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.

A few notes on the newly discovered Hasaitic-Aramaic bilingual from Mleiha in the UAE


Many thanks to the The British Foundation for the Study of Arabia for sharing a photo of the partial bilingual Aramaic-Hasaitic inscription from Mleiha (UAE) (see the following popularizing article:’s-tomb-at-Mleiha-in-UAE’s-Sharjah-emirate). From what can be read on the photograph, which is not of the highest quality, the Hasaitic text states:

nfs w- qbr ʿmd bn
gr bn ‘ly bqr mlk
‘mn ḏy bn…. br
-h ‘md bn …. d
bqr m…

The memorial and grave of ʿmd son of Gr son of ʿly bqr of the king of ‘mn, which his son ‘md son of …. bqr of the [king] constructed [for him]…

The text is composed in the Ancient South Arabian (Musnad) alphabet, in a particular variety used in eastern Arabia known to scholars as Hasaitic.  The inscription is not particularly informative from a linguistic point of view, but nothing contradicts its interpretation as Sabaic, with the exception of perhaps an important linguistic deviation, the word for “son” in line 3. The name of the deceased is spelled as ‘md bn gr bn ‘ly, where bn is the normal word for ‘son’ in Ancient South Arabian, and indeed in most Semitic languages. However, in line 3, the building formula uses the word br for “son”. Br (probably pronounced bar) is the normal word for son in Aramaic, but why an Aramaic intrusion here and not in the genealogy? It is possible that building formula was taken directly from the Aramaic portion of the text, but written in Ancient South Arabian letters. The inscription is damaged following the second letter of the word “built”, so it is impossible to comment on the spelling. One objection to this is that the word “which” ḏy agrees with the Ancient South Arabian form, namely, a dual referring back to nfs ‘memorial’ and qbr ‘grave’. In general, however, the Aramaic text is shorter and seems dependent on the Ancient South Arabian one, so the importing of an entire clause from the former seems unlikely.

Another, more tantalizing explanation is possible. The use of br may reflect the spoken language of the inhabitants of ancient Mleiha. While bn is used in the genealogies, the common formula no doubt assured the use of the correct Ancient South Arabian form. However, in the building portion, the scribe may have subconsciously used a word from his spoken language. Aramaic was surely foreign to the area, so unless we imagine a colony of northern immigrants, Aramaic seems like an unlikely source. There is one other group of Semitic languages that uses the word br for son, the so-called Modern South Arabian languages, such as Mehri, Shehri, Harsusi, etc. which are still spoken in Oman today, yet not this far east. The word br for son is attested, as far as I know, in one early Sabaic inscription (Y.85.AQ/11 Eryani 57) from Shiʿb al-ʿAql near al-Jafnah ( Could it be that in former times the ancestor of the Modern South Arabian languages was spoken as far east as Mleiha and as far west as Dhamar, but receded under the spread of the Ancient South Arabian languages first, and ultimately Arabic? It is an exciting possibility that must await further discoveries to confirm. Nevertheless, each new epigraphic find will shed important light on the rich linguistic landscape of pre-Islamic Arabia.