Astronomy of Babylon
by Ahmad  - IRIS

    With the exception of the Venus tables of Ammiza-duga, which probably originated in the seventeenth century BC, most of the surviving Mesopotamian astronomical texts were written between 650 and 50 BC. These clay tablets with cuneiform writing are called astronomical diaries, and they are the unmistakable observations of specialists: professional astronomer-scribes.

A typical diary entry begins with a statement on the length of the previous month. It might have been 29 or 30 days. Then, the present month's first observation - the time between sunset and moonset on the day of the first waxing crescent - is given, followed by similar information on the times between moonsets and sunrises and between moonrises and sunsets, at full moon. At the end of the month, the interval between the rising of the last waning crescent moon and sunrise is recorded.

When a lunar or solar eclipse took place, its date, time, and duration were noted along with the planets visible, the star that was culminating, and the prevailing wind at the time of the eclipse. Significant points in the various planetary cycles were all tabulated, and the dates of the solstices, equinoxes, and significant appearances of Sirius were provided.

The Babylonian astronomers used a set of 30 stars as references for celestial position, and their astronomical diaries detailed the locations of the moon and planets with respect to the stars. Reports of bad weather or unusual atmospheric phenomena - like rainbows and haloes - found their way into the diaries, too. Finally, various events of local importance (fires, thefts, and conquests), the amount of rise or fall in the river at Babylon, and the quantity of various commodities that could be purchased for one silver shekel filled out the diligent astronomer's report.

By the sixth century BC, Neo-Babylonian astronomers were computing in advance the expected time intervals between moonrise or moonset and sunrise or sunset for various days in the months ahead. These calculations were based on systematic observations. Later, when combined with numerical tabulations of the monthly movement of the sun, the position of sun and moon at new moon, the length of daylight, half the length of night, an eclipse warning index, the rate of the moon's daily motion through the stars, and other related information, these computations enabled reasonably detailed and accurate predictions of what the moon would do and when it would do it.

Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.

Planets received similar attention, but because their movements were not uniform, the Mesopotamian astronomers had to devise mathematical techniques that would take variations in motion into account. As Jupiter, for example, makes its way through the zodiac in almost exactly 12 years, each year it more or less moves into a different zone, or constellation. Each year it also is seen in opposition to the sun - rising at sunset, setting at sunrise - but because Jupiter's motion is not uniform, it won't reach opposition on the same date each year. The Babylonians expressed this a little differently than we do and preferred to specify the position of Jupiter at each opposition rather than the date. The effect is the same, however, and their tables show that they compensated for Jupiter's nonuniform motion by increasing its shift in position by the same amount for each opposition in one half of the 12-year cycle and by decreasing the shift by the same amount each time during the other half. When the shift in position is plotted through the successive oppositions of the planet, a zigzag line results.

Of course, the Babylonians never developed completely accurate representations of nonuniform motion, but in the later dynasties of Mesopotamia, and especially in the Seleucid period (301-164 BC) following the death of Alexander the Great, Babylonian (during this period called Chaldean) astronomers approximated the cyclical accelerations and decelerations of the moon and planets with the "zigzag functions." They did this numerically, not graphically, but the technique worked well enough for their purposes.

Despite the extensive written record of Babylonian astronomy, we have very little knowledge of the instruments used in ancient Mesopotamia, and we know even less about the observatories which must have existed. A clay "astrolabe" from Assyria is on display in the British Museum in London. Actually, a true astrolabe is used to measure the angular height of a celestial object, and the Assyrian devices look more like diagrams of the zones of the sky. They seem to be tables of handy astronomical information, designed to guide the astronomer in keeping time. Apart from a few limited references to an instrument used for measuring transits, the gnomon (or shadow stick), and the water clock, this is the complete inventory of our knowledge of Babylonian astronomical instruments.

It should not surprise us, however, that the astronomical instruments and observatories of ancient civilizations are hard to find. It is unlikely there were many of them, and the observatories that still exist may be hard to recognize for what they are. The actual equipment probably disappeared long ago, and the walls that housed the ancient astronomers may be all that remains today. If such observatories were incorporated into temples or palaces, they might be even harder to recognize. When we find a structure with astronomical alignments, it is not always easy to tell if the structure was used ritually or for actual observation or both.

A perusal of nearly any ancient pantheon reveals the obvious: At least some of the gods, often the most important ones, are objects in the sky. The metaphoric reasons are not difficult to understand. The regular motions of celestial objects made them agents of order that helped give meaning to the world below; endless repetition of their appearances and disappearances suggested immortality; their light commanded attention and connoted power. And being in the sky, with such a perspective on earth below, it was only natural to assume that the gods must know all because they could see all: To see the world, one's eyes must be in heaven.

Although particular gods may differ in terms of the resources they are believed to control, control is the attribute they share. What they control, and how they do it, determines exactly what sorts of gods they are. Celestial gods control the passage of time by marking it and measuring it. They control direction and space through the locations of their comings and goings. As masters of time and space, they move the world. They make it change. Day changes into night. Winter melts into spring. Rivers flood and fall. Grain sprouts, grows, and ripens. In these cycles of the world and in our daily lives we see patterened change, and it is driven by the sky.

If we are seeking immortality, the sky is a good place to start. We see endless repetition there. Although we know that we ourselves will die, we see the sun, moon, and stars survive night after night, month after month, year after year. They may disappear, but their absences are only temporary.

The sky is one of the few things that provides concrete images upon which our conception of immortality might condense. The sky is itself eternal, and its occupants are continuously resurrected. There, in the celestial passages and returns, is the contrast between what is mortal and what is divine.

The power of the celestial gods was revealed by their light. Anyone standing in sunlight senses its energy. Its warmth is unmistakable. Though obviously weaker, the moon and planets also command respect. They shine not only in the blackened vault of night but, on occasion, in the brighter twilight sky, and some can even be seen in broad daylight. Again and again, gods were associated with light.

For example, Any, or An, was the greatest of the Sumerian gods. His name was the word for "sky" and "high," and the written symbol for his name was shared with the word diugir: "shining".

Equal reverence for the softer, indirect light of the moon is evident from a text from Ur, in the Mesopotamia of the third millenium BC:

"Nanna, great lord, light shining in the clear skies, wearing on his head a prince's headdress right god for bringing forth day and night, establishing the month bringing the year to completion."

Another Sumerian prayer invokes the brilliance of Inanna, the goddess Venus, in the evening twilight:

"The pure torch that flares in the sky, the heavenly light shining bright like the day, the great queen of heaven, Inanna, I will hail ... Of her majesty, of her greatness, of her exceeding dignity of her brilliant coming forth in the evening sky of her flaring in the sky - a pure torch - of her standing in the sky like the sun and the moon, known by all lands from south to north of the greatness of the holy  one of heaven to the lady I will sing."

The particular appearance and behavior of certain celestial objects have often led different peoples in different places at different times to assign the same symbolic values to them. The sun, for example, is both powerful and dependable, as it pursues its orderly course through the seasons, and these characteristics have inspired many peoples to see in it the source of all authority, law, and social order.

In ancient Babylon, the sun was Shamash. His watchful eye noted all things and judged everyone. Justice resided in him. Hammurabi, the great codifier of Babylonian law, is shown standing before Shamash on the stone column, or stela, inscribed with this king's famous Code. Through law the sun's order was transferred to earth.


Compared to the sun, the moon's rapid changes make it seem practically vagrant, but it is useful as a timekeeper, and many people have accorded it divine status as such.  

Babylonia's moon god was Sin, the "lord of knowledge."


He presided over the calendar and astrological divination. In accord with the approximate number of days in a month, 30 was his sacred number.


In very earliest time the Greeks and the Romans do not seem to have differentiated the planets. Writing in the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato described the five "wanderers" as gods and mentioned that the practice of associating them with specific Olympian gods was introduced by foreigners. The foreigners probably came from either Egypt or Mesopotamia. The latter is the more likely source since the attributes and characteristics of Babylonian planetary gods parallel those of the Greek gods, while the early Egyptian representations of planets do not.

In ancient Babylon, Marduk was honored as king of the gods and quite specifically associated with the planet Jupiter. In Greece, Zeus was chief of the Olympians, with dominion over the planet Jupiter. In that sense he was the counterpart of Marduk. By contrast, the Egyptians portrayed Jupiter - and Mars and Saturn as well - with the falcon head of the skygod Horus.  

The role of Jupiter-Marduk was preeminent in Babylon, for he was credited with the world's creation, bringing order out of chaos. Texts of the Babylonian creation myth are preserved on cuneiform tablets, some from the library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria in the seventh century BC, but the tale itself is much older, apparently deriving from the Old Babylonian empire, about 1800 BC. In the myth, Marduk establishes order by killing Tiamat, the dragon of primordial chaos. From the monster's body he fashions the sky and the sea. Then he prepares to take advantage of his victory. His price for his service is the right to fashion an ordered cosmos. First, he organizes the sky, apportioning it among the other gods, symbolized in the constellations overhead. The year is next. Marduk decides how long it will be and subdivides it into months, their passage regulated by the stars he chooses. More celestial references, contrived by Marduk, put the world in order. He also marks the horizon, the zenith, and the points where the sun might emerge and depart. He puts up the moon and assigns it to light the night and count the days of the month. Clearly Marduk was the ruler of the sky.  

Jupiter's course through the sky, Marduk decides, will guide the stars and planets. This may seem like an odd choice to make. The constant sun, perhaps, would define things better. But Jupiter's path through the sky follows the ecliptic, the annual path of the sun, more closely than the other planets known to the ancients. Also, Jupiter's configurations in the stars repeat themselves almost exactly every 12 years. For example, Jupiter will come into opposition (that is, be opposite the sun in the sky) 12 times in a span of time just five days longer than 12 years, and the last opposition will occur among the same stars as the first.  

These aspects of Jupiter's movement, combined with its brilliance among the stars of the nighttime sky, probably influenced early astronomers to use the planet as a reference, a function reflected, it seems, in the myth. There are uncertainties, however. The actual name for the planet used in the text is Nebiru. Although this did mean Jupiter, it meant other things as well, and sometimes it meant pole, or pivot. The north celestial pole is a key reference for the sky's rotation, so either or both meanings may have been intended in the creation epic.  

The other planets also played important, often similar, roles in the pantheons of ancient cultures. And so, the Babylonians associated Ishtar, their goddess of love and fertility, with the planet Venus, another parallel- and perhaps direct antecedent - to Greek and, ultimately, Roman tradition.


Apart from its brightness, the most distinctive feature of Venus is its cycle as a morning star and evening star. Accordingly, the Egyptians symbolized Venus as the Bennu, a heron-like bird commonly equated with the phoenix.


The Bennu belonged to Osiris, probably because the Egyptians associated death and resurrection with the planet's evening and morning appearances, or perhaps with its conjunctions behind the sun and its periods of visibility. Something similar may be behind the Mesopotamian myth of Ishtar's descent into the Underworld.


Among the Babylonians, Mercury was Nebo, the record keeper and messenger of the gods. Its status as messenger may be related to the quickness of the planet in its circuit from west of the sun to east of the sun and back to the west again. Mercury's swiftness also made him the gods' messenger in Greece and Rome, as well as the escort of the souls to the realm of the dead.

It is easy to pick out Mars in the nighttime sky. Its red color sets it apart from the other planets and from most of the stars. The color -the same as blood - also explains its association with gods of war: Nergalin Babylonia, Ares in Greece, and, of course, the Roman Mars.  

Finally, Saturn, the last of ancient "wandering stars," was known as Ninib to the Babylonians. After an initial career as a sun god and patron of the ancient city of Nippur, Ninib became affiliated with springtime and planting.

By observing what transpired overhead, shamans and astronomer-priests fashioned calendars and scheduled ceremonies. They had access to the domain of the gods and the source of cosmic order; this allowed them access to "knowledge" of the state of the cosmos. They could, then, communicate the celestial signs of the gods' intent to earth. Calendric divination made soothsayers, for example, out of the ancient Mesopotamian moonwatchers. In 1900, Assyriologist R. Campbell Thompson compiled hundreds of astronomical omens into a book with the engaging title "The Reports of The Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon." Many of the reports involve the moon:

"When the Moon at its appearance stands in a fixed position, the gods intend the counsel of the land for happiness."

This text refers to the first crescent ("appearance") occurring on the expected date ("stands in a fixed position").

"When the Moon out of ist calculated time tarries and is not seen, there will be an invasion of a mighty city ..."

Unusual or unexpected behavior was regarded as a message. The views might be bad, but a proper word or spell recited by a knowledgeable priest could avert the threat.


"When at the Moon's appearance in the intercalary month Adar its horns are pointed and dark, the prince will grow strong and the land will have abundance."

These texts tell us that the Babylonian prognosticators evaluated the match between what the calendar predicted and what the sky actually did. Departures from the expected order were viewed with concern.

In Mesopotamia it was probably the Sumerians, the people who built the formative civilization of the region, who put the first formal calendar into use. The Sumerian calendar was lunar, but its months began when the first crescent was sighted in the west. A passage in the Babylonian creation myth echoes, in Marduk's instructions to the moon, a concern for the lunarcycle:

He bade the moon come forth; entrusted night (to him) assigned to him adornment of the night to measure time; and every month, unfailingly, he marked off by a crown. "When the new moon is rising over the land  shine you with horns, six days to measure; the seventh day, as half (your) crown (appear). and (then) let periods of fifteen days be counterparts two halves each month. As, afterward, the sun gains on you on heaven's foundations, wane step by step, reverse your growth!" 

The "crown" is the moon's fully lit disk, and the horns refer, of course, to the waxing crescent. On the seventh day a "half crown" describes the half-lit first quarter moon, and the rest of the text narrates the way in which the moon should continue to measure out the months.

Some of the Sumerian month names have survived in cuneiform texts and, like the Egyptian names, refer to the months' principal feasts: "the Month of the Feast of Shulgi" and "the Month of the Eating of Barley of Ningursu." Feasts were scheduled by the moon's phases, with regular celebrations at the first crescent, first quarter (seventh day), full moon (fifteenth day), and last day.


The Sumerians divided the year into summer, or emesh, and winter, orenten. We know the New Year holiday was consecrated by a symbolic "wedding" of the king with a high priestess.

This ritual reenacted the marriage of Dumuzi, a god associated with the growth of grain and dates, and Inanna (Venus), a goddess identified with fecundity and sex, and was scheduled, most likely, in spring, when life seems to be rekindled in every blossom, seed, and fruit.

Of course, intercalation was the only way to keep the Mesopotamian lunar calendar in step with the seasons, and some inscriptions imply an extra month was added before the month of autumnal equinox. Other texts refer to a thirteenth month slipped in just prior to the vernal equinox. What ever rule was followed in the early period, by 1000 BC or so Babylonian calendar priests were intercalating months according to an eight-year cycle.

During this period three extra months were added.

In Chaldean times, a "Metonic", or 19-year cycle with 7 extra months, was probably in use.

This interval, which equates 19 tropical years with 235 lunar months, is named after the Greek astronomer Meton, who introduced its use in the Mediterranean world in the last decades of the fifth century BC.

Although it looks as though a numerical rule, and no observed celestial event, determined the years in which extra months were added, A. Sachs, a specialist in cuneiform and Mesopotamian astronomy, believes intercalations were designed to keep the annual heliacal rising of Sirius in a particular month. If this be so, it again stresses the important role of the sky's brightest star as a signal of the seasons and calibrator of the calendar for ancient societies. Its astronomical attributes - its brightness and the timing of its appearances - made it valuable wherever it could be seen.  

No matter what method was used to keep the Mesopotamian lunar calendar coordinated with the seasons, only the king could declare when an extra month was to be inserted.

Time, measured out in celestial tallies by sky watching shamans and calendar priests, eventually rounds the last turn in the cycle of cosmic order and begins the cycle anew. These technicians of the sacred punctuated that joint in time with ceremonies.

That consecrated the moment and mirrored the pattern of the sky. Such moments can occur, however, at various times of the year. They are not necessarily restricted to the passage of the year. Just when these moments are celebrated by any particular group of people depends upon where they live, their way of life, and their particular perception of cosmic order.

Babylonian priests performed a kind of ritual drama at the New Year ceremony in ancient Mesopotamia. It, too, initiated the cycle of ceremonial renewal and involved a recitation of the Enuma elish, the Babylonian creation myth. The priests also reenacted some of the key events in the story of Marduk's victory over chaos and Marduk's assembly of an ordered cosmos. Unlike the other rituals of renewal we have considered, however, the Babylonian New Year did not take place in winter. It was called the akitu, and it was held at the equinox, either in spring or in fall. Records of intercalated months suggest that in Old Babylonian times the autumnal equinox started the year. Later, the New Year was celebrated in spring. Which date does not really matter. What counts is the choice of a turning point in time that was significant to the Babylonians. More than one reason must have suggested an equinox, and only hints of those original reasons remained in the ceremonies that continued to commemorate them.

In the first few days of the ceremony, Marduk was symbolically confined in what texts called "the Mountain."

For three days Marduk remains in this underworld, a realm of chaos and the dead.

The term "mountain" also refers to the tall, multilevel temple-towers (or ziggurats) the Mesopotamians built of clay bricks on the flat flood plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

It is possible that this part of the ceremony was connected in some way with the ziggurat. On the fourth day of the akitu, the Enuma elish was repeated, and this activity, accompanied perhaps by others, brought Marduk back to life and allowed him to "emerge" from the Mountain, or the underworld. We have already seen how such metaphors equate with sunrise and with the start of the New Year.

Marduk (Jupiter) was not Shamash, the sun, but he assumed many attributes of the sun as part of the elevation of his status in Neo-Babylonian times. Marduk's emergence from the Mountain at the equinox and New Year, in any case, represents the creation of world order. We already know that is Marduk's role in the creation epic. By staging this myth in ritual terms at a turning point of the seasons and the year, the Babylonians recognized the cyclic nature of the world. The end of each year is a reentry into the time before creation of the world. The previous world must break down before it is refabricated, and that is why Marduk is imprisoned and slain in the Mountain

Some of the mythological scenes portrayed on cylinder seals may relate to these ideas. When the Mesopotamians wanted to put an official stamp on a clay document or protect the integrity of the contents of a container, they impressed a design in the soft clay by rolling a small stone cylinder in it.


The cylinder was intricately carved, and one of these seals, from the Akkadian period (2360-2180 BC) and now in the British Museum, portrays the sun god, Shamash, brandishing a saw and emitting undulating rays of light as he emerges in a gap between two mountain peaks.

The god at the right, with streams of water and fish flowing about his shoulders, is Ea.


The goddess on the left, perhaps heralding the appearance of the sun, is the goddess Ishtar, who was sometimes identified as the planet Venus or as the morning star.


Ea's waters here may represent the spring floods. We can't be certain, for no text accompanies the picture. But if the springtime is meant, the scene may symbolize the vernal equinox sunrise, and possibly the New Year.  

More prayers and rituals continued the New Year ceremony, which lasted for 11 days. A ritual called "fixing of the destinies" and clearly involved with omen readings for the coming year took place.


Also, the Babylonians perpetuated the "Sacred Marriage" ceremony of the Sumerians. This time the king represented Tammuz and a high priestess was Ishtar (Venus). But the message was the same: fertility. The passage of cyclical time meants in Babylon what it meant elsewhere: renewal - in the gods, in the king, in the fertility of the land, in the calendar, and in the sky.

Because some astronomical objects move through the sky in repeated and known intervals of time, the behavior of the celestial gods associated with them can be symbolized numerically. Ishtar, as the planet Venus, perhaps was handled this way in the eight-pointed star that usually stands for her on Babylonian boundary stones.

References to Venus as early as 3000 BC are known from evidence at Uruk, an important early Sumerian city in southern Iraq. One clay tablet found at the site says "star Inanna," and another contains symbols for the words "star, setting sun, Inanna."  

Inanna is Venus, known later as Ishtar, and the Uruk tablets specify her celestial identity with the symbol for "star": an eight-pointed star.

At this early stage the symbol seems to carry no more meaning than that, though it eventually evolves, in cuneiform writing, into a sign that means "god" and is placed before the actual names of deities. If the relationship between gods and the sky were not already explicit enough, this development in Mesopotamian writing would confirm it.

By the Kassite Dynasty, roughly 1600-1150 BC, the eight-pointed star had acquired a more specific meaning. It belonged to Ishtar, as Venus, and shows up on numerous kudurru, or boundary stones, which were an innovation of the Kassite kings. Such stones were set up to mark field boundaries. The earliest of them record and confirm royal grants of land and therefore establish title to the territory they represent. Most of them are 2 to 3 feet high. Elaborately carved with the emblems of sky gods and a detailed text, they verify celestial approval of the transaction and warn others to watch their step.  

After an appropriate description of the land in question and a list of those involved in effecting the transaction, the boundary stone of King Marduk-ahe-erba forcefully counsels,

 "Whenever ... any one shall arise and against that field shall raise a claim or cause a claim to be raised, shall say the field is not the gift of the king and shall order a thoughtless man, a fool, a deaf man to approach that inscribed stone and shall throw it into the water, burn it with fire, hide it in a field where it cannot be seen. May the great gods, as many as on this stone by their names are mentioned with an evil curse, that is without escape, curse him. May Anu, Enlil, and Ea in anger look upon him and destroy his life, [and] the children, his seed. May Marduk (Jupiter), the lord of constructions (?), stop up his rivers, and Zarpanitum (   ), the great mistress, spoil his plans. May Ninib (Saturn) and Gula (   ), the lords of the boundary and of this boundary stone, cause a destructive sickness to be in his body, so that, as long as he lives, he may pass dark and bright red blood as water. May Sin (Moon), the eye of heaven and earth, cause leprosy to be in his body, so that in the enclosure of his city he may not lie. May the gods, all of them, as many as are mentioned by their names, not grant him life for a single day."

It was not a good idea to overrule the gods of the sky.

Not all of the identities of the gods named and symbolized on kudurru are known, but most (and perhaps all) of them are celestial. Three prominent symbols included on most stones refer unambiguously to Shamash, the sun; Sin, the moon; and Ishtar, the planet Venus.

The emblem of Shamash is a four-pointed disk with undulating lines radiating intercardinally, and this is a standard Mesopotamian symbol for the sun.


The way lines could be radiating sunlight, the "net" of Shamash.  

For Sin, the stones have an obvious crescent moon, and the other large star almost always with eight points is Venus.

Very direct symbolism in the signs for the sun and the moon and in several other symbols whose meaning is understood tempt a guess that the symbolism in the Star of Ishtar (Venus) is in some way equally direct. Perhaps the number eight is itself symbolic, for Venus experiences an eight-year cycle. During that time it passes through its complete evening star/morning star/evening star pattern five times. This means that a configuration of Venus recurs on the same calendar date after eight years, which is how long five complete back-and-forth passes to either side of the sun take.

To establish the importance of this cycle we must verify that the Mesopotamians were familiar with it and made something special of it. In fact, we know they were well aware of it. Omen texts from the First Babylonian Dynasty (ca. 1900-1660 BC) confirm that the old Mesopotamian sky watchers understood that Venus as the morning star and as the evening star were the same thing.

By the Seleucid period (ca 301-164 BC), we have a number of late goal-year texts in which the eight-year period was used to predict the appearances of Venus. These goal-year texts are clay tablets that list astronomical data for a given year and also for years specified by adding an appropriate number to the starting year. For Venus, the number to be added is eight. Accordingly, the pattern in the table for Venus will work for every eighth year from the year for which the table is prepared. For example, Professor Otto Neugebauer, one of the foremost historians of ancient science, described one of the Venus goal-year texts and showed that it provides dates and positions for Venus at last visibility as a morning star in steps of eight years. Another lists the planet's reappearance as an evening star over three eight-year intervals. Although the eight-year, five-cycle Venus period is close, it is not exact. After eight years, Venus is actually a little ahead of schedule, about 2.4 days.

One text from the Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BC), referring to Venus as Dilbat, records "Dilbat 8 years behind thee come back ... 4days thou shalt subtract."  

Here, the Mesopotamian planet watcher is instructed to subtract four days to get the right date for Venus. This may appear to be in error, but it isn't. The 2.4-day correction applies to a solar calendar and the Mesopotamians kept their calendar by the moon. Because the moon arrived 1.6 days late, Venus configurations recurred four days early, and the Neo-Babylonian astronomers adjusted their predictions.  

Unfortunately, the goal-year texts are rather late and do not confirm that the eight-year cycle of Venus was known in Kassite times. We have, however, copies of a much earlier set of astronomical texts, the so-called tablets of Ammizaduga. Ammizaduga (or Ammi-saduqa) was the next to the last king of the First Babylonian Dynasty and probably ruled between 1650 and 1550 BC. The exact dates are somewhat uncertain. Three decades after the end of his reign the Hittites deposed his successor, and somewhere in that period the Kassite Dynasty began.

The original tablets of Ammizaduga probably were inscribed around 1700-1600BC, but they are long gone. Copies survived, however, in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (668-626 BC) at Nineveh and are in the British Museum today.

In them, 21 years of Venus data are given - dates of the first and last appearances as a morning star and as an evening star and durations of invisibility - along with appropriate omens.

  "If on the 25th of Tammuz Venus disappeared in the west, for 7 days remaining absent in the sky, and on the 2nd of Ab Venus was seen in the east, there will be rains in the land; desolation will be wrought. (year8) "

Despite scribal errors, the texts clearly exhibit the eight-year cycle and indicate Mesopotamians in the middle of the second millenium BC were aware of it.

Apart from a few exceptions, an eight-pointed star is used exclusively for Venus on the Kassite boundary stones.

Other stars are usually represented by dots, and Sebitti, a group of stars, is illustrated as a cluster of seven dots and appears on many of the kudurru with the Star of Ishtar (Venus).

In later times the Ishtar symbol may have fallen into more general use, but during the time of the celestial boundary stones, the eight-pointed star meant Venus.

During the Assyrian period many of the same Old Babylonian symbols for celestial objects persist on commemorative stele, on temple walls, in cylinder seal impressions, and in other formal contexts. A tablet that marks the restoration and refoundation of the temple of Shamash (sun) at Sippar displays the three main symbols - sun, moon, and Venus - as a celestial stamp of approval upon the enterprise.

Shamash is seated inside on a throne, and a large version of his wavy-lined, four-pointed sun disk rests upon a table. In this period, however, the sun's emblem sometimes took a different shape. A winged disk replaced the Shamash emblem, and often the primary god of the Assyrians, Assur, was ensconced in the flaming disk. When the Assyrians ruled Mesopotamia, their national deity assumed most of the characteristics of Marduk (Jupiter) and occupied the same role as creator and sustainer of order. Similarly, Assur was associated with the sun, and so his appearance in the flying disk of the sun was altogether natural.

The winged sun symbol was common in late Mesopotamian art. After the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, the Achaemenians, a Persian dynasty (558-330 BC), ruled Babylonia and Assyria. Identical winged disks "fly" upon the walls of the great Achaemenid ceremonial center at Persepolis. Of course, the winged sun disk also appears on temples throughout upper  Egypt. The form is slightly different, for the Mesopotamian version often sports a feathered tail in addition to the outspread wings. It looks like a bird - as was intended - to suggest the idea of flight through the sky.

Bibliography:  E. C. Krupp, Echoes of the Ancient Skies: The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations

Thanks & Credits  to Ahmad - IRIS

pictures  added by volker doormann



volker doormann    -  2003.07.26