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This Week In History

The Solar Eclipse of June 15, 763 BC.

A solar eclipse was recorded in the Near East on June 15, 763 BC. But wait, how can we date such an ancient event so accurately?  While little is known about how time was recorded in prehistoric eras, wherever archaeologists turn up records and artifacts, we usually find that there was a concern with measuring and recording the passage of time.

In the Old Testament, the Book of Amos (circa 750 BC) reads: “On that day I will make the Sun set at noon and in broad daylight, the Earth will be dark”. (Book of Amos, 8:9).

The chronology of the Ancient Near East tries to establish “absolute dates” for the historical events that took place during the first civilizations that appeared in Western Asia between the year 3000 and 500 BC, reaching the moment in which it can be linked to Greek and Persian chronology.

Three main periods can be differentiated, depending on the level of certainty regarding the “absolute dates”.
The first period spans from 2500 to 1500 BC. In the second period, between 1500 and 911 BC, the chronology is quite accurate (with a deviation of one or two years). From 911 BC on, the dates´ accuracy is almost absolute.
The chronology of Ancient East is based on several written sources that sometimes have survived only partially. They may also contain mistakes that can only be assessed when compared to other versions of the same texts. Also, the information may have been changed for religious or political reasons, or for “aesthetical” reasons depending on the scribes.

Some of the main sources used to set the chronology include the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, the eponym lists (limmu lists), and the Canon of Ptolemy or Canon of Kings.

The cuneiform Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, that was found in Nineveh (actually Mosul, Iraq), is a text from the 7th century BC, copied from a Babylonian text one thousand years earlier. It preserved the astronomical records of planet Venus during the reign of Ammi-Saduqa, king of Babylon and fourth successor of Hammurabi.

The Venus tablet was published in 1870 by Henry Rawlinson and George Smith as “tablet number 63” in the “Tablet of Movements of the Planet Venus and their Influences” (The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, Volume III). The tablet identified the “year of the golden throne” with the eighth year of the reign of Ammi-Saduqa.

Another important source to set the Assyrian chronology is the Bur-Sagale eclipse, also called the Assyrian eclipse, identified also by Henry Rawlinson, recorded in the eponym lists (limmu), dating the ninth year of the reign of Ashur-dan III. These lists record the uninterrupted sequence of kings from Adad-nirani II (911 – 891 BC) to Assurbanipal (668 – 627 BC).

Some of these kings of Assyria were also kings of Babylon, and so both lists sometimes overlap. Both coincide in the names of the kings and the duration of their reigns, as well as in the eclipses they mention. The limmu list records an eclipse that took place in the Simanu month (May-June) of the tenth year of Ashurdan III´s reign.

Therefore, astronomers have confirmed that a solar eclipse took place on June 15, 763 BC, and that is exactly the date that can be found counting backwards in time from the information obtained from the Canon of Ptolemy, that also mentions the eclipse.

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