Inscribed jar with demotic, hieroglyphic, and cuneiform


Inscribed jar with demotic, hieroglyphic, and cuneiform  [ edit ]

This small calcite (Egyptian alabaster) jar probably once held a type of ungent, oil, or other precious material. The ovoid shape, squared-off rim, and lug handles are typical features of the alabastron, a common Egyptian stone vessel type from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty through the Roman Period. The unusual feature of this jar lies in its multiple inscriptions, with two texts in three distinct scripts, representing four different languages. Through the different scripts and languages of its inscriptions, this small cosmetic jar embodies the diversity and far-flung political and economic connections of Persian-period Egypt.

The most prominent inscription is the vertical column of hieroglyphs enclosed by a rectangular border; the hieroglyphic inscription begins with the cartouche of the Persian pharaoh Xerxes I, followed by the epithet “the great Pharaoh.” The hieroglyphs the write “pharaoh” literally read “the great house,” per-aa, which provides the etymology for the Greek pharaos, the origin of our own term. Above the hieroglyphic inscription, the same name and epithet of Xerxes is written in three horizontal lines of cuneiform signs representing three different languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian. The short, horizontal text to the left of the hieroglyphic column is a label in the demotic script; while cuneiform is used to write three different languages, the Egyptian language is here represented by two different scripts. 

Unlike the cuneiform and hieroglyphic text that write a royal name, the demotic inscription on the jar labels the volume of the vessel: 12 kepedj-units. The kepedj-unit is not a native Egyptian measurement of volume, but appears to be a loan-word from Persian, and it is interesting that this jar is manufactured in a native Egyptian vessel shape, but labeled with a foreign unit of measure. A modern study of the vessel indicates that the volume of the jar is about 1.2 liters, suggesting that a kepedj corresponds to approximately .1 liter.


486-465 BCE


Persian Period, reign of Xerxes I


H. 22.5cm, W. 13cm, rim diam. 8.7cm


Yale Babylonian Collection

Accession Number


Aston, Ancient Egyptian Stone Vessels, Materials and Forms (Heidelberg, 1994), p. 166.

Ritner, “The Earliest Attestation of the kpd-Measure,” in Peter Der Manuelian, ed., Studies in Honor of William Kelly Simpson (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1996), pp. 683-688.

Scott, Ancient Egyptian Art at Yale, p. 145.