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The Alexander Chronicle (BCHP 1): Description

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Alexander bust from Delos. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Alexander, bust from Delos (Louvre)
The Babylonian Alexander Chronicle (BCHP 1; a.k.a. ABC 8, Chronicle 8) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It deals with events from the reigns of the Persian king Darius III Codomannus and his Macedonian successor Alexander the Great. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles, go here.

The cuneiform tablet (BM 36304) is in the British Museum and was first published by A.K. Grayson in 1975 in a book called Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. On this website, a new reading is proposed by Bert van der Spek of the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands).* The official publication can be found in Achaemenid History XIII (2003).

Description of the tablet

The fragment is the right part of a large tablet of which at least the left half (but probably more) is broken off. Only few signs seem to be lost at the right edge. The length of the longest line of the obverse is 6 cm, the length of the longest line of the reverse is 4.5 cm. The thickness of the middle of the tablet measures 26 mm at the right edge and 32 mm at the left edge. Thus the lines were pretty long, if not a two columned tablet is to be assumed. If my interpretation of lines Obv. 3'-4' is correct we must assume that the tablet had two columns at both sides, so that columns II and III are preserved. Then we can also calculate the missing part at the left side of the columns, viz. ca. 5-7 signs. Not too much seems to be lost at the lower edge. The tablet curves to a thickness of 23 mm. at the lower edge. The upper side has 25 mm. thickness.

Perhaps some remarks concerning the dividing lines are in order. Clear dividing lines are drawn after obv. lines 2', 10', 13', 16' and rev. 1', 5', 6', 8', 11' and 12'. Line obv. 8' is written between thin, hardly visible dividing lines. At the end of line obv. 11' a line is drawn to mark the remaining blank space. The same function may have had the line after line rev. 5’.

In chronicles dividing lines usually mark years of reign. If this would be the case in our tablet too, it would mean that many years are reported in this chronicle. If it is true that  the beginning of the tablet starts with the beginning of Alexander's reign, then on the reverse the beginning of the war of the Diadochi would be reported. That would duplicate the beginning of the Chronicle of the Diadochi (BCHP 3), which, however, does not seem to be the case.

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation
Alternative reading


There are, however, also some chronicles in which dividing lines mark new months (BM 34428 unpubl.). I assume that in this chronicle at least in some cases dividing lines introduce nothing at all (perhaps the thin lines before and after line obv. 8') or only months.
Go here for an alternative
reading, based on the
assumption that all lines
indicate months.

to part two (text and translation)

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