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Seleucus III Chronicle (BCHP 12)
concerning the reign of Seleucus III Keraunos ("Seleucus
III chronicle"; BCHP 12 = ABC 13B) is one of the historiographical
texts from ancient
It describes how the king supports the New Year's Festival (Akitu)
and how the king's brother visits Babylon
in 224/223 BCE. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of
chronicles, go here.
The cuneiform tablet (BM 35421) is in the British Museum. On this website, a first 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 edition. This web publication is intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek).
Text and translation
III Keraunos (or Soter). This would mean
that on the obverse starts with SE
86. If so, this chronicle overlaps the Seleucid
Accessions Chronicle (BCHP 10). That is not much
of a problem. BCHP 10 is a kind of eclectic chronicle with notes from different
reigns, separated by several years. This chronicle seems to be an example
of a chronicle concerning a brief period of time, later to be used for
chronicles of longer periods. In view of the gaps on the reverse, one could
see this tablet as a preliminary document, perhaps hastily written.
The content of the chronicles shows parallels with the "Judicial Chronicle" (Joannès 2000, p. 193-211; CM 37). It seems as though the shatammu had been accused of corruption. The king had paid money to him for oxen, sheep and ducks from the shatammu's estate to be used for the offerings of the Akitu (New Year) festival and the royal cult. Afterwards the shatammu had designated portions of the leftovers of the offerings for the lamentation singers and for himself. To defend himself he sent it to the judges and a court of free citizens (mâr banî) in Seleucia.
One might surmise that the visit of the brother
of the king was organized to inspect the matter and to see to it that money
of the royal treasury was not misused. In that case the chronicle would
indeed be a judicial chronicle, just like CM 37.
The 8th day of Nisannu is an important day of the Babylonian New Year's festival. Details of the cult of this day are largely unknown, but the king is supposed to play a role in it. Cf. Linssen 2004, p. 71-86, on the ceremony of day 8, p. 84-6. It seems as though the king tried to play his role with a gift from his far away residence. Note that Antiochus III the Great participated in person in the New Year's festival on the 8th of Nisannu of year SE 107 (= 7 April 205; AD II, p. 203, no. -204 C rev. 14-18).
In our view, the true meaning is that the king allowed the shatammu to take money from the royal treasury as payment for sacrificial animals from the shatammu's own estate. It must be noted that "his own estate" does grammatically belong to the subject of the sentence, i.e. "a certain Babylonian, the shatammu of Esagila". Hence, the phrase does not refer to the king's estate, but to the private estate of the shatammu.
It proves by the way that the shatammu was rich man. His estate will have contained at least tenfold, say 100 oxen and 1000 sheep. 100 sheep must at least have represented 100 shekel of silver = 50 monthly wages of wage laborers (cf. CT 49, 156 [= Van der Spek 1998 no. 14]: 11 where 1.25 shekel is paid for an offering sheep [93 BCE]). Wages vary between 1 and 4 shekels (cf. Van der Spek 2005).
Bît šarri = lit. "house of the king", but the actual meaning is "treasury (to basilikon)", "royal administrative office" (cf. McEwan 1981: 138-139 + n. 325). It is not the palace. The Akkadian word for palace is ekallu (É.GAL). References:
The phrase is a clear parallel for offerings for the well being of reigning kings, their wives and children, mentioned in the Astronomical Diaries from Antiochus III the Great onwards. The phrase used in these texts is ana bul-#u, "for the life of". The use of dullu here is thus exceptional. It might reflect the fact that the offerings for the life of the king constituted a distinctive ritual in the temple.
Another strange feature of this chronicle passage is that the reigning king, Seleucus III Keraunos, had no children. In an earlier article Van der Spek defended (erroneously) the idea that this proves that a dynastic cult of Seleucus I Nicator and his descendants was intended (Van der Spek 1985: 557-61). In view of the parallels in the Astronomical Diaries, it looks more opportune to look at a reigning king: in this case it was the son of Seleucus II Callinicus who reigned. It might well be that a special cult was arranged for Seleucus II and his sons, when he was hailed as the liberator of Babylon from the Ptolemaic attack. From the Ptolemy III Chronicle (BCHP 11) we now know that Ptolemy III Euergetes conquered Babylon for a while and that this conquest was very much resented. Furthermore Seleucus II was the one who made a royal land donation to the Babylonians. Since Seleucus II was now dead, it was not appropriate anymore to speak about offerings for the life of king Seleucus and his sons. Hence they adopted the term dullu, "ritual, service".
Support for the identification with Antiochus III can be found in the fact that Antiochus III was still in Babylon a year later, when his brother Seleucus died in Phrygia, being poisoned by his own courtiers (Eusebius I 253; Jerome, Commentary on Daniel 11:10).
I also now reject my interpretation of ÍD Ma-rat-ta as "Orontes". In the first place it seems now very clear to me that the last sign of the name, ta, is not part of the name at all, but must be read as TA, ištu, "from" and should be added to the next clause. This view is based on new attestations of the name is the Astronomical Diaries, where they occur as follows: