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Euphrates Chronicle (BCHP 20)
Concering the Digging of the Euphrates is a historiographical text
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).
Text and translation
1, 7, r.4’
On Mithradates: see General Commentary.
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” (lúgal gal ú-qa-a-nu) named Mithradates. His name is mentioned in the following Diaries.
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” (lúgal 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:
The following month the work continued (AD III, p. 430/1, no. -93A:
The supply of water seems to have been problematic in this period.
AD III p. 420/1, no. -95C: r. 9’ (Month VI 216 = 21 August-19 September
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.”
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 (lúgal 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:
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.
ConclusionUncertainties 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