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Diary about messengers of the politai

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Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Antiochus IV Ephiphanes
The Diary about messengers of the "politai" ("messengers fragment") is a small piece from an Astronomical Diary from ancient Babylonia; it dates to the Hellenistic Period.

The cuneiform tablet (known as BM 34434 and Sp. 557) 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 notice that this is a preliminary version of what will be the diary's very first edition. This web publication is therefore intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek).

The editors owe a lot to the suggestions of professor Hermann Hunger of Vienna, especially as regards the astronomical section.

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation




It is difficult to date the fragment, though there are some clues. The mentioning of the city of Seleucia (l. 7’) proves that the tablet dates to the Hellenistic period. The reference to the politai (Greek or Hellenized citizens) (l. 6’) probably assigns this text to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes or later. Cf. the Politai Chronicle (BCHP 13) and the Greek Community Chronicle (BCHP 14).

We assume that this line refers to a monstrous birth. Monstrous births were regularly reported in the Astronomical diaries as they were considered to have ominous power. The Mesopotamian scholars kept a compendium of omens concerning monstrous births called after its first two words Šumma izbu, “When a newborn child .....” (cf. Leichty, E. 1970).

The word pagu is unknown. We assume that it is a part of the body of a fish, in view of astronomical Diary AD I, p. 198, no. -324 B Rev'  6-7: 19 z .tu-ma |pa-a-ga u geštuII nu-nu tuk, "The 19th, a she-goat gave birth, and | (the kid) had a pa-a-ga and the ears of a fish, ...." Now fishes do not have visible ears; hence we assume that the gills of a fish are intended here. The pa-a-ga might then refer to another part of the body. Since the word does not occur in the Akkadian dictionaries, it may be an Aramaic loanword. M. Stol suggested pagg’ "jaw, cheek" (Sokoloff 2002: 886). This fits well with the adjective šaplu: "lower jaw".

There is a small space between lines 8’ and 9’. In line 9’ the meteorological and astronomical observations start.

DUL. The interpretation of this word is open to doubt. It occurs exclusively with rain of different kinds (and hail). Cf. H. Hunger, AD I, p. 30.

Bert van der Spek 2005
Latest revision: 31 March 2006

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