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Chronographic Documents Concerning Bagayasha (BCHP 18 A/B)

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The Bagayasha Chronicle, combined. Photos Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragments A and B combined
(British Museum).
In this chapter two documents concerning the Parthian prince Bagayasha (Bacasis) are presented. Both documents are probably part of the historical section of an astronomical diary.

The first document survives in two pieces: A = the right part; B =the left part of the original tablet; the pieces do not join.

The cuneiform tablets are:
  • B: BM 35189+46018+46216 (= Sp. III, 295+81-7-6,464+81-7-6,678)
  • A: BM 35229+35518+35621 (= Sp. II 792 + Sp. III 24+27)
Of the second document only one single piece survives (C). It can be found here.

All tablets can be found in the British Museum. On this website, a first 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 edition. This web publication is intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to contact Van der Spek). Photos of details can be found here.

Previous publication

R.J. van der Spek, ‘The Size and Significance of the Babylonian Temples under the Successors,’ in: P. Briant, F. Joannès eds., La Transition entre l’empire achéménide et les royaumes hellénistiques (vers 350-300 av. J.-C.). Actes du colloque organisé au Collège de France par la « Chaire d’histoire et civilisation du monde achéménide et de l’empire d’Alexandre » et le « Réseau international d’études et de recherches achéménides » (GDR 2538 CNRS), 22-23 novembre 2004, (Paris: De Boccard, 2006) 261-307, Appendix 2, text 1, pp. 284-288 (lines A 4’-7’; 19’-22’; B 2’-9’; 17’-23’; 28’-31’).
Babylonian Chronicles

Text and translation
General commentary
Philological commentary
Summary of events

Fragment C


The Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment A. Photo Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment A
(British Museum).

The edition below presents corrections to this edition..

Description of the tablet

  • A (BM 35229+): Length: 8.5 cm, width: 7 cm (at line 4), thickness 3 cm.
  • B (BM 35189+): Length: 12.5 cm., width 7 cm (written line 8: 6 cm), thickness left edge 3 cm, right edge 3.5 cm. The bottom edge (3 cm. actually the upper edge of the original tablet) is partly preserved and inscribed. Seven so-called “firing holes” (the purpose of which is unknown) are preserved on the left edge. A few traces of cuneiform signs are preserved on the reverse of Sp III 295 = BM 35189.
The original tablet has been broken into many pieces, of which seven have been identified and joined by Irving Finkel, so that we have now two fragments which probably belong to the same tablet in view of content and script. Fragment B is the left part of the original (the left edge is preserved). Fragment A is the right part. We virtually have the right edge of the tablet in line 18’. There is one sign after UD.DU, but that is already on the curve of the edge. The two fragments do not join.

The Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment B. Photo Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment B
(British Museum).

In our earlier edition (2006) we assumed that Text A was the upper right part of the tablet and B the lower left part. Meanwhile we have changed our minds. In view of the content it is highly probable that lines B 8’- 34’ correspond with lines A 1’-27’. In between an unknown part of the tablet is lost.

If this reconstruction is correct, then we have to assume that the tablet was rather wide, at least about 20 cm, hence about 7 cm. missing in the middle. Astronomical diaries of this size are exceptional, but they exist. One example is the diary concerning SEB 171, of which months XI and XII are preserved = March-April 140 BC (ADART III no. -140D), which is 18.8 cm wide (missing perhaps one or two cm at the left side) and contains 55 – 60 signs. Another example is the diary concerning SEB 206, months I-VII = April – November 106 BC (ADART III no. -105A) which is even larger (width 20.8 cm) and contains ca. 50-55 signs per line. This would mean that in the lines where the tablet fragments come closest to each other, viz.  B 11’ = A 4’ to B 20’= A 15’, we are missing about 8-10 signs.

The Bagayasha Chronicle, edge. Photo Bert van der Spek. BCHP 18: Bagayasha Chronicle, fragment B, edge
(British Museum).

What we now have is the lower part of the reverse side of the original tablet. This is proven by the fact that we have the colophon on the left edge and these colophons are always written with the obverse (the flat side) down and the reverse up, as is the case here. This observation suggests that we have here the historical part of an astronomical diary. The obverse and the upper part of the reverse must have contained astronomical observations. Although no astronomical information remains, the tablet looks in fact like an astronomical diary rather than a chronicle. The tablet has so-called firing holes on the left edge of the tablet, which is common in diaries, not in chronicles. More important: the colophon on the left edge of fragment B seems to say that it was a diary.

Because we do not have absolute certainty about the reconstruction given here, we decided to publish the transcription and translation in two separate columns, so that the reader easily can judge what we have done. In the transcription two dots (..) is the approximation of one missing sign, apart from the lost middle part of ca 8-10 signs, which we indicated as (///).

to part two (text and translation)

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