Ahiram sarcophagus

Ahiram sarcophagus
The Sarcophagus of Ahiram in its current location (Lebanon).
WritingPhoenician language
Createdc. 1000 BC
Present locationNational Museum of Beirut
IdentificationKAI 1

The Ahiram sarcophagus (also spelled Ahirom, 饜饜饜饜‎ in Phoenician) was the sarcophagus of a Phoenician King of Byblos (c. 1000 BC), discovered in 1923 by the French excavator Pierre Montet in tomb V of the royal necropolis of Byblos.

The sarcophagus is famed for its bas relief carvings, and its Phoenician inscription. One of five known Byblian royal inscriptions, the inscription is considered to be the earliest known example of the fully developed Phoenician alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet is believed to be the parent alphabet for a wide number of the world's current writing systems; including the Greek, Latin and Cyrillic Alphabets, and the Hebrew, Arabic and Urdu Abjads. For some scholars it represents the terminus post quem of the transmission of the alphabet to Europe.

Ahirom is not attested in any other Ancient Oriental source, although some scholars[who?] have suggested a possible connection to the contemporary King Hiram mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (see Hiram I).


The Ahiram sarcophagus as it was found

The sarcophagus was found following a landslide in the cliffs surrounding Byblos (in now modern-day Lebanon) in late 1923, which revealed a number of Phoenician royal tombs. The tomb of Ahirom was ten metres deep.


The sarcophagus of Ahiram was discovered by the French archaeologist Pierre Montet in 1923 in Byblos. Its low relief carved panels make it "the major artistic document for the Early Iron Age" in Phoenicia. Associated items dating to the Late Bronze Age either support an early dating, in the 13th century BC or attest the reuse of an early shaft tomb in the 11th century BC.

The major scene represents a king seated on a throne carved with winged sphinxes. A priestess offers him a lotus flower. On the lid two male figures face one another with seated lions between them. These figures have been interpreted by Glenn Markoe as representing the father and son of the inscription. The rendering of figures and the design of the throne and a table show strong Assyrian influences. A total absence of Egyptian objects of the 20th and 21st dynasties in Phoenicia contrasts sharply with the resumption of Phoenician-Egyptian ties in the 22nd Dynasty of Egypt.


The date remains the subject of controversy, according to Glenn E. Markoe, "The Emergence of Phoenician Art". The Ahiram inscription is generally dated to ca. 1000 BCE, as Edward M. Cook notes: "Most scholars have taken the Ahiram inscription to date from around 1000 B.C.E.". Cook analyses and dismisses the date in the thirteenth century adopted by C. Garbini, which was the prime source for early dating urged in Bernal, Cadmean Letters. The 13th century had emerged because the sarcophagus was a reused grave, it had originally been used in the 13th century. Also traces of an erased early Proto-Byblian inscription are visible on the monument.

Others, on the basis of objects found near the sarcophagus, think of a later date, around 850 BCE. Arguments for a mid-9th to 8th century BC date for the sarcophagus reliefs themselves鈥攁nd hence the inscription, too鈥攚ere made on the basis of comparative art history and archaeology by Edith Porada,; and on the basis of paleography among other points by Ronald Wallenfels,


An inscription of 38 words is found on parts of the rim and the lid of the sarcophagus. It is written in the Old Phoenician dialect of Byblos and is the oldest witness to the Phoenician alphabet of considerable length discovered to date:

Text Transliteration Translation
(text on head side:) 饜饜饜 饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 [饜饜]饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜 饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜饜饜 饜 示rn 饜 z p士l 饜 [pl]s(?)b士l (or [示]t(?)b士l) 饜 bn 示岣m 饜 mlk gbl 饜 This coffin [Pil]siba士al (or: [I]ttoba士al) has made, the son of A岣rom (A岣ram), King of Byblos,
饜饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜饜 饜 l示岣m 饜 示bh 饜 k 拧th(?) 饜 b士lm 饜 for A岣rom, his father, as he laid him down for eternity.
(text along the side of the lid:) 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜饜饜 饜 w示l 饜 mlk 饜 bmlkm 饜 And when(?) a king among the kings (any king)
饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜<饜>饜饜 饜 wskn 饜 bs<k>nm 饜 or a governor among the governors (any governor)
饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 wtm示 饜 m岣t 饜 士ly 饜 gbl 饜 or a commander of the army [will rule] over Byblos (or: [marches] against Byblos),
饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜 饜 wygl 饜 示rn 饜 zn 饜 and would remove (or: disclose) this coffin,
饜饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜饜饜 饜 t岣sp 饜 岣メ弓r 饜 m拧p峁環 饜 then his imperial scepter shall break (lit.: the staff of his legal power shall be defoliated),
饜饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜饜 饜 thtpk 饜 ks示 饜 mlkh 饜 the throne of his kingship (his royal throne) shall overturn,
饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜饜 饜 饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 wn岣 饜 tbr岣 饜 士l 饜 gbl 饜 and peace shall depart from Byblos.
饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜饜饜 饜 饜 wh示 饜 ym岣 spr z 饜 And as to him, [if] he shall erase this inscription,
饜饜饜 饜 饜饜饜 饜 lpp(?) 饜 拧(?)bl 饜 torn(??) shall be [his] royal robe(??).

(The meaning of the last two words LPP and 艩BL is not well known and has to be guessed at; but it is clear that a curse is meant.)

The formulas of the inscription were immediately recognised as literary in nature, and the assured cutting of the archaic letters suggested to Charles Torrey a form of writing already in common use. A 10th-century BC date for the inscription has become widely accepted.

Halfway down the burial shaft another short inscription was found incised at the southern wall, the Byblos Necropolis graffito. The three-line graffito reads:

(1) ld鈥榯 饜 (2) hn yp?d lk 饜 (3) t岣 zn

It is usually interpreted as a warning not to proceed further:

(1) Know: (2) here is disaster(?) for you (3) below this.

Recently it has been proposed that it is part of some initiation ritual which remains unknown in detail:

Concerning knowledge:
here and now be humble (you yourself!)
鈥筰n鈥 this basement!"

King Ahiram

Ahiram himself is not titled a king, neither of Byblos nor of any other city state. It is said that he was succeeded by his son Ithobaal I who is the first to be explicitly entitled King of Byblos, which is due to an old misreading of a text lacuna. According to a new reconstruction of the lacuna the name of Ahiram's son is to be read [Pil]sibaal, and the reading Ithobaal should be disregarded. The early king list of Byblos is again subject to further study.


  • Pierre Montet: Byblos et l'Egypte, Quatre Campagnes des Fouilles 1921鈥1924, Paris 1928 228鈥238, Tafel CXXVII鈥揅XLI ISBN 978-2913330023
  • Ellen Rehm: Der Ahiram-Sarkophag, Mainz 2004 (Forschungen zur ph枚nizisch-punischen und zyprischen Plastik, hg. von Renate Bol, II.1. Dynastensarkophage mit szenischen Reliefs aus Byblos und Zypern Teil 1.1)
  • Reinhard G. Lehmann: Die Inschrift(en) des Ahirom-Sarkophags und die Schachtinschrift des Grabes V in Jbeil (Byblos), Mainz 2005 (Forschungen zur ph枚nizisch-punischen und zyprischen Plastik, hg. von Renate Bol, II.1. Dynastensarkophage mit szenischen Reliefs aus Byblos und Zypern Teil 1.2)
  • Jean-Pierre Thiollet: Je m'appelle Byblos. Paris 2005. ISBN 2914266049
  • Michael Browning "Scholar updates translation of ancient inscription", in: The Palm Beach Post, Sunday, July 3, 2005 p. 17A.
  • Reinhard G. Lehmann: Wer war A岣ツ玶艒ms Sohn (KAI 1:1)? Eine kalligraphisch-prosopographische Ann盲herung an eine epigraphisch offene Frage, in: V. Golinets, H. Jenni, H.-P. Mathys und S. Sarasin (Hg.), Neue Beitr盲ge zur Semitistik. F眉nftes Treffen der ArbeitsgemeinschaftSemitistik in der Deutschen Morgenl盲ndischenGesellschaft vom 15.鈥17. Februar 2012 an der Universit盲t Basel (AOAT 425), M眉nster: Ugarit-Verlag 2015, pp. 163鈥180

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