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Paper: Massartu: The Observation of Astronomical Phenomena in Assyria (7th Century BC)
Volume: 441, The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VI
Page: 361
Authors: Fales, F. M.
Abstract: The term massartu is well attested in letters in cuneiform to and from the Neo-Assyrian court, written in the main in the 7th century BC. In itself, massartu is a general Akkadian term, meaning “watch, guard”, but in the early 1st millennium BC it takes on two interesting semantic specializations, both of which are tied to the practical and political needs of the Assyrian empire. In astrological-astronomical terms, massartu denotes the wake, vigil, or watch for astronomical observations on the part of the court specialists: such a wake was required by the Assyrian king on a nightly basis, for the subsequent consultation of the vast compilation of omens called Enūma Anu Enlil, and the drawing of conclusions relating to the state of the empire and of the royal dynasty. Many interesting texts show us the workings of the massartu in the capital city Nineveh or in other cities of Mesopotamia. But massartu had also a wider meaning, “vigilance”, which denoted the requirement, on the part of all the subjects of the king of Assyria, to keep their eyes and ears open, so as to be able to report to the king if anything untoward was taking place, whether in the capital city or in the most remote military outpost of the empire. Thus, in a way, the astrologers were expected to perform no more and no less than the collective duty of “vigilance” on behalf of the king–but with their eyes trained on the heavens, and in await for signs ultimately sent from the gods.
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