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Alexander restores the Esagila


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). According to the Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia, Alexander the Great ordered (during his first visit to Babylon in 331) that the Esagila, the great temple dedicated to the Babylonian supreme god Marduk, and the Etemenanki, the large temple tower next to it, were to be rebuilt. When the Macedonian conquero returned to the ancient city in 323, he noted that not much work had been done yet (more), and gave new instructions to both the citizens and his own soldiers. Arrian's statement is confirmed by the following cuneiform text, known as BM 36613.
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Reconstruction of the Etemenanki. Drawing Jona Lendering.
A reconstruction of the Etemenanki

Unfortunately, the text is not only badly damaged, it is not very clear either. It seems to be a letter in which reference is made to certain events during the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes IV Arses (338-336), and in the second half, building activities by Alexander are mentioned, including an act that may have been the return of the Esagila to the Babylonians.

The translation was made by Bert van der Spek.

Document on land and tithes (obverse). Photo Bert van der Spek.
BCHP 4: Land and tithes (obv) (British Museum).**
  1. [illegible]
  2. ........................... the enemy with fire  ..................
  3. .................. and the troops ..................
  4. .................. iron of his own hands the debris from the wall of .........
  5. .................. were removed. On that day [nth] .........
  6. [month ? year x]th of Arses, son of Ochus, who is called Artaxerxes
  7. [some people of some houses] entered the temple of Anunitu inside the city of Sippar
  8. ......... for Alexander, the king, they were mourning. You Babylonians
  9. ......... [verb] The [lacuna] and the houses to the possession of Esagila and the Babylonians returned
  10. ..................  Esagila they will rebuild. The army ..................
  11. .................. few troops ....................................
  12. [broken off]
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