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Heller, André


Das Babylonien der Spätzeit (7.–4. Jh.) in den klassischen und keilschriftlichen Quellen.


Berlin: Verlag Antike 2011. 557 S. 22,0 x 14,5 cm = Oikumene Studien zur antiken Weltgeschichte, 7. Geb. EUR 89,90. ISBN 978-3-938032-38-1.


Jan Tavernier

With his book on Babylonia in classical and oriental sources André Heller has presented a major contribution to the study of first millennium Babylonia. In his book, H. aims to discuss all classical and oriental sources which provide us with information on Babylonia in this period. He also tackles some major historical problems in a thorough and objective way.
The book contains nine major parts, starting with an introduction (11–17), which is followed by an overview of the archaeological and textual sources for Late Babylonian history (18–97) and a discussion on the Babylonian temple (98–139). This is followed by the chronological overview, starting with the Neo-Assyrian control over Babylonia and the Neo-Babylonian Empire (140–236) and subsequently discussing Babylonia under the Achaemenids (237–354) and Alexander the Great (355–443). A conclusion (444–450), an extensive bibliography (451–510) and some indexes (510–557) complete the book.
H. presents his study in a clear and structured way. His goals are nicely explained and the sources (classic and oriental) as well as the modern literature are also clearly presented. Thereby H. tackles various difficult and much debated historical problems (e. g. »did Herodot really visit Babylon?«, the allegedly religious treason of Nabonid, the impact of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylonia, or the omens predicting Alexander’s death). Also the relation between Babylo­-nian culture and non-Babylonian cultures and their mutual in­fluences, if any, are touched upon. In all the book is, as already said, a very important contribution to the field of ancient history as well as to the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies. One of the great merits of it is that it brings together two fields whose mutual contacts have only been intensified rather recently. In this sense the work is very interdisciplinary.
Two major points of critique may be mentioned. Firstly, H. be­gins with the announcement that the Seleucid and Parthian periods are not included in his book, because of the simple fact that »in den letzten Jahren neue, fragmentarisch erhaltene Chroniktexte gefunden wurden, die momentan durch I. Finkel und R. van der Spek zur Publikation vorbereitet werden« (11) and that these periods will only be discussed rarely, e. g. when the Babylo­nian temple is discussed. While reading the book, however, one notices that both periods are frequently dealt with in the book, which on itself is not wrong, as both periods belong to the notion of »Spätzeit«. Yet it would have been much more systematic and comfortable, both for H. and his readers, had he simply included the Seleucid and Parthian periods in his study. A good reason to do this is precisely the sources. Many textual sources do not deal exclusively with the Neo-Babylonian, the Achaemenid or post-Achaemenid periods. Various Babylonian chronicles or king lists cross these in modern times imposed chronological frontiers, so the distinction is nearly impossible to re­spect. Let us not forget the so-called »Astronomical Diaries«, a series of astronomical texts which also contain historical notes (81–87) covering the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods. In addition, H. makes various references to the partially edited new texts (known as BCHP), which illustrates his own impotence to be strict in his chronology (e. g. 364, n. 63; 383, n. 155; see also the indexes, 512). Continuity in tradition between the Neo-Babylonian and Seleucid periods is also present in the Borsippa-cylinder, in which the Seleucid king Antiochos I (281–261 BC.), uses the title zānin Esagil u Ezida »provider for Esagil and Ezida«, a title frequently used by the Neo-Babylonian kings in their inscriptions.
In addition, H. seems to overestimate the importance of this edition of Hellenistic Babylonian chronicles when he states that diese »Edition der spätbabylonischen Chroniken wird zukünftig die Grundlage jeder wissenschaftlichen Auseinandersetzung mit dem hellenistischen und parthischen Babylonien bilden«. First of all, not all texts edited by Finkel and van der Spek are published for the first time and secondly, such an idea is a degradation of the many non-chronical texts from Hellenistic Babylonia.
Alexander’s death in 323 BC is seen as a focal point by H., as he presents himself as adherent to the idea that Alexander was kind of the last Achaemenid king and that in reality, the great Achaemenid Empire ended with him. Although this idea is not opposed here, it remains strange to take 323 as the endpoint of this book. 323 was not an abrupt rupture in the life of the Babylonians – neither were the conquests by Cyrus the Great in 539 and that by Alexander in 331 (in this I follow H.) –, but simply the arrival of another foreign king on the throne. Again, I see no reason why the Seleucid and Parthian periods could not officially be included in the research presented here. – The second point of critique is the complete absence of maps. Several times H. discusses the routes, taken by kings and generals in military expeditions (e. g. 358–359) or other geographical issues (e. g. 326–335). At least one map would have been more than welcome.
In the overview of the various sources on Late Babylonia, the little attention given to the Babylonian versions of the Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions is remarkable. H. mentions the fact that some fragments of the Babylonian version of the well-known Bisitun Inscription were discovered at Babylon, but he simply omits a discussion on the other Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions, such as DSf where the Babylonians’ role in the construction of a palace in Susa is reported.
It must be stressed that the critical remarks above and below do not affect intensively the high quality of the work done by H. The task of incorporating two types of sources related to the same region (Babylonia) and period (7th–4th centuries BC.) remains hard to tackle and what we see here is an excellent research on the topic set out by H. Surely the book will stimulate further research on First-Millennium Babylonia, as well as the necessarily interdisciplinary character of this research.
Some minor remarks conclude this review:
P. 16: on the Neo-Babylonian origin of the ḫaṭru, one may also refer to Beaulieu 1988.
P. 108–109: See Tavernier (2008) on the role of the sepīru in the Achaemenid administration.
P. 137: Note that, although Assurbanipal could destroy Susa in 646, it was not the annihilation of Elam. Soon a new Elamite kingdom emerged, which would remain independent until its integration into the Achaemenid Empire.
P. 438: see also Boiy & Verhoeven 1998 on the Pallukatu Channel.
Bibliography: Beaulieu, P.-A. (1988): »An Early Attestation of the word ḫadru«, N.A.B.U. 1988/54; Boiy, T. & Verhoeven, K. (1998): »Arrian, Anabasis VII 21.1–4 and the Pallukkatu Channel«, H. Gasche & M. Tanret (eds.), Changing Watercourses in Babylonia: Towards a Reconstruction of the Ancient Environment in Lower Mesopotamia (MHE. Series 2: Memoirs V/1), Gent, 147–158; Tavernier, J. (2008): »Multilingualism in the Fortification and Treasury Ar­-chives«, P. Briant, W. F. M. Henkelman & M. W. Stolper (edd.), L’archive des Fortifications de Persépolis. État des questions et perspectives de recherches (Persika 12), Paris, 59–86.