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Judicial Chronicle (BCHP 17)

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Coin of the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Antiochus III the Great
(British Museum, London)
The Judicial Chronicle concerning Temple Robberies is a historiographical text from ancient Babylonia. It describes events in 34 and 90 SE (i.e., 278 and 222 BCE) and therefore belongs to the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles, go here.

The cuneiform tablet (BM 47737 = 81-11-3, 442) 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.

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation




This document is a collection of three court proceedings concerning theft of temple property. Temple robbery is a theme which gets a great deal of attention in the Astronomical Diaries. Joannès discussed the relevant passages, and our commentary can best be seen as an addition to his publication (Joannès 2000). The robbery of 34 SE = 278 BCE is even mentioned in the Diaries. It shows again the close relationship between the diaries and the chronicles.

The court proceedings include interrogation under torture, subsequent conviction, and the punishment is death penalty by burning. The last case mentioned here is exceptional in that the accused did not admit their crime at first, that one of the accused died afterwards in jail and that the others complied after a second interrogation under torture.

A special arrangement was made for the wife of one of the convicted. It may have been a penalty as well, or she was taken up in temple service as she probably had no husband or son left to maintain her.

The chronicle has a resemblance with the Gold Theft Chronicle (BCHP 15), which also reports temple robbery, this time from the Day-One-Temple (=New year's festival Temple (?)) and where the thieves are also interrogated on the rack of interrogation, convicted and sent to the stake.

Joannès and Glassner complete šar-ra-qu, “thieves,” at the end of the line. We think that this supplement is not necessary. The Babylonian men and women and the soldiers of someone were the intruders and thieves. It was not necessary to designate them as such. Only in later phrases these people might have been subsumed as “thieves.”

See for a comparable phrase AD II p. 78/9, no. -240 5’-6’ about a theft of property belonging to Ištar of Babylon from the Juniper Garden. Instead of ina sar-tú, “illegally,” the formula ina šur-qa, “by theft” is used there (Diary month VIII 71 SE = 1-29 November 241 BC). 

dEn, “the god Bêl,” is the most likely addition in line 3, gal.meš, “greatpl” in line 4. Bêl, Bêltia and Ištar of Babylon are often mentioned together, sometimes with "the great gods added"; see

  • Astronomical diary II p. 440/1, no. -171 B r. 6’-7’ (the general of Akkad performs sacrifices for Bêl, Bêltija, Ištar of Babylon and the great gods and for the life of the kings, month V 140 SE = 22 July-20 Augustus 172 BCE); 
  • Astronomical diary III, p. 254/5, no. -126A: r. 5 (broken context, but without “great gods” (month VIII 185 SE = 1-30 November 127 BC);
  • for “the great [god]s” Astronomical diary III, p. 256/7, no. -126B r.8’ (month XII 185 SE = 27 Febr.-28 March 126 BCE).
In our chronicle the theft of some property of these gods (gold, silver, a crown) will have been at issue. In Astronomical Diary AD I p. 330/1, no. -277 C 14’ mention is made of the theft of a crown of Bêl and Nabû one month after our event.

6, 13
Year 90 (9 April 222-27 March 221 BCE) is considered by the Babylonian King List the year in which Antiochus III the Great ascended the throne; year 91 was his first full year.

The first document with Antiochus III in the date formula is dated to 21.IX.90 SE = 21 December 222. The last document dated to Seleucus III Keraunos is from 29.III.89 SE = 10 July 223 BC. Our document could have given more precise information on the month in which Antiochus III ascended the throne, if it had given the name of the reigning king in the date formula. The fact that no king’s name is mentioned may reflect the uncertain situation of the time: Antiochus III had to cope with the rebellion of Molon and it may not have been clear who was in power before the ninth month. At the same time it is strange that the chronicler preferred to give detailed accounts of court proceedings concerning temple robbery, while ignoring the turbulent political situation.

1-en šeš-šu!, “a certain brother of his.” The use of šu instead of šú for “his” is very exceptional for the late period, apparently so exceptional that Joannès inadvertently transliterated šú (but correctly copied šu.) One might consider the possibility of a scribal error (ŠU instead of GAL – GAL has one horizontal wedge after the vertical wedge); in that case we could read 1-en šeš.gal, “a certain high priest,” but this title only occurs in ritual texts of the Hellenistic period.

Nergal-(ina-)teši-etir is a well-known shatammu of Esagila. He is attested between the years 75 and 90 of the Seleucid era (=236-222/1 BC): BCHP 16: r. 1 (date lost), the Lehmann text (75 SE), CT 49, 132: 7 (85 SE); 168: 4 (90 SE); 170: 4 (date lost).

For the “jail” see lines 20, 29 and 30. The “house of the temple judges” is mentioned in diary AD II, p. 476/7, no. -168A: r. 16’ and 17’: thieves are kept in the house of the temple judges (temple court house) and interrogated there on the rack of interrogation (month VIII 143 SE = 15 Nov. – 13 Dec. 169 BC, reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes); cf. in the same line 17’: the thieves were interrogated “in the presence of the shatammu and the judges of the temple” (ana tar-@a šá šà.tam É.sag.gíl udi.kud.meš |šá é.dingir.meš). If this interpretation is correct, then we may conclude that the house of the judges, of which the prison must have been a part, was situated outside the city, behind a city gate, whose name unfortunately is lost (cf. ll. 10 and 26-7). 

The conjunction ù, “and,” seems superfluous, which would suggest the addition ana tar@a, “in front of”. Ina ašabi, “in the presence of”, may then refer to presence of the shatammu and kinishtu as witness at the legal proceedings and ana tar@a to the confrontation with the judges who passed judgment. However, in lines 24-25 no distinction is made between judges, shatammu and kinishtu.

š[u?-lu-ú-ma šá-lu-ú], “was hung up and interrogated” is a completion proposed by Joannès. Actually one would simply expect šá-lu-ú, but that is impossible. Joannès proposed to add a verb šûlû, “to make a person move upward to a higher location” (Cf. CAD E, p. 127, s.v. elû 8.; cf. 8 f) ana zaqîpi šûlû, “to impale” (p. 128)). It is a clever solution, but there is no parallel and there is hardly room for so many signs. So it remains speculative.

Thanks to collation of the tablet we could improve the reading of line 17. As a matter of fact we have brought the text in closer correspondence with Joannès’ commentary. The text reports that a case of theft had been reported, after which the court, consisting of shatammu and kinishtu, entered the locus delicti and verified the fact: the disappearance of silver, gold and precious stones in great quantity.

ana aš-ri dingir-ú-tú, “which belong to the territory of the godhead.” Cf. line 16. This interpretation has made us to reconsider the Alexander Chronicle (BCHP 1 = ABC 8) r.7’ and to read there: mim-ma ana aš-ri dingir-/ú\-[ ...]

mah.meš = ma-’-du, “much in quantity”. Cf. CAD MI, p. 20 b, s.v. mâdu. This interpretation of the sign MAH occurs very often in late texts. Joannès, followed by Glassner, translated “sacred”, apparently as a translation of MAH = @iru

paq-d[u šá] /é.dingir?\[meš ..., “the trustee of the temples” is a high position, probably a royal official installed to keep an eye on the temple’s finances, in Greek a prostatês. So far, the function was only attested in Uruk. In Babylon the function may be the same as the paqdu (trustee) of Nikanor, mentioned in a few early documents and the pu-ru-su-tat-te-su in a document from the Parthian period. Cf. Van der Spek 1986: 57 ff and 83.

Joannès suggests a personal name in the gap. In our view there is no room for this.

The phrase is difficult to understand. Joannès interprets it as being derived from hî&a šadâdu, “to bear guilt, punishment” (CAD Š, p. 26b, s.v. šadâdu 2h)). If correct, we would like to read: “[... for the punishment]| she bore afterwards, ...”. Marten Stol suggests to read šá KUR-da-at, “who was captured”.

KI: Joannès proposes the emendation <E>.KI, “Babylon”, as a beginning of the colophon. Actually one would expect a verb. KI might be a preposition (itti, “with”) with the meaning “about”. Cf. AHw I, p. 405a, s.v. itti A 8 e), “um”. The verb may have been present in the gap.

At present any solution is speculative.

 Bert van der Spek © 2005
Revised: 31 March 2006
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