persian language is an Iranian language all whose three Old, Middle, and New stages are known to represent one and the same language; in other words New Persian is a direct descendent of Middle and Old Persian.


Old Persian "presumably" has a Median language substrate. The Median element is readily identifiable because it did not share in the developments that were peculiar to Old Persian. Median forms "are found only in personal or geographical names [...] and some are typically from religious vocabulary and so could in principle also be influenced by Avestan." "Sometimes, both Median and Old Persian forms are found, which gave Old Persian a somewhat confusing and inconsistent look: 'horse,' for instance, is [attested in Old Persian as] both asa (OPers.) and aspa (Med.)."


Old Persian was written from left to right in the syllabic Old Persian cuneiform script. The Old Persian cuneiform contains 36 signs representing vowels and consonants, 8 logograms, and 3 signs which can be combined to represent any numeral, although only a few numbers are actually attested in the inscriptions.


The following phonemes are expressed in the Old Persian script:


  • Long:
  • Short:

  Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d c j k g    
Nasal   m   n            
Fricative f   θ   ç x   h  
Sibilant     s z š          
Rhotic       r            
Approximant   v   l   y        



Old Persian stems:

  • a-stems (-a, -am, -ā)
  • i-stems (-iš, iy)
  • u- (and au-) stems (-uš, -uv)
  • consonantal stems (n, r, h)

-a -am
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -a -ā, -āha -am
Vocative -am
Accusative -am -am -ām
Instrumental -aibiyā -aibiš -aibiyā -aibiš -āyā -ābiyā -ābiš
Dative -ahyā, -ahya -aibiyā -aibiš -ahyā, -ahya -aibiyā -aibiš -āyā -ābiyā -ābiš
Ablative -aibiyā -aibiš -aibiyā -aibiš -āyā -ābiyā -ābiš
Genitive -ahyā, -ahya -āyā -ānām -ahyā, -ahya -āyā -ānām -āyā -āyā -ānām
Locative -aiy -āyā -aišuvā -aiy -āyā -aišuvā -āyā -āyā -āšuvā

-iš -iy -uš -uv
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -iš -īy -iya -iy -in -īn -uš -ūv -uva -uv -un -ūn
Vocative -i -īy -iya -iy -in -īn -u -ūv -uva -uv -un -ūn
Accusative -im -īy -iš -iy -in -īn -um -ūv -ūn -uv -un -ūn
Instrumental -auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš
Dative -aiš -ībiyā -ībiš -aiš -ībiyā -ībiš -auš -ūbiyā -ūbiš -auš -ūbiyā -ūbiš
Ablative -auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš
Genitive -aiš -īyā -īnām -aiš -īyā -īnām -auš -ūvā -ūnām -auš -ūvā -ūnām
Locative -auv -īyā -išuvā -auv -īyā -išuvā -āvā -ūvā -ušuvā -āvā -ūvā -ušuvā

Adjectives are declinable in similar way.



Active, Middle (them. pres. -aiy-, -ataiy-), Passive (-ya-).

Mostly the forms of first and third persons are attested. The only preserved Dual form is ajīva'tam 'both lived'.

Present, Active
Athematic Thematic
'be' 'bring'
Sg. 1.pers. miy barāmiy
3.pers. astiy baratiy
Pl. 1.pers. mahiy barāmahiy
3.pers. hatiy baratiy

Imperfect, Active
Athematic Thematic
'do, make' 'be, become'
Sg. 1.pers. akunavam abavam
3.pers. akunauš abava
Pl. 1.pers. aku abavāmā
3.pers. akunava abava

Present participle
Active Middle
-nt- -amna-

Past participle



Proto-Indo-Iranian Old Persian Middle Persian Modern Persian meaning
* Ahuramazda Ohrmazd Ormazd ارمزد Ahura Mazda
*açva aspa asp asp اسب horse
*kāma kāma kām kām کام desire
*daiva daiva div div دیو God
drayah drayā daryā دریا sea
dasta dast dast دست hand
*bhāgī bāji bāj bāj باج/باژ tribute
*bhrātr- brātar brādar barādar برادر brother
*bhūmī būmi būm būm بوم region, land
*martya martya mard mard مرد man
*māsa māha māh māh ماه moon, month
*vāsara vāhara Bahār bahār بهار spring
stūpā stūnā stūn sotūn ستون column (related to stand)
šiyāta šād šād شاد happy
*arta arta ard ord اُرد order
*draugh- drauga drōgh dorōgh دروغ lie

See also

References and Bibliography

  1. Roland G. Kent, Old Persian, 1953
  2. (Lazard, Gilbert 1975, “The Rise of the New Persian Language” in Frye, R. N., The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 4, pp. 595-632, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J. Mattheier, Peter Trudgill, "Sociolinguistics Hsk 3/3 Series Volume 3 of Sociolinguistics: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society", Walter de Gruyter, 2006. 2nd edition. pg 1912: "Middle Persian, also called Pahlavi is a direct continuation of old Persian, and was used as the written official language of the country." "However, after the Moslem conquest and the collapse of the Sassanids, Arabic became the dominant language of the country and Pahlavi lost its importance, and was gradually replaced by Dari, a variety of Middle Persian, with considerable loan elements from Arabic and Parthian."
  4. Bo Utas, "Semitic on Iranian", in "Linguistic convergence and areal diffusion: case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic" editors (Éva Ágnes Csató, Bo Isaksson, Carina Jahani),Routledge, 2005. pg 71: "As already mentioned, it is not likely that the scribes of Sassanian chanceries had any idea about the Old Persian cuneiform writing and the language couched in it. Still, Middle Persian language that appeared in the third century AD may be seen as a continuation of Old Persian

  • : 238-245
  • : 56–85

Further reading

  • University Of Chicago (2007, June 22). Everyday Text Shows That Old Persian Was Probably More Commonly Used Than Previously Thought.[48247][48248]

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