Bilingual inscriptions—texts inscribed in more than one language—are testament to ancient plurilingualism, providing unprecedented insights into the interactions between cultures and providing scholars the key to unlocking long-forgotten languages.

CONTENT

  • Rosetta Stone
  • Letoon bilingual stele
  • Xanthian Monument
  • Behistun inscription
  • Galle bilingual engraving
  • Canopus Decree (Canopus Stone)

Societies have evolved and interacted throughout history, leaving behind artifacts, buildings, and inscriptions that serve as reminders of their past. Bilingual inscriptions or texts written in multiple languages are among the most notable of these. They have been used by researchers to explain extinct languages in addition to serving as evidence for ancient polyglotism. Let’s look at some of the oldest and most famous multilingual inscriptions.

1. ROSETTA STONE

Excavated near Rosetta (Rashid) in the Nile Delta of Egypt in 1799, the Rosetta Stone is certainly one of the most famous archaeological discoveries. This granodiorite slab has three inscriptions: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic script, and ancient Greek. With ancient Greek as a reference, scholars, most notably Jean-François Champollion, were able to decipher the hieroglyphs in 1822, unraveling the mysteries of writing. Ancient Egypt.

2. LETOON BILINGUAL BEER

Located in the Letoon Sanctuary near the ancient city of Xanthos in modern-day Turkey, the Letoon Trilingual Stela has inscriptions in three different languages: Ancient Greek, Lycian, and Aramaic. Dating from the 4th century BC, the inscription primarily commemorates the achievements of a local prince named Arbinas. The stele provided scholars with important clues to deciphering the Lycian language.
​3. XANTHIAN MENU

Also found in the vicinity of Xanthos, the Xanthian Obelisk, or Xanthos Stele, is a pyramidal monument from the 5th century BC with inscriptions in both Greek and Lycian. Although less famous than the Letoon Trilingual, the monument was instrumental in understanding Lycian B, a variant of the Lycian language.
​4. BEHISTUN MULTI-LANGUAGE LINE

A notable example of an ancient bilingual inscription is the Behistun inscription, located in present-day Iran. Originating from the era of Darius the Great in the 5th century BC, this inscription is monumental not only in its physical presence, impressively carved into the face of a cliff, but also in its linguistic meaning. It.

The Bisotun inscription presents texts in three different cuneiform languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (a version of Akkadian). It describes the victories of Darius the Great against the usurper Gaumāta and the subsequent rebellions, establishing Darius as a divinely appointed king.

The trilingual nature of the inscription was essential in deciphering cuneiform, especially through the efforts of British military officer Sir Henry Rawlinson in the 19th century. By comparing the three texts side by side, Scholars have uncovered the secrets of cuneiform writing, opening up a deeper understanding of the different civilizations that used them. The Bisotun inscription thus offers a vivid illustration of the pivotal role of multilingual writing in historical and linguistic studies.

5. GALLE BILINGUAL ENGRAVINGS

Built in 1411 in Sri Lanka by Chinese explorer Zheng He, the Galle Trilingual Inscription contains texts in three languages: Chinese, Tamil and Persian. It commemorates Zheng He’s offerings to a Buddhist temple and is a lasting testament to ancient maritime routes and cultural exchange.

The inscription begins with invocations to Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim deities, reflecting religious diversity and the harmonious coexistence of many faiths. It demonstrates the synchronization of religious and cultural practices both in the places Zheng He visited and perhaps in his own crew, illustrating the links between ancient civilizations.

The trilingual inscription reflects the maritime power of the Ming Dynasty and its diplomatic relations with various countries. Zheng He’s voyages were milestones that marked the historic silk and spice routes, highlighting the vibrant cultural exchange and maritime trade that took place across the Indian Ocean.

6. CANOPUS DECREE (CANOPUS STONE)

Similar to the Rosetta Stone, the Canopus Decree is a stele dating from 238 BC. Found in the ancient Egyptian city of Canopus, the inscription features texts in both hieroglyphs and Greek. The edict praised Ptolemy III for his deeds and established a new cult in his honor.

 

​To be continued

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