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The Alexander Chronicle (BCHP 1): Commentary
Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre.
Alexander Chronicle (BCHP 1; a.k.a. ABC 8, Chronicle 8) is one
of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia.
It deals with events from the reigns of the Persian king Darius
III Codomannus and his Macedonian
The cuneiform tablet (BM 36304) is in the British Museum and was first published by A.K. Grayson in 1975 in a book called Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. On this website, a new reading is proposed by Bert van der Spek of the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands). The official publication can be found in Achaemenid History XIII (2003). An alternative reading, not by Van der Spek, is proposed here.
Text and translation
mbi-/e\-[... . Grayson read: ana bi-x[... . In view of line 4 I assume that a personal name is at issue. The name Bessus (mbi-e-su?) would fit the year 330 BCE. (The name Bi-e-su is attested in the Murašu archive.)
a-lik-sa. The reading poses no doubts. It can only refer to the royal name Alexander in abbreviated form. Abbreviations of royal names occur more often in chronicles and diaries. The name of Alexander may have been written in full in the previous paragraph, which may have described the battle of Gaugamela.
m/da-ri\-ia-a-muš: Grayson assumed that Darius I was at issue, but we can now be certain that Darius III was meant (so Glassner 1993, 206).
Grayson and Glassner read šàr šarr[ânimeš], i.e. LUGAL LUG[AL.MEŠ], "king of kings". The second LUGAL, however, appears to be DU or GIN = alâku, "to go".
It is very difficult to interpret and to date this chronicle, although it is now certain that the Darius in line obv. 7' is Darius III, not Darius I. The events which seem easiest to date are those described in 3'-7'. There are several elements in this section, which seem to refer to events of the summer of 330, the year after the battle of Gaugamela.
The dethronement (line 3') of someone may offer the clue. The only dethronements I can imagine are those of Arses in 336, which seems too early, since Alexander was not at the stage in Asia at that moment, and the inprisonment of Darius III by Bessus, satrap of Bactria and Sogdia, Nabarzanes, chiliarch of Darius, and Barsaentes, satrap of Arachosia and Drangiana, in Choara (Arrian, Anabasis 3.21.1 and Curtius Rufus, 5.12.4, 15). Alexander is reported this, when he just has passed the Caspian Gate (July 330 BCE). Darius III was killed shortly after, in July, near Hecatompylos, by Satibarzanes and Barsaentes at the order of Bessus (Arrian, Anabasis 3.21.9-10; Diodorus, Library, 17.73.2; Curtius Rufus 5.13.13; Plutarch, Alexander 42; Itiner. 69; Ps.-Callisthenes 2.20; Jul. Val. II 31). Bessus returned to Bactria and prepared for war against Alexander. He took the royal tiara and declared himself successor to Darius under the throne name Artaxerxes (Arrian, Anabasis 3.25.3; Diodorus 17.74.2; 83.7; Curtius Rufus 6.6.13)
The "few troops" of line 5' may refer to the small army with which Alexander pursued Bessus (Arrian, Anabasis 3.21.2, 7). According to Arrian, Satibarzanes and Barsaentes wounded Darius when Alexander was right upon them, left him where he was and escaped. "Darius died of his wound soon after, before Alexander had seen him" (Arrian, Anabasis 3.21.10). Curtius Rufus (5.13.24f), Plutarch, Alexander 43 and Justin (11.15) add that Darius was still alive when found by the Macedonians.
In his recent book on Alexander, Lendering observes that, if the Alexander Chronicle deals with the dethronement of Darius and the accession of Bessus, it contradicts the European sources (Lendering 2004, 214). Arrian and the other Alexander historians state that Bessus accepted the royal title in the autumn of 330, after Alexander's conquest of Hyrcania; the Alexander Chronicle states that this happened immediately. The latter is the more likely chronology, because the satrap of Bactria was the mathišta, the designed successor to the throne (Sancisi-Weerdenburg 1980). Once Darius was dead, Bessus, an Achaemenid, would have become king anyhow.
I have also tried the hypothesis that in line 8'-10' the battle of Gaugamela was mentioned, which took place on 24 Ulûlu. That would mean that in line 3' no reference to Bessus is made, that the second name of line 4' would refer to "[Artašata, whom Darius] as his name they named," line 7' would then refer to the departure of Darius in the direction of Gaugamela, Kidinnu may have been executed for giving a negative prediction on the basis of the lunar eclipse of 13 Ulûlu, the battle may have been mentioned in the same line as having taken place on "Ulûlu, day ", after which Darius fled to "the land Uzuianu, a city of the land of Gutium", which would fit nicely the information of the diary, though one would expect Ecbatana, rather than Uzuianu. Lines 11'-13' would then refer to Alexander's arrival in Babylon. This would also explain why Darius is called king in line 7', while Alexander is not in line 4'.
Attractive though this reconstruction may be, some puzzles remain. Who was removed from the throne before Gaugamela? Was it perhaps the enigmatic Nidin-Bêl from the Uruk King List? [note 2] Who was Bi-e-[…]? Or do we have to read ana bi-x-[…]? Who was defeated or killed in line 6?