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The Diadochi Chronicle (BCHP 3): Commentary

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Coin of Seleucus, struck 310 BCE in Babylon. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Coin of Seleucus minted in 310 in Babylon (British Museum)
The Babylonian Diadochi Chronicle (BCHP 3; a.k.a. ABC 10, Chronicle 10) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It deals with the history of the Diadochi, the successors of Alexander the Great, and the Babylonian war between the generals Seleucus and Antigonus Monophthalmus. For a very brief introduction to the literary genre of chronicles, go here.

This page offers a preliminary new edition by Bert van der Spek, Free University, Amsterdam (Holland), and Irving L. Finkel, British Museum, London, who are currently working on a new edition of all published and unpublished chronicles of the Hellenistic period. This publication on the Livius website is intended to invite suggestions for better readings, comments and interpretations (go here to find the e-mail-address of Van der Spek).

Babylonian Chronicles
Previous editions
Text and translation
Related texts


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

Commentary (general comments)

The text contains a remarkable number of errors and restorations over erasures.


  • Obv. 23: BI over erasure;
  • 27: ma over erasure;
  • 31: šú actually looks more like ana;
  • 32: BA over erasure, the bottom wedge has an extra head;
  • Rev. 6’: the number is over an erasure and is difficult to read;instead of 30 it might be 21; [email protected] over erasure; 
  • 36’: ru over erasure.
Other errors:
  • Obv. 24: ERÍN LUGAL at the beginning of the line is probably mistaken and corrected next to it; a kind of dittography;
  • 27: ka forgotten in Ma-ak-ka-du-nu; ub=ár instead of ur;
  • 33: il in Pi-il-i-si ("Philippus") probably mistaken for Pi-líp-i-si as in lines 26 and 38. Note that the name is abbreviated to Pi in line 29;
  • 35: UKKIN forgotten;
  • Rev. 25’: TA was apparently forgotten and then added on the edge.
The scribe also had problems in composing the tablet. In Obv. 26 he acknowledges that he does not know in what month his information about the king and Antigonus Monophthalmus is to be placed. Possibly the tablet from which he took his information was mutilated at this point. The same is suggested by line 28, where the destruction (he-pu-ú) may refer to mutilated lines of his tablet, though this cannot be proven.

Commentary (obverse)

Column I

I gather that the chronicle started with the death of Alexander the Great, hence with the first year of Philip Arridaeus (323/2 BCE). It means an average coverage of the first four years of ca. 6 lines per regnal year, which is very well in line with the length of the reports of the later years of Philip. Note, however, that the years reporting the struggle between Seleucus and Antigonus for Babylonia take ca. 15 lines each (see reverse).

The restoration of Nicanor in line 14 is speculative. If the reconstruction is correct, it could refer to the Nicanor, who was appointed satrap of Cappadocia at Triparadeisos (Arrian of Nicomedia, Ta meta Alexandrou 37) and who was appointed by Antigonus stratêgos of the Upper Satrapies (Diodorus 19.100.3) and killed by Seleucus in 311 BCE (Appian of Alexandria, Syriaca, 55 and see below).

The forth year of  Philip is indicated in view of the fact that all subsequent reigns of Philip are recorded.

Smith and Grayson suggest to restore DINGIR.MEŠ, “gods” at the beginning, but the traces do not really fit. ERÍN, “troops” is likewise epigraphically impossible. The damaged sign(s) at the beginning could represent either a noun or a logographic verbal form with plural indicator, but as the enclitic –ma, "and" (maybe with adversative function "but"), is added, the logogram must be a verb. I have no solution for the sign.

Smith read the following signs bûšu (NÍG.ŠU)-šú-nu, “their property” (not taken up by Grayson). This reading does not contradict the recognizable traces. At the end of the line, the traces seem to fit BÁR.SIPA.[KI]. However, the context is not clear at all.

GAL.UKKIN = muma’’eru, Akk, equivalent of “satrap. The abstract suffix –ûtu denotes the "office of satrap". The traces confirm that the signs KUR.URI.[KI] follow. The preceding preposition ana, "for, to" suggests that somebody was installed as satrap of Akkad (=Babylonia). The verb was certainly written logographically and seems to have been followed by –ma, though there is a faint vertical too much. This could be, however, an indication that the text was written over an incomplete erasure.

It is questionable who was appointed satrap of Babylonia. It must have happened in the same month as the battle on the Nile between Perdiccas and Ptolemy (next lines). If the appointment had taken place briefly before this battle, it could refer to the appointment of Docimus, whom Perdiccas ordered to replace Archon, who had been appointed satrap in 323 in the division of satrapies after Alexander's death (Arrian, Ta meta Alexandrou Frg. 24, 3: 16-20 (cf. Schober 1981, 38, n. 4). It seems that in Babylonia fighting broke out between Archon and Docimus, in which Archon could count on Babylonian support (Arrian, Frg. 24, 5: 6-9; Schober 1981, 39, n. 4). It may also have been Seleucus, who was appointed satrap of Babylonia at the conference of Triparadeisos after the battle, which would imply that the conference took place in the same month as the battle.

The sign after ITI, "month", so far has been read as GU4 (Ajaru = Iyyar, month II). It should have two horizontals cut by a vertical with two Winkelhaken at the end. The vertical is very faint and only touches the upper horizontal, while the upper Winkelhaken is impressed twice. Again, we seem to be faced with an underlying erasure and one is inclined to ignore the vertical wedge and rather to read ITI BI, “(in) that same month”. The following account of the king doing battle against the satrap of Egypt might therefore belong to the same month as the previous reference to the satrapship of Akkad, although it is not known in which part of the month the battle has to be placed. As the next preserved month name is Arahsamna (month VIII), any month before seems possible to accommodate both events.

However, as the campaign was directed against Egypt, the battle can not have taken place after mid-July, because the Nile flood would have made military operations impossible. This leaves only month II, III, and IV; if the confused event described by Diodorus (18.35) refers to the beginning of the Nile flood (which is not what Diodorus himself says), month IV or Du'ûzu would be the obvious candidate.

The line almost certainly reports the campaign of Perdiccas, the highest representative of the king, against Ptolemy, satrap of Egypt.

ERÍN LUGAL has no plural indicator. Smith understands it as "man/soldier of the king," renders it with "guardian," and takes it to be Perdiccas being killed by the  troops of the king. Grayson rejects it as too specific an interpretation in view of the  lack of supporting evidence and states that ERÍN could represent ummânu, "army", as  well as ERÍN stands for a collective noun "troops". There is a plural indicator with  the verb. Grayson's opinion would mean that the army of Ptolemy was viewed as a royal army as well, which is true in a sense, but not in the view of the chronicler, who argued in the preceding line that Perdiccas’ troops were royal and Ptolemy’s troops satrapal. In my interpretation the expression is one of the document’s errors. The scribe saw that he forgot the MEŠ-sign and repeated the phrase. It is impossible to know the verbal form behind the ideograms GAZ.MEŠ (from dâku, “to kill, to defeat,”) except that it is plural. I choose here for the passive tense. It is of cause possible that a plural subject was present in the last part of the preceding line. However all this may be, it must refer to the defeat and death of Perdiccas.

End of line: After the Winkelhaken for “10” there is some space. This suggests that the figure was not bigger than 10, but rather that the number indicator KAM followed. 10 Marcheshwan = 14 November 320.

Oelsner suggests restoring mSi-lu-uk-ku in the gap in view of the following title, thus arriving at a minimum width of the column or tablet. However, it is not compulsory to restore the name (cf. obv. 10’, where the title holder is not mentioned), and the missing part could be much bigger, accommodating a whole sentence. The satrap, however, must have been Seleucus. If Docimus was the satrap of line 21, the appointment of Seleucus must have been mentioned in the gap.

The restoration ša Esagil …iddekû (as in rev. 13’and 35’) is based on parallels in contracts referring to tithe money being paid to the temple ana dakê eperi ša Esagil, "for the clearing of debris of the Esagila temple" (e.g. CT 49, 5 and 6, Stolper 1993, 53 A2-1)  in connection with building work at the main temple. The reference in the Astronomical diary AD -321: rev. 14’ SAHAR.HI.A šá É-sag-gíl a<na> BAL.RI dUTU.ŠÚ id-de-ku-ú, "the debris of Esagila was removed to the opposite west bank". This is in conflict with the archaeological data which suggest that the rubble was removed to the Homera area (Wetzel et al., 1957, 2), although its should be noted that the western bank has not been excavated. 

The signs ZU and LUGAL are written over an erasure. Both verbal forms (îbir and GUR) are singular; hence "the king" must be subject in both cases. "Antigonus" must be the object of  the sentence and it will have been that the king left Antigonus in charge of Asia, or something of the sort.

ana EGIR-šú NU GUR-ub/ár: Smith read: ana EGIR-šú-nu GUR-ár, "returned after them" (although itâr is present, a fact noted by Grayson). Grayson therefore prefers to separate the sign UB=ár. We accept Grayson’s NU (= ul, “not”), but prefer to return to Smith’s reading GUR-ár and assume that the scribe was confused in choosing between ub=ár and ur.

Smith read EGIR &í-bu-ú, "they sank". Grayson rejects the reading on grounds that  the sign value for HI is not attested for this period, and reads he-pu-ú, “after it was  destroyed” instead. We assume, however, that the phase refers to damages on the scribe’s original or source. End of line: traces of KUR are visible.

Grayson reads úAŠ KÙ.BABBAR šá KÙ.BABBAR. úAŠ = a plant, asa foetida? (ABZ), used in medical, magical, and ritual context (cf. CAD E, p. 38 s.v. êdu, but this  passage is not quoted there). Collation suggests to read the signs rather ú-sur-tú šá  KÙ.BABBAR. ú-sur-tú = "Einschliessung von Feinden" (AHw 1439a; cf. Van der Spek, Orientalia 2000, 437), but that interpretation is unsuitable in view of the fact that Grayson's second KÙ.BABBAR is correct.

Cornelia Wunsch suggests to interpret it as a byform of MB isirtu A  (’sr), "collection of payment" (CAD I/J, p. 197f. The nominal pattern purust has the same function aspirist, GAG § 55). It could be derived from esêru, "to press for payment", note the awkward spelling of the NB attestation <<ú>>*-su*-ir-tum (collated by Wunsch) in TCL 13 196: 1, concerning the toll for passing a bridge) that supports this interpretation. See also AHw 1437b s.v. usertu, "Einforderung".

ina maš-a-a-al-tum (maš’altu, CAD M 1, 354b) was not understood by former editors, but the reading is certain. The word refers to interrogation in court and occurs in the astronomical diaries in the context of the expression simmiltu ša maš’alti, "rack (lit. ladder) of interrogation" (AD II, p. 426, No. –175 B Rev. Left edge : 2; p. 476, No. –168A Rev. 18’; AD III, p. 30, No. –161 A1, A2 Obv. 25 (cf. TBE 85 and Van der Spek 2001: 449); p. 152, No. –140 C Rev. 38’ ). It is difficult to surmise what the meaning is in this context. It may be that money was requisitioned upon request, after interrogation of the local authorities or private citizens about the availability of money, or upon pressure.

For syllabic writings of the ceremonial name of the wall of Borsippa "Its-Fold-Is-Pleasant" as Tâbi-supûršu cf. CAD S, p. 398 s.v. supûru 1e (this passage quoted!). Cf.  Brinkman, Fs Moran, p.104.

The sign at the end is probably to be read BA (cf. Smith). One would expect a verb  written with an ideogram or a syllable. Del Monte translates tentatively: "In quell’ anno Filippo [morì] in Macedonia" and points out the fact that Philip is assigned six regnal years in the Uruk king list. However, if assigned six years, his death should have happened in the seventh year, as his first year corresponds to the last year of Alexander III according to AD I no. –322. If the death of Philip were recorded one would expect either NAM.MEŠ in the case of a natural death, or GAZ in the case of a violent death. Both options are impossible. A third possibility is the verb mâtu, “to die,” ideographically written as BAD (UGx)  or  BA.BAD (BA.UGx). That possibility is open here, since the last visible sigh is BA. The chronicles occasionally use the verb mâtu, but always write it either syllabically or with BAD only (refs. CAD M1, 424; cf. the commentary of Grayson ad ABC chr. 1, i:11 (p. 71). Mâtu can be taken as a synonym to NAM.MEŠ = šimâti = "destinies" = short for "to die a natural death." Philip did not die a natural death, but was murdered by Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great.

On the basis of Diodorus 19.11.5 (Philip "had been king for six years and four months") the date of Philip’s death is usually taken to be in October 317 BCE. But a recently published astronomical text, a list of lunar eclipses and eclipse possibilities, seems to say that Philip died on 25 December 317 (AD V, p. 7, No. 2 V’12’). Column V records the observation of a lunar eclipse on the 15th of Kislîmu (IX), year 7 of Philip, i.e. 13th of December 317. At the end of the tablet historical information is included, possibly referring to the death of king Philip Arrhidaeus:
12’ GAN ina 27 Pi-il-l[i?-.] Kislîmu, 27th, Phil[ip the king died]
13’ MU 2 KAM mAn-ti-gu-nu-su Year 2 of Antigonus,
14’ GAL? ERÍN?-ru (lower edge) the strategos?

The 27th of Kišlimu corresponds to the 25th of December 317. This new information may push ahead the date a little. It may also be that the death of Philip became known only two months later in Babylonia, though it is not what the tablet actually says.

The title of Antigonus is ambiguous. It is not quite understandable. See the equally enigmatic titles in TCL 13, 234: 35 and OECT 9, 1, rev. 10 (Cf. Van der Spek 2000, 435). The year of death of Philip is the first year of Antigonus according to later Saros canon. Cf. Boiy 2000: 119, n. 20: "On the basis of the chronological information of the Solar Saros it is now clear that Antigonus 1 equals 317/6." Hence, the 2nd year of Antigonus, referred to in line 13’, must be the following year, i.e. 316/5. Note that in the Chronicle of the Diadochi year 316/5 is still attributed to the eighth year of Philip.

If this Philip really died in December 317, then the Chronicle of the Diadochi must have been completely wrong or did not refer to Philip's death. It may only refer to the fact that the king was in Macedonia. Then a verb is not even necessary as this can be constructed without using a verb. There are many parallels for this: ABC 5: rev. 8: šar Akkadi ina matišu, “the king of Akkad (stayed) in his land” and in the Nabonidus chronicle passim: šarru ina uruTemâ, “the king (was) in Temâ” (ABC 7 ii:5, 10, 19, 23). If an appropriate verb would be necessary to add, one could think of baši, the stative tense of bašû, “to be (in existence)”. Hence, as so often, we can derive from a sign completely different conclusions, in this case the information that Philip died, or that he lived.

Grayson reads at the end of the line ana Du-[…], pointing out that the last sign is not IL (contra Smith) and translates: “the army of the king was stationed at Du-…]”. This is impossible. In the first place does ana not mean “at”, but “to”; secondly DU is probably not a geographical name since the determinatives URU (city) or KUR (land) are not there.

33=14' - 37=18'
This section  probably describes the presence of Eumenes in Babylonia and his fighting with Seleucus as described in Diodorus 18.73 and 19.12-13. Seleucus declared to be loyal to the kings, but not to Eumenes, since the latter was condemned to death at Triparadeisos. He was also loyal to Antigonus at this juncture, who came to his aid (Diodorus 19.17). Antigonus even appointed Seleucus satrap of Susiana (Diodorus 19.18.1).

For ina @al-tum there is not enough space unless the horizontal wedge was on the left edge.

Perhaps an (unnamed?) officer (GAL) is meant, but I suspect that the writing is defective for GAL<.UKKIN> KUR URI.KI = "satrap". As [email protected]@u forms a plural [email protected]@â/êti this entry seems to refer to a special reed hut, fence, or construction. The verb could be rasâbu, "to defeat, to destroy". There are no more suitable verbal roots available.

Nothing can be said with confidence about these lines. It may concern the conflict between Antigonus and Seleucus, resulting in the latter’s withdrawal to Egypt.

Columns II and III

Completely lost, although there is perhaps one fragment of Column II (here). 

The two columns will have treated the years the years 315/4, 314/3, 313/2 and 312/1 (= in Babylonian calendar: years 3, 4, 5 and 6 of  "Antigonus, the General"). Cf. Boiy 2004.

to part five (commentary reverse)
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