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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History


Publication details for Dr Kathryn Stevens

Stevens, Kathryn (2014). The Antiochus Cylinder, Babylonian Scholarship and Seleucid Imperial Ideology. Journal of Hellenic Studies 134: 66-88.

Author(s) from Durham


With few surviving Greek sources from Hellenistic Babylonia, we are often ill-informed about the details of Seleucid imperialism ‘on the ground’ — in particular, about the Seleucids' relationship with the Babylonian priestly elites and Babylonian cult and culture. This makes the cuneiform sources all the more important. One of the most intriguing is the Antiochus (or Borsippa) Cylinder, a clay cylinder in the form of a traditional Mesopotamian royal inscription recording Antiochus I's restoration of a Babylonian temple. Although the Cylinder was previously seen as evidence for the adoption of Babylonian cultural forms by the Seleucids, recent readings have analysed it as a product of interaction between Babylonian tradition and Seleucid imperial ideology. Yet the accuracy of such readings crucially depends on situating the Cylinder correctly within its cultural context. Here the inscription is reassessed with close reference to earlier and contemporary Mesopotamian sources. While evidence for ‘copy-and-paste’ redaction imposes significant methodological constraints on textual analysis, certain elements of the Cylinder which are non-traditional from a Babylonian perspective can persuasively be interpreted in terms of Seleucid royal ideology. Ultimately, however, we must question the extent to which the inscription's ideological maneouvres are broadly ‘Babylonian’ or ‘imperial’, rather than shaped by and targeted at a specific local context.