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Old Persian language

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Old Persian
RegionAncient Iran
Eraevolved into Middle Persian by c. 300 BC
Old Persian cuneiform
Language codes
ISO 639-2peo
ISO 639-3peo
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The Old Persian language is one of two Old Iranian languages. The other is Avestan). Old Persian was used during the Achaemenid era (c. 600 BC to 300 BC). Examples of Old Persian have been found in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.[1]

Classification[change | change source]

Old Persian is an Old Iranian language, a member of the Southwestern Iranian language group. As an Iranian language, Old Persian is a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.

Old Persian subsequently developed into Middle Persian, which is in turn the nominal ancestor of New Persian.

Phonology[change | change source]

The following phonemes are expressed in the Old Persian script:


  • Long: /eː/ /iː/ /o/
  • Short: /eu/ /ei/ /ea/


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

Grammar[change | change source]

Nouns[change | change source]

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.

Verbs[change | change source]

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

In Old Persian were used mostly the forms of first and third persons. Only Dual form used was ajīvatam 'both lived'.

Present, Active
Athematic Thematic
'be' 'bring'
Sg. 1.pers. ahmiy barāmiy
3.pers. astiy baratiy
Pl. 1.pers. ahmahiy 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

Lexicon[change | change source]

Proto-Indo-Iranian Old Persian Middle Persian Modern Persian meaning
*açva aspa asp asp اسپ horse
*kāma kāma kām kām کام desire
*daiva daiva div div دیو devil
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
stūnā stūn sotūn ستون column (related to stand)
šiyāta šād šād شاد happy
*arta arta ard ord ارد truth
*draugh- drauga drōgh dorōgh دروغ lie (maybe legendary related to drought)

Related pages[change | change source]

References and bibliography[change | change source]

  • Brandenstein, Wilhelm (1964), Handbuch des Altpersischen, Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz
  • Hinz, Walther (1966), Altpersischer Wortschatz, Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus
  • Kent, Roland G. (1953), Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, New Haven: American Oriental Society
  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas (1996), "Iranian languages", Encyclopedia Iranica, vol. 7, Cosa Mesa: Mazda: 238-245
  • Schmitt, Rüdiger (1989), "Altpersisch", in R. Schmitt (ed.), Compendium linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden: Reichert: 56–85
  • Tolman, Herbert Cushing (1908), Ancient Persian Lexicon and the Texts of the Achaemenidan Inscriptions Transliterated and Translated with Special Reference to Their Recent Re-examination, New York/Cincinnati: American Book Company

Further reading[change | change source]