Length: 19.680 cm
Width: 12.060 cm
Room 56: Mesopotamia
Cuneiform tablet inscribed with omens
Old Babylonian, about 1800-1600 BC
Probably from Sippar, southern Iraq
Resulting from the shape and colour of a sheep's stomach
The Babylonians believed that the world was controlled by gods and that they could give indications of coming events. One of the most widespread means of prediction was the sheep's stomach omen, in which an animal was killed and its stomach was examined by a specialist priest, the baru. He would ask a particular question and the answer would be supplied by the interpretation of individual markings or overall shape of the stomach. One could then take steps to avoid danger.
We know from ancient texts that the baru was one of the most important scholars in Mesopotamia. He had to be the descendant of a free man and be healthy in mind and body. He played an important part in decision making at all levels but particularly where the king was concerned. The baru was consulted before a military campaign, building work, or the appointment of an official, and to monitor the king's health.
U. Jeyes, Old Babyloniane extispicy: ome (Leiden, 1989)
J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols of -1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)