All Things Assyrian
How a Solar Eclipse Spelled Trouble for the Assyrian Empire
By Mike Szydlowski
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In 763 BC, within the vast and powerful Assyrian Empire centered around the city of Nineveh, a remarkable and somewhat eerie event occurred. On June 15, in the full light of day, the world unexpectedly plunged into darkness.

This was no ordinary darkening of the skies -- it was a solar eclipse, a phenomenon where the moon passes in front of the sun, casting a shadow that turns day into night. Recognizing the significance of this event, the Assyrians inscribed the details on a clay tablet, ensuring that this moment would be remembered for millennia.

These clay tablets, discovered in the ruins by archaeologists, serve as a type of communication bridge to our great ancestors. The tablet detailing the eclipse is particularly fascinating, offering a direct account from over 2,700 years ago about a day when darkness enveloped the Earth.

The Assyrian people were dedicated skywatchers who interpreted astronomical events as messages from their gods. An eclipse could signify either a blessing or a warning from the gods.

Therefore, when the solar eclipse darkened their day, the Assyrians meticulously recorded the event. They believed such phenomena were significant, potentially indicating impending challenges, despite the strength and prosperity of their empire.

This ominous day was not celebrated, but viewed with fear and worry, interpreted as a warning of difficult times ahead. This interpretation caused a sense of unease throughout the empire, leading to speculation about potential threats to their dominance and stability.

And sure enough, in the aftermath of the eclipse, the Assyrian Empire entered a phase of turbulence that marked the beginning of its decline. Historical documents provide evidence of several challenges the empire had to contend with.

For instance, there were internal conflicts, where disputes among the ruling elite and power struggles became increasingly common.

Public dissatisfaction also grew, fueled by heavy taxation and forced labor. The common people, burdened by the demands of their rulers and suffering from a lack of resources, began to voice their discontent.

This unrest was not limited to a single region, but spread across various parts of the empire, from the bustling markets of Nineveh to the agricultural heartlands that fed the empire's populace.

The empire also faced threats from neighboring states and nomadic tribes, testing its borders and challenging its dominance in the region. The combined weight of internal strife, public dissatisfaction, financial difficulties, and external threats began to erode the foundations of the once-expansive Assyrian Empire.

And many of them believed it all started the day the sun disappeared from the sky.

This story illustrates the profound impact celestial events had on ancient civilizations like the Assyrians. It highlights the human fascination with the cosmos and our attempts to uncover the universe's secrets. And, in this case, it is possible that their entire empire's decline was caused by their superstitions related to the doom associated with the eclipse.

Today we know exactly why we have eclipses -- and they are exciting days because we know they are not a warning of impending doom.

But we are still human and we still become very skeptical at times. The stock market is a great example. Some days the stock market is way up, and some days it comes crashing down. Sometimes there are reasons for this but other times some people "just had a feeling." There was nothing more.

Luckily, our skepticism and feelings today are unlikely to bring down an entire civilization. At least not yet.

Mike Szydlowski is a science teacher and zoo facilitator at Jefferson STEAM School.

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