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Alexander and Artaxerxes fragment (BCHP 4)
Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre.
referring to Alexander
the Great and an Artaxerxes is one of the historiographical texts
It is highly enigmatic, but clearly refers to events after the Macedonian
conquest. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles,
The cuneiform tablet (BM 36613 = 80-6-17, 343)
is in the British Museum.
On this website, a reading is proposed by
van der Spek of the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and
Irving Finkel of the British Museum. Please note that this is a preliminary
edition. This web publication is therefore intended to invite suggestions
for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here
to contact Van der Spek).
General commentaryUnfortunately this text is very enigmatic. In the first place, it is unclear what kind of text it is. It may be a chronicle or part of an Astronomical Diary. In that case a quotation from a letter or address is preserved, which contents may be in lines 8'-10'. It is also possible that the entire text is a proclamation or letter to the Babylonians ("you Babylonians" (l. 8'), in which mention is made of some facts of history of the days of an Arses and of Alexander the Great regarding temples and houses.
The tablet can also date to a later period. One option is that it was written at the time of the restorations of Esagila and Ezida by Seleucus I Nicator and Antiochus I Soter (Kuhrt, Sherwin-White 1991), and that earlier work by the great Alexander was remembered: the fact that the troops of Alexander had removed the rubble of Esagila, that he had promised to return houses to the possessions of the temple and the Babylonians (cf. the astronomical diary, AD I, p. 178, no. -330A; note that in this diary mention is made of three messages of Alexander to the Babylonians, lines 3'-5' concerning Esagila, 7', the promise not to enter houses, 14'-15', unknown content). The crown prince Antiochus, son of Seleucus I, figures in the Ruin of Esagila Chronicle (BCHP 6), a chronicle which describes the offerings made by the crown prince on the ruin of Esagila and his effort to remove the rubble of Esagila with the help of troops, wagons and elephants.
All earlier editors (including Van der Spek 2003)
of this text have assumed that the "Arses, son of Ochos, who is called
Artaxerxes", mentioned in line 6', is the Achaemenid
son of Artaxerxes
III Ochus (338-336 BCE). As we shall see below,
it cannot be excluded that it refers to Arses - Artaxerxes
II Mnemon (404-358 BCE).
Comments on details2'
lúKÚR (nakru, “enemy”). One oblique and one horizontal wedge are preserved, which may be the end of KÚR. Other signs are possible as well, like DUR (cf. l. 8’).
Text and translation
AN.BA]R. One vertical and one horizontal wedge crossing each other are visible, which may represent the sign BAR, as Sachs suggested. He translated: “....... with?] an iron? [spade?] of his own hands, [he .....]the debris from ...[...”
šá ŠUII-šú, “of/which his hand”. Note that “his hand” may mean: “he personally”. Cf. CAD Q s.v. qâtu, “hand”, p. 188 4) “self, person”.
d[ur. The sign looks like the beginning of DUR (cf. line 8’). A syllabic writing of dûru, “wall” (instead of ideographical BÀD), however, is unusual. Glassner’s reading [É.SAG.GIL does not fit the traces.
As a matter of fact, this Babylonian document cannot be used as evidence, since the phrase “who is called Artaxerxes” can equally refer to Umakuš (Ochos), in which case the sentence proves nothing. In view of the terminology used in Hellenistic Uruk for Urukeans who have double names (mostly a Babylonian and a Greek name) we would expect a formula “Arses, who is called king Artaxerxes, son of Ochos,” if king Arses – Artaxerxes IV were intended.
The interpretation of this name, however, might be altogether wrong. It is also possible that the king in question is not king Arses – Artaxerxes IV Arses, but Arses – Artaxerxes II Mnemon. Artaxerxes II was son of Darius II Nothus, whose original name was Ochos. If so, we have to translate: “Arses, son of Ochos (Darius II), whose second name is king Artaxerxes (II).” An attack on Sippar in the 42th year of Artaxerxes II is mentioned in a recently published astronomical diary (Hunger & Van der Spek 2006). Perhaps our document contains a reminiscence to this event.
Unfortunately comparison with the dating formulae of the Astronomical Diaries does not help very much. In these formulae the name of the father of the reigning king is never mentioned. The formula used here is: PN ša PN2 (LUGAL) MU-šú na-bu-ú, “PN, who is called king PN2.” See for example AD I, p. 152, no. -346, left edge: MU 12.KAM mÚ-ma-kuš šá mÁr-tak-šat-su LUGAL MU-šú na-bu-ú, “year 12 of Ochos, who is called king Artaxerxes (III)”; MU 38.KAM mÁr-šú LUGAL šá mÁr-tak-šat-su LUGAL MU-šú [na-bu-ú], “year 38 of king Arses, who is called king Artaxerxes (II)” (AD I, p. 136, no. -366 B lower edge; on tablet A left edge the title LUGAL, “king,” added to both names, has been omitted in both cases); mÚ-ma-kuš šá mDa-a-ri-muš MU-šú SA4, “Ochos, who is called Darius (II)” (AD I, p. 66, no. -391 B obv. 1).
Grammatically the appositional clause “who is called Artaxerxes” in our text can either refer to Aršû (Arses) or to Umakuš (Ochos). If it refers to Ochos, the Arses must be the son of Ochos/ Artaxerxes III. If it refers to Arses, this Arses can be both Artaxerxes II, son of Ochos/Darius and Arses (Artaxerxes IV), son of Ochos/Artaxerxes III. Due to the lack of context it is difficult to decide.
The reading lìb-bi UR[U UD.KIB.NUN.KI], “within the cit[y of Sippar]” is also possible (URU and ERI are different readings of the same cuneiform sign). A temple of Anunitu was situated in Sippar (É.UL.MAŠ, reconstructed by Nabonidus (George, House Most High, 1993, no. 1169). From Diary AD I, p. 178, no. -330 A: r. 6’ we know that Alexander was in Sippar before he came to Babylon (18 October 331 BC), from where he issued a message: “I shall not enter your houses.” This text is also about messages, possibly messages from Sippar.
Another possible translation is: “they were mourning.” We find this expression in the Nabonidus Chronicle where mention is made of the death of Nabonidus’ mother: DUMU LUGAL u ERÍN.MEŠ-šú 3 u4-mu šu-du-ru, “the prince and his army were in mourning for three days” (ABC 7: ii 14). If so, our document may refer to the death of Alexander or the death of Hephaestion. Hephaestion was Alexander’s most intimate friend and his death at Ecbatana (October 324) into a paroxysm of grief. Alexander. Alexander spent a huge amount of money on the funeral pyre of Hephaestion and ordered to tore down the city wall to a distance of ten stadia (2 km.) (Diodorus of Sicily, Library, 17.115.1; cf. Justin 12.12.12; Plutarch of Chaeronea, Alexander, 72; Arrian, Anabasis, VII 14). Alexander “commanded mourning throughout the whole barbarian country.” (Arrian, Anabasis VII 14,9)
The other form, derived from the verb ša#âru, “to write”, also fits the context, but the grammatical form is not immediately clear. One option is a stative plural of the D-stem. The D-stem, however, requires a double teth (#): šu##uru. Cf. CAD ŠII, p. 238 s.v. ša#âru 5) šu##uru, “to write, to copy, to list, to record” mentioning ARM I 11:49 #uppatim ša ana PN . . . šu-u#-#u-ru, “the tablets which have been written to PN”. Another problem is that we would expect um-ma, “as follows,” as introduction to the direct speech, or šá, “that,” introducing the indirect speech.
The other option is the plural imperative of the G stem, but this requires the form šu#râ or šu#urrâ (cf. GAG § 87 e, f). See, however, YOS VII 69: 10 attunu ina mi-<gi>-ir libbikunu ahâmeš šu-#u-ru-a-ma, “you must write to each other with full and voluntary consent.” Due to the lack of context it is very difficult to decide what the correct reading is.
The passage may be a reference to the letters as mentioned in Astronomical Diary AD I, p. 178, no. -330A r. 4’-5’ or 7’ or 14’ at Alexander’s first entrance into Babylon (331 BC). It is also noteworthy that this diary -330A has the same ductus and shape as the piece under review here. It may well be the same hand. The fragment was entered into the inventory of the British Museum on the same day as the diary in question, 17 June 1880 (AD I, p. 176, no. -330 A (BM 36761 = 80-6-17, 496) and B (BM 36390 = 80-6-17, 116)).
However, the document may equally relate events of Alexander’s final stay in Babylon in 323 BC, when Alexander (again) ordered the rebuilding of Esagila. The troops mentioned in lines 10’ and 11’ may then be the troops Alexander used for the removal of the debris of the temple tower (Strabo of Amasia 16.1.5). The mourning may refer then to the mourning for Hephaestion or Alexander himself. See for a discussion Alexander’s stay in Babylon see Van der Spek 2003.
Bert van der Spek © 2005
Latest revision: 28 August 2006