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Chronicle concerning Alexander and Arabia (BCHP 2)

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An Arab. Relief on the eastern stairs of the apadana, Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins.
An Arab. Relief from the
eastern stairs of the Apadana
at Persepolis (more).
The Babylonian Chronicle concerning Alexander and Arabia ("Alexander and Arabia Chronicle"; BCHP 2) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It deals with events from the last regnal year of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great.

The cuneiform tablet (BM 41080) is in the British Museum. On this website, a new 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 version of what will be the chronicle's very first edition. This web publication is therefore intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek).


This fragment probably deals with the second entry of Alexander the Great into the city of Babylon, but the condition of the tablet hardly allows firm conclusions.

The crossing of the Tigris may refer to Alexander’s crossing, when he came from the east early in 323 BCE. Apparently he pitched his camp there. He was met there by Babylonian astrologers. The form ibirnimma is problematical. ibir is singular, but nim is the ventiv ending of the third person plural. An emendation i-bir-<ru>-nim-ma or i-bir-<'>-nim-ma may be considered, though the context actually asks for a singular (cf. the singular in line 1'): Alexander crossed the Tigris (coming from the east), hence i-bir-am-ma.

Interesting to note is the reference to the preparations for the war against Arabia, preparations which were made at Babylon already before Alexander arrived there. An harbor was being built and boats were coming from Phoenicia (Arrian of Nicomedia, Anabasis. 7.19.3-20.10; cf. Strabo of Amasia, Geography 16.1.11). If we may believe Strabo 16.4.27 Alexander even intended "to make it his royal abode after his return from India." If this intention was known in Babylon, it must have displeased the Babylonian priesthood, who would have remembered Nabonidus, who made Tema (Teima) in Arabia his royal abode and who neglected the cult of Marduk, even tried to promote the cult of Sin there (Beaulieu 1989: 43-65). 

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation


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.

Alternative translation: "the people of the land [gave] numerous gifts". The phrase may reflect Diodorus' remark about Alexander's entry into Babylon (Library, 17.112.6): "As on the previous occasion, the population received the troops hospitably, and all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure, since everything necessary was available in profusion."

Van der Spek’s reading (Van der Spek 2003), (... d]a-qa?), is certainly wrong. The sign read as qa ana is one sign, identical to the ŠUB of line 1'. So any allusion to Perdiccas is now out of the question. ...d]a-ru is possible, but d]a ŠUB seems to give more sense. Perhaps it refers to the fact that Alexander now encamped near Babylon.

K GAL-i: Here again an improvement of Van der Spek's edition (Van der Spek 2003) can be made. It is clear that the –i must be interpreted as a phonetic complement to GAL and is not the beginning of a new word. See for instance the recently published receipt of 10 silver staters for the payment of 5 laborers working on the removal of debris of Esagila (dated 7 January 321) "in the Great Gate" (ina K.GAL-i), being either the place where the money was paid, or the place where the work had to be done. (Cf. Jursa 2002, 120, Nr. 8 (BM 87261): 3)

K.GAL, bbu rab, "The Great Gate", is used as an apposition to K.SIKIL.LA, "the Sikilla Gate" or "the Pure Gate", an important ceremonial gate of Esagila, in the Astronomical diaries III, p. 248, No. –129 A2 obv. 18’. Andrew George thinks that the Great Gate differs from the Pure Gate. See George 1992, p. 24 (fig. 4) and p. 87 ("the monumental gate giving access from the central courtyard of the main building to the complex of rooms around Marduk's cella (the excavators' Gate H, significantly explained in VAT 13817 [edited p. 95-97] as bbu rab ša kisal Bl ...)"; cf. also p. 89). In the Esagila Tablet, however, the "Great Gate" is mentioned in a list of six gates of Esagila, while Ka-sikilla is not (George 1992: 85).

G.F. Del Monte argues that the Sikilla Gate was alternatively known as the Dud Gate on the basis of the Astronomical Diaries AD II, p. 414, no. –178C ‘rev.: 19’; AD III, p. 30, no. –161A (Del Monte erroneously –162) ‘obv’.: 28’ and 29’ and AD III, p. 214, no. –132B obv. 27. The Dud Gate is also mentioned in two administrative documents from the Rahimesu Archive: Van der Spek 1998c, no. 16 and no. 28. From no. 28: 11-12 it appears that the Dud Gate was situated in the north wall of Esagila. Cf. Boiy 2000 p. 94.

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