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ABC 7: The Nabonidus Chronicle


Nabonidus' chronicle. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Nabonidus Chronicle, reverse (British Museum)
The Nabonidus Chronicle is a historiographical text from ancient Babylonia. It describes the reign of Nabonidus, the last king of the Babylonian Empire, who lost his realm to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE. These pages present a scholarly edition; an easy-to-read version can be found here.
   
General Introduction Colum i-ii Column iii-iv Comment Literature

Summary and Significance

The Nabonidus Chronicle documents the reign of the last king of Babylonia, Nabonidus. During his first regnal years, he campaigns in the west (e.g. i.7), and then settles in Tema, an oasis in the western desert (e.g. ii.5); no explanation is offered (this never happens in chronicles) but the consequence is repeatedly stressed - the Akitu Festival could not be celebrated (e.g., ii.6). As the bottom of the tablet is missing, we do not know under which circumstances he returned to Babylon, but on the reverse of the tablet, we find the king at home again (iii.5-8).

The tablet also describes the rise of Cyrus the Great, who is first presented as the ruler of Anšan who subdued the Median leader Astyages (550; ii.1); we also learn that Cyrus -now called king of Persia- conquered Urartu in 547 (ii.16); and on the reverse, we read how -in October 539- he outmaneuvered the Babylonians in a battle at Opis (iii.12), which was followed by the killing of citizens (iii.14). Babylon is captured, Nabonidus is taken captive (iii.16), and Cyrus enters a peaceful city (iii.19). The final remarks of the tablet deal with Cambyses, who appears to have made a mistake during the Akitu Festival (iii.26), and the destruction of a gate (iv.4').

The tablet is important because it offers the chronology of the main events in the third quarter of the sixth century; this is discussed here.

About this Web Edition

Although this web edition is based on A.K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (1975, repr.2000), it is not an exact copy of pp.104-111 of that splendid book. I have inserted the "Addenda et Corrigenda" on page 282-283. Together with several other updates, they have been indicated in the text (yellow); in the commentary, you can find who is responsible for this change - Grayson himself, Bert van der Spek, or Jona Lendering.

Too often have I seen historians misquoting information from this chronicle because they had no access to the book (and therefore, the full text), or, if they did consult the main text, forgetting to check the corrigenda. It is, for example, time and again stated that the Nabonidus Chronicle dates Cyrus' conquest of Lydia to 547; Grayson already corrected this mistake, and it has recently been established that the text in fact mentions Urartu. (The consequences for the chronology of Greece and Anatolia are discussed here.)

I like to thank Bert van der Spek, co-editor of the Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period, for his help in preparing this web-version.

Description of the Tablet

The text of Chronicle 7 is inscribed on a large tablet, BM 35832 (Sp II 964). The tablet measures 140 mms wide and 140 mms long. Besides some surface breaks, the bottom and most of the left-hand side of the tablet is missing.

Earlier Publications

  • Photograph
    • 1930, Dougherty, American Journal of Archaeology 34, p.308
  • Copies
    • 1882 T. Pinches, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 7, pp.153-169
    • 1889 L. Abel in H. Winckler, Untersuchungen zur altorientalischen Geschichte  pp.154f
    • 1894 O.E. Hagen, Beiträge zur Assyriologie 2, 2 plates between pp.248f which are reproduced in Der Alte Orient 13/3 (1912) pp.12f
    • 1924 S. Smith, Smith, Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of  Babylon, pls.XI-XIV
  • Editions
    • 1882 T. Pinches, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 7, pp.139-176
    • 1890 E. Schrader, Keilinschriftlicht Bibliothek 3/2 pp.128-137
    • 1894 O.E. Hagen, Beiträge zur Assyriologie 2, pp.214-225, 235-248
    • 1924 S. Smith, Smith, Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of  Babylon, pp.98-123
  • Translations only
    • 1926 E. Ebeling, in: H. Gressman, ed., Altorientalische Texte zum Alten Testament, 2nd edition pp.366-368
    • 1955 A.L. Oppenheim, in: J.B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, revised edition, pp.305-307
  • Studies
    • 1882 T. Pinches, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 7, pp.153-169
    • 1925 H. de Genouillac, Revue d’Assyriologie 22, pp.80 ff
    • 1925 S. Langdon, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1925, pp. 165f, 168f
    • 1925 S. Smith, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1925, p.299
    • 1927 B. Landsberger and T. Bauer, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 37, pp.61-66
    • 1944 S. Smith, Isaiah Chapters XL-LV, Literary Criticism and History (Schweich Lectures, Oxford), Lecture II
    • 1950 W. Albright, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental research 120, p.23
    • 1964 K. Galling, Studien zur Geschichte Israels (Tübingen) pp.8-22
    • 1965 H. Tadmor, Studies Landsberger, pp.351-363
    • 1971 W.H. Shea, Andrews University Seminary Studies 9, pp.51-67, 99-128
    • 1972 W.H. Shea, Andrews University Seminary Studies 10, pp.88-117, 147-178
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General Introduction Colum i-ii Column iii-iv Comment Literature
© A.K. Grayson
Webedition by Jona Lendering
Online 2008
Revision: 23 Jan 2009
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