Geographical sites:

  • Babylon (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #727082)
    Pleiades_icon Babylon settlement, fort Geocontext: Fostat, Cairo
    Description: An ancient fortified city of the Delta of Egypt, located at Babylon in the area today known as Coptic Cairo.


Text #3512

Oppenheim. "The City of Assur in 714 B. C.". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Vol. 19


Sargon indicates three specific divine signs that he had received before he risked the attack on Musasir1. Each of these signs is related to a specific deity: Assur, Sin and Samas. … in every instance either the nature of the ominous incident or the wording that reports it is unconventional. […]

The second omen indicated by Sargon refers to a sign given by the moon god. The very fact that an astronomical phenomenon and its astrological interpretation are mentioned deserves our attention. Such portents are not attested in Assyrian royal inscriptions, and the departure from normal practice must have had a good reason. Some indication as to the circumstances surrounding this astrological portent can be gathered from the wording of the text. There were, in fact, two signs: two stars, i.e. planets, identified technically as those of Marduk and of Nabu moved in what is referred to as a “propitious way,” and in the second portent the moon is mentioned. This is done in a short phrase that says quite cryptically “(the moon) outlasted a watch.” This phrase is an abbreviation for a bit of astrological technical terminology that frequently recurs in omen texts and always in reference to an eclipse. What seems at first sight to be an abbreviation is clearly only an allusion made for euphemistic reasons because superstition forbade mention of the fact that an eclipse of the moon occurred during the campaign, particularly at the moment in which the morale of the army was rather low. The text says in fact, “the moon (god) remained (eclipsed) for longer than one watch (of the night).” […]

… on 24 October 714 BC, a total eclipse of the moon took place that lasted at Babylon from 7:50 PM to about twenty minutes before midnight…

Since Sargon gives us not only the astrological facts concerning the two planets and the eclipse, but at the same time the omens derived therefrom, we have to conclude that an astrologer accompanied the king on his campaign, who found in the text collections at his disposal the two apodoses that encourage Sargon: one (derived from the movements of the planets) that made the moment fortuitous for battle, one (from the eclipse) that predicted a calamity for the enemy called here Guti.

That the portent is said to concern the Guti is in accordance with the astrological series Enuma Anu Enlil, which determines the people affected by an eclipse from the direction in which the shadow moves across the face of the moon. The eclipse as such must have deeply disturbed the army but the dauntless king obtained from his astrologer the very specific forecast that turned the bad portent into a good one. We know from the Harper letters and the contemporaneous reports of astrologers that this was a trick to which the diviners of the royal court had to resort quite frequently. The Urarteans were identified with the old ethnic term Guti and the eclipse was made to portend the very desecration and devastation of Musasir that Sargon actually brought about.

  1. This lunar eclipse portended the victory of Sargon II of Assyria on his campaign against Urartu in 714 BC.

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