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The Diadochi Chronicle (BCHP 3): Commentary

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Alexander's son Alexander IV. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Alexander's son Alexander IV
(Louvre, Paris)
The Babylonian Diadochi Chronicle (BCHP 3; a.k.a. ABC 10, Chronicle 10) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It deals with the history of the Diadochi, the successors of Alexander the Great, and the Babylonian war between the generals Seleucus and Antigonus Monophthalmus. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles, go here.

This page offers a preliminary new edition by Bert van der Spek, Free University, Amsterdam (Holland), and Irving L. Finkel, British Museum, London, who are currently working on a new edition of all published and unpublished chronicles of the Hellenistic period. This publication on the Livius website is intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to find the e-mail-address of Van der Spek).

Babylonian Chronicles
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Seleucus I Nicator. Bust at the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Seleucus I Nicator (Louvre)

Commentary (reverse)

The passage describes the Babylonian war between (troops of) Seleucus and (troops of) Antigonus Monophthalmus for Babylon. Diodorus of Sicily 19.90-93 [text] and 19.100.3-7 [text] offers a brief description of the events, as if everything had taken place in 312 BCE. In fact the struggle extended over a longer period, 311-308 or even longer (cf. Van der Spek 1992: 243-250) and Antigonus seems to have taken part in person (cf. Wheatley 2002).

In the month Nisannu of 311, Seleucus returned from Egypt in Babylon and before month Simanu (III), i.e. before 31 May, he introduced a new dating system on the basis of regnal years of king Alexander IV (since 317), adding himself as "general". Note that he did not refer to his position as satrap of Babylonia, but as "general" tout court, hence claiming that he had taken over Antigonus' title "strategos of Asia". Small wonder that Seleucus was not included in the peace treaty of 311, the 'Peace of the Dynasts'.

Antigonus seems for a while to have taken over the countryside of Babylonia, appointing there a satrap of his own in competition to Seleucus’ position, Archelaus. The struggle must have had a devastating effect on city and countryside of Babylon. The commodity prices rose to incredible heights, as is remarked by the chronicler in line 29 (Cf. Van der Spek 2000a and Van der Spek & Mandemakers 2003).

For the restoration: cf. Oelsner 1974: 136f n. 33; Van der Spek 1992: 245f; Stolper 1990; Geller 1990: 2 n. 8. The lines refer to a new dating system introduced after the capture of Babylon in the end of May 311. After the expulsion of Antigonus, Seleucus took the title stratźgos. Since it is evidently intended as a succession to Antigonus as stratźgos in the previous dating system, no other interpretation is possible that Seleucus considered himself the new "stratźgos of Asia", a claim probably accepted by none of the other Diadochi, so that it did not even enter the literary tradition.

it-ta-[…] at the end of the line can be derived from a dozen of verbs. Any restoration would be speculative. The šatammu of Emeslam must be object of the verb.

describes Seleucus’ attempt to capture the palace. Cf. Diodorus 19.91.4 [text].

The first sign is written over an erasure, but it seems to represent GIŠ = is/i@/iz. Grayson readsiz-bu-ub-ma (from zabābu) “was in a frenzy.” However, the relevant attestations of the verb referenced in CAD are N-stem, come from a collection of terrestrial omens, Šumma ālu, and describe the behavior of horses. Geller therefore prefers to read i@-bu-ub-ma (from @abābu), "to spread wings", and explains: "the latter term can simply mean ‘to fly’ … which is normally metaphoric for fleeing as well". Seleucus is not necessarily the subject of the sentence.

Since all these translations convey no real meaning, I suspect that a scribal error is made. I suggest reading is-pu-un. Three arguments I present for this emendation.

  1. All three signs are written over other signs, as so often in this chronicle. Our scribe was fairly careless.
  2. The translation makes sense. Sapānu means "to level, to devastate, to destroy, to smooth", and especially used in relation with water (A.MEŠ) and deluge (abūbu). So I suggest that Seleucus levelled something (defenses) with water from the Euphrates and that he afterwards neglected to dam the Euphrates, so that the land was inundated. This means that the damming of the Euphrates has nothing to do with the damming of the Pallacottas.
  3. Our scribe seems to have difficulties with the sign ub: in Obv. 8 he wrote ub instead of ur; here it is ub instead of un. Perhaps he used the word abūbu in the previous line and became confused about that.

Patrocles had been established as general (stratźgos) of Babylonia by Seleucus (Diodorus 19.100.5)

Diodorus 19.92 [text]: Seleucus crossed the Tigris in order to oppose Nicanor, the general (stratźgos) of Media and Persis, who was aided on his turn by Persians under their satrap Evager (Euagros, possibly Euagoras, satrap of Aria (Diodorus 19.48.2)). Seleucus was victorious in this confrontation: Evager died and Nicanor fled.

Wiseman’s  suggestion to read &ab-ti u su-lum-mu-u ("friendship and peace") is impossible in view of the traces. This phrase probably does not refer to the peace treaty of 311 between Antigonus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander (Diodorus 19.105.1). It rather reflects the fact that after the death of Evager "most of his soldiers went over to Seleucus", who "was comporting himself in a way graciously to all" (Diodorus 19.92.4-5; text).

Date formula: see lines Rev. 32’ and Astronomical diaries -309 and -308. Cf. Geller 1990, 53, who compares events of Diary -309 (months I-VI; text) with this passage. The next section describes Antigonus’ attempt to reconquer Babylon.

The Astronomical diary suggests very clearly that Antigonus was present in Babylonia in person. He apparently was for a while in the city of Babylon, but could not get hold of the entire city. He went to the countryside and other cities and appointed a rival satrap in the surroundings of Babylon, hence with no real authority in the city.

Bit harź, meaning uncertain: cf. CAD H, p. 118a, s.v. harū E. In Babylon a temple of Nabū-ša-Harź was situated in the procession road, between the palace and Esagila.

MU BI ŠE 1 BĮN ZU.L[UM.MA .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ] | [ina piš-k]i TI.MEŠ. The same event is referred to in AD I, p. 231, No. –309 Obv. 11-12 (as observed by Geller 1990 : 2). The phrase refers to the extreme high prices of the moment: the shekel could buy only 6 litres of barley. From the Astronomical diaries we know that the prices were very high in these years of warfare. In the beginning of month I of the next year (10 April – 9 May 309) the exchange value was 7.5 litres. At the end of that month, when the new barley arrived, the shekel was good for 13.5 shekels. The phrase ina piški points to the wrongful, illegal, and irregular character of the requisition, apart from normal taxes (cf. Stolper 2000; Van der Spek 2005).

The phrase makkur šarri ana kidi u@@i, “the property of the king will go outside (the town)” occurs in Thureau-Dangin (1921) 38:15 and passim in omina.

The satrap in question will be Archelaus or Seleucus: cf. Wheatley 2002, 43, n. 22.

Difficult to understand. Something happened in the neighborhood of Borsippa, some people are assembled (Babylonians for evacuation? Diodorus 19.100.5; text); an aforementioned Babylonian is mentioned (the one appointed in Esagila?); the sign BAR may represent the verb muššuru, “to release”, or zāzu, “to divide”; same expression in line 39’.

This refers to the terror in the countryside due to the war.

A man with a personal name ending in –la is referred to, who had done something in the first year of Alexander, which will refer to either 331 BCE, but that year is normally counted as the 7th year, or to 317, the first year of Alexander IV.

Left edge:

Refers to the final battle between Seleucus and Antigonus and may have been described in Polyaenus 4.9.1 [text]; cf. Wheatley 2002: 44, n. 24.

to part six (related texts)

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