Dynastic Prophecy

Dynastic Prophecy, Columns I and II

In mid-July 330, the Persian king Darius III Codomannus (r.336-330) was killed; this meant the end of the Achaemenid Empire, which was now taken over by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great (r.334-323). One of the most tantalizing descriptions of Darius' death is the Dynastic Prophecy, which was written on a clay tablet found in Babylon. It is now in the British Museum.

At first sight, this remarkable text appears to document that at least one Babylonian believed that Darius III was not dead and would return victoriously. World history offers many examples of popular leaders who are believed not to have died: a brief catalog would include the miraculously saved king Croesus of Lydia, the last pharaoh of independent Egypt Nectanebo II, king Arthur of the Britons, the German emperor Frederick, and, in our own age, Adolf Hitler and Elvis Presley.

Dynastic Prophecy, Columns VI and V

It would be interesting if we could say that Darius also belonged to this exclusive company, and several scholars have believed that the text does indeed prove that Darius was considered to be alive somewhere and would one day return to overthrow the Macedonians.

Unfortunately, there is a long break in the text (line 10) and we are not permitted to identify the king who fits the victorious army in the second part of the text with Darius, as has often been suggested. But if Darius is not the "he" of the second part of the prophecy, another identification has to be made. The words can refer to Alexander the Great, to several native leaders, but also to Seleucus Nicator, who defeated several Greek armies. This may be the most plausible interpretation.

The relevant lines are quoted below in the translation by Bert van der Spek.


[i.1'] [Beginning broken off; at least 25 lines missing]

[Words .... which are un]alterable

[i.2'] [.... which are un]alterable

[i.3'] [... for poster]ity he left

[i.4'] [... of the] great gods

[i.5'] [...] he took heed and

[i.6'] [...] he saw


Rise of Nabopolassar

[i.7'] [...] in later time.

[i.8'] [...] will be overthrown,

[i.9'] [...] will come to an end.

[i.10'] [... the ar]my of Assyria

[i.11'] [...] ... and they will be purified.

[i.12'] [A king ...] will set out,

[i.13'] [... from] Babylon he will set out,

[i.14'] [the enemy ...] will be overthrown

[i.15'] [... ut]ensils he will carry off and

[i.16'] [...] he will go and

[i.17'] [...] he will seize;

[i.18'] [...] he will demolish,

[i.19'] [...] he will remove (?),

[i.20'] [extens]ive [booty] he will bring into Babylon.

[1.21'] [... Esagila] and Ezida

[i.22'] [...] he will decorate,

[i.23'] [...] the palace of Babylon he will build.

[i.24'] [...]x (of?) Nippur to Babylon

[i.25'] [... For n yea]rs he will exercise kingship.



[ii.1'] [Beginning broken off; ca. 27 lines missing]

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..


[ii.2'] A cer[tain king will arise]

[ii.3'] From (?) [...]

[ii.4'] will arise [...]

[ii.5'] he will overthrow [...]

[ii.6'] For three years [he will exercise kingship]

[ii.7'] Boundaries and b[orders...]

[ii.8'] for his people ge will c[onfirm].


[ii.9'] After him his son will ascend the throne,

[ii.10'] he will not [rule the land (?)].



[ii.11'] There will arise a reb[el] prince [(...)].

[ii.12'] The dynasty of Harran [he will establish].

[ii.13'] For 17 years [he will exercise kingship].

[ii.14'] He will be stronger than the land and the festival of Esa[gila he will interrupt].

[ii.15'] A wall in Babylon [he will build].

[ii.16'] He will plot evil against Akkad.



[ii.17'] A king of Elam will set out. The royal sceptre he will [take from him].

[ii.18'] From his throne he will remove him and

[ii.19'] he will seize the throne and the king whom he made rise from the throne

[ii.20'] the king of Elam will change his place.

[ii.21'] In another land he will settle him.

[ii.22'] That king will be stronger than the land and

[ii.23'] all the lands [will bring him] tribute.

[ii.24'] During his reign Akkad [will live] in security.

[iii-iv] [Columns iii and iv are missing]

Artaxerxes III Ochus

[v.1] .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

[v.2] [... the] sceptre of kingship [...]

[v.3] of his father [...].

Artaxerxes IV Arses

[v.4] For two years [he will exercise kingship]

[v.5] That king a eunuch [will murder].

Darius III Codomannus

[v.6] A certain [rebel] prince [......]note

[v.7] will set out and [seize] the thr[one]

[v.8] Five years [he will exercise] king[ship]

Alexander the Great

[v.9] Troops of the land of Hani [......]note

[v.10] .will set out a[nd? .. ]./-ship?\ th[ey will?  ...]

[v.11] [his] troop[s they will defeat;]

[v.12] booty from him they will take [and his spoils]

[v.13] they will plunder. Later [his] tr[oops ...]

[v.14] will assemble and his weapons he will ra[ise (...)]

[v.15] Enlil, Šamaš and [Marduk(?)]note

[v.16] will go at the side of his army [(...);]

[v.17] the overthrow of the Hanaeannote troops he will [bring about].

[v.18] His extensive booty he will car[ry off and]

[v.19] into his palace he [will bring it]       

[v.20] The people who had [experienced] misfortune

[v.21] [will enjoy] well-being.

[v.22] The heart of the land [will be happy]

[v.23] Tax exemption [he will grant to Babylonia]

[Lacuna of ca. 25 lines]

Seleucus Nicator (?)

[vi.7] [lines 1-6 broken away]

[... For x yea]rs

[vi.8] [kingship] (blank) he will exercise.


[vi.9] [... for kingship] they will be purified.


[vi.10] [A king will set] out and seize the land.

[vi.11] [For x years he will exercise kingship.]

[vi.12] [After him his sons] will rule [the land].



[vi.13] [... a secret of] the great gods.

[vi.14] [You may show it to the initiated, but to the unitiat]ed you must not show it.

[vi.15] [It is a secret of Marduk, lo]rd of the lands.


[vi.16] [... in accordance with] one tablet.

[vi.17] [... from the tablet of] Munnabtum,

[vi.18] [according to the original] written, collated

[two damaged lines; remainder broken off; 27 lines missing, most of it probably blank]