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Ptolemy's Canon


Double portrait of Ptolemy on a medieval manuscript from Bruges (Belgium).
Double portrait of Ptolemy in a medieval manuscript from Bruges
Ptolemy's Canon: list of rulers of ancient Babylonia and the Near East, used by the astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria to date astronomical phenomena.

Before the Christians, who wanted a correct computation of the Easter date, created a common era for the study of chronology, people used regnal years or lists of eponymous magistrates to date events. For example, the Bible mentions that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem 'in his eighteenth year as king', and Julius Caesar defeated the Helvetians when Lucius Calpurnius Piso and Aulus Gabinius were consuls. Modern scholars, employing the common era, call these years 587/586 and 58 BCE (or BCE).

The astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria, who lived in the second century CE (or AD, used the system of regnal years and has handed down to us an important list of kings. It is called the Canon and has been preserved in several astronomical texts by later authors, which usually continue the list up to their own time. Because they were only interested in dating astronomical phenomena, kings who died during a certain year were usually allowed to give their name to the entire year, and the next ruler is supposed to have ascended to the Babylonian throne on the first day of the new year. (Kings who reigned for less than one year are ignored.)

This brief document, which is based on astronomical information from ancient Babylon,  is still the backbone of the chronology of the ancient Near East. Its essential correctness has been corroborated by the Uruk King List, the Astronomical Diaries, and Egyptian data (like dated papyri). Here are the forty-three first names of Ptolemy's list (different colors indicate the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, and Ptolemaic kings):

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Name (Ptolemy)
Name (modern)
Regnal
years
Dates in our era
(simplified)
Dates in our era
1 Nabonassaros NabŻ-Nasir
14
747-734
27 February 747 - 22 February 733
2 Nadios NabŻ-nadin-zer
2
733-732
23 February 733 - 21 February 731
3 Chinzer and Poros Tiglath-Pileser III
5
731-727
22 February 731 - 20 February 726
4 Iloulaios Šalmaneser V
5
726-722
21 February 726 - 19 February 721
5 Mardokempados Marduk-apla-iddina II
12
721-710
20 February 721 - 16 February 709
6 Arkeanos Sargon II
6
709-704
17 February 709 - 14 February 704
7 Without kings [1]
2
704-703
15 February 704 - 14 February 702
8 Bilibos BÍl-ipni
3
702-700
15 February 702 - 13 February 699
9 Aparanadios Aššur-nadin-šumni
6
699-694
14 February 699 - 12 February 693
10 Rhegebelos Nergal-ušezib
1
693
13 February 693 - 11 February 692
11 Mesesimordakos Mušezib-Marduk
4
692-689
12 February 692 - 10 February 688
12 Without kings [2]
8
688-681
11 February 688 - 8 February 680
13 Asaradinos Esarhaddon
13
680-668
9 February 680 - 5 February 667
14 Saosdouchinos Šamaš-šuma-ukin
20
667-648
6 February 667 - 31 January 647
15  Kineladanos Kandalanu
22
647-626
1 February 647 - 26 January 625
16 Nabopolassaros Nabopolassar
21
625-605
27 January 625 - 20 January 604
17 Nabokolassaros Nebuchadnezzar II
43
604-562
21 January 604 - 10 January 561
18 Illoaroudamos Amel-Marduk
2
561-560
11 January 561 - 9 January 559
19 Nerigasolassaros Neriglissar
4
559-556
10 January 559 - 8 January 555
20 Nabonadios Nabonidus
17
555-539
9 January 555 - 4 January 538
21 Kyros Cyrus the Great
9
538-530
5 January 538 - 2 January 529
22 Kambysos Cambyses II
8
529-522
3 January 529 - 31 December 522
23 Dareios the First Darius I the Great
36
521-486
1 January 521 - 22  December 486
24 Xerxes Xerxes I
21
485-465
23 December 486 - 16 December 465
25 Artaxerxes the First Artaxerxes I Makrocheir
41
464-424
17 December 465 - 7 December 424
26 Dareios the Second Darius II Nothus
19
423-405
8 December 424 - 1 December 405
27 Artaxerxes the Second Artaxerxes II Mnemon
46
404-359
2 December 405 - 20 November 359
28 Ochos Artaxerxes III Ochus
21
358-338
21 November 359 - 15 November 338
29 Arogos Artaxerxes IV Arses
2
337-336
16 November 338 - 14 November 336
30 Dareios the Third Darius III Codomannus
4
335-332
15 November 336 - 13 November 332
31 Alexandros the Macedonian Alexander the Great
8
331-324
14 November 332 - 11 November 324
32 Philippos [3] Philip III Arridaeus
7
323-317
12 November 324 - 9 November 317
33 The other Alexandros Alexander IV
12
316-305
10 November 317 - 6 November 305
34 Ptolemaios, son of Lagos Ptolemy I Soter
20
304-285
7 November 305 - 1 November 285
35 Philadelphos Ptolemy II Philadelphus
38
284-247
2 November 285 - 23 October 247
36 Euergetes Ptolemy III Euergetes
25
246-222
24 October 247 - 17 October 222
37 Philopator Ptolemy IV Philopator
17
221-205
18 October 222 - 12 October 205
38 Epiphanes Ptolemy V Epiphanes
24
204-181
13 October 205 - 6 October 180
39 Philometor Ptolemy VI Philometor
35
180-146
7 October 180 - 28 September 146
40 Euergetes the Second Ptolemy VIII Euergetes
29
145-117
29 September 146 - 20 September 117
41 Soter Ptolemy IX Soter
36
116-81
21 September 117 - 11 September 81
42 Dionysos Neos Ptolemy XII Auletes
29
80-52
12 September 81 - 4 September 52
43 Kleopatra Cleopatra VII Philopator
22
51-30
5 September 52 - 30 August 30

Note 1:
Marduk-zakir-šumi and Marduk-bÍl-iddin were not recognized by the Babylonians.

Note 2:
Sennacherib, who had destroyed Babylon, was not recognized.

Note 3:
Ptolemy writes: "the Philip who came after the Alexander who founded Alexandria".

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 5 February 2008
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