IAA Subsidy

The winner of the 2015 IAA Subsidy is Geert de Breucker. He will use the subsidy for the publication of his thesis “Berossos of Babylon. Introduction, Edition and Commentary”.

By: Geert de Breucker

It started with a short notice in a footnote of my MA thesis on the Seleucid rule in Babylonia. It ended with a thick PhD thesis, almost making him the “man of my life”:
the Babylonian priest Berossos, who composed a very partially preserved history of Babylonia in Greek. Now, the IAA subsidy 2015 will facilitate me to rework my thesis, written in Dutch, and publish it in English.

Being a classicist and assyriologist with a great interest in the Hellenistic period I am very fascinated by Berossos and his “Babyloniaca”, as I could combine both research fields. In my thesis, entitled “Berossos of Babylon. Introduction, Edition and Commentary”, I provide a new arrangement of the fragments which is more in accordance with the original composition. I added two new tiny fragments and the Arabic translation of an already known fragment.

The main part of my thesis – and the forthcoming publication – consists of an in depth commentary on the extant fragments. It tackles text critical problems, as Berossos’ text underwent many changes during the complex process of its excerpting and transmitting. I provide a detailed analysis of the sources Berossos used or could have used. It turned out that he consulted a wide variety of Mesopotamian sources and that his work contains Babylonian historical traditions that haven’t preserved in the cuneiform texts. The “Babyloniaca” is deeply rooted in Babylonian culture, but – or better: and – is at the same time a true product of Greek historiography. (A shortened and somewhat outdated commentary in English could be found in Brill’s New Jacoby Online – BNJ 680 and 685).

In the introductory chapters I give the reader an insight in the history of Babylonia in the Hellenistic period, Babylonian and Greek historiography, the transmission of the “Babyloniaca” and, last but not least, its reception. The latter is a very funny chapter, as it led me to Syrian chroniclers and Medieval England. And to Groningen (The Netherlands): according to a 17th local historian Berossos stated that the people of Groningen were descendants of the Assyrians. It is the ultimate proof that the University of Groningen was the fated place to do my research.
But, I must admit, this “Berossos Chaldaeus” was the creation of a very inventive monk, Annius of Viterbo, who fabricated a world history and ascribed it to Berossos at the end of the 15th c. Annius’ work really became a bestseller. Even so that it inspired other authors, like the Groningen historian, to invent their history using the authority of Berossos. One could wonder in despair to what degree the Jewish and Christian authors who transmitted Berossos adapted and transformed his text. But in this case we fortunately have cuneiform sources and they prove that these authors were not such big liars as Annius.

Oxford University Press has agreed to publish a revised version of my thesis. I am very grateful that the IAA Subsidy Committee decided to support this publication. The subsidy will enable me to make travels to libraries in The Netherlands and abroad and to visit Prof. dr. Amélie Kuhrt, who assists me with the publication, in London. Amélie Kuhrt was involved in my PhD research from the very beginning. She ploughed through all my Dutch drafts and has already provided a rough English translation of my thesis. I take the opportunity to thank her for her help and support.