home   :    index    :    ancient Mesopotamia    :     Babylonian Chronicles    :    article by Bert van der Spek ©

Euphrates Chronicle (BCHP 20)

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Coin of Mithradates II. Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
 (Mithradates II (Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam)
The Chronicle Concering the Digging of the Euphrates is a historiographical text from ancient Babylonia. It describes the digging out of the Euphrates in 94 BCE, and, therefore, belongs to the reign of the Parthian king Mithradates II. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles, go here.

The cuneiform tablet (BM 35031) is in the British Museum. On this website, a reading is proposed by Bert van der Spek of the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Irving Finkel of the British Museum. Please note that this is a preliminary version of this tablet's first publication. This webpage is therefore intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek).

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation




1, 7, r.4’
On Mithradates: see General Commentary.

The sign us at the end of the line is clearly visible. A completion to ir-k]u-us, “he conscripted” is an option. Cf. CAD R, p. 101, s.v. rakâsu 6 d “to assign a person to a task, a post”. In this chronicle it might refer to the work obligation of the digging out of the Euphrates. Another option would be the end of a Greek name, e.g. Ti-mar-ku-us, (Timarchos), which name is known as garrison commander in 127-4 BCE (see general commentary).

ul-te-er: from šurrû, “to begin”. Cf. CAD ŠIII p. 358 s.v. šurrû A

ud.kib.nun.ki may reflect the city of Sippar as well as the river Euphrates. As the determinative íd, “river”, is lacking here (it is present in lines 5 and r. 6’), the best option is to translate “Sippar.” Sippar was located at the Euphrates and the Royal canal.

General commentary

The text really seems to be a chronicle, since the tablet starts with historical information and no astronomical data is preserved. In view of the unusual format of the tablet, it may be considered a rough draft.

The chronicle obviously concerns the Parthian period. The Mithradates, who is most likely mentioned in line 1, is certainly not an Arsacid king. Kings are always named by their royal name Arsaces. From the Astronomical Diaries, however, we know a “chief general” (gal gal ú-qa-a-nu) named Mithradates. His name is mentioned in the following Diaries.

  • AD III, p. 338/9, no. -111 A: 17 (month I 200 SE = 22 April-20 May 112 BCE)
  • p. 344/5, no. -111 C:  4’ (month II 200 SE = 21 May-19 June 112)
  • p. 370/1, no. -107C: r. 15’ (month XII 204 SE = 27 Febr.-28 March 107)
  • p. 404/5, no. -99 B:15’ (month IX 212 SE = 2-31 December 100).
He is succeeded in this function by a certain Mitrates (Mitra&u) who is mentioned in diaries from 91-84.

In this period he is attested as operating with his army in the neighbourhood of Seleucia and Babylon, but his home base seems to have been Media. Del Monte (1997: 57) assumes that the function is the successor of the “general who is in charge of the four generals of Akkad.” We assume that this chief general was a central position of the empire and not a functionary of the satrapy of Babylonia.

The problem is that the Mithradates of the chronicle seems to have the title “garrison commander” (gal en.nun = rab ma@@arti), if our interpretation of line 7 and r. 4’ is correct. Of the /a\ in line 7 two vertical wedges on top of each other are visible. It can be part of the sign a. In view of the traces of line r. 4’ where traces of /ta-a\ are visible, one might in both cases restore the personal name mMi-it-ra-da-ta-a. This may be the same man as the chief general or simply a homonym. 

With the help of the Astronomical Diaries we may try to find out what the chronicle is about.

A clue to the understanding of our fragment may be found by comparing lines 5-6 with a diary concerning month IV 218 SE = 1-30 July 94 BCE, AD III, p. 428/9, no. -93A:
12. [.... í]d šá-nu-ú šá an.ta uru Se-lu-/ke\-’-a šá ana ugu ídud.kib.nun.ki i-na i-di-i šá-di-i
13. [....] x a-na he-ru-ú ul-te-ru-ú /ù ana\ muh-hi /gin?\-ak,
12. [....] The second canal which is above Seleucia on the Euphrates on the mountain side,
13. [....] they began to dig, and he went there.”

The following month the work continued (AD III, p. 430/1, no. -93A:
24. [.... í]d /šá\ an.ta uru Se-lu-ke-/\-a šá ana ugu ídud.kib.nun.ki gim igi-ú bal-ú il-ki dan-nu
24. [....] they dug out [the ca]nal which is above Seleucia on the Euphrates, as previously. A heavy work obligation (was imposed upon the Babylonians)

The supply of water seems to have been problematic in this period.
Cf. AD III p. 370/1, no. -107C: r. 15’, diary concerning month XII 204 SE = 27 February-28 March 107:
15’ mu bi šèg.meš u illu.meš tar.meš iti bi mMi-it-ra-da-ta-[agal gal ú]-qa-nu gim igi-ú ana li-met uru Se-lu-ke-’-a tuh 
15’ That year rains and floods kept off. That month, Mithradates, [the chief ge]neral, departed to the surroundings of Seleucia (on the Euphrates?) as previously.

AD III p. 420/1, no. -95C: r. 9’ (Month VI 216 = 21 August-19 September 96:
9. ... íd al-la mi-na-ti-šú ma-diš lal-&i [....]
9. ... the river receded very much beyond its normal measure [....]

Although the wording is not exactly identical (the diary mentions the digging out of a canal above Seleucia on the Euphrates, the chronicle mentions the Euphrates itself), the coincidence that both documents have the phrase: a-na he-ru-ú ul-te-ru-ú (c.q. ul-te-er), “they began to dig out” is striking. And as one can only begin once, the chronicle must refer to July 94 BC if the same event is at issue. 

Mithradates, the chief general may well have been in function in 94 BC. His successor, Mithrates, is mentioned from 91 BC. As stated above, the problem is that the title of Mithradates in the chronicle does not seem to be “chief general”, but “garrison commander.” 
Hence, this Mithradates may simply have been another person.

As a matter of fact, we know a garrison commander in this period, viz. Timarchos (or Demarchos) and his name may have been mentioned in line 2. And this brings us to another period. The completion of the name in this line is speculative. The sign us at the end of a word may be the end of a Greek name ending in ­os. Of the sign before a vertical wedge is preserved, which can be the end of ku.

We can choose for the name Timarchos (or: Demarchos) on the basis of AD III, p. 254/5, no. -126 A: 6’-7’, whereit is reported that a certain mTi/De-mar-ku-us-su (Timarchos or Demarchos), who recently had been appointed garrison commander (gal en.nun = rab ma@@arti) by king Arsaces, entered Babylon on 4 Arachsamna 185 SE = 4 November 127 BCE. This garrison commander had been killed a few years later, on 28 IV 188 SE = 29 July 124 BC (AD III, p. 284/5, no. -123 A: r. 6-7). In our chronicle a garrison commander is mentioned in lines 7 and r. 4’. If this is really Ti/Demarchos, then our chronicle must refer to the years 127-124 BCE and it also means that Mithradates must have been chief general by that time already.

The event reported by the chronicle may in fact have been the murder of the garrison commander. There are some parallels with the Diary concerning month IV 188 SE = July 124 BC, AD III p. 284/5, no. -123A:
6 ... 28 gal en.nun u un.meš uru?.meš mah.meš ta bar.sìb.ki ana E.ki it-[....]
7 [...] ugu-šu-nu šub-’ [....]-/’\ sar-su-nu sar-’ u gal en.nun /mu-a-tim ina E.ki gaz.meš-šú hat-t[um ...]
6 The 28th (= 29 July 124), the garrison commander and the people of the numerous villages from Borsippa to Babylon [...]
7 [....] they fell upon them, they [....], they plundered them and they killed this garrison commander. Pan[ic broke out in the land ...]

The chronicle mentions “people” and people coming “from Borsippa” as the diary does.

Anyhow, it was a turbulent period. Antiochus had for a short period recovered Babylon (129/8 BCE), Hyspaosines of Mesene had ruled Babylon for a few months in 127. In addition, the diaries constantly make mention of incursions of Arabs.


Uncertainties abound. What may be regarded certain is that the chronicle dates to the Arsacid period, that digging out of the Euphrates is at issue and that a garrison commander is involved. The best case seems to be a chronicle concerning July 94 BCE.
 Bert van der Spek © 2005
Revised: 31 March 2006
 home   :    index    :    ancient Mesopotamia    :     Babylonian Chronicles