11 March 2011

One of the impressive walls

(Jona’s peregrinations in Iran, continued:)

Bastam is not Iran’s most famous archaeological site and it will not be my favorite site either, yet it is worth a detour when you’re traveling from, say, Tabriz to the Armenian church of Saint Thaddaeus, the famous Qara Kelisa, at Tadios.

An inscription suggests that the town was originally called Rusai-URU.TUR, the last two elements being — I think — sumerograms: Sumerian signs used in later scripts. We do not know how they were pronounced by the users of these later scripts. The first element refers to the founder of the town, king Rusa II of Urartu, who ruled in the first half of the seventh century. Measuring 850 × 400 meters, the stronghold is larger than any other Urartian, except for two settlements in Van. The civil settlement to the north of it measures 600 × 300 meters. Among the things to see are the walls, gates, and a large temple of Haldi.

We were actually on our way to Qara Kelisa, but I was glad to have visited the site, even though it was only a brief visit. What I remember best, is the modern village, where all people were cleaning their carpets to prepare for the Now Ruz celebrations.

Tušpa (Van)

10 June 2010

The citadel

Tušpa was an ancient Urartian fortress on the eastern shore of Lake Van. It is situated on a high and steep rock, several kilometers west of the modern city of Van. Up there, you can see several tombs of Urartian kings, a couple of inscriptions (including an Achaemenian royal inscription), and many buildings from the Ottoman age.

I put some photos online, with a couple of notes. Unfortunately, when we visited the city, the museum was being renovated. The new webpage is here.

An Important Source from Babylon: The Nabonidus Chronicle (ABC 7)

21 January 2009
The Nabonidus Chronicle in the British Museum.

The Nabonidus Chronicle in the British Museum.

The Nabonidus Chronicle is one of the most important historiographical texts from the ancient Near East. It documents the main events of the reign of the last king of Babylonia, Nabonidus. It does so without bias: the king’s defeats are mentioned, no attempt is made to hide the fact that he did not really care for the Babylonian cult. Of course, the text was written during the reign of Nabonidus’  successor, Cyrus, but the chronicle also records how this Persian king kills citizens after a battle. So, although this text is limited in outlook, it is a valuable source.

We learn that during his first regnal years, Nabonidus campaigned in the west, and then settled in Tema, an oasis in the western desert; although no explanation is offered, the consequences are repeatedly stressed: the Akitu Festival could not be celebrated. As the bottom of the tablet is missing, we do not know under which circumstances Nabonidus returned to Babylon, but on the reverse of the tablet, we find the king at home again.

The tablet also describes the rise of Cyrus the Great, who is first presented as the ruler of Anšan who subdued the Median leader Astyages (550); we also learn that Cyrus conquered Urartu in 547; and we read how -in October 539- he outmaneuvered the Babylonians in a battle at Opis, which was followed by the killing of citizens. Babylon is captured, Nabonidus is taken captive, and Cyrus enters a peaceful city. The final remarks of the tablet deal with Cambyses, who appears to have made a mistake during the Akitu Festival.

Relief showing Nabonidus, praying to the Moon, Sun, and Venus (Museum of Sanli Urfa, Turkey).

Relief showing Nabonidus, praying to the Moon, Sun, and Venus (Museum of Sanli Urfa, Turkey).

I have put online the well-known edition by A.K. Grayson, with two important changes. In the first place, I have inserted his own “Addenda et Corrigenda”, which are too often neglected by students of his Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (1975, 2000). The consequences are disastrous: it is, for example, time and again stated that the Nabonidus Chronicle dates Cyrus’ conquest of Lydia to 547, which is simply untrue, and was already corrected by Grayson himself.

The fact that almost nobody seems to check the additions and corrections, has allowed an erroneous chronology of Anatolia and Greece to survive for more than a generation. And I am afraid it will continue to bedevil us, because it has been accepted in Asheri e.a., A Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV (2008), which may become the commentary on Herodotus for some time.

In the second place, I took the liberty to invite my friend Bert van der Spek, who is one of the authors of the Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period, to add several other notes to make the commentary up to date. Of course, they have been indicated, so that no one will be in doubt about the authorship of the comments – they may be Grayson’s original ones, his own corrections, or additions by Van der Spek or myself. (I think that Grayson, who used the second edition of his book to correct himself, would not have objected.)

The text is here.