3. An Absolute Convenient Date

9. The eclipse

One avenue to the absolute dating of the Eponym List begins with a report of a solar eclipse in the year of eponym Bur-Saggile. His name is preserved on four of the Eponym List tablets, and two of the Lists mention the eclipse. Hand copies of the text indicate his name is legible on the four tablets.

The significance of the eclipse report was first noted in the middle of the 19th century, and a date for the eclipse was soon worked out.

10. The date

Dating the eclipse involved figuring out a rough date for Bur-Saggile around 760 BC, and then bringing astronomy to bear. According to conventional calculations, only two major eclipses were seen in Assyria between 777 and 745 BC. They are dated Feb 10, 765 and Jun 15, 763 BC. The eclipse report places the eclipse in the month of siwan, which corresponds to May/June and rules out the eclipse of Feb 10. Hence Bur-Saggile served as eponym in 763 BC. By this reckoning, the Eponym List spans the years 910-649 BC.

11. More Date

This absolute dating based on a single eclipse report can hardly be considered firm. Even so, many documents have come to light since the 19th century, and the dates of the Eponym List no longer rely solely on eclipse charts.

12. Super granny

In 1956 an archaeologist working on the ruins of a mosque turned over a paving stone and discovered a cuneiform treasure. The inscription tells the story of Adad-guppi, mother of King Nabonidus of Babylonia. She lived 104 years and must have had chronologists in mind when writing her biography.

From her birth in the 20th year of Assurbanipal, super-granny gives the length of every king's reign she lived through: Assurbanipal's 42nd year, Assur-etillu-ili's 3rd, Nabopolassar's 21st, Nebuchadnezzar's 43rd, Awel-Marduk's 2nd and Neriglissar's 4th - a total of 95 years.

13. More Super granny

Taking 568/67 BC as the astronomically determined date of Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year [See Feat of Clay], Adad-guppi's numbers spot the beginning of Assurbanipal's reign in 670 BC [567+37+21+3+42]. The conventional date for his accession year is 668 BC. The difference of two years may arise from inconsistencies in granny Adad-guppi's biography.

14. More addition

No preserved text directly connects 668 BC or any year of Assurbanipal's reign to an entry in the Eponym List. However, a double-dated document from the reign of his father Esarhaddon indicates Assurbanipal gained the throne in 669/68 BC.

The reasoning goes like this: A double-dated document equates Esarhaddon 5 to the year of eponym Banba. The Eponym List slots Banba's eponymy into 676 BC (assuming 763 BC was Bur-Saggile's year.) Lastly, several sources affirm Esarhaddon ruled for 12 years, and hence the rule of Assyria passed from Esarhaddon to his son Assurbanipal in 669 BC [676+5-12].

15. A tale of two inscriptions

Another way of linking the Eponym List to astronomical dating derives from a war between the brother-kings Assurbanipal of Assyria and Shamash-shuma-ukin of Babylon. One of their battles is reported in two documents: the Akitu Chronicle notes the battle happened in Shamash-shuma-ukin 16, and the Astronomical Diary -651 establishes that it took place in 652/51 BC.

The inscriptions imply Shamash-shuma-ukin acceded to the throne of Babylon in 667 BC [651+16], one year after the beginning of Assurbanipal's reign in Assyria. The corroboration firms up the conventional date for Assurbanipal's accession and hence the dating of the Eponym List.

16. Dating a king

A series of planetary observations fix the date of the 7th-century Babylonian king Kandalanu. The text logs the first and last visibilities of Saturn from  Kandalanu Year 1 to Kandalanu Year 14 - enough information to establish that his reign began in 647 BC.

Though the Eponym List terminates 2 years before Kandalanu takes office, his dates are important for organizing the chronology of the warring brothers Assurbanipal and Shamash-shuma-ukin. The Saturn data furnishes the exact year 647 BC in which Assurbanipal crushed his brother's revolt and replaced him with Kandalanu on the throne of Babylon.

17. Putting it all together

Supergranny provided sound dates for the last kings of the Assyrian Empire, and they agree well enough with the dates in Ptolemyís Royal Canon. the dates of the kings can be refined by the astronomical fixes provided by the Astronomical Diary No.-651 and the Saturn data of Kandalanu. Additionally, Esarhaddon's double-date are congruent with the conventional date of 763 BC for the eponymy of Bur-Saggile. Evidently the 910-649 BC dates of the Eponym List are well-founded.