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Babylonian astronomical diaries and corrections of diodorus1

  • M. J. Geller


The long-awaited first volume of the astronomical diaries, the life-work ofthe late Abraham Sachs, has been admirably brought to fruition by HermannHunger, in Sachs and Hunger, Diaries and related texts from Babylonia.2Although one laments the passing of Abraham Sachs before the completion ofthis momentous task, Hunger has earned the acclaim of his colleagues for thepolished presentation of the finished product, particularly as the Sachs Nachlasswas not yet in publishable form when he died. The importance of these diariesreaches far beyond the narrow confines of philology, since they includecalendrical and astronomical data, lists of commodity prices for the particularday or month, weather reports and often a tantalizing allusion to a currentevent, being the closest ancient counterpart to a modern news report.



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2 Sachs, A. J. and Hunger, H., Astronomical diaries and related texts from Babylonia. 2 vols. I: Diaries from 652 B.C.. ii: Plates. (Ost. Ak. der Wiss. Phil.-hist. Kl. Denkschrift. 195. Bd.) 377 pp.; 69 plates. Wien: Verlag der Ost. Ak. der Wiss., 1988.

3 The tablet, BM 40591, has not been able to be collated since it is temporarily mislaid, but the photograph may suggest ⌈e⌉[kl] as a possible alternative, specifying that the battle was fought in Babylon.

4 Grayson, A. K., Assyrian and Babylonian chronicles (Locust Valley, NY), 1975, 115–19, especially rev. 21–31.The two sources for this chronicle, BM 36313 and BM 34660 have now beenjoined by Finkel, I. L., and the lacunae noted in Grayson's transliteration represent only one line of text.

5 ibid., 1.26.

6 ibid., 11. 31–2. The theft of a single sūtu of dates would only be significant if taken from templeproperty, thus violating the taboo of taking food belonging to a deity; cf. Šurpu ii 5. van derSpek, R. J. (CRRAI, 35, Philadelphia, forthcoming) draws attention to a text from Babylon from 308/7B.C., which records a dispute between the governor of Babylon and the kinistu of the Ebabbar temple of Sippar, stipulating that the Ebabbar temple must pay half of its barley crop to the royaltreasury in Babylon (cf. van der Spek, Grondbezit in het Seleucidische Rijk, Amsterdam, 1986, 202–11). This text may also be referring to the confiscations of foodstuffs mentioned laconically inthe diary and chronicle.

7 S., Smith, Babylonian historical texts (London, 1924) 124–49, and Grayson, op cit., 115–19.

8 This reading (= manû) was suggested by Oelsner, in AoF, 1, 1974, 137. This record thatSeleucus was granted official status as general in Babylon in 311 explains the eventual reckoning ofyear one of the Seleucid Era from that year. However, van der Spek, R. J. (CRRAI, 35, Philadelphia, forthcoming) suggests the following alternative translation of this line: ‘[Seleu]cus said thus: “ The seventh year of Antigo[nus, the Strategos], they will count as [year 1 of] Seleucus, the Strategos ”. ’ According to this view, Seleucus declared in 311 that he was replacing Antigonus as stratēgos of Asia.

9 The reading iti is courtesy of Finkel, I. L.. Since dating to the seventh year of Antigonus is onlyattested until simānu (see n. 12), the month mentioned here must either be Simānu or Du'ūzu.

10 We would read rev. 1.21 as [⃛ana lan-t]i-gu-nu-su ibbalkit-ma, ‘ [ ⃛ ] rebelled [against]Antigonus’. The use of the logogram bal in 1.21 for nabalkutu does not necessarily rule out therestoration of the syllabic writing it-ta-[bal-kit] in rev. 1. 5, where the scribe may have needed to fillthe line.

11 Grayson's, translation ‘was in a frenzy’ 〈zabābu is problematic since the term is only attestedin the IV-stem (CAD, Z.1), but his rejection of ṣabābu is unwarranted, since the latter term cansimply mean ‘to fly’ (cf. CAD, Ṣ.2b), which is normally metaphoric for fleeing as well; cf. theanalogous term naprusu ‘to fly, flee’ (CAD, NI.314).

12 Oelsner, , AoF, 1,1974,139, in which he shows that in 310/311 the dating of documents changedin Simanu between seventh year of Antigonus to the sixth year of Alexander IV.

13 Grayson, , Chronicles, 118: 27 and 3031. Cf. J., Oelsner, AoF, 1, 1974, 129–51, W, Tarn and G, GriffithsHellenistic civilisation (London, 1974), 10, and E, Will, Histoire politique du mondehellénistique (Nancy, 1966), 58.

14 Seleucus took the title ‘King Seleucus’ only in 305 B.C., as recorded in the Hellenistic KingList (Wiseman, and Sachs, , Iraq, 16,1954,205); the astronomical diaries of 309 and 308 B.C. still referto Seleucus as ‘general’ (lugal.érin.meš), while those from 289 B.C. onwards refer to him as king, with the intervening years not being represented. Cf. Diodorus, XX.53.

15 Will, ibid., 54, argues that since Seleucus by 311 was already in the process of conquering the ‘Upper Satrapies’ (Diodorus's term), he no longer required Ptolemy's protection, which leftPtolemy free to make peace with Antigonus. This solution does not solve the problem of whenSeleucus actually returned to Babylon, which must have been a necessary precondition toestablishing his legitimacy in Babylonia, and hence the datingof the Seleucid Era.

16 Will, ibid., 58 assumes that by 308 B.C. Antigonus, involved with wars in the West, hadabandoned his conflict with Seleucus. There is no record in Diodorus of Seleucus's actual return toBabylon in 308, but the cuneiform evidence for such a battle between Antigonus and Seleucus is given below.

17 cf. Smith, S, RA, 22, 1925, 195, in which he cites a letter from Tarn, W suggesting thepossibility of Diodorus's dating being a year too soon. Likewise R. M. Geer notes for Diodorus, XX. 100 that Demetrius's campaign ‘should, perhaps, be placed in 311 B.C’ (Loeb Classical Library, Vol. x, 1944, 1052).

18 The Diadochi Chronicle states that Seleucus was forced to flee (presumably from Babylon), thathe did not dam the Euphrates, and that he probably allied himself with the Guti (Grayson, , Chronicles, 117: 712), which may agree with Diodorus's account of Seleucus's flight fromDemetrius (Diodorus, XIX.92.5, 100.5), in which Seleucus initially attracted allies from Media, andused the Tigris and Euphrates as defences against Demetrius's army. Nevertheless, Diodorus'saccount is confused, describing both Seleucus's overwhelming success in capturing Babylonjuxtaposed with his flight from Demetrius's army. It is possible that Diodorus was conflating twoevents, namely, Seleucus's initial challenge to Antigonus's hegemony and his later eventual captureof Babylon.Seleucus's appearance in Babylon in 311 may have been a relatively simple coup. The previoussatrap of Babylon, Pithon, had been appointed by Antigonus in 316 B.C. to replace Seleucus(Diodorus XIX.56.4), but Pithon was killed in 312 B.C. at the Battle of Gaza (XIX.85.2), leaving nosatrap in Babylon.

19 There is no record in the Diadochi Chronicle of Seleucus's victory, since the tablet recordsevents only as far as 309/308 B.C. (Alexander IV, year 8), before the outcome of the war was settled.Evidence for the continuation of the battles during 309/308 B.C. appears in the final lines of theDiadochi Chronicle on the left edge: [⃜ mA-r]i-is-ki-la-mu1 u luérim.meš mAn-ti-gu-nu-sua-n]a[ itine ud 25?.[kám x]-⌈x⌉-ku ṣal-tu 4, ina igi érin.meš mSi-lu-uk-ku [i-pu-su⃛ ] ‘ ⃛ Ariskilamu and Antigonus's troops [went] towards [ ⃜ ] in the 25th? of Abu [.. ].. they[fought] a battle against Seleucus's troops [ ⃜ ].’ The ‘Ariskilamu’ mentioned here had beenappointed by Antigonus as satrap of Babylon in the previous year (Diadochi, Chronicle, rev. 28 =Grayson, , Chronicles 118:30, reading ⌈m-ri-is-ki-la-mu, courtesy Finkel, I. L.). We would tentativelyidentify Ariskilamu with Arkesilaüs (’Aρκεσlaóc), appointed as satrap of Babylon earlier in 323(Diodorus xviii.3), and perhaps recalled in 311 to replace Pithon.

20 Oelsner, , AoF, 1, 1974, 139.

21 This assumes that the title of stratēgos carried more political weight than the title of‘ satrapes’, and that Seleucus only acquired the title of stratēgos after the Treaty of 311. Van der, Spek, in fact, suggests that Seleucus's adoption of the title of general was a reaction to his being excluded from theTreaty of 311 (see n. 8 above).Seleucus had been appointed as commander of the cavalry in 323 (Diodorus, xviii 33:617.3), andsatrap of Babylonia (but not including the Upper Satrapies and Mesopotamia) in 320 (ibid., xviii 39.5, Grayson, Chronicles, 116:9). In 316, however, when Antigonus demanded to examine hisrevenues, Seleucus refused and effectively resigned his satrapy by fleeing to Egypt (ibid., XIX.55).There is a discrepancy in Diodorus's account of this incident, since elsewhere he records thatSeleucus had been driven from Babylonia, rather than voluntarily abandoning his position (XIX. 5).There may be an oblique reference to this event in the Diadochi Chronicle 17–18, which records thatin 317/316 more Hanî (Macedonians) were brought into Babylonia, probably by Antigonus, toreinforce the garrisons (Grayson, Chronicles, 116).

22 Hunger, , Diaries, 178 (restoration courtesy Finkel, I. L.).The reference to plunder in theDynastic Prophecy (1. 12, hubussu ihabbatū) corresponds closely to the text of the DiadochiChronicle rev. 27 which states that Antigonus's army hubutul āli u ṣēri ihbut ‘plundered city andsteppe’.

23 The second section in the Dynastic Prophecy (11. 13–23) could alternatively refer to the defeatof Antigonus at Ipsos by the combined forces of the Diadochi, for Seleucus was already preparinghis army in 302 B.C. (Diodorus, XX. 113); cf. Hunger, , Diaries, 248, rev. 56, a diary for 303/302 B.C., includes the statement that: 1 me 13 gun kù-babbar 2 gun kù.gi šá dag šá ina igi ⌉X⌉ [⃛ ]/ē um-ma-nuu sila.meš šá Bar-sipki [i]t-tar-ru-ú ⌈x⌉ [ ], ‘113 talents of silver and 2 talents of gold of Nabû before the.. [⃛from] the craftsmen's house and streets ofBorsippa which they confiscated ⃜ The reference could be to temple funds being taken to finance the final battle against Antigonus.Nevertheless, the point of the Dynastic Prophecy is the restoration of Babylon itself, rather thansimply the defeat of Antigonus, and is likely to be referring to Seleucus's battle to capture the city.

24 Grayson, , Chronicles, 116:1718, and Tarn and Griffith, op. cit., 7.

25 The omission of Alexander the Great from the Dynastic Prophecy can be understood from thepoint of view of this text, which is primarily concerned with those events directly affecting the fate ofBabylon. Alexander's brief rule was less threatening to Babylon than Antigonus's hegemony, andthe Babylonian attitude towards Antigonus can also be detected in Hieronymus (apud Diodorus), who refers to Antigonus as an arrogant tyrant, cf. J., Hornblower, Hieronymus of Cardia (Oxford, 1981), 213 f.

26 The battle between Demetrius and Seleucus received a passing mention in Plutarch's Lives, Demetrius, vii, in which Seleucus was only temporarily expelled by Antigonus from Babylonia;later, while Seleucus was fighting in the East, Demetrius invaded Babylonia and plundered it, butthen withdrew to the coast, leaving Seleucus more strongly entrenched in Babylonia than before.This account is even less detailed than Diodorus, and cannot be considered as reliable as thecuneiform evidence.

27 Hieronymus, 97 f.

1 The author gratefully acknowledges the help and advice of colleagues Van der Spek, R. J., Finkel, I. L., and Millar, Fergus.

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Babylonian astronomical diaries and corrections of diodorus1

  • M. J. Geller


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