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Chronographic Documents Concerning Bagayasha (BCHP 18 A/B)

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The Bagayasha Chronicle, combined. Photos Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragments A and B combined
(British Museum).
The Babylonian Chronographic document concerning Bagayasha ("Bagayasha Chronicle"; BCHP 18) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It describes a punitive action by a Parthian prince against the city of Babylon, and its consequences..

On this website, a first 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 edition. This web publication is intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek).

General commentary

Although a substantial part of the tablet is preserved it is very difficult to make sense of it. It seems advisable to enumerate the points in which we have some confidence.


The date is lost. The only thing we know is that it is an exceptionally detailed chronographic text, which seems to cover only days in one month: the 9th and 10th day (A 20’-21’); the 11th day (B 29’). Yet, we have some information on the date, since mention is made of a certain Bagayaša in A 21’ and B 2’ (Ba-a-a-ga-š-a; Ba-ga-a-a-š-a: the Iranian name Bagāyāš (suggestion G.R.F. Assar) or Bagaiča-? (suggestion M.W. Stolper 2006, 247)). This man is named a few times in the astronomical diaries and is also known from classical sources.
Babylonian Chronicles

Text and translation
General commentary
Philological commentary
Summary of events

Fragment C


The Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment A. Photo Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment A
(British Museum).

The first instance is AD III, p. 160, no. –137 A obv. 16’-19’, relating the fact that the general of Babylonia had entered Babylon on 5.II.174 SE = 13 May 138 BC. The broken context makes further mention of the fact that in the same month Bagayasha “who [had gone] to the cities of the province of Assyria (=Mesopotamia)” “had mustered his [army] and [had departed] to the cities of Media.” The same diary reports on the reverse that two months later king Arsaces departed from Media in order to do battle with Demetrius II Nicator in Babylonia (AD III p. 160, no. –137A: rev. 7’-11’, month IV 174 SE = 8 July – 6 Aug. 138 BC. For the chronology of this battle see: Van der Spek 1997/8: 172-3.

The second report concerns month VII of year 177 SE = 1-30 October 135 BC. It is told that on the 20th of the month letters of a certain Menophilos were sent, which apparently disclosed the news that the king had suffered a serious illness. Perhaps it was an aggravation of a stroke (mišittu) the king? had suffered in October/November 137 BC (AD III, p. 182, no. -136B 16’). Three days later new letters arrived about the appointment of Bagayasha as substitute of the king (GIM š LUGAL). The letter was directed to the politai of Babylon and perhaps read out loud in the theatre (AD III, p. 194, no. -134B 15’-17’).

The third reference to Bagayasha is in the diary concerning religious riots in Babylon and Borsippa in month VII 179 SE = 9 October – 6 November 133 BC (AD III, p. 216, no. –132 B rev. 18ff). In that month Philinos, the general of Babylonia, who had been summoned in month I (April/May 133 BC) to Media to “Bagayasha, the brother of the king,” was now discharged from his office. On the 24th of the month (1 November) letters of king Arsaces were read out loud to the politai that a certain Theodosios had been appointed as the new general (stratēgos).

The last time we hear about the name is AD III p. 312, no. –119 concerning month II 192 SE = 20 May – 17 June 120 BC. Letters were sent to the governor (pāhatu = epistates) and the politai of Babylon, and mention is made (in the letter?) about a certain [PN x]x-na-a, the son of Bagayasha “who was in charge of the four generals”, which means that he was “general of Babylonia who was in charge of the four generals”, perhaps as successor to Theodosios, and a certain Urrahšu, one of the (lower) generals.
G.R.F. Assar has argued convincingly that this Bagayasha was none other than Bacasis, who was appointed praefectus of Media by the Parthian king Mithridates I. Assar also maintains that this Bacasis was Mithradates’ brother (Assar 2001a: 18; 2006b: 4-8).

According to the traditional dating Mithradates reigned from ca. 171-139/8 BC. He was the real founder of the Parthian empire, whose core was in Hyrcania on the south east of the Caspian Sea. Soon after 148 BC he conquered Media and appointed Bacasis as governor (Justin 41.6.7). In the first two months of the Babylonian year SEB 171, i.e. between 13 April and 10 June 141 BC, Mithradates conquered Babylonia (Van der Spek 1997/8: 171). That he took the title “Great King” may be derived from AD III, p. 134, no. -140A rev. 9’: [.... mAr-š-]ka-a /LUGAL\ GAL- mun-nu-, “Arsaces, appointed great king” and the colophon in AD III, p. 152, no. -140C Upper edge 1: LUGAL GA[L-]; Hunger’s and Pinches’ reading here LUGAL LU[GAL.MEŠ, “king of kings” is probably not right in view of the traces (collation M.J.Geller, cf. Van der Spek 1997/8: 173 n. 28, but my suggestion LUGAL KUR.[KUR], “king of the la[nds]”,  is probably also to be rejected - collation needed). The earliest certain attestation of LUGAL LUGAL.MEŠ (“king of kings” is in AD III, p. 360, no. -108B upper edge 1 (109 BC). This was under Mithradates II (121-91 BC). The interpretation as LUGAL LUGAL.MEŠ in AD III, p. 346, no. -110 rev. 1’ is also highly questionable in view of the traces. He also took the surname Philhellēn, in spite of his wars against the Seleucids. Apparently he wanted to appease his new Greek subjects who lived in cities like Seleucia on the Tigris, Babylon, Susa and elsewhere.

Demetrius II tried to reconquer Babylonia in July/August 138 BC, but without success. He was beaten by the Parthians, taken prisoner and kept as hostage at the Parthian court. He was well treated and got Mithradates’ daughter Rhodogyne as wife (cf. Jos. Antt. 219; App. Syr. 67; 1 Macc. 14:1ff; Justin 38.9; AD III, p. 160, no. –137 A Rev. 8’-11’; Van der Spek 1997/8: 172-3).

The Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment B. Photo Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment B
(British Museum).

According to the accepted chronology, Mithradates died soon afterwards on his death bed in 138/7 BC (Debevoise 1938: 26 n. 114), and was succeeded by his minor son Phraates II. This date, however, must be questioned on the basis of new cuneiform evidence. Van der Spek (1998/7: 173) questioned the chronology on the basis of AD III, p. 152, no. –140 C rev. 41’-42’ (concerning month X 171 SE = January 140 BC), where a king Arsaces and a violent death (or: defeat) are recorded, which might regard Mithradates’ death. That view, however, cannot be upheld either. It is known from other sources that Mithradates died a natural death from old age; secondly coinage is issued in his name (as a matter of fact not his name Mithradates, but the official royal titles Basileōs megalou Arsakou Philhellēnos) until 139/8 BC, actually the main basis of the traditional dating for Mithradates’ death to this year (Will 1982: 408) or a year later (Debevoise l.c.).

Now Assar has made a good case for the theory that Mithradates did not die at all in 138 BC, but that he continued to live until the very end of SEB 179 = 133/2 BC. Support of this theory is found in Justin’s statement that Mithradates “succumbed to illness (adversā valetudine adreptus) and died with glory at an advanced age, as great a man as his great-grandfather Arsaces” (Justin 41.6.9; cf. Yardley 1994, 258). Mithradates’ illness seems indeed reported in the above mentioned diary concerning October 135 BC and the appointment of Bagayasha as substitute king (GIM š LUGAL, AD III, p. 134B 17). The king may have suffered a stroke earlier already in month VIII 175 SE = Oct/Nov. 137 BC (cf. AD III, p. 183, no. –136 B obv. 16’ (“[...] his sickness, a stroke hit him [...].”  In official matters Mithradates remained king, letters were written in his name as the letter read in Babylon on 1 November 133 BC, but decisions are made by the brother of the king. According to Assar, the last cuneiform document dated to the old king is a hitherto unpublished astrological omen text, SH 81-7-6,122, dated to 9/10 December 133 BC (5 IX 179 SE; mAr-š-ka-a LUGAL KUR.KUR, “Arsaces, king of lands”; cf. Oelsner 1975: 31, n. 5; Van der Spek 1997/8: 173 n. 28). Assar (2006) has suggested (on page 97) that the partial date-formula on the upper edge of Diary -132D1 (AD III, page 234), reading: {…. MU 1.ME.79.KAM mAr-š-ka-a LUGAL,   “[... Year] 179, King Arsaces,” is probably the latest record from the reign of Mithradates I because the corresponding fragment covers months VII [VIII-X] XI-XII. Since Phraates II is associated with his mother in month V of 180 SE, he argues that it is safe to assign Diary -132D1 to Mithradates I and so extend his reign to the very end of year 179 SE.

The first tablet dated to the new king Phraates II, who probably was a minor and who had his mother as regent, is dated to month V 180 SE (31 July – 28 August 132 BC) “mAr-šak-’  u fRi-/’?\-nu AMA-š LUGAL.MEŠ, “Arsaces and Ri’nu, his mother, kings.” (BRM II 53; cf. Oelsner 1986: 408, n. 570).

If this reconstruction is correct the chronicle should be dated to the years 135-132 BC, when Bagayasha was the regent of his brother Mithradates. Since, however, the name Bagayasha occurs here in broken context, it might as well be possible, that in our chronicle not Bagayasha himself was at issue, but his son, who was appointed general of Babylonia in 120 BC (see above), or both. It occurs to me that Bagayasha was still alive in this text and that he is indicated as lNUN, “the prince” in B 9’, A 11’ and A 24’. If this reconstruction is correct then we have to look for a date when the son of Bagayasha was general of Babylonia and Bagayasha himself still alive. In October/November 133 BC Philinos was replaced by Theodosios (AD III, p. 216-7, no. -132B r. 21-25; cf. above). The appointment of a new general is mentioned in AD III, p. 310/1, no. -119 A2 16’-19’ (April/May 120 BC). It would give a very late date as terminus post quem for the Bagayasha chronicle. No later appointments are mentioned in the diaries.

The Bagayasha Chronicle, edge. Photo Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment B, edge
(British Museum).

As we cannot be confident about the respective reconstructions we must maintain a wide range for dating the chronicle in question to ca. 138 – 120  BC or as long as the strategy of Bagayasha’s son endured.


A central issue seems to be: “people, who live in the palace”. The phrase occurs in four places: A 7’, B 6’, 17’-18’, 28’-29’. This may be written evidence of the assumption based on excavations that in the Parthian period the royal palace of Babylon was inhabited by private persons. Cf. Koldewey 1990: 182; Wetzel 1957: 27 (on the basis of graves found in the grand court before the throne room); Hauser 1999: 214, n. 37. Oelsner reckons with the possibility of the use of the palace as “Wohnviertel” (Oelsner 1986: 115, 377 n. 431). Unfortunately, the verb used in our chronicle, ašābu, “to sit down”, is a little ambiguous. It may refer to a temporary stay (“to stay somewhere temporarily (on a journey, on a flight, etc.”), but also to a longer residence “to reside and live somewhere, to have a domicile” (CAD A2, 386).

There are a few signs in the chronicle that a kind of imprisonment was at issue. This may either mean that some Babylonians were imprisoned for some reason in the royal palace, or that people had fled there and were now besieged, or that people had lived there and built houses for some time, but were forced to leave the palace, but entrenched themselves.

The people who live in the palace are first mentioned in B 6’ in the context of fighting and looting (B 5’-8’). The fact that people were locked in the palace is suggested by A 7’: people in the palace raised a cry of distress, and A 10’: gates of the palace were opened; Wailing and mourning of different population groups (Babylonians, people of the land, their wives, and the epistates) are the topic of  B 12’-18’ = A 5’- 11’. The end of the trouble is in line 17’: good words are spoken, the people living in the palace are freed (B 17’ = A 10’); sacrifices are made in the Babylonian and Greek fashion; joy is in the land (B 18’-25’ = A 11’- 18’). They are probably again mentioned in  A 21’- B 29’ in enigmatic context.

to part four (philological commentary)

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