Third Annual Meeting of
The Intellectual Heritage of Assyria and Babylonia in East and West

Ideologies as Intercultural Phenomena
Chicago, October 27-31, 2000

Babylonia and Elam

the Evidence of the Calendars

by Gian Pietro Basello, University of Bologna

«Pochi sanno estimare al giusto l’immenso benefizio, che ogni momento godiamo, dell’aria respirabile, e dell’acqua, non meno necessaria alla vita; così pure pochi si fanno un’idea adeguata delle agevolezze e dei vantaggi che all’odierno vivere procura il computo uniforme e la divisione regolare dei tempi.»
Giovanni Schiaparelli, 1892

Babylonians and Elamites in Venice

>> the Pentecost Dome in Venice ELAMIT MESOPOT AMIA holy Spirit Apostles peoples We have a few minutes to go from the present to a far past. But a journey has some intermediate stages. In order to go eastward, which place is better to start than Venice? If you went to Venice, you would surely take a look at the church of St. Mark. After entering the church, you would probably raise up your eyes, struck by the golden light floating all around; you would see the Holy Spirit descending upon peoples through the preaching apostles. You would be looking at the 12th century mosaic of the Pentecost Dome just above your head. Would you be surprised at the sight of two polished figures representing the residents of Mesopotamia among other ancient peoples? To understand this symbolic representation, we have to move backwards to the end of the 1st century AD, perhaps in Rome, when evangelist Luke described this scene in the Acts of the Apostles[1] and compiled a list of the attending peoples. If the scholars[2], who say that Luke copied the list from an astral calendar are wrong, we can imagine that some Babylonian Hebrews were in Jerusalem to accomplish the pilgrimage on the Festival of Weeks near 30 AD. Thus, more than 2500 years after the end of the Babylonian kingdom, one can go to Venice and see two Babylonians!

Babylonia, Jerusalem, Rome, Venice, Chicago: the authors of the famous Hebrew captivity ended in a book, then in a mosaic, and now we all are talking about them. But our journey has to go further in space and in time to see a Babylonian heritage in the East. Going back to the mosaic, at the left of the Mesopotamiams we find another people: the writing at the top of the figures helps us in recognizing two gray-dressed Elamites.

*  *  *

The proximity of Elamite and Mesopotamiam peoples hides a deeper significance. One might say that Elamite culture cannot be known without looking both westward at Babylonia and eastward at the incoming Persians. The same might be said about the Elamite calendar. However, I have to reserve for another occasion the discussion on relationship between Elamites and Persians on the ground of the occurrences of both Elamite and Persian month-names in the Elamite tablets from Persepolis (the Persepolis Fortification Tablets). So here I will discuss only the development of the Elamite calendar during the 2nd millennium and first centuries of the 1st millennium bc. Moreover I have to take for granted the assumption that Elamites used a lunisolar calendar like the Babylonians.

In my presentation today I will outline the Elamite calendar in a wider perspective: the study of a local calendar is not a local matter because reckoning time involves politics, cultural influences and social dynamics (in Elam also sociolinguistics).

Time and power

Our time flows meekly within the embankments of days, months and years, according to a regular rhythm in which the only foreseeable variation is represented by the added day in leap years. We owe it to a relatively unknown astronomer from Naples, Aloysius Lilius (1510-1576). Nevertheless, if we want to name our calendar, we'll use the name of Pope Gregory XIII, who supported the 1582 reform[3]. In order to understand the role of politics in reckoning time, we have to consider the time of gestation and the troubles which the new calendar met around the world. Consider what time means to everyday's life: fixing a diplomatic appointment, regulating trade between remote lands, celebrating a ritual feast.

The calendar was the human endeavour to dominate time, intended as the immediate expression of the divine world. In Elam the words "month" and "day" are often marked by a star, the cuneiform sign AN, a remainder of the tight tie with the heavenly gods, specifically the sun and the moon.

Royal ideology implied control over time. The Babylonian calendar with its month-names was a powerful standard in ancient middle-east since the beginning of the 2nd millennium bc. Having a different calendar was a mark of political autonomy; at the same time it involved the difficulties of a non-standardized method of reckoning time.

Month-names in Elam

The old Elamite kingdom

The earliest information about an Elamite calendar comes from Akkadian tablets[4] dealing with juridical matters discovered at Susa and belonging to the old Elamite kingdom (from the 19th to the 16th century bc). The dating formulae provide us with a great number of month-names, more than 12 as we might expect. The month-names occurred alone, so we don't have ordered lists of months except in very few tablets. Some month-names (addaru, abu and šabātu are the same of the standard Babylonian calendar[5]. Other month-names are linguistically Akkadian (for example šer’i ša es+ēdi, the month of "the furrow (ready) for reaping", or pīt bābi, the month of "the Opening-of-the-Gate"[6]), while the other names seem to be truly Elamite even if it's difficult to give a tentative etymology of them[7].

The Babylonian cultural influence seems to be strong, as the Akkadian was the official written language; nevertheless Babylonian calendar was a model to be adjusted to local needs and not an externally imposed method of reckoning time. In fact Elam was ruled by a steady Elamite dynasty, whom kings beared Elamite names.

The question is: how can we cut off a coherent group of 12 month-names? Hinz[8] suggested two sets [bezeichnung] of months: a) an Akkadian calque of an Elamite month-name; and b) an approximate Akkadian rendering (translation) of the first set. De Blois[9] follows Reiner[10] in defining a group of 12 months looking at a stela belonging to the beginning of the middle Elamite kingdom; the other month-names might be alternate spellings.

The middle Elamite kingdom

In the middle Elamite kingdom we have a clearer situation. From a royal Elamite tomb at Haft Tepe, the ancient town of Kabnak near Susa, Professor Negahban found a stela[11] with an Akkadian inscription reporting a list of ritual provision. The mention of king Tepti-Ahar dates it to the first half of the 14th century bc[12] (1365 bc). The list is ordered by month: it begins with addaru (the last Babylonian month) and ends with šabātu (the 11th Babylonian month). Later findings of Akkadian tablets with single occurrences of month-names[13] confirmed the names on the stela and filled a gap on the list.

Only the 6th month-name is still missing. Herrero and Glassner[14] suggest that it may be the next (outside the list of ritual provision) occurrence in the stela of the word tašritu (the name of the 7th Babylonian month). Nevertheless tašritu is not attested in the tablets. To me, the occurrence of tašritu in the stela seems to be simply the name of a festival, not a month-name[15]: in fact it is not preceded by the usual logogram ITU "month". Therefore I suggest lallube, attested unfortunately only in one tablet, as the name of the missing 6th month.

from DINGIR.MAH+ to belilit

According to de Blois[16], the month be-el-ti.DINGIR (i.e. bēlti ili "mistress of the gods") is a transition form between the Susan month-name DINGIR.MAH+ (also attested at Haft Tepe) and belili attested at Tall-i Malyān and Persepolis.

It's relevant that the month-names listed in the stela (except the 7th še-bu-še-bi-i) are also attested with slight variations in the Akkadian tablets from Susa. On this ground we can define a set of 12 month-names which we can call the Susiana group.

*  *  *

Afterwards Babylonian influence decreased and Susiana became more Elamite. Elamite language appeared in royal and votive inscriptions. Vallat[17] speaks of "Elamization" of Susiana. The relationship with Mesopotomiam peoples became more and more a state of disagreement. The apex of this escalation was when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar defeated Elamites and took Susa around 1110 bc.

So we are not astonished by the discovery of administrative tablets[18] in Elamite language from Tall-i Malyān, probably the ancient town of Anšan. These tablets belong to the end of middle Elamite period, near 1000 bc[19]. The dating formulae provide us with month[20] and day. [The absence of the year makes Stolper[21] suggest that we are in presence of temporary archives.] We have now left Susiana to reach the eastern district of Elam, farther from Mesopotamia.

Apart from the doubtful occurrence of APIN in one Akkadian text[22] from Susa, the Malyān tablets attest the first use of some logograms (GU4, KIN, BAR2) for standard Babylonian month-names in Elam. Beside the Babylonian logograms, there are some month-names (api, lalube, belili) recurring several times which are similar to those of the Susa Akkadian group but written in Elamite. Other names are less attested: besides the unclassifiable katenka, they (manšarki, sibari, šerum/šerman, gammama) are almost identical to the Elamite month-names attested 5 centuries later in the Persepolis Fortification Tablets. So we can define another set which we can name the Anšan group, including Persepolis. Therefore this group seems to include some Susan names: belili and perhaps hadar if it stands for addaru are among the Elamite moth-names from Persepolis, which are a well-defined[23] group.

Neo-Elamite kingdom
Babylonian logograms in the neo-Elamite economic tablets

Neo-Elamite kingdom comes after a dark age: when the light of written sources comes back we can see that Elamite language is still spread. Despite this, in the neo-Elamite economic tablets[24] from Susa (belonging to the 7th or even to the beginning of the 6th century bc[25]) the logograms for Babylonian month-names were widely used except, strangely, for the 7th month, perhaps replaced by the occurrence of the month rahal which is attested as many times (15) as the average of the Babylonian logograms. [However in the only Elamite tablet reporting astrological omens (dated at the 8th or first half of the 7th century bc[26]), we find the whole list of the Babylonian logograms.] Rahal is a really curious case: it is also the only month-name in the Ururu's bronze plaque[27] found at Persepolis but dated at the second half of the 7th century bc. Strangely enough, rahal is attested 8 or 9 times in the Persepolis Fortification Tablets[28], beside the Elamite and the Persian groups which still have 12 months each. For this reason I prefer to shelve this discussion to the Elamite calendar in the Achaemenian time.

According to Steve[29], the sign KAM is sometimes used in place of the logogram GAN for the 9th Babylonian month, as the Assyrians did. To me, this is also because the sign GAN belongs only incidentally to the Elamite syllabary, while KAM is widely used.

from gammama to kutmama

Few other month-names are attested in Susiana: the Susan month-name lalupe still survives in an Elamite inscription[30]; in an Elamite text we find also kunamana[31] which could be related to the month-name kutmama attested in the Persepolis Fortification Tablets through the also attested alternate spelling kammama[32].

*  *  *

While Elamites used Babylonian logograms, Akkadian menologies[33] from Ninive and Assyrian royal inscriptions[34] used the Susan month-names. Some menologies give us the complete list with Babylonian equivalents. The relative order is similar to that of Haft Tepe but, in some tablets, the absolute position is different. In tablet Sp. II 381 two lacking Elamite month-names correspond to the first Babylonian month-name; the Elamite month-name corresponding to the 2nd Babylonian month-name is addaru and so on. The neo-babylonian commentary on the Elamite month-names Rm. 2,127 confirms that the first month is the well-known šabātu together with BAR.SAG.SAG, an apparently new month-name.

The Babylonian month-names in Elam
and the Elamite ones in Assyria

Some facts require additional remarks.

Elamite vs Babylonian calendar:
the shiftings at the beginning of the year

Let me start my concluding remarks commenting on a widely attested month like addaru. In Babylonia it is the last month of the year. In the stela from Haft Tepe it is the first month in the list. In Akkadian menologies of the first half of the 1st millennium bc it is the second month (surely the viewpoint was Babylonian; it is not clear if the Elamite year began actually with it). In the Persepolis Fortification Tablets it should be hadar, the 3rd month of the Elamite group. The order relative to other month-names is always maintained.

The first point to make regards the month-names from Tall-i Malyān. Stolper[37] put belili in 4th position as in the Haft Tepe stela and manšarki in 7th position as in the Persepolis tablets. However the two are separated by nearly 1000 years (and nearly 500 kilometers!). In Persepolis belilit was shifted to the 6th position. It's hard to derive the absolute position of the months from Tall-i Malyān, but the relative order seems to be clear and should be maintained. This interpretation leads to the overlapping of the two months abi and manšarki, for which I have no explanation: abi belongs to the Susan group while manšarki belongs to Anšan.

According to de Blois[38] accurate analysis, we have three shiftings at the beginning of the year. The first takes place at least by the time of king Tepti-Ahar, as the Haft Tepe stela attests; the second is reflected in the menology Sp. II 381 while the third can be seen in the Elamite month-names from the Persepolis Fortification Tablets.

These shiftings can be explained by supposing that Elamites added three more intercalary months than Babylonians in about 1500 years. Perhaps there were other discrepancies, but they were recovered in some way. Nevertheless these three shiftings remained. I can hardly imagine how such a traumatic event as the change of the first month of the year could happen, especially if you think of the religious festival attached to the beginning of the year. We have to suppose periods in which autonomy was emphasized by the political choice of using the Elamite calendar and periods in which Babylonians conquered Elam imposing their own calendar. During autonomy Elamite calendar had gone on its way and had added one intercalary month more than Babylonian calendar. This could be due to lack of communication or desire of showing cultural independence. Then Babylonians came and retained their beginning of the year. During dependence nobody implemented the Elamite intercalations so, when new autonomy arose, it was easier keeping Babylonian beginning of the year in order not to change payments and accounts. It is likely that after the second shifting the Babylonian logograms were preferred in administrative and economic practice to avoid the problem of the different beginning of the year. Eventually the actual resynchronization happened in Darius time, thanks to the new power of the Persian empire. However our journey and my presentation come to its end at Persepolis, when the Persian month-names appeared.

*  *  *

Concluding my presentation on month-names, I tried to locate some tesseras of the Elamite calendar mosaic. But these have to be placed into a bigger mosaic, representing also other middle-east peoples and cultures, as in the Pentecost Dome in Venice. However, these figures are not on a golden background, but on a background which has all the shading of the dynamics of history.

>> the moon at the sunset (28/IX/2000)

As to time, my time and your time also went by, leaving no more time to talk about astronomy and calendars. But, just today at dusk, if you go to the top of one of these modern skyscrapers and look at the western horizon, you will see a very thin lunar crescent in the golden light of the sunset[39] for a few minutes. As you know, it would have been the first day of a new month for both ancient Babylonians and Elamites.

Thank you for your attention.

Selected Bibliography

A detailed version of this presentation can be find in: Basello Gian Pietro, Problemi calendariali nelle fonti elamiche di età achemenide, Bologna University dissertation, July 19th, 2000.

Brinkman J.A., The Literary Background of the "Catalogue of the Nations" (Acts 2,9-11) in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963) pp. 418-427

Cameron G.G. 1957, An Elamite Bronze Plaque in Schmidt E.F., Persepolis II (Oriental Institute Publications LXVIX), Chicago 1957, pp. 64f and plates 27f

Cohen M.E., The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East, Bethesda

Coyne G.V. / Hoskin M.A. / Pedersen O. (ed.), Gregorian Reform of the Calendar: Proceedings of the Vatican Conference to Commemorate its 400th Anniversary 1582-1982, Specola Vaticana 1983

de Blois François 1999?, Lunisolar Calendars of Ancient Iran, in press

Hallock R.T. 1969, Persepolis Fortification Tablets (Oriental Institute Publications XCII), Chicago 1969

Hallock R.T. 1978, Selected Fortification Texts in Cahiers de la Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran 8 (1978) pp. 109-136, Paris

Herrero P. / Glassner J.J. 1991, Haft-Tépé: choix de textes II (n. 71-163) in Iranica Antiqua XXVI (1991) pp. 39-80, Leiden

Hinz Walther 1963, Elamica including II. Der altelamische Kalender in Orientalia Nova Series 32 (1963) pp. 1-20

Hinz Walther / Koch Heidemarie, Elamisches Wörterbuch (in 2 Teilen), Berlin 1987

König F.W., Die elamischen Königsinschriften (Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 16), Osnabrück 1977

Langdon S., Babylonian Menologies and the Semitic Calendars, London 1935

Langdon S. / Fotheringham J.K. / Schoch C., The Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga, London 1928

MDP: Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse, poi Mémoires de la Délégation archéologique en Iran, Paris vol. IX 1907, vol. XI 1911, vol. XXII 1930, vol. XXIII 1932, vol. XXIV 1933, vol. XXVIII 1939, vol. XXXVI 1954, vol. XLI 1967

Metzger B.M., Ancient Astrological Geography and Acts 2,9-11 in Apostolic History and the Gospel (Festschrift F.F. Bruce)

PF: Persepolis Fortification Tablets published in Hallock 1969 pp. 87-662

Reiner Erica 1973, Inscription from a Royal Elamite Tomb including Excursus: The Names of the Months in Elam in Archiv für Orientforschung 24 (1973) pp. 87-102, Berlin/Graz

Rm.: tablets from the Rassam Collection of the British Museum, London

Sp. II: tablets from the Spartali Collection of the British Museum, London

Steve M.-J., Syllabaire Elamite, Histoire et Paleographie (Civilisations du Proche-Orient: Serie II, Philologie, Volume 1), Neuchâtel/Paris 1992

Steve M.-J. / Gasche H. / de Meyer L., La Susiane au IIe millénaire: à propos d'une interprétation des fouilles de Suse in Iranica Antiqua XV (1980) pagg. 49-154, Leiden

Stolper M.W., Texts from Tall-i Malyan, I, Elamite Administrative Texts (1972-1974) (Occasional Publications of the Babylonian Fund 6), Philadelphia 1984

Vallat F. 1998a, Elam, i. The History of Elam in Encyclopædia Iranica vol. VIII pp. 301-313, London/New York 1998

Internet resources

The month-names from Elam (both from Akkadian and Elamite sources) are stored in a database developed by the author and named Lankelli. It is now available for research and study on line through Active Server Pages (ASP) technology. It can be accessed from or [website about Elam and Elamites, presently under construction and only in Italian]

or directly at [Lankelli database home page in English, with full description of the project].


More than 400 years after the Gregorian Reform of the calendar, we've now got used to a time which flows meekly within the embankments of years, months and days according to our diaries and almanacs. Reckoning time was not so steady and easy in the past: the moon had an important role in marking short-term periods, and conciliating the sun and the moon is difficult. If we consider the troubles encountered by the Gregorian calendar in its diffusion and common acceptance, we understand that reckoning time is not only an astronomical problem, but entails also political issues.

The reconstruction of an Elamite calendar gets more soundness supposing a dynamic relationship with the near Babylonian calendar. The two calendars shared some month-names but the correspondences were not always the same. This inconsistency could reflect the swinging political relationships between the two ancient cultures.


dating formulae

I would like to thank Professor Antonio Panaino for his support and for giving me the opportunity to make a paper in this city, which has a long tradition in Elamite studies with scholars like George Cameron and Richard Hallock.

[1]Acts 2:9ff.

[2]Brinkman; Metzger.

[3]On this topic see Coyne/Hoskin/Pedersen.

[4]Published in various volumes of MDP.

[5]In Cohen's opinion, the route of this month-names was inverse: they were originally Elamite; then Babylonian king Samsuiluna included them in the Babylonian calendar, in order to create a composite calendar of wide acceptance (Cohen pp. 303, 340 and 362; p. 13 theory in general).

[6]Cohen pp. 362f.

[7]Reiner 1973 p. 99 and de Blois 1999? p. 2.

[8]Hinz 1963.

[9]De Blois 1999?.

[10]Reiner 1973.

[11]Text and commentary in Reiner 1973.

[12]Reiner 1973 pp. 94f; Steve/Gasche/de Meyer pp. 97f. Tepti-Ahar is mentioned in line 27.

[13]List of the occurrences in Herrero/Glassner 1991 p. 79f.

[14]Herrero/Glassner 1991 p. 80.

[15]Also Reiner 1973 p. 93 sub 3. d).

[16]De Blois 1999? p. 3; also Langdon p. 44 sub 4.

[17]Vallat 1988a p.307.

[18]Published in Stolper.

[19]Stolper p. 9. Steve considers them as the first neo-Elamite texts and dates them accordingly to the 10th century bc (Steve p. 21 sub "N I A. Malyan").

[20]Remarks in Stolper pp. 14f. List of the occurrences in Stolper p. 196 sub ITI

[21]Stolper pp. 26ff.

[22]MDP XXVIII, 550.

[23]Last doubts will vanish with the publication of tablet Fort. 2403 which should report a list with the first six months (Hallock 1969 p. 74 footnote 13). At present, the 3rd month hadar occurred always alone.

[24]Published in MDP IX (S 1-298) e XI (S 299-309).

[25]Hinz/Koch p. 1327 sub "S"; Steve p. 22; Vallat 1998a p. 311a.

[26]Hinz/Koch p. 1326 sub "Omen"; Steve p. 22 sub "N II. n. 11".

[27]Brief commentary and legible photos in Cameron 1957. At least in this occurrence it is strange that the common sign H+AL is very close to the preceding sign RA.

[28]Hallock 1969 p. 75 and Hallock 1978 p. 111. Hinz/Koch p. 1024 sub ra-hal and ra-hal-la lists only 7 occurrences.

[29]Steve p. 149 sub "143/105 KAN" e p. 158 sub "406 KAM".

[30]Inscription of the priest Šutruru (kingdom of Šutruk-Nahhunte II 717-699 bc). Text and translation in König n. 74 §65 p. 155.

[31]Inscription of Tepti/Tempt-Humban-Inšušinak (664-653 bc) from the acropolis of Susa. Text and translation in König n. 79 VII p. 170.

[32]PF 1523.

[33]Especially Sp. II 381 and K. 104. The lists of month-names are quoted in Reiner 1973 with further references.

[34]Inscriptions of Sin-akhe-eriba (Sennacherib) and Ashur-akh-iddina (Esarhaddon).

[35]Elamite king Hutelutuš-Inšušinak took refuge in Anšan (Vallat 1998a p. 309), where he had some activities: perhaps he introduced in Anšan the Susan month-names attested at Tall-i Malyān.

[36]Cohen p. 299.

[37]Stolper p. 15.

[38]De Blois 1999? pp. 5f.

[39]The sun sets at 5:49 pm local time (UT-5h); the moon sets at 7:01 pm. The new moon was on October 27 at 2:58 am. Calculations made by Guide 7.0 (computer software developed by Gray B.); crescent visibility according to the values used in Langdon/Fotheringham/Schoch.

©2000 Copyright by Basello Gian Pietro <>
san Giovanni in Persiceto, 04-05/XI/2000
paper presented in Chicago, 28/X/2000