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The Assyrian eclipse is also known as Bur-Sagale (Bur-Saggile, Pur-Sagale or Par-Sagale) eclipse. It was recorded in Assyrian eponym lists, most likely in the 9th year of king Ashur-dan III. The actual short entry reads as follows:

Bur-Sagale of Guzana, revolt in the city of Assur. In the month Simanu an eclipse of the sun took place.

The phrase used shamash ("the sun") akallu ("bent", "twisted", "crooked", "distorted", "obscured") has been interpreted since the mid-19th century as a reference to a solar eclipse. In 1867, Henry Rawlinson decided that the most likely match was the nearly total eclipse of June 15, 763 BC, and this date has been widely accepted ever since. It is regarded to be the most crucial point of reference for providing exact dates of Assyrian chronology before the seventh century BC. (However, the original record does not contain any detail of the observation. It may have been observed anywhere in Assyria, not necessarily in Assur or Nineveh.)

Although the title above indicates "eclipse" and not "eclipses," we may refer to three ignored Assyrian eclipse records from the reign of King Esarhaddon, mentioned by Z.A. Simon (N. Vancouver, 1997: 104). The "Esarhaddon Chronicle" recorded that the sun darkened its light in the month Teshri, in the first year of Esarhaddon (Smith, 1924: 14). This solar eclipse occurred on October 10, 695 BC. As for a second astronomical event in his sixth regnal year: Kudurru wrote him that after the king went to Egypt, an eclipse took place in the month of Tammuz (Letter 276 in Waterman, 1930: 187) that was confirmed by Olmstead. The date corresponds to July 18, 690 BC. (This eclipse must have been solar, because there was no lunar eclipse in Tammuz for many years.) Also, a scribe wrote of the third eclipse to King Esarhaddon, "When the sun arose, it could come to pass that an eclipse took place of about two fingers" in width. It meant that two twelfth of the sun's disc was darkened (Letter 470 in Waterman, 1930: 329). The only possible date for this eclipse is November 10, 687 BC. Followers of the traditional (i.e., Ptolemaic) chronology identify this eclipse with a later one.

The Book of Amos may also include a reference to a solar eclipse: `And on that day,' says the Lord God, `I will make the Sun go down at noon, and darken the Earth in broad daylight'. (Amos 8:9) As Amos was active around 750 BC, this might refer to the eclipse of 763 BC which was almost total in Israel.

Revisionist theories: Inconsistency with the Babylonian calendar

However, some claim the date June 15, 763 BC is inconsistent with the Babylonian calendar. At the time when Henry Rawlinson reported his findings the rules of that calendar had not been fully understood yet due to a lack of data. In the following decades a number of Babylonianmarker tablets were found which showed that Babylonians had never started their new year before the vernal equinox. For instance, based on information provided by the famous tablet VAT 4956, Nisan 1 in year 568 BC began on April 22 instead of March 24, because the spring equinox that year fell upon March 26/27.

Accepting June 15, 763 BC as the date of the eclipse means that the same year Nisan 1 must have begun on March 20, that is 8 or 9 days before the spring equinox falling that year on March 28/29.

Nevertheless, historians so far have been unwilling to make any changes in the traditional Assyrian chronology as that in turn would affect Babylonian, Egyptian, Israelite and other chronologies as well. The assumption is that the Assyrian calendar did not necessarily follow the rules of the Babylonian calendar so that Nisan 1 may have been occasionally declared before the vernal equinox, as was the case with the Hebrew calendar.

Others claim this theory is unsupported and seems very unlikely, as Jews had their own, religious reasons to start their year before the spring equinox: the barley harvest had to begin about the time of the Passover. Moreover, the earliest known date for Nisan 1 among the ancient Jews is March 19, 459 BC (as calculated from double dated Elephantinemarker Papyri), that is 6 or 7 days before the vernal equinox. This means that March 20, 763 BC would have been the earliest occurrence of Nisan 1 (in relation to the spring equinox) documented in the whole ancient history, which casts further doubts upon the 763 BC eclipse choice.

A more likely candidate, it is then claimed, seems to be the big partial eclipse of June 24, 791 BC (with Nisan 1 falling on March 29 the same year). It must have been noticed all across the Assyrian empire as it took place at sunset. Its approximate magnitude was:

See also


  1. Rawlinson, Henry Creswicke, "The Assyrian Canon Verified by the Record of a Solar Eclipse, B.C. 763", The Athenaeum: Journal of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, nr. 2064, 660-661 [18 May 1867].
  2. * Sacha Stern, The Babylonian Calendar at Elephantine in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 130 (2000) 159-171;

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