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An Astronomical Diary mentioning Gaugamela

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Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre.
Its official title "Astronomical Diary concerning month VI and VII of the fifth year of Artašata who is called Darius" may not sound very exciting, but this is one of the most important cuneiform sources for the eastern campaign of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great. Not only does this Astronomical Diary describe the omens before the battle of Gaugamela and the fight itself (on 1 October 331), but it also tells how the "king of Asia" entered Babylon.

The cuneiform tablets (BM 36761 + BM 36390) are in the British Museum. On this website, a new reading is proposed by Bert van der Spek of the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Irving Finkel of the British Museum. Please notice that this is a preliminary version. This web publication is therefore intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek).

Babylonian Chronicles
Earlier editions
Commentary (obv.)
Commentary (rev.)
Reader's edition

Ištar gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Babylon's Ištar Gate (Pergamonmuseum, Berlin)



The restorations are speculative, but we know that it was Alexander’s plan to rebuild Esagila (Arrian of Nicomedia, Anabasis 7.17.2), and we know that Babylonians did pay tithes to the treasury of Esagila with the specific purpose of removing the debris of Esagil (Cf. Del Monte 1997: 13-17 + n. 41; Jursa 1998: 73f). That high functionaries enter the temple “and prostrate themselves” is a recurring theme in the diaries.

Tithes to the treasury of Esagila: cf. Alexander's treatment of Ephesus (Arrian, Anabasis 1.17.10).

Greeks. Greeks must have been mentioned in the break in view of the fact that “these Greeks” are mentioned in line 9’. Lendering (2004, 180-181) draws attention to the fact that in the cuneiform sources, the soldiers of Alexander are usually called Hanaeans, not Greeks, and suggests that the conqueror used ambassadors from a Greek town in the Achaemenid Empire, who knew the diplomatic customs. Alternatively, Alexander may have thought it better not to send Macedonian ambassadors, because Macedonians and Babylonians had come to blows at Gaugamela.

Cf. VS VI 268:3 and 7 = NRV 842, the “rations of the king for the goddess Išhara” contain, among other things, 10 short ribs of the bull and 5 fatty tissues of the sheep (I owe the reference to M.Stol). Cf. also the ritual for the renovation of a temple from Uruk TU 46: Obv. 4 (Linssen 2002: 300).

Cf. Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 11.331 for Alexander ordering a sacrifice according to local customs.

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