BCHP 14 (Greek Community Chronicle)

The Babylonian Chronicle concerning the Greek Community in Babylon ("Greek Community Chronicle"; BCHP 14) is one of the Mesopotamian chronicles written in ancient Babylonia in the Hellenistic Period.

The Greek Community Chronicle, Obverse

The Babylonian Chronicle concerning the Greek Community in Babylon ("Greek Community Chronicle"; BCHP 14) is one of the Mesopotamian chronicles written in ancient Babylonia in the Hellenistic Period. It is important because it mentions how the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes settled Greeks in Babylon. The cuneiform tablet (BM 33870 = Rm IV 432) is in the British Museum.

On this webpage, a new reading is proposed; the official publication will be in I.L. Finkel, R.J. van der Spek, R. Pirngruber, Babylonian Chronographic Texts from the Hellenistic Period (2020; = BCHP; Writings of the Ancient World).

Description of the tablet

The shape and script of the tablet have much in common with the Politai Chronicle (BCHP 13). Probably the same scribe made both tablets. Originally it must have been a more or less square tablet, describing one or two Seleucid years. The upper and left edges are preserved, the right edge is crumbled off, but not much is missing. At the lower side not many lines seem to have been lost. The reverse is lost except for a few traces. The preserved length of the tablet is 5.7 cm, the width 6.7 cm, the thickness 2 cm.

Previous edition: Van der Spek 2004, no. 5, with discussion.


Many Greeks, especially soldiers, entered Babylon in 331 BCE and a garrison was stationed there.note Alexander the Great destined Babylon to be his royal residencenote and the capital would certainly have become a Greek, but also a multi-ethnic city, had he lived longer.

But events took another turn for the time being. Alexander died in 323, the wars of the Successors started, resulting in a victory of Seleucus I Nicator, who indeed made Babylonia the backbone of his empire, but at the same time (as Alexander had done in Egypt) founded a new city: Seleucia-on-the-Tigris, which became the city of kingship, âl šarrûti. Babylon remained an important city and religious center, occasionally visited by the kings, who resided then in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. Antiochus III the Great (187) even took the robe of Nebuchadnezzar from the New-Year's Festival house.note

Not many Greeks, however, seem to have lived in Babylon until Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164). There are hardly Greek names in the cuneiform tablets. In the architecture hardly signs of Greek influence are detectable. Most Greeks of the region lived in Seleucia-on-the-Tigris.

Ancient apartheid

The situation changed radically under Antiochus IV. Under his reign a Greek community was introduced into the city of Babylon. This community was given privileged political status (politeia), and the "boundary marks"note of this community were of political nature: membership of the politeia or politeuma and the citizens were called politai. It is difficult to assess who these people were. How Greek were they?

Some criteria will have been used. They may have been veteran soldiers of different nationalities, but used to the language of command, being Greek; there may have been Greeks from the Greek world, as we shall see. Possibly also autochthonous Babylonians will have taken a new Greek name and have become members of this community. At our state of the evidence we can hardly add anything to this. What we can say is that there was a kind of "apartheid" between the community of politai and the rest. The Babylonians and the Greeks had each their own institutions and the central government communicated with both communities. This state of affairs continued into the Parthian period and is evidenced until 77 BCE, when the cuneiform record ends. This is one hundred years after the introduction of it by Antiochus IV.

That Antiochus IV introduced a Greek community in Babylon I argued earlier.note The arguments were circumstantial and the explicit confirmation in the sources was not available. The evidence so far was:

  1. the Greek inscription (OGIS 253), allegedly coming from Babylon, dated to 166 BCE, naming Antiochus IV ktistês … tês poleôs, "founder of the city".
  2. The regular appearance of the term politai, "citizens", (pu-li-te-e; pu-li-ta-nu and related forms) in the astronomical diaries from 169 BC onwards.
  3. The date (139 SE = 173/2) of the Lehmann-text according to which the Babylonian citizens pleaded for their title to a land donation by the earlier king Antiochus II Theos; they may have protested against expropriation of land in favor of the Greek colonists, which would imply that the colony was settled around this date.note
  4. Archaeological evidence for the rebuilding of the theater around the middle of the second century.
  5. The occurrence of Greek names in the cuneiform sources in the very early and the later Hellenistic period.
  6. The fact that Greek inscriptions from Babylon date to the reign of Antiochus IV, or (much) later, to the 2nd century CE (the "gymnasium inscription" and the "theater inscription").

All these data may be seen as circumstantial evidence and so the introduction of the Greek community by Antiochus IV was questioned.note However, this chronicle mentions the introduction of the Greek politai by Antiochus IV expressis verbis and sheds new light on the existing evidence. Of special interest are the "boundary marks" given by the Babylonian scribe to the new group. They are "Greeks", "politai" and they "anoint with oil, just like the politai, who are in Seleucia, the royal city, on the Tigris and the King's Canal". The latter expression must refer to the activities of the Greeks in the gymnasium, where they sported nakedly and anointed themselves with olive oil. Admittance to the gymnasium was normally restricted to the citizens of Greek cities and was a hallmark of citizenship.

The fact that politai are first mentioned in the Politai chronicle (= BCHP 13) concerning month III of year 140 SE (24 May – 22 June 172 BCE) is still in conformity with my earlier suggestion that the colony was founded in or around year 139 SE.


[1] Year 149 SE, Antiochus (V) king, month Ta[šrîtu (VII = 10 October – 8 November 163 BCE), day n.]

[2] The Greeks, as they are called, the p[olitai],

[3] who in the past at the command of king Antiochus (IV) [had entered] Baby[lon]

[4] and who anoint with oil just like the pol[itai]

[5] who are in Seleucia, the royal city,

[6] on the Tigris and the King’s Canal,

[7] with the governor (šaknu) and the people of the land who are in Babylon [did] b[attle].

[8] Day 8 (17 October 163), at the command of the governor (pahat = epistates?) of Babylon [the ...... and]

[9] the women? who among the politai,

[10] the people of the land, (and) the boulê?? from Babylon

[11] into the region below Babylon because of the battle with the [governor]

[12] [and his] troop[s, had gone?,] into Babylon returned. [...]

[13] [.......................] which the epistates [...]

[14] [.......................] / the people of the land\

[Remainder lost.]