historical accounts

   Constructing a complete, coherent, and accurate account of thousands of years of ancient Mesopotamian history is all but impossible, in part because none of the peoples of the region produced modern-style history books describing and dating the major figures and events of each historical period. The art of historical writing began with Greek writers - notably Herodotus and Thucydides - in the fifth century B.C., long after most of the major Mesopotamian civilizations had already risen and fallen. Modern scholars must therefore attempt to piece together information from a number of scattered sources, all of them incomplete and sketchy and most of them biased in one way or another. In general, the later ages of Mesopotamia, beginning with the Persian period, can be dated with fair accuracy. But the farther back one goes, the more uncertain the dating process becomes. For example, the often-cited date of 323 b.c. for the death of Alexander the Great in Babylon is likely correct within a margin of error of no more than one to five years. But experts estimate a margin of error of from 120 to 150 years for dates in the time of Babylonia's King Hammurabi, some fourteen centuries earlier. And dating events that occurred earlier than Hammurabi's reign is even more uncertain, resulting in considerable differences of opinion among scholars. Indeed, three separate possible Mesopotamian chronologies have evolved, usually referred to as the High, Middle, and Low chronologies. The Middle one (used in this book), which dates the start of Hammurabi's reign at circa 1792 b.c., is perhaps the most widely accepted.
   Surviving King Lists Although the ancient Mesopotamians wrote no history books per se, they did leave behind various writings that can be very loosely termed historical accounts. Among these were the so-called king lists, compiled by royal scribes. As the name suggests, they are lists of rulers belonging to various dynasties, ranging from those of the Sumerians in the third millennium b.c. to those of the Parthians some two millennia later. These are by no means complete and accurate lists. For instance, the Sumerian King List, the most complete version of which dates from about 2125 b.c., attributes impossibly long reigns, some lasting tens of thousands of years, to several ancient rulers. Thus, though many of the names on this list may represent real rulers, it is impossible to know exactly when and how long they reigned.
   Later king lists, such as those of the last few Assyrian and Babylonian kings, can be dated with considerably more accuracy, though many uncertainties remain. Also helpful sometimes are astronomical chronicles compiled by Babylonian priests and scribes, which record the movements of the planets and other heavenly bodies. In particular, the risings and settings of the planet Venus recorded during the reign of the Babylonian king Ammi-saduqa, in the seventeenth century b.c., have been helpful to scholars trying to establish ancient Mesopotamian chronologies. Also, sometimes the astronomical chronicles mention the death of a king, a plague, or some other noteworthy occurrence, and historians try to coordinate such observations with other ancient historical accounts.
   Babylonian Chronicles Among the more valuable of these accounts are the Babylonian chronicles and the annals of the Assyrian kings. The Babylonian Chronicles were composed by royal scribes between the eighth and second centuries b.c. and describe various political events during the reigns of a number of kings. The Assyrian annals consist of yearly reports of the major exploits of the kings. They take the form of carved scenes and inscriptions on the walls of palaces and temples, the bases of statues, and on cylinder seals and stelae (commemorative marker stones). The first important Assyrian annals were those of King Adad-nirari I in the thirteenth century B.C. Such annals were certainly not unbiased historical accounts in the modern sense. They were meant to glorify the rulers they described and so are filled with exaggerations and fabrications and make no mention of defeats, setbacks, or scandals.
   The exploits of some of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings are also mentioned in various books of the Hebrew Old Testament. They include descriptions of the sieges of a number of Palestinian cities, the deportation of many Hebrews to Babylonia, and the fall of Assyria at the hands of the Medes and the Babylonians. Though valuable in some ways and often vivid, these accounts are anecdotal, highly selective, biased because they were written by the victims of Mesopotamian conquerors, and do not follow any chronological sequence.
   The first-known Mesopotamian writer who tried to write a conventional, chronological, and largely unbiased history of the region was a Babylonian priest named Berossus in the third century B.C. His goal was to educate the Greeks, who then ruled Mesopotamia, about the civilizations that had come before in the area. He could read cuneiform and had access to many ancient records that are now lost. It is extremely regrettable, therefore, that his main work, the Babylonaica, survives only in fragments. Nevertheless, these fragments are sometimes helpful when coordinated with other sources.
   For later Mesopotamian history, including the rulers and events of Neo-Babylonia, the Persian Empire, the Seleu-cid Empire, and the conquests of Alexander the Great, scholars rely heavily on Greek sources. In addition to Herodotus's Histories, which describes Babylon, the Medes, and the Persians in passing, though in some detail, fragments of a book by Ctesias have survived. The first Greek who wrote a conventional history of Mesopotamia, Ctesias spent considerable time at the court of Persia's King Artaxerxes II and had access to Persian historical chronicles that no longer exist. Also important are Xenophon's Anabasis, describing Cyrus the Younger's attempt to dethrone Artaxerxes II, and Cyropaedia,a sort of biography of Cyrus II, founder of the Persian Empire. The works of later Greek historians and writers, including Di-odorus Siculus, Arrian, Strabo, and Plutarch, provide valuable information about Alexander's conquest of Persia and/or the Greek rulers who followed him in the region. Also valuable for the figures and events of this period are the writings of the first-century a.d. Jewish historian Jose-phus.
   For the Parthian Empire, which followed the Seleucid realm in the region, no native Parthian historical accounts have survived, if they ever existed. Outside of scattered inscriptions on Parthian coins and pottery, most information about Parthia comes from Greek and Roman writers, whose works were decidedly biased and made no attempt to be comprehensive.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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