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IRANIAN HISTORY: ACHAEMENID DYNASTY

The Achaemenids Law, "Dâta"


 

By: Rüdiger Sshmitt

 

 
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Dâta, Old Iranian term for "law" (originally the neuter verbal adjective dâta-m from the root dâ- "to put, place," thus "(the law) set/laid down"; cf. Ger. Gesetz and Eng. law respectively), attested both in Avestan texts (Old and Younger Av. dâta-) and in Achaemenid royal inscriptions (Old Pers. dâta-; Kent, Old Persian, p. 189). The Old Persian term was incorporated into the languages of several neighboring peoples during the Achaemenid and subsequent periods (e.g., El. da-ad-da-um, da-at-tam, da-tam, da-ad-da-(-ma) [cf. Hinz and Koch, pp. 246-47, 256, 298], Late Babylonian da-a-ta/ti/tu, Hebrew dt-, biblical Aram. d´t, dât, inscriptional Aram. [Xanthos] dt-h, Syr. dt-´, Arm. dat (cf. Mid. Pers., NPers. dâd, etc.).

In the Achaemenid royal inscriptions Old Persian dâta- is used in a dual sense. In texts of Darius I the Great (q.v. iii; 522-486 B.C.E.) all the references are to the king's law, by which order was established and guaranteed in his empire (DB I.23: "these countries obeyed my law"; DNa 21-22=DSe 20-21=XPh 18-19: "my law—that held them (firm)"; DSe 37-39 "my law—of that they are afraid"). In two instances in Xerxes' so-called "daiva inscription," however, the law of Ahura Mazdâ (q.v.) is mentioned ("obey that law which Auramazdâ has established"; the man who obeys "both becomes happy while living and blessed when dead"; XPh 49-56; Kent, Old Persian, pp. 151-52). Divine law thus apparently applied not only to order on earth but also to welfare in the life to come.

Both these meanings, "king's law" and "divine law," recurred elsewhere. In the royal decree of Artaxerxes I (465-25 B.C.E.) quoted in chapter 7 of the Book of Ezra "the law (dâtâ) of your God (i.e., Yahweh)" and "the law of the king" (dâtâ dî malkâ) are mentioned side by side. Other evidence in the Old Testament confirms this dual meaning; it suffices to mention only the famous immutable "law of the Medes and the Persians" (Daniel 6:9, 6:13, 6:16; Esther 1:19).

It is not surprising that the expression "the king's law/decree (dâtu ša šarri)" is also attested from Babylonia, but only from the reign of Darius I and later. The phrase occurs in several texts but in obviously different senses (Assyrian Dictionary, pp. 122-23). On one hand, the delivery of barley and other produce and the payment due are the subject, whereas in other instances (e.g., a deed recording a slave sale) there are references to trials before a judge whose behavior and decision were to be guided by a law. It is thus evident that this law had been newly imposed in Babylonia by the Achaemenids, most probably by Darius.

It was owing to Darius' legal reforms or, stated more prudently, to his introduction of a special Persian form of law that so many peoples of the empire borrowed the Old Persian term dâta-, in semantic contexts obviously extending beyond the native Jewish, Mesopotamian, and other conceptions of "law." Furthermore, there is no doubt that these new developments in the legal and juridical systems were based on royal decrees, which had the force of law. T. Cuyler Young, Jr., correctly noted (p. 95) the passage from DB 1.23-24 in which Darius seems to have equated his law with his command: "By the favor of Auramazdâ these countries obeyed my law; as has been said to them by me, thus they used to act." In one document from his twelfth year there is mention of a high official ša muhhi dâtu "in charge of the law," and the title dâtabara (q.v.) is also attested.

The only independent (untranslated) attestation of Old Persian dâtam in the Elamite texts is in a Persepolis tablet (PF 1980.31; Hallock, pp. 583-84) in which the term "a former law" occurs, probably referring to a kind of decreed tariff and surely not to a law.

The use of the Avestan term dâta- (AirWb., col. 726) corresponds to some extent to the Achaemenid dual usage. On one hand, there are the divine "laws of Ahura Mazdâ" (e.g., Y. 46.15, 21.1); the religious "law of Zoroaster" (dâta- zaraθuštri-), which is more often than not combined with the "law code abjuring the daêuuas" (dâta- vîdaêuua-, i.e., the Vidêvdâd); and apparently a deified "law" (dâta-; Yt. 10.139). On the other hand, profane and trivial occurrences of dâta- are not infrequent, including that in Yašt 10.84, where there is reference to the pauper who "is deprived of his rights (dâtâiš)."

Bibliography

The Assyrian Dictionary III. D, Chicago, 1959. P. Frei and K. Koch, Reichsidee und Reichsorganisation im Perserreich, Freiberg and Göttingen, 1984, pp. 63-64. R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Chicago, 1969. W. Hinz and H. Koch, Elamisches Wörterbuch, 2 vols., Berlin, 1987. A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948, pp. 119-20, 128 ff., 304-05. T. C. Young, Jr., "The Consolidation of the Empire and Its Limits of Growth under Darius and Xerxes," CAH2 IV, pp. 53-111, esp. pp. 94-95.

 

 

 

Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica

 

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