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Ptolemy III Chronicle (BCHP 11)

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Coin of the Seleucid king Seleucus II Callinicus.
Seleucus II Callinicus
The Chronicle concerning the invasion of Ptolemy III (the "Ptolemy III Chronicle"; BCHP 11) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It tells how king Ptolemy III Euergetes invaded Mesopotamia and laid siege to Babylon in 246/245 BCE. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles, go here.

The cuneiform tablet (BM 34428) 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 chronicle'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).

Babylonian Chronicles
Description
Text and translation
General commentary
Summary
Commentary obverse
Commentary reverse
Related documents

Literature

Coin of Ptolemy III Euergetes. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Ptolemy III Euergetes
(British Museum)

Summary

  • Month IX (26 November-25 december 246): Ptolemy III Euergetes arrives with a large army in Seleucia on the Euphrates (= Sippar?) (2'-3'). The chief guardian (rab sikkati) shuts himself in with a royal garrison in the royal palace of Babylon in fear of the advance of the army of Ptolemy. It may be assumed that Ptolemy was not yet able to conquer this city (see below).
  • Month X (26 December 246-23 January 245): Ptolemaic forces, armed in full hoplite armor (as opposed to the light armed garrison troops in the palace) break off the siege at Seleucia on the Euphrates and bring the siege engines before the wall of Babylon on the 10th = 9 January 245 BCE (6'-8'). On 13 January they attack the Bêlet Ninua Citadel, probably a stronghold in the wall of the West bank of the Euphrates (8'-9'). People who had taken refuge in the citadel leave it and run to the palace. While doing so they were massacred by the Ptolemaic troops (9'-11'). This means that the Egyptian troops had broken into the city. On 18 January, Xanthippus, the governor of Mesopotamia appointed by king Ptolemy, arrives with a large army in Babylon from Seleucia on the Euphrates. On 20 January Xanthippus enters Esagila, the temple of Marduk (14'-15'). The same day he performs offerings in the temple, possibly in emulation of Alexander the Great, who had done the same in 331 BCE.  In addition he performs offerings "in the Greek fashion" and gives something (presents? tax exemption?) to the Babylonians (15'-rev.3'). Afterwards he visits another temple "and eats bread in it", apparently part of a Greek custom (see Ruin of Esagila Chronicle (BCHP 6), commentary ad 6'). At this time, part of Babylon is in Ptolemaic hands, including the temple area. The royal palace, however, still held out. Xanthippus brings in battle equipment and starts the siege of the palace. The chief guardian of the palace defends the palace, sends out troops to drive out the Ptolemaic army, but without success: the Seleucid garrison troops are slaughtered. It seems as though the chronicler criticizes the commander who stays safely in the palace, while his men die (rev. 4'-6').
  • Month XI (24 January–22 February 245): The attacks on the palace continue, with the same result as before (rev. 7'-8'). On the 6th(?) Seleucus, the pahat (epistates) of Seleucia on the Euphrates, arrives in Babylon (rev. 9'). So it seems that this Seleucus, who saw that the siege of his own city was broken off, tried to come to the aid of Babylon. This, however, was an unscuccessful move. The troops of Seleucus were beaten in Babylon (rev. 10') and the Seleucid troops who had stayed in Seleucia, were massacred as well (rev. 12'). Meanwhile, the attacks on the palace continue, and due to the break, we shall never know whether the Egyptians became successful in the end. However that may be, from classical sources (above) we know that Ptolemy III had to return to Egypt because of sedition at home.
to part four (commentary obverse)
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