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The Computation of Time in the Old Assyrian Period

Old Assyrian Calendar

Months

The Old Assyrian lunisolar calendar consisted of 12 months, warhum, of 29 or 30 days. The Old Assyrian months are named after cultic and seasonal events:

I
II
III
IV
V
VI
Bēlet-ekallim
(Narmak Aššur) ša Sarrātim      
(Narmak Aššur) ša Kēnātim
Mahhur ilī
Ab šarrāni
Hubur
VII
VIII
IX
X
XI
XII
Ṣip’um
Qarrātum
Kanwarta
Te’inātum*    
Kuzallu
Allānātum

*During level Ib, month X is named after the Moon God: Suen

An intercalary month, Zibibirum was added to adjust the calendar to the agricultural cycle, but this addition was not regular ; it is observed in REL 82 and 85 in Kültepe tablets. It is also possible that the Assyrians have sometimes doubled the last month of the year without changing its name, a tradition still surviving in the Middle Assyrian period. Other years with intercalary months are attested from other sources using the Aššur eponym system; they correspond to years REL 191, 211, 224, 226, 243.

The first day of the month (warhum, the new moon) presumably corresponded to the first day of the visibility of the new moon (SAG ITI.KAM).

The Old Assyrian months are usually used in the loan contract dates, but time computation by month may also be found in letters sent from Aššur.

šapattum = half-month / day of the full moon, and moon (called god, ilum) phases

The Assyrians used a time unit, the šapattum, which, in some texts, corresponds to “the day of the full moon”, precisely corresponding to the middle of the month or “one month, after the day of the full moon”. (Links to CDLI tablets?). In other texts, the šapattum corresponds to half a month, the month being divided in two by the šapattum day: the first part of the month has theoretically 15 days while the second part might have 14 or 15 days; the šapattum here would refer to the first fifteen days of the month ending with the šapattum day (KKS 12a:7-8).

Apart from the šapattum, there are few references to days corresponding to the moon phases:

  • First day of the month: “The appearance of the (Moon) God (nāmarti ilim)” (ICK 2 45A, 6 ).
  • End of the month: “The (Moon) God having disappeared (ilum ūbilma)” (ICK 2 196)
  • Specific date: “(When) the (Moon) God was standing (in the sky) for 5 days (ilum 5 ūmim issas)” (AKT 1 35, 10).

The beginning of the year / New year’s Day

According to an unpublished tablet, Kt c/k 568, the beginning of the Old Assyrian year corresponded to the winter solstice (December 22, Dercksen 2011, p. 238), while the calendar of Upper Mesopotamia kingdom (Šamšī-Adad) started in August (Charpin 1985, p. 246). Previous interpretations suggested a beginning of the Old Assyrian year the day of the autumnal equinox (September 22, Veenhof 2008, p. 243, Michel 2010, p. 222).

Bibliography for Old Assyrian month and New year

  • Charpin, D., 1985: Les archives d’époque ‘assyrienne’ dans le palais de Mari, MARI 4, p. 243-268.
  • Dercksen, J. G., 2011: Weeks, Months and Years in Old Assyrian Chronology, BiOr 68, p. 233-244.
  • Donbaz, V., 1971: The Old Assyrian Month Name Kanwarta, JCS 24, p. 24-28.
  • Donbaz, V., 1984: New Evidence on the Reading of the The Old Assyrian Month Name Kanwarta with an Edition of the Memorandum Kt c/k 839, JEOL 28, p. 3-9.
  • Michel, C., 2010: The day unit within the Old Assyrian calendar, in Ş. Dönmez (ed.), Studies Presented in Honour of Veysel Donbaz, Istanbul, p. 217-224.
  • Veenhof, K. R., 1997: The Old Assyrian Hamuštum Period: A Seven-Day Week, JEOL 34, p. 5-26.
  • Veenhof, K. R., 2000: Old Assyrian chronology, Akkadica 119-120, p. 137-150.
  • Veenhof, K. R., 2008: The Old Assyrian Period, in M. Wäfler (ed.), K. R. Veenhof and J. Eidem, Mesopotamia. The Old Assyrian Period. OBO 160/5, p. 13-264.

Week: hamuštum = “a week of x days”

In loan contracts in Kaneš, dates are often expressed in hamuštum. These hamuštum, which correspond to a fix number of days, take the name of two, then one merchant (after REL 98, Kryszat 2004, p. 157-198). The value of this unit of time is still debated. This word could be derived from the Semitic root “five” HMŠ, and most authors agree on the observation of the frequent ascending sequence:  hamuštum – warhum – limum in the loan contracts dates, which proved that the hamuštum consists of less than 30 days. The following table shows the number of days contained in a hamuštum according to the different authors.

Number of days in a hamuštum Explanations and authors
10 The original meaning is a “committee of five”, the length of a hamuštum should have nothing to do with the number 5, calculations are based on mathematical data given in the texts (Brinkman 1963; Dercksen 2011)
7 Suggestion based on the frequent numbers of hamuštum expressed in the loan contracts, and on the hamuštum almanach Kt g/k 118, which could give a complete list of 52 hamuštum corresponding to a single year (Veenhof 1997; Kryszat 2004; Michel 2010)
6 Equal to 1/5 of a month (Jankowska 1967; proposal accepted by von Soden in AHw 319b; Dercksen 2011)
5 5 days because 6 hamuštum should equal to one month, which fits the sexigesimal system (Landsberger 1925, Gelb 1935, Balkan 1965; proposal accepted by the CAD H 74-75)

There is so far only one hamuštum almanac (Kt g/k 118) identified; each hamuštum of this list is named for two merchants. Note that when it is used to express a term, the word hamuštum could equal a month, especially in the expression ana n warah hamšātim within n full months (Dercksen 2011, p. 241).

Bibliography for the Old Assyrian week

  • Balkan, K., 1965: The Old Assyrian Week, in H. G. Güterbock & Th. Jacobsen (ed.) Studies in Honor of Benno Landsberger on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Assyriological Studies 16, Chicago, p. 159-174.
  • Brinkman, J. A., 1963: New Evidence of Old Assyrian hamuštum, Orientalia 32, p. 387-394.
  • Dercksen, J. G., 2011: Weeks, Months and Years in Old Assyrian Chronology, BiOr 68, p. 233-244.
  • Gelb, I. J., 1935: Inscriptions from Alişar and Vicinity, Oriental Institute Publications 27, Chicago.
  • Jankowska, N. B., 1967: A System of Rotation of Eponyms of the Commercial Association at Kaniš, ArOr 35, p. 524-548.
  • Kryszat, G., 2004: Zur Chrolonologie der Kaufmannsarchive aus der Schicht 2 des Kārum Kaneš, Old Assyrian Archives, Studies 2, PIHANS 99, Leiden.
  • Landsberger, B., 1925: Assyrische Handelskolonien in Kleinasien aus dem dritten Jahrtausend, Der Alte Orient 24/IV, Leipzig
  • Lewy, H. & J., 1943: The Origin of the Week and the Oldest West Asiatic Calendar, HUCA 17, p. 1-146.
  • Lewy, J., 1939: The Assyrian Calendar, ArOr 11, p. 35-46.
  • Michel, C., 2010: The day unit within the Old Assyrian calendar, in Ş. Dönmez (ed.), Studies Presented in Honour of Veysel Donbaz, Istanbul, p. 217-224.
  • Tur-Sinai, N. H., 1951: Sabbat und Woche, BiOr 8, p. 14-24.
  • Veenhof, K. R., 1997: The Old Assyrian Hamuštum Period: A Seven-Day Week, JEOL 34, p. 5-26.
  • Veenhof, K. R., 2000:Old Assyrian chronology, Akkadica 119-120, p. 137-150.
  • Veenhof, K. R., 2008:The Old Assyrian Period, in M. Wäfler (ed.), K. R. Veenhof and J. Eidem, Mesopotamia. The Old Assyrian Period. OBO 160/5, p. 13-264.

Day and Night

The smallest unit of time used in the Old Assyrian corpus is ūmum = “day or night”. Indeed, the word bērum, which usually corresponds to a time unit, a “double-hour”, is always used in the Old Assyrian corpus as the length unit equal to the distance a walker may cover within this “double-hour”, a little more than 10 km (cf.Old Assyrian private trade).

The Mesopotamian “day” consists of daytime and nighttime (nychtemeron). Days, ūmum, are counted in letters from one to twenty or more. The word night, mūšum or mušītum, appears often in the Old Assyrian documentation; nighttime is also expressed by the term nabattum (KTH 3, 10-16).

Bibliography

Anatolian Dating System

In Anatolia, loan contracts are not always using the Old Assyrian calendar but can be dated after important events linked to the local ruler or his family, religious festivals or agricultural activities. The deadline of the loan is often fixed according to the festival in honor of an Anatolian god or goddess, or seasonal agricultural activities. This dating system may be used alone or combined with the Assyrian dates.

Events linked to the royal family
  • Accession to the throne of the local ruler: “When Labarša became king” (ICK 1, 178:2-4, rubā’ūtam iṣbutu)
  • Death of the local ruler: “When Asu, king of Luhusaddia had died” (Kt n/k 716:12-13)
  • Birth in the royal family: “When the Lady-of-the-House (queen of Kaneš?) gave birth” (Kt a/k 851:8-9)

Events concerning the cultic activities of the king

  • Entering the god’s temple: “When the king enters the temple of Nipas” (Kt d/k 17:10-12, rubā’um ina bēt Nipas erubu).
  • Coming out of the god’s temple: “When the king comes out of the temple of Nipas (Kt n/k 1716a:14-15; Kt n/k 1716b:9-11, rub ā’um ina bēt Nipas uṣṣianni)
Religious festivals

Only ten among the many Anatolian deities mentioned in the Old Assyrian texts appear in dates on the occasion of their main festival. In some cases, these festivals are combined with another type of dating which make possible seasonal dating of these festivals within the year.

Festival Season Some references
ša Nipas Beginning of spring ICK 2, 4:5-7
ša Parka Summer (grain harvest) ICK 2, 132:33
ša Anna (Main goddess of Kaneš) Late autumn ICK 2, 4:5-7
ša Tuhutānim autumn ICK 1, 129:8-9
ša Bēlim (Lord) ? Kt a/k 335:4
ša Bēl qablim (Lord of the Battle) ? Kt 92/k 1045:18-19
ša Harihari ? ICK 1, 24b:7
ša Usumū ? Kt b/k 134a:6; b:10
ša dUTU ? Kt c/k 201:5-8
Agricultural seasonal activities

The loan contracts using the agricultural calendar are predominantly dealing with wheat, which was sown in autumn and barley in the spring. They follow the many agricultural events from ploughing and seeding to the time of the threshing floor and quote seasons.

Seasons Tasks Some references
Autumn qitip kerānim picking of the grapes (Sept.) KKS 31a:13;b:16
erāšum ploughing (and seeding wheat, Oct.-Nov.) AKT 1, 45:4-5
serdum (time of) the olives (Oct.-Dec.) Kt a/k 604b:5-6
eršum waṣā’um coming up of the sown (late fall) Kt v/k 160:7-8
buqlātum sprouting (of the barley seeds, late fall) Prag I 500:6
Spring daš’ū spring (Apr.-June) TPAK 1, 98:11-12
buqūnum plucking (of the wool, May-June) Kt 94/k 1149:8 (M. T. Larsen)
Summer harpū summer (Jul.-Sept.) TPAK 113:13
kubur uṭṭitim ripening of the grain (Jul.-Oct.) POAT 36:10-11
ṣibit niggalim seizing the sickle (Jul.) BIN 4, 208:9
eṣādum harvesting (Jul.-Aug.) TC 3, 3:22-23
ebūrum harvest, crop (Jul.-Aug.) AKT 1, 79:11
adrum threshing floor (Aug. Sept.) ICK 1, 93:7

Bibliography

  • Dercksen, J. G., 2008: Observations on Land Use and Agriculture in Kaneš, in C. Michel (ed.), Old Assyrian Studies in Memory of Paul Garelli, OAAS 4, PIHANS 112, Leiden, p. 139-157.
  • Kryszat, G., 2006: Herrscher, Herrschaft und Kulttradition in Anatolien nach den Quellen aus den altassyrischen Handelskolonien – teil 2: Götter, Priester und Feste Altanatoliens, AoF33, p. 102-124.
  • Michel, C., 2010: The day unit within the Old Assyrian calendar, in Ş. Dönmez (ed.), Studies Presented in Honour of Veysel Donbaz, Istanbul, p. 217-224.
  • Michel, C., In press: Prêts paléo-assyriens, Droits Orientaux Cunéiformes http://d-o-c.fr
  • Veenhof, K. R., 2008: The Old Assyrian Period, in K. R. Veenhof & J. Eidem, Mesopotamia. The Old Assyrian Period, OBO 160/5, Fribourg/Göttingen, p. 1-266, esp. p. 238-245.

Page prepared by CM

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