UPDATE: The sherd is not authentic.
A 2,500-year-old potsherd that was found by visitors at Tel Lachish in Israel’s southeastern flatlands bears a brief inscription with the name of the Persian king Darius the Great, the father of King Achashverosh from the story of the Megillah.
Most researchers identify the biblical king of Persia Achashverosh who executes his wife, marries the orphan maiden Esther and is manipulated by both sides in the plot, as Xerxes I who reigned from 550 to 530 BCE, who burned down the city of Athens after his father had been defeated by 300 Spartans in Marathon. Xerxes was the son of Darius and Empress Atossa, daughter of King Cyrus.
In December 2022, Eylon Levy and Yakov Ashkenazi visited Tel Lachish National Park and chanced on a small potsherd with some inscribed letters, which they duly reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority. The piece of pottery was examined at the analytical lab by the IAA’s Saar Ganor and Dr. Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who realized it served as rare evidence for the Persian royal administration at Lachish at the turn of the fifth century BCE.
The Aramaic inscription reads “Year 24 of Darius,” dating it to 498 BCE. The short text thus records the name of the Persian king Darius the Great (Darius I), the father of Achashverosh.
“When I picked up the clay piece and saw the inscription, my hands trembled,” recalled Eylon Levy, whose day job is as an international advisor to President Yitzhak Herzog. “I looked left and right for a candid camera because I was sure someone was playing an elaborate prank on me.”
According to Ganor and Misgav, “The British archaeological expedition that carried out excavations at Tel Lachish in the 1930s uncovered an elaborate administrative building from the Persian period, on top of the podium of the destroyed palace-fort of the Judean kings. The Persian-era residence extended over a large area and comprised elaborate halls and courtyards with a majestic columned Persian-style portico entrance. Today, only the pillar bases remain in place after the British expedition dismantled the remains of the elaborate Persian building to excavate the underlying Judean palace.”
It appears that the inscribed clay piece may have been an administrative note, akin to a receipt for goods.
Lachish, a major fortified city with a temple, was tasked with tax collections on behalf of the Persian empire. The collected taxes were dispatched in the central administrative building, and the inscribed sherd may have been written by a storeroom official. It may be the earliest administrative inscription from the Persian period found in Israel.