[AN-u2.gif] Primary Sources



The following is a description of the major astronomical documents:



Astrolabes

Records of the heliacal rising of certian stars. The Astrolabes divided the sky up into three paths of Anu, Enlil and Ea. These "paths" were essentially arcs on the eastern horizon through which a rising star would pass. Which path a star rises in depends on its position in the sky. One star from each path was associated with each month.

The oldest of these records is Astrolabe B, found in Assur and dating to around 1100 BC. Astrolabe B gives the months and the corresponding stars in parallel columns, along with the positions of these stars and their relevance to agriculture and myth. Other Astrolabes are arranged in a circular fashion, and there is evidence that the circular format is actually older than that used in Astrolabe B. (van der Waerden, 65).


Enuma Anu Enlil

An astrological omen series comprising some 68 tablets. The tablets themselves were found in the Assyrian king Assurbanipal's library in the ancient city of Nineveh (modern Tell Kuyunjik, Iraq), and were written in the 7th century BC. However, evidence suggests the collection of omens is much older than the tablets found in the library, and the original series probably dates back to the Old Babylonian period at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC.

The EAE deals mostly with the constellations, or "fixed" stars, and, to a lesser degree, with the planets. The exception to this is tablet 63, known as the "Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga". It was composed under king Ammizaduga who ruled Babylon from 1646 to 1626 BC. Several copies of tablet 63 have been recovered in varying degrees of preservation, but a composite of these reveal the tablet to be a record of rising and setting dates for the planet Venus over a period of 21 years. As with EAE as a whole, the "Venus Tablets" also contain omens.

The structure of each partuclar omen in EAE is the same as that used for omen texts in general. Each omen can be divided into two parts:
(1) the protasis, a description of the celestial phenomenon and
(2) the apodosis, the reprocussions the phenomenon given in the protasis will have on the terrestrial world.
Occassionally there is also a commentary on the protasis giving an alternate star or planet, or an explanation of the phenomenon described.(Reiner, 1; 24-5).

Here is an example, from BPO2, of an omen in Enuma Anu Enlil
Text XIII, number 5:

[ina ITI.BAR MUL.UD.KA.D]U8.A IGI MU.5.KAM ina KUR.URIki ina KA dIr-ra BE.MESH GAL.MESH ana MASH.ANSHE [NU TE]

"If in month I the Demon with the Gaping Mouth (Cygnus) rises heliacally: for 5 years in Akkad at the command of Irra there will be plague, but it will not affect cattle"


MUL.APIN

This astronomical collection was found in Assur, and dates to around 687 BC. Like the Astrolabes, MUL.APIN deals with the rising and setting of particular stars. However, all of this is here expanded to include simultaneous rising and setting dates, which make note of which constellations rise as others set, along with some planetary theroy, lunar observations and ziqpu-stars.

Hermann Hunger explains ziqpu-stars as being "so chosen that one crosses the meridian before dawn, in the middle of each month, as another constellation is rising heliacally" (Hunger 142). These stars would be useful if, for whatever reason, the horizon were obscured and the astronomers were unable to observe the heliacal rising directly.

Beyond celestial observations, the text presents intercalation schemes, shadwo table and water clock readings. MUL.APIN does not give as much attention to omens as does Enuma Anu Enlil, mostly becasue the latter was still used as a reference on the matter.


[Index] Go back to the Index


[scorpion with moon and star] A Guide to Ancient Near Eastern Astronomy

Comments Are Very Welcome

Hope Anthony
February 12, 1996