Lenzi: Strabo, Pausanias and Pliny All Have Agendas
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“The Seleucid attention to indigenous traditions as well as their support of Mesopotamian temples—whether directly or indirectly—is the second element in understanding the Hellenistic context from which our text arose.
Historians of Hellenistic Mesopotamia in recent decades have successfully countered earlier, largely Helleno-centric scholarly opinions about Seleucid neglect or disinterest in and thus demise of traditional Babylonian settlements and institutions.
The alleged neglect, in fact, originates with modern historians who had not adequately factored the cuneiform evidence into their accounts and rather too eagerly believed the tendentious reports concerning Babylon given by such classical authors as Strabo (Geography 16.1.5), Pausanias (Description of Greece 1.16.3), and Pliny (Natural History 6.26.122).
Based on a growing body of cuneiform and archaeological evidence, recent scholars have suggested that the Seleucids actually made significant investments in traditional Mesopotamia.
Chronicles, astronomical diaries, and administrative documents attest to the fact that Seleucid rulers took part, at least at times, in various traditional temple rituals and supported the temples through various projects of renovation or repair, especially in Babylon.
(See, e.g., A. Kirk Grayson, Babylonian Historical-Literary Texts, Toronto Semitic Texts and Studies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975), 19-20, n.29, where he entertains the idea that the Dynastic Prophecy may have had an anti-hellenistic element in it but opposes S. K. Eddy’s idea of widespread anti-Hellenistic sentiment in Seleucid Mesopotamia (in his The King is Dead: Studies in the Near Eastern Resistance to Hellenism 334-31 B.C. [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961]) by listing the cuneiform evidence that records Seleucid patronage of traditional Babylonian cultic institutions.
See further Grayson’s Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Locust Valley, NY: J. J. Augustin, 1975; reprinted, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000), 278, n.2, where he lists various kinds of evidence of Seleucid temple restorations, among other things.
(Grayson notes here renovations during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes [175-164 BCE], citing M. Rostovtzeff, “Seleucid Babylonia: Bullae and Seals of Clay with Greek Inscriptions,” Yale Classical Studies 3 , 3-113, here 6-7, as evidence; but upon closer inspection of Rostovtzeff one will see that he has in fact dated the Kephalon inscription [now known to be from 201 BCE] to the reign of Antiochus IV.
Adam Falkenstein indicates that the proper reading for the date was established only some time after its initial publication [Topographie von Uruk: I. Teil Uruk zur Seleukidenzeit (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1941), 7, n.3].
There is, therefore, currently no evidence to the best of my knowledge for renovation of Mesopotamian temples under Antiochus IV.)
Note also S. M. Sherwin-White, “Babylonian Chronicle Fragments as a Source for Seleucid History,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 42 (1983), 265-70 and her analysis in “Ritual for a Seleucid King at Babylon?” Journal of Hellenic Studies 103 (1983), 156-59, citing Grayson’s earlier work (159, nn.40-41).
Amélie Kuhrt and Susan Sherwin-White, “Aspects of Seleucid Royal Ideology: The Cylinder of Antiochus I from Borsippa,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 111 (1991), 81-2 survey the data (chronicles and diaries) for Seleucid work on Marduk’s temple in Babylon, dating between 322/1 to 224/3 and Kuhrt, “The Seleucid Kings and Babylonia,” 48 cites an astrological diary that proves Antiochus III engaged in cultic rites as late as 187 BCE.
For the diaries specifically, see, e.g., R. J. van der Spek, “The Astronomical Diaries as a Source for Achaemenid and Seleucid History,” Bibliotheca Orientalis 50 (1993), 91-101 and Wayne Horowitz, “Antiochus I, Esagil, and a Celebration of the Ritual for Renovation of Temples,” Revue d’assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale 85 (1991), 75-77.
Archaeology often confirms reports of temple renovation and perhaps equally significantly has yet to provide evidence for the Hellenization of temple architecture. In fact, quite the opposite case holds true: Seleucid rulers seem to have encouraged the continued use of traditional temple styles when renovation projects were undertaken.
(See Lise Hannestad and Daniel Potts, “Temple Architecture in the Seleucid Kingdom,” in Religion and Religious Practice in the Seleucid Kingdom, ed. Per Bilde et al.; Studies in Hellenistic Civilization 1 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1990), 107, who cite the Bīt Rēš temple’s (Temple of Anu) traditional design as evidence (a temple refurbished at least a couple of times during the Seleucid period).
They conclude with the following: “we can hardly escape the conclusion that there was no official programme of Hellenization of the religious sphere during Seleucid rule. The evidence from Babylonia points rather to the contrary, that the Seleucid kings, like many later colonizers, encouraged traditionalism in the religious sphere” (123).
See also Susan B. Downey, Mesopotamian Religious Architecture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 7-50, especially 11, 14, 16, and 38 (all concerning temples in either Babylon or Uruk).
Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship, JANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 153-5.