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.