Records of the Past, 2nd series, Vol. II

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Records of the Past, 2nd series, Vol. II

By A. H. Sayce

Introduction - The Assyrian Chronological Canon

Chronological records were kept in Assyria by the help of certain officers called limmi, who corresponded to the eponymous archons of Greek history. At the beginning of each year a limmu or eponym was appointed, who gave his name to the year. In the age of the first Assyrian Empire it was customary for the king to commence his reign by taking the office; later, the year in which the king became eponym was regulated by no fixed rule. Shalmaneser II held the office twice during his long reign of thirty-five years—once in the first year of his reign and again in his thirtieth year. Otherwise there is no example of the same king being twice eponym. The system was of ancient origin. An inscription of Rimmon-nirari I, the great-grandson of Assur-yuballidh and the father of Shalmaneser I, is dated in the eponymy of a certain Shalmaneser who may have been his son. The date of Shalmaneser I is approximately determined by an inscription engraved on a seal belonging to his son Tiglath-Uras I. The seal had been carried away to Babylon and there recovered by Sennacherib "600 years" afterwards, so that its deportation must have taken place about B.C. 1290. Whether it was carried away during the reign of Tiglath-Uras or after his death, we cannot say; in any case Shalmaneser—who, it may be added, was the builder of the city of Calah—would have lived before the close of the fourteenth century B.C.

Lists of eponyms drawn up in their chronological order were carefully kept, as well as other lists in which notice was taken of the principal events occurring during their term of office. Fragmentary copies of these lists have been preserved, thus enabling us to restore the chronology of the Assyrian Empire during the most important period of its existence. The copies were first brought to light by Sir Henry Rawlinson, who gave them the name of the Assyrian Canon, and pointed out their character and bearing on the vexed questions of chronology in the pages of the Athenæum (1862). Four of the copies have been published in the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, vol. ii. pll. 52, 68, 69; and vol. iii. pl. 1. None of them is complete, but a comparison of the several texts supplies their individual deficiencies, and allows us to compile a continuous Assyrian chronology from B.C. 893, or 909 (if we accept Mr. George Smith's restoration), to B.C. 659. Two fixed dates are given within this period by the capture of Samaria B.C. 722, which took place in the first year of the reign of Sargon, and the solar eclipse of the 15th of June B.C. 763, which occurred in the ninth year of the reign of Assur-dân III. A line drawn across the tablet marks the commencement of a new reign.

An exhaustive account of the Canon has been given by George Smith in his Assyrian Eponym Canon (Bagster and Sons), and a translation of it, with dates and notes attached, will be found in Prof. Schrader's Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, vol. ii. (English translation 1888); and Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, vol. i. (1889). Supplementary copies of the Canon from fragments in the British Museum have also been published by Prof. Fr. Delitzsch in the second edition of his Assyrische Lesestücke, and by Dr. Bezold in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology for May 1889.

Two different versions of the Canon were current in Assyria, one containing merely a list of the eponyms in their chronological order, while the other added their titles and the principal events which distinguished their term of office. We may call the latter the Assyrian Chronicle.



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