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Seleucus III Chronicle (BCHP 12)

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Coin of the Seleucid king Seleucus III Keraunos or Soter.
Seleucus III Keraunos
The Chronicle concerning the reign of Seleucus III Keraunos ("Seleucus III chronicle"; BCHP 12 = ABC 13B) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. 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).

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation




This again is a chronicle concerning a short period, possibly the reign of Seleucus 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 reading of the year number must be considered certain. Th. Pinches' reading "28" is impossible there being a clear trace of a vertical wedge (= 60) and a small rest of MU. There is no room to add 1.ME (= 100). 

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).

The reading is uncertain. One would expect u UKKIN (= kiništu, "and the assembly"), but this does not conform to the traces. In addition, the verb (iltakan in line 8) is singular. 

The reading [K]I is questionable, but the reading of  Grayson, followed by Glassner, [x G]ÍN KÙ.BABBAR, "[n] shekels of silver" is impossible in view of the traces. The sign in question ends with four horizontal and one vertical wedge. The horizontal wedges cross the vertical one, which is inappropriate for KI, but the same feature is attested in the ma of lines 5'and 6'. However, GÍN is excluded, since in Late Babylonian documents this sign always ends with two vertical wedges. In addition, this reading makes no sense. It is odd to use silver for food offerings.

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:

  • Van der Spek 1986, p. 202, no. 5 (with comments);
  • Van der Spek 1995, p. 238, no. 9: 10, 11, 19 (judicial statement concerning land of the Šamaš temple in Sippar, 308/7 BCE);
  • AD I, p. 345, No. -273 B rev. 38' (cf. Van der Spek 1993a: 68);
  • the Lehmann text (cf. Van der Spek 1993a: 6); VS 15, 41:2;
  • OECT 9, 48: 3;
  • VAT 8753: 11 (É.LUGAL = bi-it šar-ri; cf. AHw, p. 134b, nr. 32 with data from the Achaemenid period). 
Note the writing É šar-ri (not É SAR-ri = bît ša#ari. See McEwan 1981: 138 + n. 325) in BRM I 98:7; II 31:9; 33:4. 

dul-/lu\ šá mSi-[lu]-ku LU[GAL]  u A.MEŠ-, "the ritual/service/work obligation of king Seleucus and his sons" is one of the most debated and collated phrases of the Hellenistic cuneiform corpus. The central question is whether or not we have to do here with a Babylonian variant of the Hellenistic ruler cult. For a discussion with earlier references, see Linssen 2004: 124-8.

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".

According to ancient tradition the leftovers of offerings for the gods were distributed among prebend holders. In this case the shatammu destines the leftovers for the lamentation priests and himself. This procedure was perhaps frowned upon by the king. He sent money to the shatammu for offering animals for the New Year's festival, the meat of which eventually returned partly into the possession of the shatammu as prebend shares. He thus made a double profit. So it seems that he had to account for that before a court of judges and a jury of citizens (mâr banî) of Seleucia. Mâr banî are often attested as members of courts of justice, and since royal judges are mentioned here as well, a court proceeding is probably at issue here
URU Si-lu-/ki-ia\-a-am. The writing of this name with –am is not attested elsewhere. The m at the end was not pronounced as is clear from the spelling of the name Arsaces (Aršakâ) as Ar-šá-kam in certain documents of the Parthian period. Furthermore, one might consider if the name of the city in this spelling is not also mentioned in Seleucid accessions (BCHP 10): 11'. 


The reading LU MU-šú is fairly certain and we understand it as an abbreviation for a Greek name. Glassner’s reading LAGAB for NENNI, interpreted as "So-and-so", is not confirmed by collation. This means either that there was an as yet unknown brother of king Seleucus III Keraunos, whose name might have been Lysias or Laodicos (Laodice is written Lu-da-ke in the Lehmann text), Laomedon, Leukon, or what Greek name with Lao-, Leu-, Leo-, Lou- Lô-, or Ly- one might imagine), or that Antiochus III the Great had another name before ascending the throne. Seleucus' III name was originally Alexander. 

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 repeal my earlier interpretations of the name of the city suggested in Van der Spek 1985: 557-8: [x x x] x-'-a /šá\ ana UGU-hi ÍD Ma-rat-ta, "[Apam]ea-on-the-Orontes". The traces before the aleph best conform to the sign ki, so that the cities Antioch or Laodicea are more obvious choices.

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:

  • AD  II, 496, No. -164C 14' [....] šá UGU Ma-rat
  • AD III, 72, No. -155A URU An-tu-uk-ki-'a šá ana U[GU] | ÍD Ma-rat ana DA LUGAL
  • AD III, 84, No. -149A, 'rev.' 3'-4' URU An-ti-ki-'a-a [.....] | [..... Í]D Ma-rat-tum
  • AD III, 86, No. -149A, 'rev.' 6'-7' URU Se-lu-ki-'a-a šá ana muh-hi KUR P[i? ....] | [....] x x x ÍD Ma-rat-tum
  • AD III, 108, No. -143 C 'flake' 6' [.... l]i-met URU An-tu-ki-'a-a šá ana muh-hi ÍD Ma-rat ana [....]
  • AD III, 168, No. -137D 'Obv. 13' [.... KU]R ti-amat šap-lit URU.MEŠ ù ÍD.MEŠ šá ÍD Ma-rat.
From these attestations it appears that ÍD Ma-rat (also written Ma-rat-tum, but never Ma-rat-ta), must be the "Bitter See", i.e. the Salt See (marratu), which may either refer to the Mediterranean Sea or to the Persian Gulf. Evidently, in the eyes of the Babylonians, Antioch in Syria was "by the Sea". It remains strange that in no cases the required double r is written.
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