III. SCIENCE OF BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

Another discrepancy between the Babylonian and Egyptian years appears in the fact that the Babylonian new year dates from about the period of the vernal equinox and not from the solstice. Lockyer associates this with the fact that the periodical inundation of the Tigris and Euphrates occurs about the equinoctial period, whereas, as we have seen, the Nile flood comes at the time of the solstice. It is but natural that so important a phenomenon as the Nile flood should make a strong impression upon the minds of a people living in a valley. The fact that occasional excessive inundations have led to most disastrous results is evidenced in the incorporation of stories of the almost total destruction of mankind by such floods among the myth tales of all peoples who reside in valley countries. The flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates had not, it is true, quite the same significance for the Mesopotamians that the Nile flood had for the Egyptians. Nevertheless it was a most important phenomenon, and may very readily be imagined to have been the most tangible index to the seasons. But in recognizing the time of the inundations and the vernal equinox, the Assyrians did not dethrone the moon from its accustomed precedence, for the year was reckoned as commencing not precisely at the vernal equinox, but at the new moon next before the equinox.

ASTROLOGY

Beyond marking the seasons, the chief interests that actuated the Babylonian astronomer in his observations were astrological. After quoting Diodorus to the effect that the Babylonian priests observed the position of certain stars in order to cast horoscopes, Thompson tells us that from a very early day the very name Chaldean became synonymous with magician. He adds that "from Mesopotamia, by way of Greece and Rome, a certain amount of Babylonian astrology made its way among the nations of the west, and it is quite probable that many superstitions which we commonly record as the peculiar product of western civilization took their origin from those of the early dwellers on the alluvial lands of Mesopotamia. One Assurbanipal, king of Assyria B.C. 668-626, added to the royal library at Nineveh his contribution of tablets, which included many series of documents which related exclusively to the astrology of the ancient Babylonians, who in turn had borrowed it with modifications from the Sumerian invaders of the country. Among these must be mentioned the series which was commonly called 'the Day of Bel,' and which was decreed by the learned to have been written in the time of the great Sargon I., king of Agade, 3800 B.C. With such ancient works as these to guide them, the profession of deducing omens from daily events reached such a pitch of importance in the last Assyrian Empire that a system of making periodical reports came into being. By these the king was informed of all the occurrences in the heavens and on earth, and the results of astrological studies in respect to after events. The heads of the astrological profession were men of high rank and position, and their office was hereditary. The variety of information contained in these reports is best gathered from the fact that they were sent from cities as far removed from each other as Assur in the north and Erech in the south, and it can only be assumed that they were despatched by runners, or men mounted on swift horses. As reports also came from Dilbat, Kutba, Nippur, and Bursippa, all cities of ancient foundation, the king was probably well acquainted with the general course of events in his empire."[12]

From certain passages in the astrological tablets, Thompson draws the interesting conclusion that the Chaldean astronomers were acquainted with some kind of a machine for reckoning time. He finds in one of the tablets a phrase which he interprets to mean measure-governor, and he infers from this the existence of a kind of a calculator. He calls attention also to the fact that Sextus Empiricus[13] states that the clepsydra was known to the Chaldeans, and that Herodotus asserts that the Greeks borrowed certain measures of time from the Babylonians. He finds further corroboration in the fact that the Babylonians had a time-measure by which they divided the day and the night; a measure called kasbu, which contained two hours. In a report relating to the day of the vernal equinox, it is stated that there are six kasbu of the day and six kasbu of the night.

While the astrologers deduced their omens from all the celestial bodies known to them, they chiefly gave attention to the moon, noting with great care the shape of its horns, and deducing such a conclusion as that "if the horns are pointed the king will overcome whatever he goreth," and that "when the moon is low at its appearance, the submission (of the people) of a far country will come."[14] The relations of the moon and sun were a source of constant observation, it being noted whether the sun and moon were seen together above the horizon; whether one set as the other rose, and the like. And whatever the phenomena, there was always, of course, a direct association between such phenomena and the well-being of human kind—in particular the king, at whose instance, and doubtless at whose expense, the observations were carried out.