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The Alexander Chronicle (BCHP 1): Commentary

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Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the 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.

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). An alternative reading, not by Van der Spek, is proposed here.

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation
Alternative reading


BCHP 1, the Alexander Chronicle (reverse). Photo Bert van der Spek.
BCHP 1: Alexander chronicle (reverse; **)

Commentary (reverse)

The reverse is even more difficult to date. There are hardly clues. There is not any indication of the death of a king, so I assume, in view of the fact that not a big part of the lower part of the tablet was lost, that we are still in the reign of Alexander. The best clue for a date is the reference to a man named Alpulus[su ..], which could be a clumsy rendering of Harpalus. Grayson read here a Babylonian name (mdNabû-bu-ul-li-[...]), but the reading Al-pu-ul-us-[...] must be considered certain. If indeed Harpalus is concerned, then line 9’ belongs to ultimately February 324 BCE, when Harpalus fled from Babylon (cf. Badian 1961). Another candidate for this name is (a hypocoristic of) Apollodorus of Amphipolis who was appointed strategos next to Mazaeus the satrap (Arrian of Nicomedia, Anabasis 3.16.4) and who was still in function in 323 BCE, when Alexander returned to Babylon (Arrian, Anabasis 7.18.1; Plutarch, Alexander 73).

Further comments:

Reference to an execution and an appointment may refer to the purge of satraps Alexander carried out in December 325 (Bosworth 1988, 240; Badian 1961, 16-18). In March 324 he arrived in Susa and executed the satrap Abulites. However, it is sobering to note that on the obverse the execution of a certain Kidinnu is mentioned, whom we never should have known, if his name would have been lost in a break. 

The reference to a person named Pitanu seems promising. With a little fantasy we may detect the name Peithon here, but which Peithon this could have been and which troops for what he assembled is difficult to guess. But doubts are in order. The vertical wedge before the name, which I interpreted as a Personenkeil may also be part of a larger sign of which traces exist, e.g. Susa. If a Peithon is concerned then Peithon the son of Crateuas seems to be the best candidate (Berve 1926 #621). He was in Babylon with Alexander at the time of the latter's death. What he did at this period is unknown, except that he slept in the temple of Serapis in order to find out what was the god's will in the illness of Alexander (Arrian, Anabasis 7.25.2) [note 3]. After Alexander's death he became satrap of Media and was appointed by Perdiccas with the task of subduing the revolt of the Greek colonists in Bactria. The mustering of troops for the expedition against the rebellious Greeks in Bactria may be at issue. If so, the reverse of the tablet describes events after the death of Alexander, but then a reference to "the king", who gives orders in line 11' is odd, there being no kings who could give orders.

Note: perhaps we must read [I]s-pi-ta-nu, which may be a rendering of Spitama (Spitamenes?). However, if this name were really spelled like this, it would have been pronounced Ispita'u, which makes it almost impossible to accept this tantalizing suggestion.
UD.KIB.NUN.KI can either be Euphrates or Sippar and A.MEŠ can mean "sons" as well as "water", which makes the sentence very difficult to understand.

Grayson read mim-ma ana aš-ri dX, "and whatever for the emplacement of god X", which is also possible. After study of the Judicial Chronicle (BCHP 17), we suppose the correct reading is mim-ma ana aš-ri DINGIR /ú\ [- .. ..], "The valuables which belong to the territory of the godhead".

As argued above these lines may refer to activities of Harpalus or Apollodorus. Harpalus was a treasurer of the financial satrapies based at Babylon (tôn en Babulôni thesaurôn kaì tôn prosódôn tèn phulakèn pepisteuménos, Diodorus, Library, 17.108.9). He lived in a regal style in the royal palace and spent a lot of money. Lines 7’-10’ may then refer to his requisitions. Especially lines 9’-10’ report an event which shows remarkable similarity to the transaction recorded by BM 79001, dated to the fourth year of Antigonus Monophthalmus (314 BCE) in which 3 minas of silver in staters of Alexander "was disbursed from the property of Bêl on the orders of  the Greek Ka-li-nu-uk-su (Kallinikos?), the azdakarri, who is in charge of the treasury, for food for the Greek Du-ru-uk?-ti-i-di (Dorokteides??)" (Stolper 1993, 82-86). This Kallinikos may well be a later successor to Harpalus.

The cuneiform sign TAR can represent both parâsu and nakâsu, "to cut off".

umarri: This word seems to be a verb derived the D-stem of arû (cf. CAD A II, 317 s.v. arû C), "to cut branches". This is, in this context not very likely. The signs may also be part of a personal name if the last vertical wedge of the suggested s]u were a Personenkeil, or if a name ...s]umarri were at issue. The phrase "his camp he pitched" may refer to Alexander's encamping of the army at Opis (August 324; Arrian, Anabasis 7.12.3).

The name Makkadunu (Macedonia) occurs in two chronicles:

The gentilicium "Macedonian" (Makkadunaia) is used for Seleucus I in the building inscription of Antiochus I (Kuhrt/Sherwin-White 1991, 75, I:5). The context of the word here is completely lost.

to part five (notes and literature)

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