Bûr-Sagalê EclipseBûr-Sagalê Eclipse - Have you ever wondered how we know the dates of ancient events? After all, they didn't use the same calendar back then that we use today. Typically, scribes in ancient times would record history in terms of the reign of their monarchs. For example, they would write something like, "In the fifth year of the reign of King (So and so), he marched upon (some city) and besieged it." Without knowing exactly what years the king ruled, we are left to guess about the dates. Well one way we have learned to date history is through astronomical events. Ancient humans were just as curious about the heavens as we are today and often recorded what they saw. One of the most famous astronomical events of the ancient world is known as the Bûr-Sagalê Eclipse. Assyrian cuneiform tablets unearthed by Henry Rawlinson (British officer and considered "Father of Assyriology") in the mid-19th century describe an event during the reign (most likely) of Ashur-Dayan III. The words "shamash", meaning sun, and "akallu", which is translated as bent, twisted, distorted or obscured, has been interpreted as a solar eclipse.


Calculating backwards, Rawlinson determined that the date of this eclipse in the Assyrian sky, occurred on June 15, 763 B.C.. And from that date, it is possible to lay out the years of all the Assyrian kings on record both before and after the eclipse, and calculate the exact dates of their reigns. However, there is one problem. Many present-day astronomers and historians believe Rawlinson got the date wrong. Primarily because a Babylonian calendar discovered several decades after the Assyrian tablets conflicts with this date. Today, many believe the Bûr-Sagalê Eclipse was on June 24, 791 B.C.. There was an eclipse over Mesopotamia on both dates, the one in 763 was more complete, however the magnitude is pretty irrelevant, as both would have been noteworthy. The bottom line is, even with all the dating methods we have at our disposal, the best that we can do for most ancient historical dates is put forth our best guess.