Ancient Assyrian Science: Nabû-Ahhe-Eriba’s Works


Discussing various traditions of ancient civilizations is an essential part of a scientific investigation. Scholars argue that a thorough analysis of available texts can provide tremendous insight into the topic of specific customs performed during that age (Monroe 2019). The excerpt from the letters written by an Assyrian researcher offers an understanding of this community’s practices to communicate astrology findings to the king, as well as request permission to conduct desired rituals. In this work, the possible origins of the text produced by Nabû-ahhe-eriba will be explained, and the scholarly traditions of Assyria will be discussed.

Surrounding Context

Knowledge of archaic beliefs and behaviors of different populations is most commonly derived from preserved manuscripts. The scholarly assessment from an Assyrian researcher Nabû-ahhe-eriba possesses a considerable amount of information about the context it was created in. It is possible that the piece was written in the Assyrian empire to supply the reigning figure with scholarly assumptions on future events. The author addresses the king, presenting himself as a servant and wishing the ruler good health and the gods’ blessings (Appendix A). The gods mentioned are Nabu and Marduk, who are frequently discussed as the primary deities of the Neo-Assyrian period (Tenney 2016). In addition, Nabû-ahhe-eriba is commonly mentioned in other scholarly texts as one of the affluent researchers related to royalty (Koch-Westenholz 1995). Therefore, this text must originate between the 9th and 6th centuries BC and pertain to Assyria, located in the Mesopotamian region.

Social setting plays a crucial role in the creation of any writing. The author of the text discussed explains that a ritual against undesirable events is required, after which the planets of Jupiter and Mercury will be observed to analyze the potential risk of disease (Appendix A). Such information requires thorough scientific knowledge of astronomy, one of the leading scholarly disciplines in the Assyrian times (Monroe 2019). According to similar texts presented by Parpola (2007), the scientists were to report their observations of the planetary constellations to the king and submit their predictions of further events. Moreover, the god Marduk and his corresponding planet Jupiter are mentioned in several Neo-Assyrian texts and are closely connected to the professional astrological investigations performed by men of science (Jastrow 2019). Thus, the piece analyzed serves as a report from one of the astronomers to their sovereign on the need to conduct an academic ritual to protect the kingdom. Additionally, it is a statement that the astrological evidence is currently in favor of a positive future: “The king, my lord, should not be afraid of it [the disease]” (Appendix A). Altogether, this writing was produced in the social setting of ancient Assyria by one of the court scientists on the matter of future scholarly endeavors.

Purposes of the Writing

Each of the scientific pieces created is closely related to the surrounding environment. The statements by Nabû-ahhe-eriba are a remarkable example of an astrological report concerning possible actions that could be performed to ensure stability and prosperity. The science of astronomy was regarded as incredibly meaningful in ancient Assyria, as it provided vital information on the topics related to the country’s future (Monroe 2019). As such, qualified astronomers were capable of predicting both positive and negative potential events, such as outcomes of wars or draughts (Steinert 2018). In this text, the author presents his desire to perform an apotropaic ritual to secure the kingdom’s affluence and gain additional insight into the planet’s locations. Finally, it is stated that there is significant evidence that the disease of asakku will not occur this year. Altogether, this piece is both an inquiry on future endeavors and a statement of current astrological manifestations. The purpose of the writing is to obtain the king’s permission to conduct a particular ceremony and confirm that negative results are not expected.

The Scientific Traditions of Ancient Assyria

The data gathered from the written source provides substantial insight into the period it belongs to. In the example discussed, a certain scholarly custom can be outlined. First of all, it appears that it was common for the astronomers to present their ideas directly to the king via topic-specific letters and reports. After that, to execute a ritual, it was necessary to address the reigning figure and ask for their permission for this activity. Supplying the receiver of the message with an accurate description of the actions planned was imperative, and declaring the reason for the desired exploits was also needed. Finally, it was essential to corroborate such statements with previous research and offer preliminary predictions on the acts’ potential outcomes. The importance of this text is exceptional, as it directly specifies that Assyrian sovereigns were interested in scholarly works and required that knowledge for the successful maintenance of the country’s state.

The conclusions described are primarily supported by scientific evidence from various researchers. The main characteristics of direct communication between astrologers and their monarchs are apparent in multiple manuscripts preserved from the Neo-Assyrian period and overviewed by Steinert (2018). The need to receive the royalty’s consent is also stated by Haubold, Steele, and Stevens (2019). The kings’ attention toward their subordinates’ exploits is further examined by Koch-Westenholz (1995), who investigates textual and archaeological testaments of search relationships. Altogether, it is necessary to explore the meanings behind scientific writings from various historical periods to gain a precise understanding of these eras’ customs.


To conclude, several critical factors enveloping the potential significance of ancient scholarly texts were discussed in this essay. It appears that the rulers of Assyria were remarkably invested in astrological findings and interacted directly with the authors via letters and writings. The researchers were to conduct various rituals after receiving the king’s permission and sharing their anticipations of the upcoming events. A thorough analysis of such manuscripts is a vital part of the investigations into the nature of empirical traditions of the past.


Haubold, Johannes, John Steele, and Kathryn Stevens. 2019. Keeping Watch in Babylon: The Astronomical Diaries in Context. Leiden: Brill.

Jastrow, Morris. 2019. The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria. Glasgow: Good Press.

Koch-Westenholz, Ulla. 1995. Mesopotamian Astrology: Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

Monroe, M. Willis. 2019. “Mesopotamian Astrology.” Religion Compass 13 (6): 1–10. Web.

Parpola, Simo. 2007. Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. 1st ed. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Steinert, Ulrike. 2018. Assyrian and Babylonian Scholarly Text Catalogues: Medicine, Magic and Divination. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Tenney, Jonathan S. 2016. “The Elevation of Marduk Revisited: Festivals and Sacrifices at Nippur during the High Kassite Period.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 68 (1): 153–80.

Appendix A

Letter to the King From the Royal Scientist
To the king, my lord: your servant Nabû-ahhe-eriba. Good health to the king, my lord!
May Nabû and Marduk bless the king, my lord!
If it pleases the king, the apotropaic ritual against the evil of any kind should be performed,
and the interpretation of the observation of Jupiter and Mercury which, in the same day,
came forth one after the other, should be written in the text. It is said as follows:
“If the star of Marduk is black, in that year the asakku-disease will rage in the country.”
Jupiter and Mercury are at a distance and will keep away from each other; the king, my
lord, should not be afraid of it.

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