Reports on Omens

Written reports about ominous events are preserved already from the Old Babylonian period. Most of them refer to extispicy; the liver models from Mari and other places belong to this group.[[9]] Most of these early omen reports have no comments by the reporter, except for a summary statement whether the result of an extispicy was favorable.[[10]]

The largest group of reports on omens comes from the royal archives in Nineveh.[[11]] During the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. there were specialists in divination employed by the Assyrian king who reported to him what they had observed, mostly in the sky, and gave interpretations.[[12]] To justify their interpretations they quoted from Enūma Anu Enlil or other omen collections. In a certain sense, then, these reports contain observations. The observers select however those observations which could be interpreted as omens.[[13]]

9 Cf., e.g., J.-W. Meyer, AOAT 39: Starr Rituals; J. Nougayrol, JCS 21 219ff; F. R. Kraus, JCS 37 127ff: Parpola LAS II p. 492; for Mari, see J.-M. Durand, ARM 26/1 p. 485ff.

10 For a probable trace of reports on celestial phenomena in OB times, see Reiner and Pingree, BPO 1 9.

11 Most of them were edited for the first time by R. Campbell Thompson in RMA. They were studied in their cultural context by A. L. Oppenheim, "'Divination and Celestial Observation in the Last Assyrian Empire," Centaurus 14 (1969) 97-135. His article deals with many aspects of the reports which are not discussed in this introduction. Later reports not from the Nineveh archive are YOS 1 39, for which see Oppenheim, Centaurus 14 (1969) 121, and one embedded in an inscription of Nabonidus (VAB 4 270ff).

12 The tablets, with their reports from the Nineveh archives, which are the subject of this book, will hereafter be referred to as "Reports" with capital R.

13 It is hard to decide whether they quoted only those omens which suited them; in any case, the possibility of deliberate suppression of omens was foreseen (see LAS II p. 50). This problem may have been the reason for employing several experts in different cities. S. J. Lieberman (Festschrift Moran p.328) has argued that the main purpose of Ashurbanipal's scribal education and his later collecting of tablets was to control the diviners.

Hermann Hunger

Hermann Hunger, 'Reports on Omens', Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, SAA 8. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1992; online contents: SAAo/SAA08 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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