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Babylonian History by Berosus

Berosus furnishes no such list of kings as Manetho; but he gives a compendious statement of the dynasties that had reigned in Babylonia. Like Manetho, he begins with a mythical period, but one far surpassing the Egyptian in the extravagance of its chronology, which is manifestly adapted to a conventional system of arithmetic. From the destruction of Chaos by Bel, the god of light and air, to the Deluge, from which Xisuthrus was saved in an ark, he reckons 432,000 years. The only tradition of this period worth mentioning is that which ascribes the origin of civilization to Oannes, a being with the upper part of a man and the tail of a fish, who came up from the Indian Sea, and to six other similar fish-men - a tradition which, if worth anything, indicates the belief of the priests of Babylon that their civilization began on the shores of the Persian Gulf.

From the Deluge of Xisuthrus to the capture of Babylon by Cyrus and the fall of the Babylonian empire, Berosus reckoned Eight Dynasties, which, though the numbers of years assigned to them are imperfect, were evidently intended to fill up the cycle of 10 sars, or 36,000 years. The First Dynasty is obviously mythical, consisting of 86 demigods, whom he calls Chaldaeans, and who reigned at Babylon for 34,080 years; a number doubtless assigned so as to complete, with the length of the period which Berosus regarded as historical, the above total of 36,000 years.

Ante-Deluvian History

The work of Berosus professed to commence with the creation of the universe, and the history was carried down to his own time. A few quotations at second or third hand, and the bare outlines of his system of chronology, are all that has been transmitted through the copyists of Berosus; but the close connection throughout between his story and the Bible, and the knowledge that he drew his information from the records of Babylonia, have always invested these fragments with great importance - an importance which increased since the discovery of several cuneiform inscriptions confirming different parts of his history.

The history of Berosus first described the chaos before the creation, presided over by the female Thalatth or Omoroca (the chaotic sea), called Tiamat and Tisallat in the inscriptions: she was destroyed by Belus, and then the gods created the heavens and the earth. After the he gave the chronology of the Babylonian kingdom. The later part of the scheme of Berosus is lost, but detached extracts are quoted by some ancient historians.

In comparing the notices of Berosus with the Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions, considerable difficulty a met with on account of the deficient information on both sides. The absence of chronological landmarks in the inscriptions, and the doubts as to the length of the third and fourth periods of Berosus, are serious difficulties in the way of the chronology, but in the absence of more satisfactory information the list of Berosus was long taken as the framework of Babylonian chronology.

The first period of Berosus, reaching from the creation to the flood, is said to have included 10 reigns and 432,000 years. The last two of these names are the only ones found with any certainty in the cuneiform inscriptions - these are Ubara-tutu and Adra-hasis, the Otiartes and Xisuthrus of Berosus. The deluge, which closed this period, is described in Berosus, and in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Izdubar legends.

The First Dynasty after the Deluge

The next period given by Berosus includes 86 kings, and a period of 34,080 or 33,091 years - the number is uncertain, and certainly unhistorical. It is possible that the later sovereigns of this period were historical, and some of the names which are preserved are ordinary Babylonian compounds. Three names in a fragment of Babylonian chronology appear to belong to this period, - these are Ilu-kassat, Mulagununna, Abilkisu, who are given as successive sovereigns; and there is another probable king of the period, Izdubar, who may represent the Biblical Ninirod. During this period the language and people of Babylonia are supposed to have been Turanian, and in round numbers it may be said to end about 2400 BC.

This appears to correspond with a famous line of sovereigns reigning at the cities of Ur, Karrak, and Larsa, commencing with the reign of Urukh, king of Ur. The center of Babylonian power in their time lay in the south of the country, and many of the well-known temples and other buildings in this region were raised during their dominion.

Median Dynasty -

About 2400 BC, according to Berosus, Babylonia was overrun by a conquering tribe called by him "Medes." He has preserved in connection with this event the name of Zoroaster, and has given the dynasty 8 kings, the length of the period being placed variously at 234, 224, and 190 years. Where authorities differ so much a round number is required, and say the period was probably about 200 years, from 2400 to 2200 BC. There is one name in the inscriptions supposed to belong to this period, - that of Kudur-nanhundi, king of Elam, who conquered Babylonia about 2280 BC. Nothing is known as to the people here called Medes by Berosus, but it was conjectured by some that they were Elamites.

This seems, at first sight, to be a somewhat startling contradiction to the testimony of Scripture concerning the building of Babel. But this appearance of discrepancy rests solely on the improbable assumption of continuity in the political existence of the original Babel. When we are expressly told, not only that "they left off to build the city," but also that they were "scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth," - what state could survive such a catastrophe? Nor is it unreasonable to suppose that a secondary agency was employed in this " scattering abroad;" and the conquering race, who would be the appropriate instruments of such a work, may very possibly be represented by the Second or Median Dynasty of Berosns. The tradition preserved by that historian, that Zoroaster reigned as a conqueror at Babylon, seems to indicate an early stage of the great conflict between the elemental worship, which in the historic age characterized the Median Magians, and the Sabaeism which seems to have had its origin in Babylonia; and the zeal always shown by the former against the latter may have been one agent in the overthrow of the original Babel.

One of the monarchs in this period bore the name of Sargon; he was very celebrated, and of him a story is related similar to that of the infancy of Moses. He is said to have been concealed by his mother in an ark and floated on the River Euphrates. This great period ended with the defeat of Rim-agu, king of Larsa, by Hammurabi, who established a new dynasty, and made Babylon the capital about 1550 BC.

Chaldean Dynasty - Amorite - Old Babylon

Now leaving out of consideration the first or Median dynasty, which probably represents the sovereignty of a Scythic race from the Eastward, who ruled in Babylonia before the Karaites, there is here a fixed date of BC 2234 for the commencement of that great Chaldean empire, which was the first paramount power in Western Asia. And this, it must be remembered, is the same date as that obtained by Callisthenes from the Chakheans at Babylon for the commencement of their stellar observations, which would naturally be coeval with the empire; and the same also which was computed for their commencement by Pliny, adapting the numbers of Berosus to the conventional chronology of the Greeks.

Berosus implied a belief that real human history had its commencement at Babylon, at a date which may have been as late as BC 2286, and can not well have been earlier than BC 2458. The Septuagint numbers indicate for the establishment of Nimrod's kingdom some such date as BC 2507. The Hebrew numbers lower this date by about 225 years.

The second dynasty of Berosus, which corresponds chronologically to the first eight kings of the so-called first dynasty of Babylon, consisted, according to some of the recensions of Berosus, of Medes; but in the Armenian recension they are called Mar. Mar he regards as a modified form of Amar, "Amorite," which corresponds to the established historical fact that the first dynasty of Babylon was Amorite. The next period of Berosus included 11 kings, the duration of the dynasty not being preserved. In the margin is the number 48 years, but nothing is known of the origin of this number, and it appears too small for 11 kings. Perhaps provisionally about 200 years may be allowed for this dynasty, 2200 to 2000 BC.

The early Chaldaean Monarchy in the popular belief, had Nimrod for its founder. According to Berosus, the eleven Chaldaean monarchs who succeeded to the eight Medes, or Magians, reigned during a period which has been supposed to extend from 2234 to 1976 BC - a lapse of two hundred and fifty-eight years. This historian does not give any names in connection with his third dynasty of Chaldaean kings; but the name of Urukh, or Turkham, with the title of "King of Ur and KingiAccad," has been found stamped on the basement story of the primitive Chaldaean buildings-much older than those of Babylon-recently unearthed at Mugheir (Ur), Warka (Erech), Niffer (Nipur or Calneh), and Senkereh (Ellosar). It is believed that he belonged to the third dynasty of Berosus, and it is certain that his epoch was a remote one- probably a little earlier than 2000 BC.

Chaldean Dynasty - Kassite

About 2000 BC commenced a period including, according to Berosus, 49 kings and 458 years. The kings are called Chaldean. In the fragment of Berosus, which relates to this period of Babylonian history, it must be remembered that two separate dynasties are noticed; the first, which is nameless, comprising eleven kings, and the second, which is called Chaldsean, comprising forty-nine. As, however, not a single one of the royal names given by Berosus in either dynasty has been preserved, it is impossible to say, whether he intended the separation of the two dynasties to mark an ethnic difference between them, or merely to indicate a transfer of power from one Hamite family to another, such as certainly took place, in regard to the Semites, at a later date, when the seat of empire was transferred from Nineveh to Babylon. As far as can be ascertained from the inscriptions, the latter is the proper explanation. All the kings, whose monuments are found in ancient Chaldsea, used the same language, and the same form of writing ; they professed the same religion, inhabited the same cities, and followed the same traditions; temples built in the earliest times received the veneration of successive generations, and were repaired and adorned by a long series of monarchs.

Arabian Dynasty

On the subject of the Arabian dynasty, which lasted under 9 kings for 245 years according to Berosus, succeeded the Chaldseans on the Euphrates, nothing certain has been ascertained from the monuments. Some sources report that this so-called Arabian dynasty is identical with the historically ascertained first Semitic dynasty, to which Hammurabi belonged. The names of the Arabian kings given by Syncellus, belong in all probability to the first or mythic dynasty of Berosus,* and cannot therefore be regarded as determining the ethnic affinity of the line. If the revolution of B.C. 1518 was similar in character to that of B.C. 1976, and the introduction of a new dynasty involved no change either in the seats of government, or in the religion of the state; or even in the royal titles, then it may be conceded that some of the names already enumerated might belong to the family in question; but if the transfer of power from the hands of a Chaldamn to those of an Arabian tribe was accompanied, as we should reasonably expect, by the adoption of an Arabian dialect and an Arabian religion, then we must believe the third historical dynasty of Berosus to be entirely, or almost entirely, unrepresented in the inscriptions.

Some thought that the dynasty founded by Hammurabi was the Arabian line of Berosus. Many of the kings of this period are known from the inscriptions. They first had extensive relations with the Assyrians, and about 1300 BC Tugulti-ninip, king of Assyria, conquered Babylon, and expelled the last Arab monarch. From this time commenced the direct influence of Assyria in Babylonia, and the period of this dynasty is counted by Berosus as 526 years. It probably ended with the time of Pul, a great king and conqueror, about whose personality and date there is much difference of opinion.

The Arabians, it is highly probable, formed an important element in the population of the Mesopotamian valley from the earliest times. There are at least 30 distinct tribes of this race named in the Assyrian inscriptions among the dwellers upon the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates ; and under the later kings of Nineveh, the Yabbur (modern Jibbar), and the Gumbulu (modern Jwnbula), who held the marshy country to the south, appear to have been scarcely inferior to the Chaldaeans themselves in strength and numbers.* Offsets of the same race had even passed in the time of Sargon beyond the mountain barrier into Media, where they held a considerable extent of territory, and were known as " the Arabs of the East;" but there is no evidence in the inscriptions, either direct or inferential, to show that the Arab nation ever furnished a line of kings to Babylonia, and the unsupported statement of Berosus to that effect must therefore be received with caution.


In the text of Berosus Semiramis is placed in the thirteenth century BC, whereas it is known from inscriptions that she was the wife of Samsi-Adad, 826-811 B.C., son of Salmanassar III. This points to an error on the part of the epitomizers. Berosus must have included Semiramis in the list of forty-five kings which composed his sixth dynasty, ending with Alexander the Great.

The first city-builder whose exploits are recorded was Semiramis, queen of Babylon; and although the history of that country, as recorded on its monuments, fails to mention even the name of this war-like ruler. Circumstantial accounts are given by classical writers of the greatest commercial city of ancient times. Diodorus relates that Semiramis, being of an aspiring spirit and in glorious actions, set about building a great city in the province of Babylon. Herodotus gives two chronological marks for the reign of Nitocris, wife of Labynetus the First: one that it was semiramu. five generations from Semiramis, or about 166 years. This period of time, reckoning back from Nitocris, would throw the reign of Semiramis above the era of Nabonassar, whereas, reckoning back from where Nitocris is placed in the received system, Semiramis must have been reigning about the same time as Mardoc Empadus. This, it must be admitted, is a difficulty with which the received system is embarrassed.


The next epoch in Babylonian history is that of Nabonassar, whose era commenced 747 BC. From his time the history of Babylonia presents a constant series of conquests by the Assyrians, and revolts against them by the Babylonians, down to the time of Nabopolassar, who, after quelling a revolt in Babylonia, was made ruler of the country by the king of Assyria, and afterwards revolting against his master took Nineveh in concert with the Medes.

Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, who ascended the throne of Babylon 605 BC, was one of the most celebrated kings in history, and is mentioned at length by Berosus, who then notices the revolutions at Babylon until the taking of the city by Cyrus 539 BC. The history of Berosus continued down to the conquest of Alexander the Great, and the reign of his patron Antiochns.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:28 ZULU