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A dubious source on Alexander: the Dynastic prophecy


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). In mid-July 330, the Persian king Darius III Codomannus was killed; this meant the end of the Achaemenid empire, which was now taken over by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great. One of the most tantalizing descriptions of Darius' death is the Dynastic Prophecy, which was written on a clay tablet found at Babylon. It is now in the British Museum. The relevant lines are quoted below in the translation by Bert van der Spek.
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Dynastic Prophecy, reverse. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Dynastic Prophecy, reverse (British Museum)
[Column 5]
 4   For two years [he will exercise kingship]. [1].
 5   That king a eunuch [will murder].
 6   A certain prince [......] [2]
 7   will set out and [seize] the thr[one]
 8   Five years [he will exercise] king[ship]
 9   Troops of the land of Hani [......] [3]
10  will set out a[nd? .. ]./-ship?\ th[ey will?  ...]
11  [his] troop[s they will defeat;]
12  booty from him they will take [and his spoils]
13  they will plunder. Later [his] tr[oops ...]
14  will assemble and his weapons he will ra[ise (...)]
15  Enlil, Šamaš and [Marduk(?)] [4]
16  will go at the side of his army [(...);]
17  the overthrow of the Hanaean troops he will [bring about].
18  His extensive booty he will car[ry off and] 
19  into his palace he [will bring it]
20  The people who had [experienced] misfortune
21  [will enjoy] well-being.
22  The heart of the land [will be happy]
23  Tax exemption [he will grant to Babylonia]




Dynastic Prophecy, obverse. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Dynastic Prophecy, obverse
This is fascinating, because it seems to prove that at least one Babylonian believed that Darius III was not dead, and would return victoriously. World history offers many examples of popular leaders who are believed not to have died: a brief catalogue would include the miraculously saved king Croesus of Lydia, the last pharaoh of independent Egypt Nectanebo II, king Arthur of the Britons, the German emperor Frederick, and, in our own age, Adolf Hitler and Elvis Presley.

It would be interesting if we could say that Darius also belonged to this exclusive company, and several scholars have believed that the text does indeed prove that Darius was considered to be alive somewhere and would one day return to overthrow the Macedonians. Their ideas have been made known to a larger audience by Michael Wood in his immensely popular In the footsteps of Alexander the Great (1997).

Unfortunately, there is a long break in the text (line 10) and we are not permitted to identify the king who fits the army in the second part of the text with Darius, as has often been suggested. If Darius is not the 'he' of the second part of the prophecy, another identification has to be made. The words can refer to Alexander, to several native leaders, but also to Seleucus, who defeated several Greek armies.




 

Note 1:
This refers to king Artaxerxes IV Arses, who was killed by the eunuch Bagoas (more...).

Note 2:
This refers to king Darius III Codomannus. This line shows that he started his career as an insurrectionist.

Note 3:
The Macedonians.

Note 4:
Babylonian gods.








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