rectangular tablet with band of cuneiform text (at the top) and "master of animals" iconographic motif

Fort. 1982-101, a tablet from the Persepolis Fortification Archive (Iran) with Elamite text, Aramaic epigraph, and seal impression. Image courtesy of the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

From Ezra to Ashoka:

Multilingualism and Governance in the Achaemenid Persian Empire

Rhyne King

ISAW Visiting Assistant Professor

In the mid to late sixth century BCE, the Achaemenid Persian kings Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius brought populations from the eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia under the rule of a single empire. The fledgling Achaemenid government faced a novel problem: administering a state of unprecedented scale. In this talk, I will argue that the Achaemenids embraced multilingualism as a tool for governing this diverse empire. The imperial government encouraged preexisting local traditions to continue in vernacular languages, but at the same time, the highest court officers spoke in Old Persian and closely related languages. As a way to bridge local vernaculars and the imperial court, Achaemenid administrators used Aramaic as an empire-wide language of governance. To demonstrate the ways Old Persian, Aramaic, and vernacular languages interacted, this talk will cover examples from Judah, Anatolia, Egypt, Persepolis, and Afghanistan. This talk will conclude with the afterlife of Achaemenid multilingualism in Mauryan South Asia.

Rhyne King is a Visiting Assistant Professor at NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. He received his BA in Classical Languages from Duke University in 2014 and his PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2021. His research focuses on the social, economic, and political history of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to South and Central Asia from 550-330 BCE. Rhyne maintains secondary research interests in the later history of pre-Islamic Iran and in comparative empire-studies.

Please check for event updates.

ISAW is committed to providing a positive and educational experience for all guests and participants who attend our public programming. We ask that all attendees follow the guidelines listed in our community standards policy.