published on 23 July 2012
Within the field of extant Greek historical writing on the subject of the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms the fragments of Berossus’ History of Babylonia, written by a so-called “Chaldean” priest, but addressed to a Greek-speaking audience, deserve our special attention. How could Berossus’ account correspond to the legendary and speculative tradition presented by the former Greek historians? Since Berossus probably had access to some cuneiform sources and was more familiar with the cultural tradition of his country than any other author of our sources written in Greek, he should be able to give us more solid information than his famous predecessors, in particular Herodotus and Ctesias. And this is certainly true, as far as only names and dates are concerned and – to a certain extent – also some concrete deeds of the rulers of Babylon in the first millennium BC, mainly during the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. But there are a number of major problems to consider, if we look at the information given in the fragments of his work as far as the history of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and his relationship to the contemporary Babylonian kingdom are concerned. Yet even the fragments relating directly to the Neo-Babylonian kings are in some way dubious since they seem to be written under the influence of former Greek traditions. It would be important to know exactly to what extent Berossus was forced to pay tribute to this kind of tradition, formed by fascinating combinations of fact and fiction. But there are limits to such a comparative inquiry, since the fragments of Berossus’ History, as far as they relate our subject, consist mainly in dynastic-lists, names and chronological dates of rulers and rather brief comments on their deeds and their correspondence to the information given in the Holy Books of the Hebrews. There is no opportunity to hear more about the so-called sacred prostitution or the famous bride-market as presented by Herodotus, and a good part of Ctesias’ stories about a secret world of sex and crime at the “oriental” court seems to be totally ignored. Nevertheless, even concentrating on a rather boring theme like the dates of dynastic history we should be able to make some startling observations when comparing Berossus’ fragments with the former Greek tradition.
Commerce and Monetary Systems in the Ancient World. Means of Transmission and Cultural Interaction. Melammu Symposia 5. Oriens et Occidens 6, eds. Robert Rollinger and Christoph Ulf (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004)