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In Time for Purim: Rare inscription bearing the name of the Persian king Darius the Great, the father of King Ahasuerus Discovered

Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Haggai Misgav holds the potsherd Photo Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Just in time for Purim, there is news about the archeological find of a 2,500-year-old potsherd – broken piece of ceramic also called an ostracon – that bears a brief inscription with the name of the Persian king Darius the Great, the father of King Ahasuerus. This was the biblical Achashverosh from the story of Purim, the Persian King who married the Jewish Heroine Esther and helped her bring down the evil Haman, foiling his plans to kill all of the Jews in the Persian Empire.

The potsherd was uncovered by chance at Tel Lachish National Park in December 2022 by Eylon Levy, an international media advisor to the President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog, and his friend Yakov Ashkenazi. The ostracon was examined in the advanced Analytical Laboratory and studied by Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The ostracon turned out to be a rare find furnishing evidence for the Persian royal administration at Lachish in the Achaemenid period, at the turn of the fifth century BCE. The inscription is believed to be a note acknowledging the dispatchment or the receipt of goods.

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The Aramaic inscription on the fired potsherd reads “Year 24 of Darius,” dating it to 498 BCE. The short text thus records the name of the Persian king Darius the Great (Darius I), the father of Ahasuerus—also known as the biblical Achashverosh from the Book of Esther, which is read annually on the Jewish festival of Purim. This is the first discovery of an inscription bearing Darius the Great’s name anywhere in the Land of Israel. During his long reign (522–486 BCE), the Persian Achaemenid Empire expanded, reaching its greatest extent under his son Hishrash (Ahasuerus, Xerxes in Greek), who ruled most of the ancient world.

“When I picked up the ostracon and saw the inscription, my hands shook,” said Eylon Levy. “I looked left and right for the cameras, because I was sure someone was playing an elaborate prank on me.”
According to the researchers, Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “The British Archaeological Expedition that carried out excavations at Tel Lachish in the 1930s uncovered an elaborate administrative building from the Persian period, built on top of the podium of the destroyed palace-fort of the Judean kings. The Persian-era residence extended over a large area and comprised elaborate halls and courtyards with a majestic columned portico entrance in Persian style. Today, only the pillar bases remain in place on the mound as the British expedition dismantled the remains of the elaborate Persian building in order to excavate the underlying Judean palace.”

The 24th year of Darius I is dated to 498/7 BCE. The area of Lachish in the province of Edom/Idumea within the “Beyond the River” satrapy, paid taxes, some in the form of agricultural produce, to the Persian administrative system. Lachish, a major fortified city with a temple in the province of Idumea, was responsible for the collection of taxes for the Persian king’s treasuries. The taxes were collected and dispatched in the central administrative building, and the inscribed sherd may have been a dispatchment note written by a storeroom official. This short note may be one of the earliest administrative inscriptions from the Persian period found in the country.

“It’s amazing that visitors to the site come across such a rare inscription ‘reviving’ the Persian King Darius known to us from the sources!” says Eli Escuzido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “His son King Ahasuerus, who ruled ‘from India to Cush’, could never have imagined that we would find evidence of his father in Israel 2,500 years after the dramatic events in his royal court!”



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