4. The Babylonian Chronicles

14. Shards of History

The Babylonian Chronicles recount major political, military and religious events in Babylonia. These non-astronomical cuneiform texts bolster the conventional chronology of the Ancient Near East.

Chronicles 1 to 7 cover the period from Nabonassar to Cyrus (c. -539). Without these texts, historians would be hard pressed to put together anything more than a crude outline of the period. Chronicles 8 to 13a carry Babylonian history down to Seleucus II (c. -225), but with many gaps.

15. Primo Chronicle

Chronicle 1 consists of 3 exemplars - 2 fragments and a nearly complete tablet Chronicle 1A. This good-sized artifact, about 6 by 8 inches, is the only chronicle where the date of composition is preserved. Written in the 22nd year of Darius I (c. -500), it likely was copied from an older original.

Chronicle 1A verifies that a king Nabonassar ruled Babylon and he reigned for 14 years. It also confirms that little is known about him.

16. Testis Unis

Chronicles 2 to 13b are only known in one copy. Historians of the Ancient Near East have learned to live with unsupported documentary evidence (testis unis.) However, hypotheses built on foundations of single copies are understandably fragile.

Divergences among the three exemplars of Chronicle 1 suggest they draw from different source material. Additionally, Chronicles 2 to 7 may not be part of a single series.

17. What's in a name?

The obscurity of Nabu-nasir (Nabonassar) undermines his importance as the first ruler cited in the Chronicles. His name appears in no royal records. Nor does he figure in the annals of Tiglath-pileser III, the Assyrian ruler who conquered Babylonia during Nabu-nasir's reign. At best he was a minor king beholden to his Assyrian overlord.

Only a single set of documents registers the king's regnal years -- Nabu-nasir I to Nabu-nasir XIV. The name appears elsewhere in cuneiform texts as a common, non-regal appellation. It derives from the planet Mercury, Nabu, and nasir which means protects or protector.

18. Chronicles and Canons

The Chronicles specify several kings of Babylon - foreign and domestic - and the number of years they ruled. The list drawn from these names has much in common with the Royal Canon employed by Ptolemy. Both begin with Nabonassar, or Nabu-nasir, and they include many of the same kings down to Seleucid times. Yet there are differences. Consequently, even if the current study substantiates the astronomical chronology of late Babylonian times, the historical chronology remains controversial.