Codex of Inscriptions Index
Codex - Issyk Inscription
Paleography of 8 Türkic Alphabets
S. Amanjolov Issyk Inscription
E. Alili Issyk Inscription
Inscriptions-Euro Asiatic- Achiktash
Codex of Inscriptions-Euro Asiatic - Don
Codex of Inscriptions-Euro Asiatic - Kuban
Codex of Inscriptions-Euro Asiatic - S. Enisei
Codex of Inscriptions-Euro Asiatic - Isfar
A blurb on Issyk Inscription (pp. 411-412)
Languages and literature in the Kushan Empire
An unknown language in an unknown script
Harmatta J., Puri B., Etemadi G. (ed.) History of Civilization of Central Asia. Vol. 2. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999
|Kyzlasov Alphabet Table||Amanjolov Alphabet Table||Amanjolov's Book Contents|
The oldest inscription in Türkic alphabet, the Issyk Inscription, written on a flat silver drinking cup, was found in 1970 in a royal tomb located within Balykchy (Issyk), a town in Kyrgyzstan near Lake Issyk, and was dated by 5th c. BC. In the tomb was a body of a man dressed from head to toe in magnificent attire, the clothes, jacket, pants, socks, and boots all had a total of 4,800 attached pieces of pure gold, greatest ever found in a tomb except Pharaoh Tutankhamen. The top of the cone-shaped crown covering ears and neck carried golden arrows emblem. A sword on the belt right side and a knife on the left were in sheaths. Beautiful relief ornaments of animal art decorated shields, belt and front of the hat. Radiocarbon tests determined the age of the finds as belonging to the fifth century BC. What was the world in the 5-th century BC? We have archeological discoveries, where dating is almost always somewhat speculative, and reconstructions of the ancient Greek maps, and the views of the Mesopotamian and Chinese records. From the Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Greek texts, from the archeological discoveries of the kurgans, from the written monuments, we get a glimpse of the nomadic nations of the Central Asia in the 5-th c. BC. The various interpretations of the graphics and contents of the inscription witness the paucity of the finds and the potential for the studies.
The difficulties in interpreting the same spelling are not staggering, all researchers working with texts not broken into words encounter them, and the task is complicated by the absence of vowels even if the modern language is known and a scribe is perfect, the bsncfvwls can be parsed quite differently, in addition to the “absence of vowels”. On another hand, with the today's capabilities, we can generate a list of possible options in seconds, given that we know most of the consonants, and have appropriate dictionaries and algorithms. This is, of course, applicable to any text with partially known phonetics, like the phonetized record of the Hunnic phrase  . And on another hand, if any inscription to be deciphered is parsed into words of few phonemes (up to 3-4), that word can be practically read in any language, because statistical probability of accidental match of short words in any language is better than 1. Without semantic restrains, any short words can be read in any language. With some linguistic ingenuity, a short phrase resembling some sense can be assembled of such words in any language. The series of readings of the Issyk Inscription provides a viable example of this statistical deviancy. We should welcome the fact that the discussion finally broke off from the closeted bounds to the public review on the Internet. A light of day is a best disinfectant from unscrupulous patriotic misrepresentations.
And at last, the contents of the inscription finally fall within the known Türkic ethnological tradition of raising a leader to a throne, be he styled Shanyu or Khan or whatever: the chalice deposited with the Prince and its inscription appear to be the ceremonial cup he used to swear his oath of office during coronation, before being raised on a felt carpet and carried prescribed number of times around the Assembly of representatives. The departed was given his chalice, along with all other travel necessities, for the arduous travel to the other world.
For a listing of other images, publications and attempts to read click here. Posting's notes and explanations, added to the original text and not noted specially, are shown in (blue italics) in parentheses and in blue boxes.
ISSYK COMMEMORATIVE INSCRIPTION
An unknown language in an unknown script
Since 1954 a striking series of linguistic documents written in an unknown language and in an unknown script have come to light in the territory of Central Asia of the Graeco-Bactrian and the Kushan periods. The following documents are known:
1. Surkh Kotal, three lines, written with black ink on a small fragment of stone.
2. Dasht-i Nawur, stone inscription, nine lines.
3. Khalchayan, one inscription on a potsherd, another on a tile.
4. Kara-tepe, three fragmentary inscriptions on potsherds.
5. Ay Khanum, inscription on a silver ingot.
6. Issîk (50 km to the east of Alma Ata), inscription on a silver cup.
* See Map 4.
7. Khatîn-Rabat (in southern Tajikistan), fragmentary inscription on a potsherd.
8. Tekkuz-tepe (in southern Tajikistan), inscription on a potsherd, unpublished.
9. Old Merv, inscription (s?) on a potsherd, unpublished.
10. Fayaz-tepe (near Termez), several inscriptions on earthenware, unpublished.
11. Kafirnigan-tepe (40 km to the south of Dushanbe), fragment of a wall inscription (?), unpublished.
Consequently, the spread of this unknown script and language covers a vast territory from Alma Ata up to Merv, Dasht-i Nawur and Ay Khanum.
There have been speculations about the character and ethnic background of the script, but only one suggestion really deserves consideration – the theory that the script goes back to the Kharosthı alphabet and the language written in this script may be a Saka dialect, perhaps also spoken by the Kushans.
In fact, in spite of the similarity of several letters to the characters of the Orkhon–Yenisey Türk runic script, it is clear that the number and shape of the letters, the system of vowel matras and the presence of compound aksaras prove without any doubt the Kharosthı origin of the alphabet. The coincidence of some aksaras with runic characters is restricted to the cases where the Aramaic prototypes of both the Kharosthı and the Sogdian letters (the latter serving as models for the Türk runic signs) were similar.
If we tentatively substitute the syllabic values of the Kharosthı alphabet, the resulting text has a Saka character. So one of the two inscriptions from Khalchayan, containing only one compound aksara, can be read as lya. This reading can be interpreted as a personal name and compared to the well-known Saka name Liaka (cf. Khotanese Sakarya ‘young’).
The reading of the other inscription from Khalchayan is more uncertain because it is not clear whether it is to be read in the position given by the publication or upside down.In the first case, its reading may be jha-yi-ka (i.e. *Zayika, a name to be compared with the Middle Iranian name Zık); in the second, it can be read as [ja(m)–] mi(m)- pa(m) (i.e. *Zamipa, similarly a name, representing the same type as Denipa). Both names could be, however, equally of Saka origin.
One fragment from Kara-tepe can be read as ]´sı(m)-m´si[ and connected with Khotanese Saka ´sımja ‘the thorny jujube’ used for preparing juice in Khotan. The other fragment from Kara-tepe may be read as ]na(m)-sa(m) ks. a[, i.e. ]nasa ks. a[ ‘]portion six[’ and nasa may be the same word as Khotanese Saka nasa- ‘portion’, while ks. a[ can be compared to Khotanese Saka ks. a, ks. äs. ˇa ‘six’. Nor is the fragmentary text from Khatîn Rabat longer: e 1 yo[sa ‘whole [is] 1 musk’, e being equal to Khotanese Saka ı (one, whole), and the spelling yo[sa representing the same word as Khotanese Saka yausa ‘musk’.
The texts of the inscriptions from Dasht-i Nawur and Surkh Kotal are rather long and reading them presents great difficulties because of their being poorly preserved. Line 1 of the inscription of Dasht-i Nawur (DN III) can tentatively be read as follows: sa-[li]mi pam- ja-sa[bra]-ka-´simmi ma-ste[pamju]-sa[ha]-d.
a ‘The year [is] now 50, Braka´si [is] now the month, 15 days’. To illustrate the character of the language, we may compare the same text in Khotanese Saka (in Brahmı orthography) with it:
Dasht-i Nawur:sail mi pamjasa braka´simmi maste pamjusa had. a Khotanese Saka: salä mı pamjsasä bramkhaysji mı mastä pamjsusa had. a.
The similarity is obvious and if the proposed reading of the date proves to be correct, it follows that the Southern Sakas (or the Kushans) had a knowledge of the month names used also in Khotan and of the time reckoning by cycles of sixty years or by another era, different from the one used in the Bactrian inscription (DN I) of Dasht-i Nawur.
The text of lines 2–9 of the inscription DN III runs as follows:
1. ye rva-da-ti ri a-[ja]-ti vi(m)-ja-rka ka-[tvi-sa][ku]-sa-na
2. mi mri pa(m)-ra-mmi-na sta-nampa(m)-ri-vam´si-da va-[ri]kamham.
3. sa gra-vamti-rma da-bha sa-di pa ka(m)-pi-sa(m) ´sa-di-ña
4. ha-mri(m)-ja kam-[d]a vam-yi-ñam kam-ju-vam´si-ks. a-´si dha-kam.
5. jham-samka-[d]a ta-rma pa a-jamnam-vamha-mri-ka sa-na ´si-jha
6. mri-kam´si kam -[ju]-vammi-[´sta ha-ra]-[sta]ha-mi ha-mi ha-ya-da ja-sta ha-sa
7. he-ko mri(m)-ka mi ho-kamjyompa-pam-sa vam-ta ham-mi-ga-´sa
8. mla ka-ña e-´si ham-da-[da]pam.-mri pu-[da]tam.-ka u-da[da-ri ja]-rmi[ja]-sta ja.
On the basis of the far-reaching agreement of the language of this inscription with Khotanese Saka and with the aid of its Bactrian version (see later) its text can be interpreted in the following way:
1. Behold! [We] King of Kings, the noble, great Katvisa, the Kusana,
2. now, here, we order to erect the commanded text for the welfare as heroic words:
3. He [Katvisa] mounted on the mountains, [he] was able to cross the high region. He inspected Kapisa.
4. [He] put relief to [his] advancing domestics, moved forward [his] forces,
5. fought a battle, crossed the region, pursued, captured the crushed Sanas [= Avestan Saini-], destroyed [them].
6. Graciously he rested [his] servants, he offe[red] pres[ents] to all of them. He celebrated a feast for the god,
7. being devoted and gracious. Then he held feastings for the officers and the warriors altogether.
8. He ordered to engrave on the rock the favourable report [that] he removed the tax and contribution from [the sanctuary of] the supreme god.
The content of this inscription coincides in all essential details with that of the Bactrian version (discussed below) of the epigraphic monument at Dasht-i Nawur. However, a remarkable phenomenon is that the relation of this inscription is much more detailed than the Bactrian text. Obviously, the most important version of the report about the campaign led by Vima Kadphises to the region of Dasht-i Nawur was represented precisely by this text. From the repeated mentions of the domestics, their rewards, and the festive banquet given in honour of the officers and warriors, it follows that this was the language spoken and understood in the royal court of Vima Kadphises and among his retinue and army, whether this was some Saka dialect adopted by the Kushans or the original language of the Kushans themselves. The central position and the detailed text of this inscription clearly speak in favour of the latter assumption.
Another interesting document, written in the same language and with the same script, is represented by the inscription from Surkh Kotal. The character of the record is striking. It was written in black ink on a stone fragment, measuring 22.5 × 11 × 4.9 cm. This fact excludes the possibility of an official document and renders the assumption of an occasional record probable. The text of the inscription, also coming very likely from the Kushan age, can tentatively be read as follows:
1. hi-yo e-se ho ta-na: mva-ra ha-mu-di a-ja hi-rya pa-´si da-pa va-rya
2. ka-va-gyo ja-rya da-ja ho-la cha-d.
a gyo-rmi va-gyo dha-na cha-ka mo-´sa ja-na
3. va-hı da-hu dam-na.
Contrary to the inscription of Dasht-i Nawur, here we have no support for the
understanding of this text. In spite of this apparent difficulty, however, the interpretation is
not impossible because some terms and phrases can clearly be identified again with the
aid of Khotanese Saka. Thus, the inscription can be interpreted in the following way:
1. The lord gives orders so: The procedure happened. It is possible to release the nonperished wealth: the mantle,
2. the coat of mail, the armour, the flamc[-coloured] covering, the miler excellent racehorse, the grain, the goat will you quickly carry away!
3. The house is given to the man [or to Dahu].
This text obviously represents a report on a judgement about the division of property either in the case of divorce or by way of inheritance: one party obtained the movable wealth (the things enumerated in the report), the other one kept the immovable property (the house). This report was apparently sent by a person who belonged to the retinue of the ‘lord’ exercising the jurisdiction and who was personally acquainted with at least one of the parties. The use of the stone fragment for the purpose of this information is probably due to the lack of other writing materials in Srkh Kotal at that time.
All the records written in this variant of Kharosthı script and Saka language discussed so far date back to the Kushan age.
A blurb on Issyk Inscription
Two inscriptions of this type, however, represent an earlier period. The inscription of Ay Khanum, engraved on a silver ingot, comes probably from the second half of the second century BC, while the inscribed silver cup from Issîk was dated to the sixth-fourth centuries BC. Nevertheless, there can be hardly any doubt that the latter dating is too early. Taking into consideration the fact that the inscription from Issîk cannot be separated from other inscriptions of this type and that it clearly presents the characteristics of the Kharosthı script, it cannot be dated before the second half or the end of the third century BC. In any case, these two inscriptions present more archaic, more angular, simpler letter forms than the other. Even though some of these features may be ascribed to the writing technique (engraving), they still indicate an earlier date.
Ay Khanum inscription
The text of the silver ingot from Ay Khanum can be read as follows:
a-l-za-to mi-pa-zam-na pa-ya a-mi-zam-na pe | pa-ya-di-na | [ . . .
Silver: smelt sort, mixed, greenish [?] | examined | [weight . . .
The text is probably incomplete as the end of the record is broken off.
The term alzato (silver) exactly coincides with Khotanese Saka aljsata- (silver) but except amizamna ( < Old Iranian *amaiˆca-na-, Middle Persian am extan ‘to mix’ all words or stems also occur in Khotanese Saka.
The inscription on the silver cup from Issîk can tentatively be transcribed again in the following way:
1. za(m)-ri ko-la (m) mi(m)-vam vam -va pa-zam pa-na de-ka mi(m)-ri-to
The vessel should hold wine of grapes, added cooked food, so much, to the mortal,
2. ña-ka mi pa-zam vam -va va-za(m)-na vam
then added cooked fresh butter on.
The vocabulary of this inscription, too, has quite exact parallels in Khotanese Saka:
za(m)ri ‘vessel’ ~ Khotanese Saka jsara ‘receptacle’,
kola ‘grapes’ ~ Khotanese Saka kura ‘grapes’, Vedic kola ‘jujube’ (fruit of buckthorn trees),
mi(m)va- ‘wine’ ~ Khotanese Saka meva, maya- ‘intoxicant drink’,
vamva ‘added’ ( < *ava-nava-) ~ Khotanese Saka punvaña- ‘to be inserted’ ( < *pati-nava-nya-),
pazam ‘cooked’ ~ Khotanese Saka pajs- ‘to cook’,
pa < m > na ‘food’ ~ Khotanese Saka pamna- ‘food’,
deka ‘so much’ ~ Khotanese Saka deka ‘so much’,
ñaka ‘fresh butter’ ~ Khotanese Saka nıyaka- ‘fresh butter’,
mi ‘then, now’ ~ Khotanese Saka mi ‘now, then’,
vaz- ‘to hold’ ~ Khotanese Saka vaj-/vaj- ‘to hold’,
va(m) ‘to, on, for’ ~ Khotanese Saka va ‘for’.
On the basis of these texts and of the close parallels between them and Khotanese Saka linguistic data, it is easy to recognize the close relationship of the two languages. In spite of some uncertainties in the reading and interpretation of these texts, written in a variant of the Kharosthı script, there can be hardly any doubt about the essential features of their language. They clearly represent a language of Saka type with some peculiar features.
The question remains, however, whether the language of these texts was a Southern Saka dialect also adopted for their chancelleries by the Kushans or whether it represents the original language of the Kushans, which was closely related to the Saka dialects.
|38 Tokhtasiev S.P. Problem of Scythian language in modern science // V. Cojocaru. Ethnic
Contacts and Cultural Exchanges North and West of the Black Sea: from the Greek Colonization to the
Ottoman Conquest. Iasi: Trinitas, 2005. P. 78, note. 107.
Т о х т а с ь е в С. Проблема скифского языка в современной науке // V. C o j o c a r u . Ethnic Contacts and Cultural Exchanges North and West of the Black Sea: from the Greek Colonization to the Ottoman Conquest. Iasi: Trinitas, 2005. С. 78, прим. 107.
“” “” “” “” “” “” “” “”