Marginal Notes on: Safaitic inscriptions published in The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook

This belongs to a series of “marginal notes” I will post on recently published Safaitic inscriptions.

In the 2011 The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, Hayajneh published in his contribution on Ancient North Arabian two new Safaitic inscriptions (p. 775, fig 44.9a). The first is an inscription in the Safaitic square script. The texts come from northern Jordan, but no further details of the location are given.

Hayajneh (2011: 775, fig 44.9a; photo H. Hayajneh)

Hayajneh reads and translates the inscriptions as follows:

” l tm bn ṣrmt ḏ l mrt w rʿy ḍrk w ʾlt w dšr ġnyt

‘By Tm son of Ṣrmt of the tribe ʿmrt and he pastured Ḍrk (place name!). Oh Lt and Dšr (grant) wealth’. ”

The reading is sound, but I would restore an alif between the and l. Its absence is most likely the result of a writing error, as the loss of the glottal stop would yield a glide in this position. In fact both ḏwl /ḏū-āl/ and ḏyl /ḏī-āl/ are rarely attested. I would, however, like to suggest a better translation for ḍrk. Unattested toponyms are generally a last resort for the interpretation of these texts, since anything can be a toponym and context rarely rules out such an interpretation. Considering that prayers are often connected to the narrative component, I would instead suggest that ḍrk should be interpreted along the lines of Classical Arabic ḍaruka ‘to be struck by misfortune’; ḍarīk ‘poor, hungry’. In the context of pasture, I suggest that the word refers to scarcity, perhaps on account of a drought. Syntactically, it is an accusative of circumstance, so the phrase should be translated as /raʿaya ḍarīka/ ‘he pastured suffering from scarcity’. The prayer then petitions the Nabataean deity ds²r Dusares and the goddess ʾlt (Allāt) to alleviate his condition, asking for ġnyt /ġaniyyat/ ‘abundance’. The new translation is thus:

New translation

By Taim son of Ṣrmt of the linage of ʿmrt and he pastured suffering from scarcity so, O Dusares and ʾAllāt, let there be abundance!

The second inscription consist only of a name, which the edition reads as l ʾs¹lm bn ṣmʿn. Note that the strongly resembles an r, but the personal name rmʿn is not known.



Hayajneh, Hani. 2011. “Ancient North Arabian,” in Stephan Weninger with Geoffrey Khan, Michael Streck, and Janet Watson (eds.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswis-senschaft 36). Boston-Berlin. 756–782.

Marignal Notes on: “A POSSIBLE ATTESTATION OF THE NABATAEAN MINISTER SYLLAEUS IN A NEW ANCIENT NORTH ARABIAN (SAFAITIC) INSCRIPTION” by Nada Al-Rawabdeh and Sabri Abbadi, in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 16 No 2, (2016), pp. 33-40

This belongs to a series of “marginal notes” I will post on recently published Safaitic inscriptions.

Rawabdeh and Abbadi publish the second Safaitic inscription that perhaps mentions the famous Nabataean minister Syllaeus. The inscription is basically identical to one already published by Abbadi in 2001 (see references). The article contains a balanced philological discussion of the new text, and concludes with some remarks on the historical event to which the two Safaitic inscriptions could refer. I will not venture into historical speculation here, as the references in these texts are too brief to say anything for certain, but will rather offer some improvements to the interpretation of the two inscriptions, and notes on the translations of previously published inscriptions in their edition.

The S¹ly inscription published in 2001 by Abbadi is republished in this edition, with the following reading and translation:

Photo from Abbadi 2001
Photo from Abbadi 2001

Original Reading and Translation

l tm bn ms¹k bn qtl bn brd bn ḥmt w wgm ʿl- ġyr w ʿl- qtl w ʿl- mṭl s¹nt ʾty s¹ly m- rm w ḫrṣ h-s¹nt f h bʿls¹mn ġwṯ w s¹lm w qbll l- ḏ ʾḥb

“By Tm son of Ms¹k son of Qtl son of Brd son of Ḥmt and he grieved for Ġyr and for Qtl and for Mṭl the year S¹ly came from Rm and he kept watch this year and so O Bʿls¹mn [grant] help and security and [show] benevolence for whoever ʾḥb.”


Revised Translation

‘By Tm son of Ms¹k son of Qtl and he grieved for Ġyr and for Qtl and for Mṭl, the year S¹ly came from Rome and he kept watch this year, so O Bʿls¹mn, remove affliction so that he may be secure; and may there be a reunion with him/those whom he loves’.

Notes: The edition follows the old translation of qbll as ‘benevolence’, whereas it should be understood as ‘reunion’, ‘reunification’ (Al-Jallad 2015: 333) given its textual context. This noun or infinitive occurs most frequently following expressions of longing or keeping watch for loved ones who are away, e.g. ts²wq ʾl- ‘he longed for’ and ḫrṣ ‘kept watch for’, and so the logical prayer in such cases would be for reunification with absent loved ones. Morphologically, it is an R -stem, cognate in form with Classical Arabic iqballa, perhaps vocalized as */eqbelāl/ or */qeblāl/.

The term ʾḥb is previously attested as an elative in the expression ts²wq ʾl- h-ʾḥb ‘he longed for the most beloved’…[f h lt] qbll ‘so O Lt, may there be a reunion’. The occurrence of ʾḥb with qbll then is a precedent for the present inscription, and motivates us to understand the occurrence of ʾḥb here as an elative or perhaps as a suffix-conjugated verb /ʾaḥabba/ ‘he loved’. This verb is attested as ʾḥbb ‘he loved’ elsewhere (Al-Jallad 2015:321). The relative pronoun may have a singular or plural referent.


The new S¹ly inscription (2016)

Photo and tracing from Rawabdeh and Abbadi 2016
Photo and tracing from Rawabdeh and Abbadi 2016

Original Reading and Translation

l tm bn ms¹k bn qtl bn brd bn ḥmt bn ġlmt bn mr bn ʾfty bn gml w wgm ʿl- ġyr w ʿ l- mlṭ w ʿ l- qtl s¹nt ngy s¹l[y] mn rm w ḫr{ṣ } h- s¹nt f h bʿ ls¹mn ġw{ṯ } {w}{s¹}{l}{m} {w} {q}{b}{l}{l} {l}- {ḏ } {ʾ }{ḥ }{b}

“By Tm son of Ms¹k son of Qtl son of Brd son of Ḥmt son of Ġlmt son of Mr son of ʾfty son of Gml and he grieved for Ġ yr and for Mṭl and for Qtl the year [S¹ly] fled from Rm and {he kept watch} this year and so O Bʿls¹mn [grant] {help} {and} {security}{and} [show] {benevolence} {for} {whoever} {ʾḥb}”.


Revised Translation

“By Tm son of Ms¹k son of Qtl and he grieved for Ġyr and for Qtl and for Mṭl, the year [S¹ly] fled from Rome and he kept watch this year, so O Bʿls¹mn, {remove affliction so that he may be secure; and may there be a reunion with him/those whom he loves}”.

Notes: See the discussion of the previous text, which is basically identical to this one, for notes on the revisions. As the ed. pro. points out, the equation of ngy in this text with ʾty ‘he came’ of the previous one, suggests it carries the meaning ‘he fled, escaped’ rather than ‘he was announced’. Both meanings are attested (Al-Jallad 2015: 331).

It is remarkable that the same elaborate inscription was produced nearly identically twice. This certainly gives us something to think about when it comes to the production of these texts.


The article also cites several previously published Safaitic inscriptions with erroneous translations (see the edition for references). I will rectify these here (corrections in bold):

C 742: l s¹r bn nẓr bn ṣhyn bn gʿl bn rs¹l w {n}fr m- rm s¹nt ws¹q ḏ- ʾl rhy nbṭ mġwt f h lt s¹lm w [n]qʾt l- ḏ {y}ʿr

Revised Translation: “By S¹r son of Nẓr son of Ṣhyn son of Gʿl son of Rs¹l and he escaped from the Romans in the year that those of the lineage of Rhy clashed with the Nabaṭaeans at mġwt, so, O Lt, may he be secure; and may whosoever would efface (this writing) be thrown out (of the grave)”.

mġwt = this word is unattested in Safaitic and may be a copyist error, as we do not have the photograph of this inscription. The best suggestion at the current moment is to take it as a toponym.

WH 2815: l ʿbd bn {y}ġṯ ḏ- {ʾ}l {b}{s¹}ʾ w ngy m nf{r}t w ʾḫ -h s¹nt mrdt nbṭ ʿl- ʾl {r}m f ʾt s¹lm

Revised Translation: (missing in Rawabdeh and Abbadi 2016): “By ʿbd son of Yġṯ of the lineage of ʾl Bs¹ʾ and he and his brother were announced (leaders) over a company of men, the year the Nabataeans rebelled against the Romans, so may peace come.”

ANSWS 79: l ẓʿn bn grmʾl bn ẓʿn bn bnt bn ẓʿn bn ḫṭst ḏ- ʾl kn w wgd s¹fr grmʾl f bʾs¹ mn ẓll w qnṭ ʾl rm s¹nt yhd f h lt….. wqyt m bʾs¹

Revised Translation: “By Ẓʿn son of Grmʾl son of Ẓʿn son of Bnt son of Ẓʿn son of Ḫṭs¹t of the lineage of Kn and he found the inscription of Grmʾl, for those who remain despair; and the people of Rome despaired greatly in the year of Judaea (or of the Jews), so O Lt, may there be protection from misfortune”.



Abbadi, S. 2001. A New Safaitic Inscription Dated to 12 –9 BC. In: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 7: 481-484.

Al-Jallad, A. 2015. An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. (SSLL 80). Leiden: Brill.

Marginal Notes on: Written in Stone, the Smithsonian exhibition of Safaitic inscriptions

This belongs to a series of “marginal notes” I will post on recently published Safaitic inscriptions

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website, in conjunction with the Saudi Ministry of Education, has published an online exhibition of inscriptions from the national museum of Saudi Arabia. This commendable effort, however, is undermined by the extremely poor presentation of these texts, often with completely unintelligible readings and translations. To illustrate, take the reading and translation of the Safaitic inscription 9:

L’qadam bin Lamo w hadafa hal lat slm
Proposed Translation
The person asking favor from the deity E’lat
The message asks a favor from the deity E’lat. “E’lat” is the ancient name of a god in northern Arabia. The person is asking to be “salam” (meaning “alright,” “good,” or “at peace”).

I have emailed the director of this website twice offering my expertise to improve the exhibition, as this is one of the first hits one gets when searching for “Safaitic” or “Ancient North Arabian” online. Neither email received a response. I have therefore decided to correct the readings and interpretations of these texts in my Marginal Notes series. Unfortunately, the locations in which these texts were discovered are not provided.


Safaitic 1


Revised reading and translation

l bgt bn gdy bn ls2ms1 w nṣb w…

By Bgt son of Gdy son of Ls2ms1and he erected a cult-stone.

Notes: On the ancient Near Eastern tradition of erecting a stone in commemoration of a religious event, see Macdonald (2012).  The remainder of the inscription is broken off.


Safaitic 2


Revised reading and translation

l {ġ}ṯ bn mʿz bn m{ġ}r w dṯʾw {d}s²r s¹lm w ḥ{l}{l}

By ġṯ son of Mʿz son of M{ġ}r and he spent the season of the later rains, so, O Ds²r, may he be secure and camp (?)

Notes: dṯʾ is one of the main seasons of the nomads of the Ḥarrah, stretching from mid-February to mid-April. Its beginning is signalled by the zodiac sign mlḥ ‘Aquarius’ (Al-Jallad 2016).  The final phrase w {d}s²r s¹lm w ḥ{l}{l} was read by Chiara Della Puppa.


Safaitic 3


Revised reading and translation

[l] Nẓrʾl bn ʿdy bn ḥddn bn nẓrʾl {w} qṣṣ ʿl- gm…w bzy ḥwlt w ʿqrb w {b}ṯ hfʿ{n}

[By] Nẓrʾl son of ʿdy son of Ḥddn son of Nẓrʾl and he patrolled on the border of Gm{.} and he subdued the Ḥawālat and ʿqrb and drove off Hfʿn

Notes: This interesting and rather non-formulaic inscription describes the military activities of its author. The verb bzy attested for the first time here is likely cognate with Classical Arabic bazā-hu ‘he overcame, subdued him’.  Chiara Della Puppa suggests that the b be read as a broken ġ, which would mean ‘he raided’.  The normal form in Safaitic is ġzz but ġzy is rarely attested.  Nevertheless, the letter form resembles the b’s attested earlier in the inscriptions.  The Ḥwlt are a well known tribal group of North Arabia, attested as adversaries of the authors of the Safaitic inscriptions and the Nabataeans (Abbadi 2015). ʿqrb in this context must also refer to a social group. The next verb bṯ is probably equivalent to Classical Arabic baṯṯa ‘to disperse, scatter’. The following word, hfʿn is likely a social group, perhaps related to South Arabian hfʿm.


Safaitic 4


Revised reading and translation

l mryġṯ bn tyd bn ḥfry w dṯʾ

By Mryġṯ son of Tyd son of Ḥfry and he spent the season of the later rains (here)

Notes: The name Mryġṯ should probably be vocalized as Mar-Yaġūṯ, meaning ‘man of Yaghuth’. The latter element is the name of a pre-Islamic Arabian deity known from the Qur’an (Q 71:23).


Safaitic 5


Revised reading and translation

l ḫzn bn zbd bn ḫzn w s2ty

By Ḫzn son of Zbd son of Ḫzn and he spent the winter (here)

edit: See comment section.

Safaitic 6


Revised reading and translation

l ḥbb bn gs2m w wgm ʿl- ʾḥs1n w ʿl- ḏl

By Ḥbb son of Gs2m and he grieved for ʾḥs1n and for Ḏl


Safaitic 7


Revised reading and translation

[l] ġṯ bn klb bn brd w gls¹ … w ṣyw

[By] Gṯ son of Klb son of Brd and he halted …. and suffered from the lack of rain (?)

Notes: the verb ṣwy is well known and could mean ‘to build a cairn’ or ‘to suffer from the lack of rain’ (Al-Jallad 2015: 347). In the present inscription, the final two letters are metathesized. This could be a writing error or a peculiarity of the author’s dialect.


Safaitic 8


Revised reading and translation

l km bn km bn gfft bn mṣry bn ʿgr w bn{y}

By Km son of Km son of Gfft son of Mṣry son of ʿgr and he built (or lay a stone on a cairn).

Notes: The expression bny ʿl ‘built upon’ seems to refer to the tradition of laying a stone on the grave or burial cairn. The terse language of this inscription does not allow us to determine what sense is intended here.


Safaitic 9


Revised reading and translation

l qdm bn lṯ w wḥd f h lt s1lm

By Qdm son of Lṯ and he was alone so, O Lt, may he be secure.


Safaitic 10


Revised reading and translation

l ġlb bn ʾʿtl w ts2wq w ktm

By ġlb son of ʾʿtl and he felt longing but concealed (the object of his longing).

Notes: Most inscriptions containing the verb ts²wq ‘to long for’ also include the object of said longing, introduced by the preposition ʾl ‘for’. This individual chose instead to conceal the identity of the person he misses.



Abbadi, S. 2015. New evidence of a conflict between the Nabataeans and the Ḥwlt in a Safaitic inscription from Wadi Ram. Arabian Epigraphic Notes 1: 71-76.

Al-Jallad, A. 2015. An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. (SSLL 80). Leiden: Brill.

Al-Jallad, A. 2016. An Ancient Arabian Zodiac: the constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part II. AAE 27: 84–106

Macdonald, M.C.A. 2012. Goddesses, dancing girls or cheerleaders? Perceptions of the divine and the female form in the rock art of pre-Islamic North Arabia. Pages 261–297 in I. Sachet & Ch. J. Robin (eds), Dieux et déesses d’Arabie Images et représentations. (Orient et Méditerranée, 7). Paris: De Boccard.


Marginal Notes on: “Safaitic inscriptions from the Eastern Part of Mafraq Governorate/ Jordan”. By Sultan al-Maani and Fardous al-Ajlouny, in Adumatu 8 (July 2003), pp. 33-49

This belongs to a series of “marginal notes” I will post on recently published Safaitic inscriptions

This article publishes a relatively long Safaitic inscription (no. 4), which the editors read and translate as follows:

[l] s²qq bn s²hyt bn ʾs¹ bn ḥg bn s²bḥr bn grmʾl bn ʿbṭ bn ʿzhm bn mrʾ bn ʿrs¹ bn rġm bn s²hr bn rṭḫ bn ʿwḏ bn whbʾl w byt b- ʾbl w wrd l- ġdf f h bʿls¹mn rwḥ w s¹lm w mḥlt l- ḏ yʿwr h- s¹fr

‘By PN. He lodged his camels for the night and came to the water (the filthy water or he came to the water at night). I pray for Baʿalsamīn for relief and peace. God may bring sterility to those who defect this inscription’.

Photograph of MH4 (
Photograph of the inscription (from original article)

Suggested reading and translation:

The reading is sound with the exception of the name rġm, which should be read instead as rġs¹. The initial lām auctoris is clear and need not be in brackets.

New translation: ‘By PN and he camped the night with camels (or among camels) and went to water seeking abundance so, O Bʿls¹mn, send the winds so that he may be secure; and may he who would efface this writing experience a dearth of pasture.’

wrd l-ġdf: The edition took ġdf as meaning ‘night’, based on the example ġadafa l-laylu ‘the night was lowered’ in Ibn Manẓūr. The meaning ‘night’, however, is not part of the verb. It seems better to take it as a noun related to Classical Arabic ġadafun ‘abundance, ease’, and the preposition l- here indicating purpose. The verb wrd does not take a locative goal with the preposition l-, for example wrd h-bʾr b-h-nmrt ‘he went to water at the well near Namārah’ (Al-Jallad 2015: 227; RSIS 339).

mḥlt: This common noun is better translated as ‘dearth of pasture’; (Al-Jallad 2015: 327)


The inscription is a prayer for rain written by a man seeking pasture for his camels. It seems that the rains were poor and there was not sufficient herbage in the expected areas.  Therefore, the writer was returning to a place with permanent or seasonal water (wrd). His prayer to the storm god, Bʿls¹mn, for rain (rwḥ) and the curse of dearth (mlḥt) upon those who efface fit this theme as well.


Al-Jallad, A. 2015. An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. (SSLL 80). Leiden: Brill.


This belongs to a series of “marginal notes” I will post on recently published Safaitic inscriptions

The present edition of inscriptions was published without photographs or tracings so it is impossible to verify the readings from the rock. Nevertheless, two of the inscriptions can be read in a more satisfying way, and these can potentially shed light on a new shade of meaning for the word ṣrt ‘enclosure’.

Inscription 2

Ed. pro.: l bnʿtm bn qym twlh ṣrt

‘By PN (and he) deeply grieved and cried/afflict of grief’


Suggested reading and translation:

l bnʿtm bn qymt w l-h [h-]ṣrt

‘By PN and [the] enclosure is his’

twlh > w l-h: The edition took the four letters following the name qym as a T-stem verb derived from the root wlh ‘to grieve’, Classical Arabic waliha. This would be strange as the narrative is almost always connected to the name with a conjunction. It is more likely that the t belongs to the previous name, which the addition acknowledges but does not give as their primary reading. Thus, the name of the father would be qymt, which is well attested in Safaitic and found in Greek transcription as Καιαμαθος /qayyāmat/. The narrative would then give the common ‘building’ or ‘ownership’ formula, w l-h [h-]ṣrt.  The spelling of the clitic pronoun and following definite article with one h is common (Al-Jallad 2015:49).


Inscription 4:

Ed. pro.: w ndm ʿl- bnʿtm wlh ṣrt

‘and he anguished for Bnʿtm, (he) grieved and cried strongly’


Suggested translation:

w ndm ʿl- bnʿtm w l-h [h-]ṣrt

‘and he was devastated by grief for Bnʿtm, and the enclosure is his’

The referent of the clitic pronoun is unclear; it could be Bnʿtm or it could refer to the author, who has now claimed the enclosure.


Remarks on the meaning of ṣrt

Inscription 4 is a funerary inscription and so it could be argued that ṣrt ‘enclosure’ here functioned in a similar way to rgm, ‘funerary cairn’ (Al-Jallad 2015: 337). This would moreover suggest that inscription 2 was a burial text, so: for Bnʿtm son of Qymt is the burial (?) enclosure. The other texts published in this article contain expressions of grief for Bnʿtm, similar in fact to the types of rituals associated with the rgm and ṣwy, e.g. bny ʿl- Bnʿtm lit. ‘he built over/for Bnʿtm’


Al-Jallad, A. 2015. An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. (SSLL 80). Leiden: Brill.