Marginal Notes on: C 4717

Inscription C 4717, known only from a hand copy, reads as follows:

l ḫyḏt bn ḫbṯ bn s¹m(k) bn s¹wr bn mlk w rʿy h-nḫl bql w ngʿ b-ry s¹rqt f h bʿls¹m[n] (ġ)[n](y)t

Tracing Dunand 925 (courtesy of OCIANA).

The translation of most of the text is straight forward:

‘By yḏt bn ḫbṯ bn S¹m(k) bn S¹wr bn mlk and he pastured in the valley on fresh herbage and grieved in pain b-ry s¹rqt  so, O Bʿls¹m[n], let there be [abundance]’

The section in bold occurs only once in the corpus of Safaitic. Ryckmans, the original editor, translated it as “he wept because the land was watered”, but this interpretation is hard to justify logically and linguistically. The first component resembles the well-known formula b-rʾy ‘at the rising’, referring to the rising of asterisms on the horizon (Al-Jallad 2014, 2016). If a glottal stop can be restored here, then it would suggest that the following term refers to an asterism or heavenly body.

The root s¹rq concerns the semantic domain of theft, attested in Arabic. None of the zodiacal or para-zodiacal constellations can be reconciled with this meaning. It is possible that the term is the name of an asterism that does not survive in any known tradition, and if that is the case then it is impossible to identify it.

The Robber is one of the names of Mars in the Mesopotamian star catalogs: mul (see Koch-Westenholz 1995). Is it possible that the Safaitic actually attests a name of Mars? Was its rising considered a bad omen, at least at this particular time? Another name of Mars, The Evil One, mul lu-um-nu, is possibly attested in Safaitic. I suggested (Al-Jallad 2014: 225–226; Al-Jallad 2016: 87, 102) that the phrase ʾlmn b-ʿqbt (KRS 1551) refers to an astronomical event, namely, the passage of Mars through Scorpio and seems to have been considered a bad omen, as the author then prays for relief or rain. Could there have been multiple names for the planet Mars as in the Mesopotamian tradition?

It is possible to venture a non-astronomical interpretation of this text by taking s¹rqt as thieves, cf. CAr saraqatun. The phrase could then be translated as ‘he grieved when seeing thieves’, but such an expression would find no parallel so far in Safaitic, at least with b-ry.

For now, the astronomical interpretation seems to be the best fit for this difficult text. But as with all inscriptions known only from hand copies, a great deal of caution must be observed when advancing theories based on them. Until the rock is rediscovered, we cannot know for sure what this text truly says.



Al-Jallad, A. 2014. An ancient Arabian zodiac. The constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part IArabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 25.2: 214–230.

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

[C] Ryckmans, G. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum: Pars Quinta, Inscriptiones Saracenicae Continens: Tomus I, Fasciculus I, Inscriptiones Safaiticae. Paris: E Reipublicae Typographeo, 1950–1951.

Koch-Westenholz, U. 1995. Mesopotamian astrology: an introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian celestial divination. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

[KRS] Inscriptions recorded by Geraldine King on the Basalt Desert Rescue Survey in north-eastern Jordan in 1989 and published here

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.