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Lunar eclipses seem to have been of particular concern for the well-being and survival of the king.
A range of social and cultural reactions accompanies the observation of an eclipse.
In this ritual, a person would be chosen to replace the king.
He would be dressed like the king and placed on the throne.
The “Bamboo Annals” were allegedly found in a tomb about A. 280, but they purport to date to the reign of the King Xiang of Wei, who died in 296 B. The complexity of human events is rarely constrained and determined by one single factor.
Nevertheless, whether in ancient Mesopotamia or in early China, eclipses and other omens provided contemporary justifications, or after-the-fact explanations, for an entangled set of variables that decided a specific course of history.
The fact is that these two kings, Erra-imitti and Enlil-bani, did exist and reigned successively in Isin during the 19th century B. The story, however, as told in the late “Chronicle of Early Kings,” bears all the trademarks of a legend.
The story was probably devised to explain a dynastic switch, in which the royal office passed from one family or lineage to another, instead of following the usual father-son line of succession. For instance, a chronicle of early China known as the “Bamboo Annals” (竹書紀年 Zhúshū Jìnián) refers to a total lunar eclipse that took place in 1059 B.
Although scientists now know that the number of lunar and solar eclipses is not exactly the same in every Saros series, one cannot underplay the achievement of Babylonian scholars in understanding this astronomical phenomenon.
Their realization of this cycle eventually allowed them to predict the occurrence of an eclipse.
A solar eclipse can completely block our view of the sun, but it is usually a brief event and can be observed only in certain areas of the Earth’s surface; what can be viewed as a total eclipse in one’s hometown may just be a partial eclipse a few hundred miles away.
By contrast, a lunar eclipse can be viewed throughout an entire hemisphere of the Earth: the half of the surface of the planet that happens to be on the night side at the time.
To avoid confusion with a real coronation, all this would occur alongside the recitation of the negative omen triggered by the observation of the eclipse.