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Fragments of a building dated to the 5th century with Roman holes at Phanagoria.

Ancient Fort and Stele Proclaiming Victory of Famous Persian King Found in Russia

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A team of Russian archaeologists have discovered a remarkable ancient stele with an inscribed message from the legendary King Darius I, one of the most famous rulers of ancient Persia.

The discovery took place at the ancient Greek site known as Phanagoria, located near Crimea and the Black Sea. According to Vladimir Kuznetsov, the director of the Phanagoria Historical and Archaeological Museum-Preserve and of the Phanagoria expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the finding “is without exaggeration a discovery of international significance”.

Inscription mentioning Darius I.

Inscription mentioning Darius I . ( Popular Archaeology )

Archaeologists announced the discovery of the stele with its unusual inscription in their report on the Volnoe Delo website . The text was carved into a piece of a marble in ancient cuneiform that was only used by the Persian king. Unfortunately, only 10-15% of the text has survived. However, the researchers were able to read enough to confirm that it was made by the order of King Darius I, who lived between 550 and 486 BC.

Apart from this, the researchers unearthed the ruins of ancient fortifications dating back to at least the 6th century BC. The construction may have been destroyed in the middle of the 5th century BC, which makes the site even more interesting. It is a phenomenon in classical archaeology. The expedition is sponsored by the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the owner of the Volnoe Delo Foundation. 

Excavations at the site in Phanagoria.

Excavations at the site in Phanagoria. ( Volnoe Delo )

According to The Art Newspaper , Kuznetsov claims that the inscription is “evidently devoted to the crushing of the Ionian revolt” and places Phanagoria “in the context of one of the most important events of ancient history, which had far-reaching consequences for the Greeks as well as the Persians, and makes is possible to trace the connections of this colony with other parts of the Greek world and analyze its significance in advancing Hellenistic civilization on the Black Sea coast.”

The researchers said that one of the words in the inscription is “Miletus”, the name of the ancient Greek city in Ionia. It was a place that was at the forefront of the revolt against Darius. Archaeologists believe that Darius decided to put up a stele to mark his victory in Miletus, but a fragment of it was later brought by ship to Phanagoria. Nonetheless, the discovery is still very important because most of the inscriptions related to the Persian kings were uncovered in Persepolis in Iran.

However, this is not the only surprising discovery related to Darius I this year. In April 2016, the same team of researchers announced the finding of a piece of a marble arrow once owned by the famous king in Phanagoria. The inscription on the arrow proved that it was made in the 5th century BC. These discoveries also suggest that the legendary king suppressed the Greek revolt and then built a marble arrow with a message commemorating the event.

Remains of the walls of the ancient fortifications at Phanagoria.

Remains of the walls of the ancient fortifications at Phanagoria. ( The Art Newspaper )

Darius I was a ruler of the Achamenid Empire. During his reign he expanded the empire so it contained Persia, Central Asia, West Asia, Caucasus, parts of the Balkans, and northeast Africa including Egypt. He was also a king of Egypt. He is known in the literature as Darius the Great due to his achievements as a king and warrior. He was the husband of Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus the Great. Darius was also the father of King Xerxes I , who won the famous battle of Thermoylae.

Darius created a new order in the empire, new provinces, and placed satraps to govern them. He also made Aramaic language the official language of the Achamenid Empire and started a monetary system.

Relief of Darius in Persepolis.

Relief of Darius in Persepolis. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Darius also appears in the Bible in the books of Zechariah, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Haggai. However, one of the darkest pages of his reign was the famous Battle of Marathon in September 490 BC, when the smart general Miltiades and his army defeated the outnumbering Persian warriors.

Top Image: Fragments of a building dated to the 5th century with Roman holes at Phanagoria. Source: Oleg Deripaska Volnoe Delo Foundation and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archaeology/ Heritage Daily

By Natalia Klimczak

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