In one most famous paper, Oleg Grabar asked ‘Why Write on Buildings?’. And the prominent scholar proposed some reason, and some perspective from which inscriptions and graffiti can be seen and studied.
The main point is: if you write something on a wall, probably it is intended to be read, and understood by a certain audience in a certain context. This is more or less the same perspective given in the volume edited by Piquette and Whitehouse, Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium, where we read that the text is not simply a source about the past, but it is also something constitutive of the past.
The inscriptions can give us information about what happened of course, but which kind of information can we get from the existence of the inscription? What I mean is: what information can we get from the pure fact that someone decided to carve a graffito on a wall, maybe even without taking into account the exact phrases and sentences inscribed?
An example from Persepolis can probably help to clarify this approach.
Of course I want to show how an inscription, in itself, is important and can bear valuable information. Yet, reading the text is of paramount importance to get some hints about the period and context of carving.
The inscription I am considering is again an 11th century text, carved on the wall of Darius’s palace in Persepolis.
حضر الامير الاجل امير الامراء
عميد الدين شمس الدولة ابي على هزاسب
بن سيف الدولة ابى الحسن نصر الحسن بن فيروزان
مولى امير المؤمنين مسراى
قي شوال سنة اربع واربعين واربع مائة
[Here] was present the illustrious amir, the chief amir
‘Amid al-Din Shams al-Dawla Abi [sic] ‘Ali Hazarsab
bin Sayf al-Dawla Abi’l-Hasan Nasr bin al-Hasan bin Firuzan,
client of the Commander of the Faithful,
in Shawwal 444 [January-February 1053]
The Buyid empire was declining, or better, in 444/1053 was collapsing. Even if with Abu Kalijar the reign seemed to have found a stability, kind of, with his death (440/1048), we assist to the final collapse of the dynasty, which was caused anyway by the pre-existing shortcomings of the Buyid empire: unreliability of the army and dissensions among the monarch’s sons.
The confusion in the Buyid empire, caused by political instability and the military weakness of the rulers allowed external forces, such as the Ziyarids, the Ghanznavids and the Kakuyids, among other, to occupy some of the Buyid territories and set there their rule. ‘Amid al-Din belonged to the Firuzanid family, who controlled the Western Tabaristan in the 4th/10th century.
Why writing in Persepolis
Most probably, as Sheila Blair proposes, ‘Amid al-Din envisioned himself as the successor of the Buyid dynasty. This can be inferred from the honorific titles he chooses, in particular he is the amir al-umara, a title that Buyids reserved for the heirs.
Anyway, this will, ‘Amid al-Din’s ‘project’ to become the successor and heir of the Buyid empire, can be inferred also from the place he decided to put his inscription: the Palace of Darius in Persepolis. Whereas the Buyid inscriptions in Persepolis can be read as a way to connect the dynasty to the Iranian past, in particular to the Sasanians, ‘Amid al-Din’s graffito is not to be considered as inscribed there to follow a connection to the Iranian far-away past, but to the recent Buyid dynasty.
The perspective and aim are not assimilable.
And the most interesting part of the inscription by ‘Amid al-Din is: even if we do not concentrate on the honorific titles he uses, we can still understand what was his aim. He wanted to link himself to the Buyid dynasty, by placing his graffito together with the earlier inscriptions of the monarchs he wanted to succeed.
Did he manage?
No, he didn’t. When ‘Amid al-Din was carving this inscription, the Saljuqs were starting their successful campaigns that eventually led to the marvellous Saljuq empire. Also, he died almost immediately after this inscription and his son erected for him a tomb in 448/1056-7.