The Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription, (also Kandahar Edict of Ashoka, sometimes “Chehel Zina Edict”), is a famous bilingual edict in Greek and Aramaic, proclaimed and carved in stone by the Indian Maurya Empire ruler Ashoka (r.269-233 BCE) around 260 BCE. It is the very first known inscription of Ashoka, written in year 10 of his reign (260 BCE), preceding all other inscriptions, including his early Minor Rock Edicts, his Barabar caves inscriptions or his Major Rock Edicts. This first inscription was written in Classical Greek and Aramaic exclusively. It was discovered in 1958, during some excavation works below a 1m high layer of rubble, and is known as KAI 279.
It is sometimes considered one of the several “Minor Rock Edicts” of Ashoka (and then called “Minor Rock Edict No.4), in contrast to his “Major Rock Edicts” which contain portions or the totality of his Edicts from 1 to 14. Two edicts in Afghanistan have been found with Greek inscriptions, one of these being this bilingual edict in Greek language and Aramaic, the other being the Kandahar Greek Inscription in Greek only. This bilingual edict was found on a rock on the mountainside of Chehel Zina (also Chilzina, or Chil Zena, “Forty Steps”), which forms the western natural bastion of ancient Alexandria Arachosia and present Kandahar’sOld City.
The Edict is still in place on the mountainside. According to Scerrato, “the block lies at the eastern base of the little saddle between the two craggy hills below the peak on which the celebrated Cehel Zina of Babur are cut”. A cast is visible in Kabul Museum. In the Edict, Ashoka advocates the adoption of “Piety” (using the Greek term Eusebeia for “Dharma“) to the Greek community.
Greek communities lived in the northwest of the Mauryan empire, currently in Pakistan, notably ancient Gandhara near the current Pakistani capital of Islamabad, and in the region of Arachosia, nowadays in Southern Afghanistan, following the conquest and the colonization efforts of Alexander the Great around 323 BCE. These communities therefore seem to have been still significant in the area of Afghanistan during the reign of Ashoka, about 70 years after Alexander.
Ashoka proclaims his faith, 10 years after the violent beginning of his reign, and affirms that living beings, human or animal, cannot be killed in his realm. In the Hellenistic part of the Edict, he translates the Dharma he advocates by “Piety” εὐσέβεια, Eusebeia, in Greek. The usage of Aramaic reflect the fact that Aramaic (the so-called Official Aramaic) had been the official language of the Achaemenid Empire which had ruled in those parts until the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Aramaic is not purely Aramaic, but seems to incorporate some elements of Iranian. According to D.D.Kosambi, the Aramaic is not an exact translation of the Greek, and it seems rather that both were translated separately from an original text in Magadhi, the common official language of India at the time, used on all the other Edicts of Ashoka in Indian language, even in such linguistically distinct areas as Kalinga. It is written in Aramaic alphabet.
This inscription is actually rather short and general in content, compared to most Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka, including the other inscription in Greek of Ashoka in Kandahar, the Kandahar Greek Edict of Ashoka, which contains long portions of the 12th and 13th edicts, and probably contained much more since it was cut off at the beginning and at the end.