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Olympic Dates

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These pages give access to conversion tables in Excel format, with copies in HTML format and in CSV format, useful for determining the Julian equivalent of years dated according to Olympiads during the Ptolemaic era. This system was used by Greek historians to provide a common frame of reference to reconcile historical dates given in many different local calendars. It is particularly important for interpreting the regnal years attributed to the Ptolemies by Porphyry, as transmitted through the works of Eusebius.This page provides analyses of three topics related to the Olympiad system:

Ptolemaic chronology in Eusebius

The standard chronologies of the Ptolemies transmitted in the West before the recovery of the Canon of Kings in the 17th century were derived from the chronological tables of Eusebius of Caesarea, prepared in the fourth century AD. Eusebius' chronology is still occasionally treated seriously as evidence on Ptolemaic issues, e.g. in the treatment of IG 14.1184 as evidence of the regnal year of Ptolemy I in A. E. Samuel, Ptolemaic Chronology 15ff., and Walbank's study of the date of the accession of Ptolemy V (F. W. Walbank, JEA 22 (1936) 20).

Eusebius prepared his chronography in two parts. The first, the Chronographia, consisted of extracts from earlier chronographers, such as (for the Ptolemies) Porphyry of Tyre, together with a summary of their chronologies. The second, the Chronological Canons, was a set of synoptic tables which laid out the chronologies of various kingdoms side by side, allowing the reader at a glance to correlate events in a variety of kingdoms. Eusebius invented this format, which is now a standard tool of comparative chronology.

In Western Europe, only the second part survived during the Middle Ages, in a Latin translation and extension prepared by St Jerome in the fifth century. However, in the Christian East various recensions, particularly of the first part, survived in Greek and in Armenian and Syriac translations. In the 16th century Scaliger identified much Eusebian material in the eight century chronicle of George Syncellus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, an Armenian translation was recovered, translated and published, which gave perhaps the fullest available version of Eusebius' work, subject to the usual vagaries of the manuscript traditions.

The following table shows the Ptolemaic reign lengths in the Armenian and Greek versions of both the Chronography and the Canon, as given in the Schoene-Petermann edition. The first column shows the chronology of Porphyry, and the last column shows my best guess as to what Eusebius' original numbers were.

King

Porphyry

Chronography

Chronological Canon

Eusebius

(Greek)

(Armenian)

(Jerome)

(Armenian)

Philip III

1

-

-

-

-

-

Ptolemy I

38

40

40

40

40

40

Ptolemy II

38

38

38

38

38

38

Ptolemy III

25

24

24

26

26

26

Ptolemy IV

17

21

21

17

17

17

Ptolemy V

24

24

22

24

24

24

Ptolemy VI

(35)

31

31

35

35

35

Ptolemy VIII

(29)

29

29

29

29

29

Ptolemy IX

10

17.5

17.5

17

17.5

17.5

Ptolemy X

18

10

3

10

10

10

Ptolemy IX (rest.)

7.5(+0.5)

8

8

8

8

8

Ptolemy XII

29

30

30

30

30

30

Cleopatra VII

22

22

20

22

22

22

TOTAL

294

295

295

-

-

-

Eusebius quoted Porphyry as his primary source for Ptolemaic chronology, yet there are a remarkable number of discrepancies between the two:

Additionally, in the chronographic summary, 4 years have moved from Ptolemy VI to Ptolemy IV. Since this error apprears in both Greek and Armenian versions, but does not appear in the chronological canons, it is presumably an early error in the MS transmission history. Finally, the Armenian tradition gives the wrong reign length for Ptolemy V and a reignlength for Ptolemy X that can only be explained as a scribal corruption.

Given the demonstrable accuracy of Porphyry's numbers, it is difficult to attribute these discrepancies to transcription errors, although the Armenian MSS do appear to be somewhat prone to this. Rather, they seem to be due to sloppy work by Eusebius himself.

In short, despite Eusebius' great historiographical importance, it is clear that his chronology cannot be regarded as usable in Ptolemaic studies.

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