Timothy Howe

Timothy Howe (St. Olaf College): “Legitimate Kings and Pretenders in the Ancient Near East: Artaxerxes V, Alexander III and Ptolemy I”


Since the publication of the Khalili Aramaic Archive in 2012—a collection of 30 administrative documents on leather from fourth century BCE Bactria—new light can be shed on a confusing web of relationships (both historical and historiographical) during the Macedonian conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. Several documents from the collection (Khalili IA 21.C1:1-5, Verso C1:51) reference official provisions for a King Artaxerxes , who seems also to be called Bessos, the same Bessos whom the Alexander sources term a renegade satrap and murderer of Darius III (Arr. An.3.21.10; Curtius 5.12.16-17; Diodorus 17.73; Justin 11.15). By using the contemporary pro-Macedonian Babylonian Chronicle, which styles Bessos as “illegitimate,” and earlier “pretender” literature such as the New Kingdom Egyptian Quarrel of Apepi and Seqenre and Darius I’s Behistun Inscription, this paper will analyze the literary representations of Alexander III, Bessos and Ptolemy I during this transitional period between Achaemenid and Macedonian rule. Of particular note will be the question of how the Hellenistic historiographer Ptolemy I, who was also the general responsible for ending Bessos’ rule and himself a usurper who absconded with both Alexander’s corpse and the kingdom of Egypt, participated in Ancient Near Eastern literary concepts of legitimate kingship. Some questions raised are: to what extent do portions of Ptolemy’s story, especially Ptolemy I’s own self-presentation of his suppression of Bessos’ “rebellion,” engage earlier ANE historiographical traditions to justify Ptolemy’s position, to both Greek and Near Eastern audiences, as a rightful successor to Alexander III during the violent struggles to fill Alexander’s throne?



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