The Ahiram sarcophagus (also spelled Ahirom) was the sarcophagus of a Phoenician king of Byblos (ca. 1000 BC), discovered in 1923 by the French excavator Pierre Montet in tomb V of the royal necropolis of Byblos. Ahirom is not attested in any other Ancient Oriental source.
The sarcophagus is famed for its bas relief carvings, and its Phoenician language inscription. The inscription is considered to be the earliest known example of the fully developed Phoenician alphabet. For some scholars it represents the terminus ad quem of the transmission of the alphabet to Europe.
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 meters deep.
The sarcophagus of Ahiram was discovered by the French archaeologist Pierre Montet in 1923 in Jbeil, the historic 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.
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.
According to the recent re-edition of the Ahirom inscriptions by Reinhard G.Lehmann), the translation of the sarcophagus inscription reads:
A coffin made it [It]tobaal, son of Ahirom, king of Byblos, for Ahirom, his father,lo, thus he put him in seclusion. Now, if a king among kings and a governor among governors and a commander of an army should come up against Byblos; and when he then uncovers this coffin – (then:) may strip off the scepter of his judiciary, may be overturned the throne of his kingdom, and peace and quiet may flee from Byblos. And as for him, one should cancel his registration concerning the libation tube of the memorial sacrifice.
The formulas of the inscription were immediately recognized 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. It had been first published as a warning to an excavator not to proceed further, but now is understood as part of some initiation ritual which remains unknown in detail. It reads:
here and now be humble (you yourself!)
‹in› this basement!“
Ahirom is not attested in any other Ancient Oriental source.
He was succeeded by his son Ittobaal who is the first to be explicitly entitled King of Byblos.