Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Celestial Divination in Esarhaddon's Assur a Inscription

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Celestial Divination in Esarhaddon's Assur a Inscription

Article excerpt


The definition of the term "propaganda" here concurs with that employed by Nevling Porter in her study of Esarhaddon's Syrian stelae: Propaganda is deliberate persuasive communication, the goal of which is to convince people to think specific things and perform certain acts that further the objectives of the originator of the communication. (1) In the academic study of propaganda these desired patterns of thought and behavior are often referred to as action. The kind of action that the propaganda desires to elicit determines the kind of propaganda employed. The action and the propaganda that leads to it can thus be divided into two categories: integration and integrative propaganda, and agitation and agitative propaganda, (2) The first primarily connotes the desired effect of making an audience passively accepting of the propagandists' direction and leadership. (3) As Ellul characterizes it, integration stabilizes and unifies the audience and is a long-term undertaking. (4) Though integration is often a goal unto itself, it can also effectively create a fertile and reliable field in which the second kind of action, agitation, can grow. Agitation refers primarily to the behaviors that the propagandist seeks to provoke. (5) It must be emphasized that the desired behaviors, the actions of integration and agitation--and not merely the thought processes that lead to them-are really the end goals of propaganda.

One of the observations noted in the study of contemporary propaganda is that it is not solely directed at the general public. (6) Since specific groups of people have specific political connections and skill sets, it follows that propaganda can be tailored to target not just the general public, but also these particular populations, in order to elicit the actions unique to their groups. Previous studies on the use of texts and visual communication in the Neo-Assyrian period have thus concluded that the Assyrian crown indeed targeted specific groups with carefully focused propaganda.

For example, Reade's study of the Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs argues that these images were strategically situated to address specific audiences, namely, courtiers and foreign visitors. (7) Winter convincingly maintains that the standard inscriptions and their accompanying reliefs seem to carry the same message, but were directed at literate and non-literate groups, respectively. (8) Similarly, Nevling Porter's study of Esarhaddon's stelae from Til Barsip and Sam'al demonstrates that the creators understood the local history of the reception of Assyrian hegemony and fit their images and texts to suit. (9) When it comes to the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions in general, we can reasonably assume that the implied audience, at least in part, was the literate intelligentsia. (10)


The relative density of references to divination in the inscriptions of the Sargonids is a well-known phenomenon. (11) Such references, of course, provided a general sense of divine support for the monarchs and their specific undertakings. As well, the Sargonids consistently presented themselves as cultivated patrons of, even participants in, traditional Mesopotamian scribal scholarship; the mantic references are a significant facet of this. (12) Yet, in spite of the exceptional attention paid by the Sargonids to mantic activity in the royal inscriptions, specific references to celestial divination in these texts are few and far between. (13) While Sargon II mentioned the positive results of celestial divination in his famous Letter to Assur, (14) and Sennacherib seems to have labeled several gates after celestial features, the first clear reference in the royal inscriptions per se to that mantic practice appears during the reign of Esarhaddon.

The first of these explicit references appears in the beginning of Assur A, Esarhaddon's description of his renovation of the Esarra temple in Assur, and is the focus of my discussion. …

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