Ancient Metaphysics, "The Foundations of Philosophy"

Babylonian Astrology

Limits of early knowledge

Nabonidus with Astrological SymbolsBabylonian Astrology in its earliest stage was marked by three characteristic limitations:

  1. General nature
    The first limitation was that the movements and position of the heavenly bodies were interpreted to occurrences that were of public import affecting the general welfare. The individual's interests were not in any way involved. It took many centuries past the confines of Babylonia and Assyria before the phase which, in medieval and modern Astrology is almost exclusively dwelt upon - the individual horoscope. In Babylonia and Assyria the attention centered almost exclusively on the public welfare and the person of the king. Because, in accordance with the ancient conception of kingship, it was on the king's well-being and favor with the gods that the fortunes of the country were dependent.
  2. Astronomical expertise
    The second limitation was that the astronomical knowledge accompanying early Babylonian Astrology was limited as it was derived from experiment and observation.
    For example, the theory of the ecliptic as representing the course of the sun through the year, divided among twelve constellations with a measurement of 30° to each division, is of Babylonian origin. But, it does not appear to have been perfected until after the fall of the Babylonian empire in 539 BCE.

    Similarly, other accomplishments of Babylonian astronomers, such as their system of moon calculations and the drawing of planetary tablets, belong to this later period. Therefore, the golden age of Babylonian astronomy belongs not only to the remote past, but to the Seleucid period or after the arrival of the Greeks in the Euphrates Valley.

    From certain indicators used in astrological texts prior to 700 BCE, it would appear that at least the beginnings of the calculation of sun and moon eclipses belong to the earlier period. However, they were improved considerably after 400 BCE.

    In a general way, the reign of law and order in the movements of the heavenly bodies was recognized. That recognition undoubtedly exercised an influence, at an early period, leading to the rise of a methodical divination of a much higher order than the examination of an animal's liver.

    Unfortunately, the importance assigned to the endless variations in the form of the phenomena, and the equally numerous apparent deviations from what were regarded as normal conditions, prevented the rise of any serious study, beyond what was needed for purely practical purposes, for some time.

  3. ConstellationsKing Hammurabi
    The third limitation was that there is little evidence that the signs of the Zodiac that we now recognize, were used in Babylonian Astronomy prior to 700 BCE. However, probably from as early as the days of Hammurabi, Babylonian astrologers did develop the idea of constellations by depicting prominent groups of stars with outlines of images derived from their mythology and religion. The earliest irrefutable evidence for the use of constellations can be found in a variety of lexical star-lists dating to the Old Babylonian Period.




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