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Ptolemy III Chronicle (BCHP 11)

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Coin of Ptolemy III Euergetes. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Ptolemy III Euergetes
(British Museum)
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
Text and translation
General commentary
Commentary obverse
Commentary reverse
Related documents


Coin of the Seleucid king Seleucus II Callinicus.
Seleucus II Callinicus

Commentary obverse

The king of Meluhha is the king of Egypt. The geographical name Meluhha represents the tendency in chronicles and diaries to use ancient and vague geographical names. Meluhha was traditionally the term for a people on the Indian Ocean, later it represented Nubia (cf. Tadmor 1999: 59b). In that respect, it experienced the same development as the Greek term Aithiopia. In the Hellenistic period, it unequivocally stands for Egypt. See AD II, p. 470, no. -168 obv.' A 15 (= TBE 76) and AD III, p. 96, no. -144 'obv. 35' (cf. Van der Spek 1997/8: 170, n. 13). Cf. Del Monte TBE 77 for references and discussion.

It is not certain if Ptolemy III Euergetes was mentioned here in person, since the verb in line 3' is lost, so that we do not know, whether the verb was plural or singular. One option is to complete the beginning of line 2' as: " .... the troops of the ki]ng of Meluhha". Another option is:  "The general (or some other officer) of the ki]ng of Egypt". In view of the fact that the name Ptolemy seems to be mentioned at the end of line 4', we assume that it was indeed the king of Egypt himself who was intended. Appian of Alexandria indeed asserts that the Ptolemaic king led the campaign in person and reached Babylon.

3', 7'-8', 13'-14'; rev. 9', 11', 12'
Here again we have the enigmatic Seleucia on the Euphrates and the King’s Canal. See Seleucid Accessions Chronicle (BCHP 10), comment ad obv. 5'-6'. If this Seleucia is indeed a refounding of Sippar, Ptolemy took the same route as Alexander, whose last stop before Babylon was Sippar too (more).

The completion of the gap is conjectural. Our considerations that have led to this are the fact that a singular subject is required for îsir, ikšud (KUR) and îdil (line 5). Since esêru, "to shut in", is a transitive verb, an object is required as well. This cannot be Ptolemy, since he is mentioned with a preposition at the end of line 4'. Hence, the "troops of the king" (if restored correctly) will have been the object. Since the chief guardian (rab sikkati) plays an important role in the defence of the city of Babylon (rev. 5', 7', 13'), we surmise that he was intended here as the subject of the sentence.

The quintessence of the preserved lines is that Ptolemy arrived at Seleucia (on the Euphrates) and laid siege to that city. The chief guardian, who commanded royal troops in the city of Babylon, entrenched himself with the royal garrison in the city of Babylon, in particular in the palace, before the advance of (lapâni) Ptolemy. 

The function of the rab sikkati is not quite clear. CAD S 252 s.v. sikkatu B in rabi sikkati only conveys as meaning: "high military officer". As the word sikkatu means "peg, nail; (part of a lock)" (CAD S 247 s.v. sikkatu A), we surmise that the function entailed keeping guard, hence our translation "chief guardian". Note that he locks himself in the palace, if lines obv. 4'-5' are well understood. A rab sikkati who is entrenched in the palace and does not dare to come out, is also mentioned in AD III, p. 26/7, no. -162 rev. 14 (GAL gišKAK = rab sikkati). The literal meaning of the function may be "chief key bearer". As such he was an important person and responsible for the locking and opening of gates. Note the omens about the rabi sikkati, where reference is made of a rab sikkati who "will open the city gate ... and allow the enemy to enter" (YOS 10 45: 16); refs. CAD S 254 sub d)). 

It is unknown how the name Ptolemy (Ptolemaios) was spelled in cuneiform. The sign Pi and the personal marker are clearly visible. A writing *mPi-tu-li-ma-'-su might be considered.

The fact that no year number is mentioned, only a month, demonstrates that the chronicle concerned one year only. This is exceptional for chronicles, but not unique. Chronicle ABC 9 is a small tablet, inscribed on one side only, and deals with one month only, viz. month VII of the 14th year of Artaxerxes III Ochus (October 345 BCE).

l]ú[ERÍN.MEŠ KUR] /Ha-ni-i\: Literally "Troops of the land of Hani". This must refer to Macedonian troops (more...). The restoration is based on few traces only, but can nevertheless be considered certain, if one compares the traces with lines 11' and rev. 7'. The phrase must refer to Macedonian troops, or in any case to troops armed in the Macedonian way. This feature is singled out by the phrase "who are clad in iron panoply" (see below). 

Technically, it is possible here to think of Macedonian troops sent by Seleucus II, who of course used Macedonian troops as well. It would make it a battle between the troops of the king of Egypt (Meluhha) against the troops from the land of Hani (here for Asia Minor). I take this to be forced and not fitting the context. The name of Seleucus certainly would have been mentioned. 

[šá l]a a-dir DINGIR.MEŠ: "who does not fear the gods". The verb (adir in the construct case, from adâru, "to fear") is singular, though a plural is required. It is very exceptional for chronicles to convey a value judgement. It shows clearly how resented these Hanaean troops were. They slaughtered unarmed civilians (line 10'-11'); they repeatedly slaughtered the army which defended the palace (rev. 5'-6'; 7'-8'; 13'-14'). New troops were also slaughtered (9'-10'). In Seleucia also heavy massacres took place (11'-12') Their sacrilegious act probably was that they entered Esagila in arms and performed Greek rituals there (rev. 2') part of which was the consumption of a meal in the temple, which was foreign to Babylonian usage.

6', 13'; cf. 11', rev. 6', 8', and 10'
šá AN.BAR [giš]TUKUL lab-šu-'  must refer to the Graeco-Macedonian armor of the hoplite soldiers, who were clad in iron cuirasses; the verb labâšu means "to put on clothing". However, not only the cuirasses are involved, but the weapons as well: in lines 11', rev. 6'and 10' the expression ina AN.BAR kakku (TUKUL) is used as an adverbial adjunct with the verbs mahâ@u, "to hit, to wound, to kill, to strike, hurt, to defeat" (CAD M1 71) and dâku, "to defeat, to kill". It seems as though the chronicler was surprised to see this panoply, though Seleucid soldiers must have been armed in the same way, but perhaps not the soldiers present as garrison troops (suggestion M. Passehl).

The word order is problematic; in Akkadian adjectives normally follow substantives. Perhaps one should consider a more literal translation: "who are clad in iron (as) weapon" (6', 13') and "who fought with iron as weaponry" (suggestion M. Stol).

8’, 10’, 14’
KU4 = erêbu, "to enter". We assume that in line 8' the Š-stem of the verb is intended with the "Hanaean troops" as subject and ú-nu-t[u] MÈ [u kal-b]a-na-tum MAH-tum, "battle equipment and siege engines in great number", as object of the sentence. DÙ-uš-', îpušû, "they made" (line 9) has the same subject.  In lines 10' and 14' we translated "went to" and "arrived at" respectively, since the context seems to suggest that they not really "entered into" Babylon resp. the palace at that time

GAL bir-tum šádGAŠAN Ni-n[ú]-a, "the chief of the citadel of Bêlet-Ninua". This citadel is unknown, but perhaps there is a reminiscence to this citadel in Herodotus' "Gate of the Ninevites" (Histories 1.155) (suggestion Jona Lendering).

The temple of Bêlet Ninua, Egišhuranki, was situated on the West Bank (George 1993, p. 95, no. 409; cf AD III, p. 458-9, no. –170 H obv. 12’; BRM IV 25:19; AfO 46-7 (1999-2000) 169ff. The citadel may then have been situated on the West Bank as well. If so, it would mean that Babylon was first attacked from the west. Seleucia on the Euphrates may then indeed have been situated on the confluence of the Euphrates and the King's Canal, perhaps a refoundation of Sippar. Note that Alexander the Great also approached Babylon from Sippar.

The sign TA can be interpreted in different ways. 1. ištu or ultu, preposition, "from (a point in space or time), out of (a place, an object, a quantity), since, after, by (in Achaem.); CAD I/J, p. 286; 2.  ištu or ultu, conjunction,  "since, after, as soon as" (CAD I/J, p. 284); 3. išti, prep., "with" (normally KI, but also TA for the dialctical variant ištu) (CAD I/J, p. 283); 4. itti, prep.,"with" (CAD I/J, p. 302). Cf. Del Monte, TBE, 12. 

In this context the translation must be "by"; cf. rev. 5', 8', 10', 14'. The same translation was adopted in the Gold Theft chronicle (BCHP 15), obv.6 and Demetrius and Arabia fragment rev.1').

"The renowned prince" probably was Xanthippus. Cf above, General commentary.

to part five (commentary reverse)
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