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

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.