Chapter 5. Time in the Parian Marble

Time is ubiquitous in the Parian Marble, as suits its genre and purpose; it structures the inscription at all levels. While individual entries open with “from when” and conclude with dating formulae (by Athenian kings or archons), the text as a whole is built upon the backward counting of years (see chap. 1, sect. 4 above). Scholarship has thus far focused on the denotational function of time references—that is, on the dates of events and their historical plausibility. Time, however, emerges as a theme of its own and, as such, has connotational functions too. Through an examination of time units, spans between events, and the ensuing time patterns, this chapter explores the social and cultural meaning of time in the Parian Marble.

1. Perceptions of Time

Creation of chronicles is based on the assumption that the continuum of time can be divided into discrete units that can thus be counted. What units are used for dividing and reckoning time in the Parian Marble, and what perceptions of time do they imply?
Years are the main unit for computing time in the Parian Marble, as in many ancient Mediterranean chronicles. [1] Events are dated by intervals with other events, which are expressed in numbers of years. Given the dating by Athenian kings and archons, the year must have been defined by the Athenian calendar, beginning when the annual archon assumed office, on the first of Hecatombaeum, with the new moon after the Summer solstice. [2] Such dependence on Athenian time has much to do with the sources used for the Parian Marble, more specifically, with the traditions of Athenian local historiography. [3] The Parian Marble is not unique in this respect; Apollodorus’s use of Athenian archons for a chronicle of panhellenic scope is perhaps the most remarkable example. [4] Still, closing each individual entry with a reference to Athens contributes to making time Athenian, so to speak. [5] I shall return to this point at the end of this section.
Years imply calendars with months and days recurring in cycles. But in the Parian Marble, in contrast to calendars, years are distinctly identified. Such identification is achieved in the Parian Marble by two devices, year numbers and eponymous magistrates. The singularity of years as time units, along with the backward counting of time, suggests a metaphorical direction of time, and even an end to it. Time is linear, and it retreats towards year 1, a feature the Parian Marble shares only with the count-down chronicles discussed in Chapter 3. Without the final section of the inscription, we have no indication whether the end of a period has been reached, whether a new era is beginning, and perhaps more importantly, whether the decreasing numbers carry teleological implications. [6]
In addition to the counting of years, the inscription mentions or implies other modalities of time reckoning, the most prominent of which are regnal years. [7] Regnal periods are larger time units than individual years. Length of years is relatively constant, even with the addition of intercalary months, [8] whereas the span of regnal periods is necessarily contingent and unpredictable. In the Parian Marble up to A32, events are dated by reference to Athenian kings. [9] However, those references are not precise (e.g. “in the tenth year of Amphyction”) but general (“when Amphyction was king of Athens”). As a result, events are recorded during the reigns of Amphyction (A5 to A8) and Erechtheus (A12 to A14), without noting the year within the reign. Such lack of specification is the rule, except for three events: the beginning of the Trojan War, dated to the thirteenth year of Menestheus (A23), the fall of Troy, dated to the twenty-third of Thargelion, in Menestheus’s twenty-second year (A24), and the foundation of Syracuse, during the twenty-first year of Aeschylus (A31). Stating the number of generations or kings between Archias, the founder, and Temenus, one of Heracles’s descendants, allows for the establishment of a connection with the return of the Heraclids (Macedonian claims may be alluded to, as well). These events, the Trojan War, the fall of Troy, and the return of the Heraclids are paramount temporal markers in ancient Greek historiography and chronography. [10] It seems that the author of the Parian Marble marked precise regnal years only for those major events that would allow for synchronisms with other chronological systems. [11]
Additional units of time larger than years are alluded to in A30 and A31, where Pheidon is said to be eleventh from Heracles and Archias, tenth from Temenus. [12] Indeed, generations lay behind royal succession. Well known as time reckoning devices in oral traditions, [13] generations were often used in ancient Greek historiography. [14] The references to Pheidon and Archias, probably stemming from local historiographical works, provide synchronisms with other significant chronological markers: Heracles and the Heraclids. The use of regnal years and generations for time reckoning implies a perception of time measured by human life. [15] References to the number of years lived by poets and philosophers display the same quality. Indeed, the formulaic “having lived” appears when noting the death of Simonides (A57), Aeschylus (A59), Sophocles (A64), Socrates (A66), Philoxenus (A69), Aristotle (B11), and Sosiphanes (B15). Age at death, whether derived from transmitted vitae or as a result of chronological computation (see chap. 6 below), conveys the notion of biographical time. To a biographical, perhaps even dynastic, perception of time belongs the reference to Ptolemy Philadelphos’s birth (B19), [16] whereas the reference to the publication of Callippus’s Astrology (B6) probably implies a supra-human unit of time: the cycle of 76 years that Callippus postulated for aligning the lunar calendar with the solar year. [17] The Callippean cycle is the result of observation and computation, thus a scientific construct, measured by the stars rather than by human life.
Only once do time units shorter than years appear in the inscription: a day and a month, the twenty-third (or seventh from the end) of Thargelion. The fall of Troy is the event dated with the highest resolution in the whole inscription, to the very day on which it occurred. That precision must be due to the major role played by the event as a chronological milestone, and is likewise found in other sources. [18] What source the Parian Marble follows is unclear, but dating the fall of Troy by the Athenian calendar was by no means unusual. [19] Similarly, references to poetic victories at competitive festivals imply the use of the Athenian sacred calendar.
Years and months as time units are ultimately based on natural phenomena. Seasons, the clearest sign of time passing other than day and night, are also alluded to in the inscription. Indeed, Athenian festivals, as well as the Eleusinian ploughing festival (probably mentioned in A12), were seasonal. Yet, months, seasons, and festivals, in their recurring cycles, are not instrumental for time reckoning in the Parian Marble. Nor are natural events, even though the inscription records a few: a flood (A4), Aetna’s eruption (A52), a meteor (A57), a fire in Delphi’s temple (A71, partly restored), an eclipse (B16), an earthquake (B24, partly restored), and a comet (B25, partly restored). Time is neither natural nor cosmic in the Parian Marble. It is not counted “from the beginning,” that is, from the beginning of human life, from the first Athenians, from the origins of Athens itself, or from creation, as is the case in Christian chronicles. [20] The Parian Marble begins with Cecrops, taken as Athens’s first king, [21] although the reference to Actaeus implies the existence of an earlier king (traditions regarding the first Athenian kings were diverse). If the information stems from Athenian local historiography, as does much of Apollodorus’s account of the origins of Athens in Library 3.14, notions of cosmogonic beginnings are avoided, and autochthony emerges only from the qualification of Actaeus as “born from the earth” (A1).
In sum, the year is the basic time unit of the Parian Marble. Still, other longer or shorter units of time are mentioned or implied: regnal years, generations, the astrological Callippean cycle, the day, the month, seasons, the length of human life, all of which belong to different modalities of time reckoning. Time thus appears in the Parian Marble not only as a countable and divisible entity, but also as susceptible of multiple and often simultaneous forms of parcellation. [22] Furthermore, given that division and computation are for the most part dependent on the institutions of Greek cities (i.e. calendars and eponymous magistrates), time appears not only as a social cultural construct, but as a political one. [23] The dating formula’s reference to Athenian archons suggests a connection with Athens, even for events that occurred elsewhere in the Mediterranean and the Near East. Colonized, so to speak, by Hellenic history, time is nonetheless marked as Athenian, even though the focus shifts from Athens to Macedonia and, later on, to Ptolemaic Egypt. Given the geographical and political span of events in the inscription, time may be termed universal, as the chronicle often is, [24] but such a use of the term is ethnocentric. When compared to other (admittedly late) chronicles, which combine a Hellenic framework with Egyptian and Macedonian kings (e.g. Porphyry of Tyre), or to other Near Eastern kingdoms (e.g. Castor of Rhodes) or to Biblical history (e.g. Eusebius)—even Roman history (e.g. Dionysius of Halicarnassus)—the Parian Marble does not seem universal, in the sense of multicultural; it does not offer global or world history. [25] Events outside the Greek-speaking world are dated for their impact on the Greek world. [26] Time is counted from within, often from an Athenian point of view. But if the hypothesis that the Parian Marble marks the beginning of a new era is accepted (see chap. 1, sect. 4 above), time would appear as a Ptolemaic appropriation. This is consistent with Ptolemy Philadelphos’s interest in Egyptian chronography, [27] and his parading of personifications of time in the Grand Procession, in the figures of the Year and the Seasons. [28]
In sum, natural and cosmic time is superseded in the Parian Marble by historiographical and political time. Through the predictable cycles of time, the Parian Marble offers an account of the contingent occurrences of Hellenic history, in which time is construed simultaneously as Ptolemaic, Athenian, and panhellenic.

2. Proto-history in the Parian Marble

A striking feature of the chronicle, at least to the contemporary eye, is that it gives precise dates not only for historical events, but also for what we would consider mythical ones. As a result, figures such as Theseus, Heracles, and the Amazons have a status similar to that of Alexander or Ptolemy. In this, however, the Parian Marble is not exceptional. Historiographical projects of both local and universal scope usually began in legendary times, [29] as did Near Eastern chronicles. [30] Nonetheless, ancient Greek historians and chronographers held definite views about the beginning of computable time, the so-called spatium historicum. [31] For some, it was the fall of Troy, whenever dated. [32] For others, the return of the Heraclids or the foundation of the Olympic games. [33] The times before those chronological milestones could be termed legendary or mythical, but such terms imply a distinction between facts (history) and non-facts (myth or legend). However, for the ancients the difference seems to have been epistemological rather than ontological. A statement by Varro (fr. 3 = Censorinus De die natali 21) offers an alternative to binary thinking that focuses on the very ability of knowing the past, by distinguishing periods as obscure (adelon), mythical (mythicon), and historical (historicon). [34] It seems therefore preferable to adopt the term “proto-history” for times earlier than computable time (avoiding the implications of “pre-history”).
In the manner of local and panhellenic historians, the Parian Marble dates time before proper computable time, covering proto-historical times too. A couple of markers may be understood as conveying a distinction between them. The first marker may be found in the level of resolution for dating the fall of Troy:
A24. From the time Troy was conquered, 945 years (= 1209/8 BCE), when [Menesthe]us was king of Athens, in his ⟨twenty⟩ second year, in the month of Th[argeli]on, in the seventh day, (counting) from the end of the month.
The fall of Troy, the only event dated by the day, month, and regnal year, stands out as a marker of division between the times before and after. [35] The level of detail not only conveys the outstanding chronographic role of the event, but may also mark it as a watershed. [36] The layout of the inscription may further support the notion of a distinction between “history” and “proto-history.” Indeed, in Selden’s transcription there is a space equivalent to four or five letters between the fall of Troy in A24 and the following text, similar to the space between the introduction and A1. We know about these spaces only from Selden, notorious for his lack of accuracy (see introduction to chap. 2). However, since the transcriptions he published in 1628 show no other instances of blank spaces, Selden’s report may well be trustworthy. As I have noted earlier (chap. 2, sect. 1 above), Selden did not use dots as representing exact numbers of letters, so the precise length of the space is unknown. If indeed the layout was part of the inscription’s original intent, blank spaces may have been left as sense-divisions at significant points. [37] While space left between the introduction and the first entry (and presumably between the last entry and the concluding section too) would mark a structural division, the space left after the fall of Troy would mark a division in the stream of years—that is, a chronographic division.

3. Patterns of Time

Time, as a mathematical entity, is homogeneous; not, however, in social memory, for which there are eventful and uneventful periods. [38] How are patterns of time construed in the Parian Marble? [39]
The extant text of the Parian Marble includes 107 entries (80 in A, 27 in B). For recording the first 900 years, until the beginning of the Athenian archonship, 32 entries suffice (28 years per entry on average). The rhythm grows faster from the seventh century BCE on. Indeed, 18 entries cover the 203-year period between the beginning of the Athenian archonship and Xerxes’s invasion (from A32 to A51, 11 years per entry), 15 entries cover the period of approximately 74 years between Xerxes and Cyrus (from A51 to A64, 5 years per entry), 15 entries cover the last 49 years of section A (from A65 to A80, 3 years per entry), and 27 entries cover the 37 years of section B (1.4 years per entry). Thus, the closer the inscription approaches present time, the more information it contains. However, the dates of the early years are much more detailed than the times between the Trojan War and the Ionic immigration. Jacoby counts one entry for every 14.3 years from the beginning up to the Trojan War, but one entry for every 105 years for the following period. [40] The focus on the earliest periods and the nearest past coincides with the so-called “hour-glass” effect typical of oral traditions, where genealogies tend to emphasize the very early foundational times and the more recent past. [41] It is also similar to the pattern of commemoration in the modern nation state, which, as Zerubavel has shown, tends to focus on the very distant past and the last two hundred years. [42] Things are completely different in cultural history. In the preserved inscription, the period of the fifth and first half of the fourth centuries shows more information on poets and musicians. That distribution confirms what we already know: the Greek memory about cultural achievements tends to favor the “classical” period. [43] Memory, however, is not only about remembering but also about forgetting —omissions are revealing. [44]
From the expulsion of the Pisistratids in A45 until the broken end of the inscription in A80, twenty-three references to poets appear, all but one (Epicharmus) connected to Athens, but only three Athenian political and military events are mentioned: the battles of Marathon and Plataea (A48 and A52) and the setting of statues in honor of Harmodius and Aristogeiton (A54). In contrast, that same period has four entries for Persian affairs (A49, A51, A66, A77), four entries for Sicilian affairs (A53, A55, A62, A74), and four for Macedonian affairs (A58, A61, A74, A77), as well as references to the battles of Thermopylae (A51), Plataea (A52), and Leuctra (A72 suppl.) and to two natural events (eruption of Aetna, A52, meteor in Aegospotami, A57). Hence, in thirty-five entries there are twenty-two references to poets active in Athens, but only three to other Athenian events, whereas seventeen events are mentioned from outside Athens (Persia, Sicily, and Macedonia). Thus, the view of Athenian cultural achievement in the classical period is accompanied by a void in the political realm. The period is markedly Athenian from the point of view of cultural history. As for general history, the focus is multiple and much broader.
In sum, the Parian Marble displays two different patterns of time. General history follows the pattern of social memory both in oral traditions and in the modern nation-state, focusing on beginnings as well as on the recent past. In contrast, literary history focuses on the so-called classical period. [45] The narrative pattern of general history may be described as “serial rise and fall,” whereas literary history appears to have peaked only once: in classical Athens.


[ back ] 1. Even regnal periods (see n. 7 below), the basic unit for reckoning time in ancient Mediterranean chronicles, count years (see Renger 2012 and Burgess and Kulikowski 2013:63-98 for useful summaries and further references). Olympic victor lists use the four-year cycle as basic time unit, noting each individual year within the cycle.
[ back ] 2. On the Athenian calendar, see Samuel 1972, Hannah 2005:42–55, Clarke 2008:47–56, Stern 2012:25–70. Because the first Hecatombaeum fell during the Greek Summer (July), the BCE equivalents are usually rendered with two numbers, thus the year 300/1 BCE refers to a year beginning in mid-300 BCE and ending in mid-301 BCE.
[ back ] 3. Jacoby 1904b:88–91. Clarke’s notion of “borrowed time,” the use of local systems for panhellenic time reckoning, helps account for the usage of the Athenian chronological framework in an inscription set for a Parian audience (Clarke 2008:213–220; see chap. 1, sect. 4 above).
[ back ] 4. In spite of Apollodorus’s following of Eratosthenes, who used Olympiads.
[ back ] 5. Rosenberger 2008:226–228.
[ back ] 6. On linear vs. cyclic notions of time in ancient Greek historiography, see Momigliano 1966, Möller and Luraghi 1995:6–7.
[ back ] 7. King lists are the most common form of time reckoning in Near Eastern chronography. See Renger 2012, sect. 3.1 for kings as a chronographic device in Near Eastern and Mesopotamian chronology and Clarke 2008:204–208 for regnal time in ancient Greek chronography. Eusebius’ chronographic work was based on a broad range of ancient king lists (Burgess 2002:18–19 sums up those appearing in Jerome’s translation of the Canons).
[ back ] 8. That is, additions made for adjusting the year, built upon lunar months, with the solar year (see Hannah 2005:30–40).
[ back ] 9. Jacoby (1902) published a reconstruction of the Athenian king list before concluding his work on the Parian Marble.
[ back ] 10. Cf. Eratosthenes FGrH 241 F 1a (Clement Stromateis I 138, 1–3). See also Möller 2005, Clarke 2008:67–68, 144–147 , Burgess 2002:20–21 (Jerome’s Chronicle).
[ back ] 11. The regnal year in A27 is most probably a mistaken repetition from A23 (see note to Greek text). However, if the original entry included a regnal year number, the precision would serve the same purpose as the fall of Troy and the return of the Heraclids, since the Ionian foundation is an important chronological marker (Clarke 2008:211).
[ back ] 12. See notes to Greek text.
[ back ] 13. On measuring time in oral history, see Vansina 1965:100–102.
[ back ] 14. Clarke 2008:195–203, with further references.
[ back ] 15. Clarke 2008:204–208.
[ back ] 16. The Parian Marble dates the birth of two historical figures, Euripides (A50) and Ptolemy II (B19).
[ back ] 17. While the Parian Marble dates Callippus’ Astrology to 330/329 BCE (B6), ancient astronomical sources allow for establishing the beginning of the first Callippean period in the summer solstice of 330 BCE (Fotheringham 1924:388, Goldstein and Bowen 1989, Jones 2000). The reference to Callippus’s Astrology (B6) and to the beginning of the annual archonship in Athens (A32) are two instances of meta-chronographic references in the Parian Marble.
[ back ] 18. Jacoby 1904a:146–149; cf. Burkert 1995, Clarke 2008:58.
[ back ] 19. Cf. Hellanicus FGrH 323a F 21b, Lysimachus of Alexandria FGrH 382 F 13.
[ back ] 20. Burgess and Kulikowski 2013:35–36, Clarke 2008:84–85 (Syncellus).
[ back ] 21. Similarly, Apollodorus 3.141 and Jerome Chronicle 41b Helm (Philochorus may be his source, cf. 49g, l).
[ back ] 22. This is probably true of most of the ancient Greek chronographic tradition.
[ back ] 23. A feature of most ancient Greek chronography (Clarke 2008:69–70) and time keeping through city calendars (Stern 2012:29–31). Conversely, the appropriation of time imagery for explaining political organization appears most clearly in Aristotle Constitution of the Athenians fr. 5 (Lexicon Patmense p. 152 Sakkel): four tribes at the number of seasons, twelve subdivisions as the number of months, thirty clans as the numbers of days of the month.
[ back ] 24. E.g. Jacoby’s FGrH 239 (commentary):666, Guarducci 1974:83. Clarke 2008:66n51 notes the lack of universal pretensions in the Parian Marble.
[ back ] 25. Rome is missing from the extant inscription of the Parian Marble (cf. the reference to the Gauls’ sack of Rome in 390/387 BCE in the Roman Chronicle, which has two parallel historical axes, Greek and Roman; chap. 3, sect. 2 above).
[ back ] 26. This reinforces the impression that the intended chronicle was written not for professional chronographers, or even for historians, but for readers with a panhellenic frame of reference.
[ back ] 27. The possibility of Ptolemaic patronage for Manetho’s work on Egyptian chronography emerges from “Manetho” T 11a + F 25, T 12, which, according to Murray (1972:209n2), may reflect the attitude of the genuine works. I thank Jennifer Gates-Foster for suggesting possible connections between the chronographic project of Manetho with the Parian Marble and Ptolemaic ideology.
[ back ] 28. The procession opened with the Morning Star and closed with the Evening star (Athenaeus 197d). Between two groups of satyrs, a man called Eniautos (“Year”) paraded, followed by a woman called Penteteris (‘Four-year-cycle”) and four Horai (“Seasons”). The procession was described by Callixenus of Rhodes (FGrH 627 F 2 = Athenaeus 198a–b); cf. Rice 1983:50–51, Clarke 2008:167.
[ back ] 29. Clarke 2008:98–106.
[ back ] 30. Burkert 1995:140, Burgess and Kulikowski 2013:63-98.
[ back ] 31. Leyden 1949–1950.
[ back ] 32. On the controversies surrounding the date of the fall of Troy, Burkert 1995 and Möller 2005:248–249 are insightful.
[ back ] 33. For the traditions about the origins of the Olympic games, see Christesen 2007:18–21, Möller 2004.
[ back ] 34. “Hic enim tria discrimina temporum esse tradit: primum ab hominum principio ad cataclysmum priorem, quod propter ignorantiam vocatur adelon, secundum a cataclysmo priore ad olympiadem primam, quod, quia multa in eo fabulosa referuntur, mythicon nominatur, tertium a prima olympiade ad nos, quod dicitur historicon, quia res in eo gestae veris historiis continentur.” See Marincola 1997:117-127. For a distinction of historical stages in Herodotus (3.122.2, 1.5.3, 7.20), see Shimron 1973 (I am grateful to Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz for the reference).
[ back ] 35. The proximity of the four entries bearing specific dating suggests that they may all derive from the same source.
[ back ] 36. A similar level of resolution with a similar role is found in Syncellus Chronography 1, where the resurrection is dated according to Hebrew, Greek, and Egyptian systems, to the day and month (Clarke 2008:84).
[ back ] 37. On the use of uninscribed spaces as punctuation marks in inscriptions, see Dow 1936:62–66, Henry 1977:63–70 (third-century BCE decrees), Threatte 1980:83.
[ back ] 38. As Eviatar Zerubavel (2003:25–34) has shown in his inspiring book “Time Maps.”
[ back ] 39. Zerubavel 2003 uses the metaphor “topography of the past.”
[ back ] 40. Jacoby FGrH 239 (commentary):666.
[ back ] 41. Henige 1974 (cf. Thomas 2001 for the application of the concept to Herodotus). Rosenberger 2008:226 distinguishes between two floating gaps in the Parian Marble. The first one would cover the last 80 years of the inscription, which would explain the high frequency of entries in early times. The second floating gap, the one Rosenberg considers the original one of Greek cultural memory, would have been “frozen” around 600 BCE.
[ back ] 42. Zerubavel 2003:31.
[ back ] 43. Jacoby FGrH 239 (commentary):667.
[ back ] 44. As Jacoby noted, the period 477/6-370/69 contains more people and events pertaining to literary or cultural history than to general or political history (see Jacoby’s table below, chap. 6, n. 22).
[ back ] 45. The focus on the classical period corresponds to Zerubavel’s “rise-and-fall” type of historical narrative (2003:18–20).