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End of Seleucus Chronicle (BCHP 9)

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Seleucus I Nicator. Bust at the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Seleucus I Nicator (Louvre)
The Chronicle concerning the last years of Seleucus ("End of Seleucus chronicle"; BCHP 9) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It describes the final days of the reign of king Seleucus, who defeated his opponent Lysimachus at Corupedium, but was assassinated not much later. 

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).

Babylonian Chronicles
Text and translation


Map of Babylon. Map design Jona Lendering.



The procession road of Bl probably is the road leading from Esagila along the royal palace through the Ištar Gate to the New Year Temple, called Ay-ibr-šab. The context is unknown, but the removal of debris, like in chronicle BCHP 8 (Juniper Garden Chronicle): r.22’, is an option. The reference refers to year SE 29 = 283/282 BC.

Bust of Lysimachus. Archaeological museum, Seluk (Turkey). Photo Marco Prins.
Lysimachus (Archaeological museum, Seluk)

ana KUR S[a-par-du, "to the land of S[ardes ...]" The restoration conforms the traces and is based on r. 1’.

These lines refer to Seleucus' preparation for his campaign against Lysimachus, satrap of Thrace since 323, who had assumed the royal titulature in 306/5 BCE. After the Battle of Ipsus (301), Lysimachus acquired Asia Minor north of the Taurus mountains. With the help of Pyrrhus of Epirus he expelled Demetrius Poliorcetes from Macedonia in 287 and occupied the entire kingdom two years later. In 283 he killed his own son Agathocles at the instigation of his second wife Arsinoe and thus alienated his nobility. Lysandra, daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and widow of Agathocles, fled with her children, her brother Ptolemy Keraunos, and Alexander, the brother of Agathocles, to Seleucus, who was at the moment in Babylon (Pausanias 1.10.4, 1.16.2, and 10.9.7). 

End of Seleucus Chronicle (BCHP 9; BM 32235), obverse. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Bert van der Spek.
BCHP 9: End of Seleucus
Chronicle (BM 32235 obv.)
(British Museum).**

When Lysimachus had permitted Arsinoe to destroy Agathocles, Lysandra ran away to Seleucus with her children and her brothers. Lysimachus also had a son Alexander by an Odryssian woman, and when they ran away this Alexander went with them. They came to Babylon and begged Seleucos to go to war with Lysimachus; and at the same time Philetaeros, the treasurer of Lysimachus' wealth, who had taken the death of Agathocles badly and who was suspicious of Arsinoe, occupied Pergamon on the Caicus, and surrendered himself and the treasure through a herald to Seleucus
[Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.10.4;
tr. Peter Levi; full text]
Seleucus promised to help them and he promised Ptolemy Keraunos, who was excluded from the Egyptian throne, to help him secure the Egyptian throne after his father’s death (Memnon 12.2; FGrH 434 F 8.2). The chronicle now confirms that Seleucus was in Babylon indeed. He apparently started to muster an army in Babylonia in mid-summer 282 and left Babylon. Note that Pausanias claims that Seleucus had an army of both Greeks and  foreigners (1.16.2). A governor (šaknu) was left in Babylonia. The title šaknu of Uruk is held by Anu-uballit alias Nikarchos in the reign of the Seleucid king Seleucus II Callinicus (Doty 1977, p. 21ff; on p. 154 Doty suggests to equate this with the Greek title epistates). 

Corupedium. Photo Jona Lendering.

The campaign must have been related in the following lacuna. Seleucus crossed the Taurus for the first time since the battle of Ipsus and easily conquered Asia Minor. The city of Sardes was surrendered to Seleucus after a short siege by Theodotus, who had been appointed treasurer by Lysimachus (Polyaenus 4.9.4). Shortly afterwards Lysimachus was beaten at the battle of Corupedium, west of Sardes (Porphyrius, FGrH 260 F 3, 8; Appian, Syrian Wars, 62).

If the Babylonian King List of the Hellenistic Period is correct in stating that Seleucus died in month VI of SE 31 (26 August-24 September 281), and if Justin is correct in his report that the battle of Curupedium took place about seven months before his death, then the battle of Curupedium took place in February 281 (cf. Wiseman 1954, 205f.; Will 1979, 103). In any event, the battle must have taken place in SE 30, which ended 30 March 281 BC.

End of Seleucus Chronicle (BCHP 9; BM 32235), reverse. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Bert van der Spek.
BCHP 9: End of Seleucus
Chronicle (BM 32235 rev. **)


Year 31 runs from 31 March 281 to 18 April 280. Sapardu, "Sardes", is also mentioned in AD I, p. 344/5, no. –273 B r. 29’

KUR Ma-ak-ka-du-nu, "the land of Macedonia". A few times Macedonia is rendered with its own name in cuneiform documents: see comments on BCHP 1 (Alexander Chronicle). The chronicles and Astronomical Diaries also give an archaizing Mesopotamian alternative name for Macedonia, "KUR Han".

lGAL ERN?].MEŠ TA ERN.MEŠ-š[-nu]. The proposed completion is open to discussion, but conforms to the grammar. A reading lERIN.MES-š[, "his troops" is possible as well, but in view of the plural lGAL ERN?].MEŠ, in combination with the plural verbal form si-hi ... is-hi-i’, "a rebellion they fomented", a reconstruction with šunu, "their", seems advisable.

For the translation of TA as "with", see Del Monte 1997, 12 and CAD I/J, p. 283 s.v. išti.

Grayson read: ... ITI] /SIG\, "... in the month] /Simanu\", instead of... GA]Z-š, "... he ki]lled him". The reading GAZ, however, may be considered certain. It is difficult to say who killed whom. It is attractive to assume that the murder of Seleucus by Ptolemy Keraunos is mentioned here, but see the general commentary below.

KUR [ .. .. l]a-gim ŠU UD AB, "the land [of .. .. l]agim ...". Possibly the same geographical name is recorded in BCHP 7 (Antiochus and India Chronicle): rev.11’.

The phenomenon of making offerings in the Greek fashion, followed by a sacrificial meal, is also recorded in the Ruin of Esagila Chronicle (BCHP 6) 6’. See commentary there for more references. It is difficult to say on what sacred (?) place the troops, possibly Greek troops, made their offerings. Maybe at the site of Etemenanki, like Antiochus, the crown prince had done before.

KUR Ba-ah-tar, "the land of Bactria". Bactria is also mentioned in the BCHP 9 r. 8’ dating to SE 31 and in AD I, p. 344/5, no. –273: r. 31 referring to SE 38. In both cases the arrival of troops or goods seem to be at issue. This may be the case here as well.

End of Seleucus Chronicle (BCHP 9; BM 32957), reverse. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Bert van der Spek.
BCHP 9: End of Seleucus
Chronicle  (BM 32957 rev.)

General commentary on the reverse

Lines 1’-4’ undoubtedly refer to Seleucus' expedition in order to conquer Macedonia. He crossed the Hellespont quickly (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.16.2), because he was eager to return to his homeland (Memnon 12.1 FGrH 434, F. 8.1). The chronicle makes the same suggestion where Macedonia is called "his land" (cf. Briant 1994, p. 463). However, before Seleucus reached Lysimacheia, he was murdered by Ptolemy Keraunos:
Ptolemy, the brother of Lysandra, had taken refuge with him from Lysimachus; this man, an adventurous  character named for this reason the Thunderbolt [Keraunos], when the army of Seleucus had advanced as far as Lysimacheia, secretly murdered Seleucus.
[Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.16.2;
tr. Peter Levi]
This murder seem to be recorded in lines 3’- 4’, but there are serious chronological problems. 

Justin 17.2.4 dates this event to about seven months after the battle of Curupedium. According to the Babylonian king list (BM 35603: 9; Del Monte 1997, 208) Seleucus was murdered "in the land of Han" in month VI of year 31 SE (26 August-24 September 281). If our suggestion that the murder of Seleucus is mentioned in r. 4' is right and if the month name Du'zu (IV) in line 8' is correctly read, then we have to assume that the murder took place before month IV, hence not in month VI. We must therefore consider the following possibilities.

  1. The month name in line 8' is not ŠU = Du'zu (IV), but DU6 = Tašrtu (VII) which does not quite conform the traces, or there is no month name there at all.
  2. The murder of Seleucus is not mentioned in r. 4'. This point of view was defended by Grayson. He assumed that the rebellion had nothing to do with Seleucus' death. "There seems to be no reference in the preserved portion to the assassination of Seleucus" (Grayson 1975, 27). Susan Sherwin-White accepted this argument (1983, 267).
If the second proposition is right, then the murder referred to in line r. 4' cannot concern Seleucus. In that case the "him" in the phrase "he killed him" must refer to someone else. Seleucus could have been the subject, who killed his adversary. Grammatically and idiomatically this seems problematic. The š ("him") in ana muhhišu ("against him") would then be different from the š in GAZ-š ("he killed him").

The following considerations may be adduced to support Grayson's and Sherwin-White's claim.
  • If Seleucus had been murdered, one would expect the chronicler to have added something like: "Antiochus, his son, ascended the throne," but nothing of the sort is there.
  • In lines r. 4’-7’ information concerning "that same month" is given concerning an event in Babylon. Troops of some country seem to have arrived in Babylon and have performed offerings in the Greek fashion after which event they departed. Unfortunately it is unknown from what country these troops arrived (KUR [ .. .. l]a-gim, r. 5’). They may have been armies who had been conscripted by crown prince Antiochus in order to be sent to the aid of Seleucus for his campaign against Macedonia. The same kind of information can be derived from the following lines r. 8'-9' about the arrival of troops, elephants or silver from Bactria, to be sent to "the king" (r. 9’). That king must have been Seleucus, since no other king was introduced in the chronicle as yet. 
Bert van der Spek 2005
Revision: 1 April 2006

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