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Babylonian King List of the Hellenistic Period

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Babylonian Kinglist, obverse; photo Marco Prins.
Babylonian Kinglist (BM 35603 obv; British Museum)
The Babylonian King List of the Hellenistic Period (also known as "King List 6") is an important historiographical document from ancient Babylonia. It mentions the length of the reigns of several kings, beginning with the accession of Philip Arridaeus, the brother of Alexander the Great, in June 323, and continuing to the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164). Together with the Uruk King List, the Babylonian King List of the Hellenistic Period is a useful text for those who are reconstructing the chronology of Babylonia in the late fourth to mid-second centuries.

The cuneiform tablet (BM 35603 = Sp. III 113) is in the British Museum. On this website, you will find a new transciption and translation by Bert van der Spek of the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), who has recently restudied this tablet as part of his publication of the Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period. He also took the photos.

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation


Marble head of Philip Arridaeus? Museo Nazionale, Napoli (Italy).
Philip Arridaeus? (Museo archeologico nazionale, Napoli; ©!!!)


The name must concern Alexander the Great. Before the name there is space for two signs, after the name three to five signs, since it is not known whether the edge was used as in some lower lines. Alexander the Great conquered Babylon in October 331 BCE and died there on 11 June 323.

Glassner reads: [… m]A-lik-sa-an-dar [mu] 7 [in.ak] = […] Alexander (III) (the Great) [reigned] 7 [years]. The reconstruction is quite possible, but I see no "7".

Upon the death of Alexander the Great dispute broke out about his succession. Arrhidaeus, the mentally handicapped brother of Alexander, was appointed king (under the name Philip) at the army conference near Babylon (text). The story as given by the classical authors that the posthumous son of Alexander and Roxane was designated as co-ruler is not supported by any dating formula from Babylonia, Egypt and the Levant. Philip was sole ruler until his death in October 317.

After his death dating formulae in Babylonia wavered between at first a fictional eighth year of Philip (316/5), numbering years according to "Antigonus, the general" or "the general of the lands" (= stratźgos of Asia), backdating to 317/6 BC, and Alexander IV, the son of Alexander and Roxane from 316/5. When Seleucus reconquered Babylon in spring 311, he declared that dating should be as follows "You will count year 7 of Antig[onus the general as year 6 of Alexander, son of] /idem and\ Seleucus, the general" (Diadochi Chronicle, iv 3-4). Thus the dating to Antigonus was officially abolished by then. The Uruk King List and the Saros Canon both assign 6 years of reign to Antigonus. Hence the "kingless" period of Babylon will have been supposed to endure six years. Cf. Boiy 2000, 2001, 2002, 2002a, 2002b in the bibliography.

Glassner reads: [I] Pi-lip-su šeš-šś šįIA-lik-sa-a[n]-dar m[u 8] = Philip (III) (Arrhidaeus), Alexander’s brother: [8 ye]ars. If this reconstruction is correct, the list would follow the year numbers of the Diadochi Chronicle (up to year 8). It would then differ in this respect from the Uruk King List, which assigns 6 years to Philip.

The number of years is not preserved. The "1" observed in earlier editions is not visible. The number probably was "6", covering the years October 317 (death of Philip) and spring 311 (arrival of Seleucus in Babylon).

Glassner reads: [3+]1 mu lugal ina kur nu tuk (etc.) = For [4] years there was no king in the land. (Antigonus (cyclopus), the general, was regent). The year number 4 would suggest the low chronology for Seleucus' flight from Babylon, viz. 315 BCE. "Was regent" seems to be an inappropriate translation for a period that "there was no king".

Obv. 3-4:
The line suggests that the rule of Antigonus was considered illegal. Apparently Antigonus did not accept the kingship of Alexander IV.

Sachs and Wiseman (1954, p. 205) translated: "Alexander, the son of Alex(ander, was reckoned as king until) year? 6 (S.E.)". Sachs and Wiseman rightly observe that the reading "MU" is uncertain as the signs begins with two horizontal wedges. Their translation is possible since year 1-6 of the Seleucid Era correspond to the six years of reign of Alexander IV. Although it is true that in contemporary documents regnal years of Alexander are given up to the 11th year, this list apparently considered the years 317/6 – 312/11 as "kingless". Cf. comm. Obv. 2. Although Alexander IV was killed in 310(?), the fiction of his kingship was maintained until 305. 

Seleucus I Nicator. Bust at the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Seleucus I Nicator (Louvre)

This means: The 7th year of the Seleucid Era = the first year of Seleucus I as king. 

The expression IN.AG = "he ruled" is archaizing and taken from the Sumerian King List (Jacobsen 1939, p. 67, n. 120; Sachs & Wiseman 1954, p. 202-3).

Ulūlu 31 SE: 26 August-24 September 281 BCE. Seleucus had attacked and defeated Lysimachus at Corupedium, but when he proceeded to Europe, Seleucus was killed by Ptolemy Keraunos. See commentary on the End of Seleucus Chronicle.

The Babylonian king list actually returns to the ancient tradition of "accession years". The first year of reign is considered to be the first "full" year of reign. Cf. Boiy 2002b. 

Ajaru 51 SE: 18 May-16 June 261 BCE. The epithet "great" refers to the fact that he was the "great king" in respect to his co-rulers, his sons Seleucus (murdered by his own father in 266) and Antiochus, the later Antiochus II Theos. The Uruk King List assigns 22 years of reign to Antiochus I.

The Uruk King List assigns also 15 years of reign to Antiochus I.

Abu 66 SE: 31 July-29 August 246 BCE. The Astronomical Diary concerning this month reports that the news reached Babylon on the 20th (AD II, no. -245A: r. 5-6'') = 19 August. In view of the similar formulary it may be assumed that the compiler of the King List indeed took his information from this diary.

The news of Antiochus' death is treated in the Astronomical Diaries (more...). The traces are hard to read, but since we have only the choice between NAM.MEŠ (rendering a natural death) or GAZ (rendering a violent death), a reading NAM better conforms to the traces.

There could have been a line inscribed upon the curve at the bottom of the obverse. It must have reported the death of Seleucus II in SEB 66.

In the lacuna between the obverse and reverse, we would expect references to the death of king Seleucus II Callinicus (after 18 September 226) and the accession of Seleucus III Keraunos (before 10 April 225).

Year 87 was the first full year of Seleucus III Keraunos. He ascended the throne in year 86 (cf. Seleucid Accessions Chronicle).

Coin of the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Antiochus III the Great
(British Museum, London)

The last document dated to Seleucus III is BRM II 28, dupl.. BiMes. 24, 19 (24.III.89 = 10 July 223). The first document dated to Antiochus III is Oppert 4 (21.IX.90 = 21 December 222.). Cf. Del Monte 1997, p. 233. This is a long interval. The Babylonian King list suggests that Antiochus was recognized very late: the number of regnal years suggests that the chronicler thought that Antiochus' first full year was 91 SE.

At the moment of Seleucus' death, Antiochus was in Babylon. The army called him to Asia Minor, where he was made king; one would think that this happened in the Late Summer or Autumn of 223. At that moment, Molon, the satrap of Media, revolted. He even conquered Seleucia on the Tigris, and was defeated in 222.

No cuneiform source mentions Molon. It is possible that the author of the Babylonian King List counts Antiochus' reign from the moment of Molon's final defeat and ignores his revolt. Alternatively, we must assume that Seleucus III died late in the interval, in the summer of 222.

The fact that year 91 was Antiochus' first full regnal year is omitted.

A.MEŠ LUGAL ("the sons king") must be mistaken for A-šś LUGAL.MEŠ ("his son, kings"). The phrase refers to the period of his co-rulership with his son. Cf. RC 32.

Simanu 125 SE: 9 June-8 July 187 BCE. Antiochus was murdered after he had tried to take away money from a temple in Susa. The exact date was 3 July (reverse 7).

10 Ulūlu 137 SE: 3 September 175 BCE. The meaning of ana IGI (clearly written on the edge) is uncertain. Sachs and Wiseman suggested the meaning "before", implying that Seleucus was already dead by that time (Sachs & Wiseman 1954, p. 208). However, this would require “ina IGI” (ina mahri or ina pāni). Perhaps it is only a note of the compiler of the list (ana amāri, "to be checked"). It is remarkable that the scribe used the phrase NAM.MEŠ, which implies that Seleucus died a natural death, which is wrong. Seleucus was murdered by his vizier Heliodorus (better known for his attack on the temple in Jerusalem).

Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Antiochus IV Ephiphanes

Antiochus was in fact not the son of Seleucus IV Philopater, but his brother.

Arahsamna 137 SE: 23 October-20 November 175 BCE. 

Abu 142 SE: 31 July-28 August 170 BCE. The identity of this son of Antiochus IV is problematic.

I.e., the first full year of Antiochus IV Epiphanes as sole ruler.

The month Kislīmu 148 SEB corresponds to 20 November to 18 December 164. Cf. Astronomical Diary III no. -163 C2 r. 17': the corpse of Antiochus IV arrived in Babylon or Seleucia in month Tebźtu (X) 148 SEB = 19 Dec. 164-16 Jan. 163 BCE.

Babylonian Kinglist, upper edge. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Bert van der Spek.
Babylonian Kinglist, right edge. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Bert van der Spek.
Babylonian Kinglist
(BM 35603 upper  edge)
(British Museum; **)
Babylonian Kinglist
(BM 35603 left edge)
(British Museum; **)

Coin of Mithradates I the Great, founder of the Parthian empire. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Coin of Mithradates I the Great, founder of the Parthian empire (Bode-Museum, Berlin)

Upper edge:
There is room for two or three lines, of which a few traces remain.

Left edge 1:
Demetrius II Nicator (145-138 and 129-136/125 BCE) is possibly mentioned on the left edge of the tablet. Since the second Di is not certain, it might also refer to Demetrius I Soter. If the reference refers to Demetrius II, the reigns of Antiochus V Eupator, Alexander Balas and Demetrius I must have been mentioned on the last line of the reverse and the three or four lines of the upper edge, hich seems hardly possible.

Left edge 2:
Sachs and Wiseman (1954, p. 209) suggested that the traces might be m/Ar?\ for Arsaces, but the traces are certainly not unequivocal. It is, however, an attractive suggestion that the list covered the years from the conquest op Alexander in 331 to the conquest of Babylonia by Mithridates (Arsaces) in 141 BC.

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