Canon of Kings

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The Canon of Kings was a dated list of kings used by ancient astronomers as a convenient means to date astronomical phenomena, such as eclipses. The Canon was preserved by the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, and is thus known sometimes as Ptolemy's Canon. It is one of the most important bases for our knowledge of ancient chronology.

Astronomer Scientist who studies celestial bodies

An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets, and galaxies – in either observational or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.

Eclipse astronomical event where one body hides another

An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when an astronomical object is temporarily obscured, either by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the viewer. This alignment of three celestial objects is known as a syzygy. Apart from syzygy, the term eclipse is also used when a spacecraft reaches a position where it can observe two celestial bodies so aligned. An eclipse is the result of either an occultation or a transit.


The Canon derives originally from Babylonian sources. Thus, it lists Kings of Babylon from 747 BC until the conquest of Babylon by the Persians in 539 BC, and then Persian kings from 538 to 332 BC. At this point, the Canon was continued by Greek astronomers in Alexandria, and lists the Macedonian kings from 331 to 305 BC, the Ptolemies from 304 BC to 30 BC, and the Roman and Byzantine Emperors, although they are not kings; in some manuscripts the list is continued down to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. [1]

Babylon Kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC

Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. The city was built on the Euphrates river and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon was originally a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC.

Alexandria Metropolis in Egypt

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt and a major economic centre, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Alexandria is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Byzantine Empire Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both the terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are historiographical terms created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".

The Canon only increments by whole years, specifically the ancient Egyptian year of 365 days. This has two consequences. The first is that the dates for when monarchs began and ended their reigns are simplified to the beginning and the ending of the ancient Egyptian year, which moves one day every four years against the Julian calendar. [2] The second is that this list of monarchs is oversimplified. Monarchs who reigned for less than one year are not listed, and only one monarch is listed in any year with multiple monarchs. Usually, the overlapping year is assigned to the monarch who died in that year, but not always. Note that the two periods in the Babylonian section where no king is listed the first represents two pretenders whose legitimacy the compiler did not recognize, and the second extends from the year Babylon was sacked by Sennacherib, King of Assyria to the restoration of Esarhaddon. [2] [3]

Egyptian calendar calendar used in ancient Egypt before 22 BC

The ancient Egyptian calendar was a solar calendar with a 365-day year. The year consisted of three seasons of 120 days each, plus an intercalary month of five epagomenal days treated as outside of the year proper. Each season was divided into four months of 30 days. These twelve months were initially numbered within each season but came to also be known by the names of their principal festivals. Each month was divided into three 10-day periods known as decans or decades. It has been suggested that during the Nineteenth Dynasty and the Twentieth Dynasty the last two days of each decan were usually treated as a kind of weekend for the royal craftsmen, with royal artisans free from work.

The Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect on 1 January 45 BC, by edict. It was the predominant calendar in the Roman world, most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was refined and gradually replaced by the Gregorian calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

Sennacherib King of Assyria

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria from 705 BCE to 681 BCE. He is principally remembered for his military campaigns against Babylon and Judah, and for his building programs – most notably at the Akkadian capital of Nineveh. He was assassinated in obscure circumstances in 681 BCE, apparently by his eldest son.

The Canon is generally considered by historians to be accurate, and forms part of the backbone of the commonly accepted chronology from 747 BC forward that all other datings are synchronized to. [1] It is not, however, the ultimate source for this chronology; most of the names and lengths of reigns can be independently verified from archaeological material (coinage, annals, inscriptions in stone etc.) and extant works of history from the historical ages concerned.

Babylonian Kings, 747–539 BC

Nabû-nāṣir, inscribed in cuneiform as dAG-PAB or dAG-ŠEŠ-ir, Greek: Ναβονάσσαρος, whence "Nabonassar", and meaning "Nabû (is) protector", was the king of Babylon 747–734 BC. He deposed a foreign Chaldean usurper named Nabu-shuma-ishkun, bringing native rule back to Babylon after 23 years of Chaldean rule. His reign saw the beginning of a new era characterized by the systematic maintenance of chronologically precise historical records. Both the Babylonian Chronicle and the Ptolemaic Canon begin with his accession to the throne. He was contemporary with the Assyrian kings Aššur-nirarī V and Tiglath-Pileser III, the latter under whom he became a vassal, and the Elamite kings Humban-Tahrah I and Humban-Nikaš I.

Nabû-nādin-zēri, inscribed m[dNa]bû-nādìn-zēri in the King List A, the only place his full name is given, and Na-di-nu or Na-din in the Chronicle on the Reigns from Nabû-Nasir to Šamaš-šuma-ukin known as Chronicle 1, was the king of Babylon, son and successor of Nabû-Nasir. The Ptolemaic Canon gives his name as Νάδιος or Νάβιος, similar to the Chronicle version of his name.


Nabû-mukin-zēri, inscribed mdAG-DU-NUMUN, also known as Mukin-zēri, was the king of Babylon 731–729 BC. The Ptolemaic Canon gives his name as Χινζηρος. His reign was brought to its eventual end by the capture of the stronghold of Šapia by the forces of the Assyrian king Tukultī-apil-Ešarra III. The chief of the Chaldean Amukanu tribe in southern Babylonia, he took advantage of the instability which attended the revolt against Nabû-nādin-zēri and deposed its leader, Nabû-šuma-ukîn II.

Persian Kings, 538–332 BC

Cyrus the Great King and founder of the Achaemenid Empire

Cyrus II of Persia, commonly known as Cyrus the Great, and also called Cyrus the Elder by the Greeks, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, the first Persian Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Western Asia and much of Central Asia. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen. Under his successors, the empire eventually stretched at its maximum extent from parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World. The Nabonidus Chronicle notes the change in his title from simply "King of Anshan", a city, to "King of Persia". Assyriologist François Vallat wrote that "When Astyages marched against Cyrus, Cyrus is called ‘King of Anshan’, but when Cyrus crosses the Tigris on his way to Lydia, he is ‘King of Persia’. The coup therefore took place between these two events."

<i>Cambyses II</i> son of Cyrus the Great

Cambyses II, son of Cyrus the Great, ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 530 until his death in 522 BC.

Xerxes I Ancient Persian king

Xerxes I, called Xerxes the Great, was the fifth king of kings of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. Like his predecessor Darius I, he ruled the empire at its territorial apex. He ruled from 486 BC until his assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard.

Macedonian Kings, 331–305 BC

Ptolemies of Egypt, 304–30 BC

Roman Emperors, 29 BC–160 AD

Notes and sources

  1. A modern misreading here of ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΙΓΟΥ, of Alexander Augus, for ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΛΛΟΥ, of the other Alexander, has caused Alexander IV to be sometimes erroneously called Aegus. See e.g. Chrisholm, Hugh (1911). "s.v. Alexander the Great". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1. p. 549. At Google Books.
  1. 1 2 E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), pp. 81f
  2. 1 2 Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World, p. 107
  3. Leo Depuydt, "More Valuable than All Gold": Ptolemy's Royal Canon and Babylonian Chronology, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 47, pp. 97-117, 1995

See also

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Babylonia Ancient Akkadian region in Mesopotamia

Babylonia was an ancient Akkadian-speaking state and cultural area based in central-southern Mesopotamia. A small Amorite-ruled state emerged in 1894 BC, which contained the minor administrative town of Babylon. It was merely a small provincial town during the Akkadian Empire but greatly expanded during the reign of Hammurabi in the first half of the 18th century BC and became a major capital city. During the reign of Hammurabi and afterwards, Babylonia was called "the country of Akkad", a deliberate archaism in reference to the previous glory of the Akkadian Empire.

Before the decipherment of cuneiform text, knowledge of the history of the ancient Mesopotamia was mostly dependent upon classical authorities and the Hebrew Bible. These testimonies were scanty and confused for times predating the 7th century BCE. Had the native history of Berossus survived, this may not have been the case; all that is known of the Chaldaean historian's work, however, is derived from quotations in Josephus, Ptolemy, Eusebius, Jerome and George Syncellus.

Nebuchadnezzar I King of Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar I, r. c. 1125–1104 BC, was the fourth king of the Second Dynasty of Isin and Fourth Dynasty of Babylon. He ruled for 22 years according to the Babylonian King List C, and was the most prominent monarch of this dynasty. He is best known for his victory over Elam and the recovery of the cultic idol of Marduk.


Marduk-nādin-aḫḫē, inscribed mdAMAR.UTU-na-din-MU, ca. 1099–1082 BC, was the sixth king of the 2nd Dynasty of Isin and the 4th Dynasty of Babylon. He is best known for his restoration of the Eganunmaḫ in Ur and the famines and droughts that accompanied his reign.

Nabû-šuma-ukîn II, inscribed m[d]Nabû-šuma-úkîn or mŠuma-[úkîn], whose complete name is only known from the Kinglist A, was an usurper and briefly king of Babylon for one month and two days during 732 BC before he was swept aside by his successor, Nabû-mukin-zēri.


Enlil-nādin-aḫe, “Enlil gives a brother,” or Enlil-šuma-uṣur, “Enlil protect the son,” depending on the reading of –MU-ŠEŠ, ca. 1157—1155 BC, was the 36th and final king of the Kassite or 3rd dynasty that had ruled over Babylon and the land known as Karduniash since perhaps around 1500 BC.

Marduk-shapik-zeri Babylonian king

Marduk-šāpik-zēri, inscribed in cuneiform dAMAR.UTU-DUB-NUMUN or phonetically -ša-pi-ik-ze-ri, and meaning “Marduk (is) the outpourer of seed”, ca. 1082–1069 BC, was the 7th king of the 2nd dynasty of Isin and 4th dynasty of Babylon and he ruled for 13 years. His relationship with his predecessor, Marduk-nādin-aḫḫē is uncertain. His reign overlapped that of the Assyrian king Aššur-bēl-kala and his immediate predecessor(s) as the Synchronistic King List places him alongside both Tukultī-apil-Ešarra and Aššur-bēl-kala.

Itti-Marduk-balatu (king)

Itti-Marduk-balāṭu, inscribed mKI-dAMAR.UTU-DIN “with Marduk life,” c. 1140–1132 BC, was the 2nd king of the 2nd Dynasty of Isin that ruled over Babylon, and he was the son of its founder, Marduk-kabit-aḫḫēšu. He is thought to be the first of the dynasty actually to rule from the city of Babylon.

Eulmaš-šākin-šumi, inscribed in cuneiform as É-ul-maš-GAR-MU, or prefixed with the masculine determinative m, “Eulmaš (is) the establisher of offspring”, ca. 1004 – 987 BC, was the founder of the 6th Dynasty of Babylon, known as the Bῑt-Bazi Dynasty, after the Kassite tribal group from which its leaders were drawn. The Dynastic Chronicle tells us that he ruled for fourteen years, the King List A, seventeen years.

Ninurta-nādin-šumi, inscribed mdMAŠ-na-din-MU or dNIN.IB-SUM-MU, “Ninurta (is) giver of progeny,” c. 1132-1126 BC, was the 3rd king of the 2nd dynasty of Isin and 4th dynasty of Babylon. He reigned for seven years, contemporaneously with Aššur-reš-iši, c. 1133 to 1115 BC, the Assyrian king with whom he clashed.

Marduk-zer-X was the 10th and penultimate king of the 2nd Dynasty of Isin, the 4th Dynasty of Babylon. The last part of his name is unknown, as the principal sources of information, the King List A and the Synchronistic King List are both damaged at this place in the sequence, hence the “x”. The reading of “zer” in his name by Poebel is almost as uncertain as the character may be MU which would correspond to šuma or similar. His Assyrian contemporary was Aššur-nasir-apli I.


Uballissu-Marduk, inscribed ú-ba-lí-su-dAMAR.UTU, meaning “Marduk has kept him alive,” was a Babylonian accountant (niğkas) who rose to the rank of administrator (sanqu) in the Kassite government of Kurigalzu II, ca. 1332-1308 BC short chronology, whose principal sources are his two cylinder seals which detail his religious affiliations and his illustrious genealogy.

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Eclectic Chronicle

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Akkadian royal titulary

Akkadian or Mesopotamian royal titulary refers to the royal titles and epithets assumed by monarchs in Ancient Mesopotamia from the Akkadian period to the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, with some scant usage in the later Achaemenid and Seleucid periods. The titles and the order they were presented in varied from king to king, with similarities between kings usually being because of a king's explicit choice to align himself with a predecessor. Some titles, like the Akkadian šar kibrāt erbetti and šar kiššatim and the Neo-Sumerian šar māt Šumeri u Akkadi would remain in use for more than a thousand years through several different empires and others, like the šar ilāni of the Neo-Babylonian Nabonidus, would only be used by a single king.