Hikers Stumble Upon 2,500 Year-Old Purim-Era Pottery Shard Inscribed With King’s Name

Photo by Shai Haloy/Israel Antiquities Authorit on 1 March, 2023
By Pesach Benson • 1 March, 2023

Jerusalem, 1 March, 2023 (TPS) — Two friends hiking in the Tel Lachish National Park in central Israel in 2022 stumbled upon a pottery shard with an inscription they couldn’t read. That inscription turned out to be a rare find furnishing evidence for the Persian royal administration at Lachish while also connecting the find to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim, the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.

The Aramaic inscription said, “Year 24 of Darius,” dating it to 498 BCE. The short text then recorded the name of the Persian king Darius the Great (Darius I), the father of Ahasuerus. The Biblical Ahasuerus was King of Persia and Medea as described in the Book of Esther, which is read annually during the Jewish holiday of Purim.

This year, Purim falls on March 6.

The 2,500 year-old shard, which archaeologists refer to as an ostracon, is the first discovery of an inscription bearing Darius the Great’s name anywhere in the Land of Israel.

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During the 64-year reign of Darius the Great in 522–486 BCE, the Persian Achaemenid Empire expanded, reaching its greatest extent under his son, Ahasuerus — also known by his Greek name, Xerxeses — who ruled most of the ancient world.

Eylon Levy, media advisor to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, described finding the shard while hiking with his friend, Yaakov Ashkenazi.

“When I picked up the ostracon and saw the inscription, my hands shook,” Levy said. “I looked left and right for the cameras, because I was sure someone was playing an elaborate prank on me.”

The 24th year of Darius I is dated to 498/7 BCE. The area of Lachish was in the province of Edom/Idumea and paid taxes, some in the form of agricultural produce, to the Persian administrative system.

The shard may have been an administrative note, such as a receipt for goods, or instructions for their dispatch.

A major fortified city, Lachish  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 ostracon may have been written by a storeroom official. This short note may be one of the earliest administrative inscriptions from the Persian period found in Israel.

“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!” said 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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