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The Babylonian Theory of the Planets

The Babylonian Theory of the Planets

N. M. Swerdlow
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Babylonian Theory of the Planets
    Book Description:

    In the second millennium b.c., Babylonian scribes assembled a vast collection of astrological omens, believed to be signs from the gods concerning the kingdom's political, military, and agricultural fortunes. The importance of these omens was such that from the eighth or seventh until the first century, the scribes observed the heavens nightly and recorded the dates and locations of ominous phenomena of the moon and planets in relation to stars and constellations. The observations were arranged in monthly reports along with notable events and prices of agricultural commodities, the object being to find correlations between phenomena in the heavens and conditions on earth. These collections of omens and observations form the first empirical science of antiquity and were the basis of the first mathematical science, astronomy. For it was discovered that planetary phenomena, although irregular and sometimes concealed by bad weather, recur in limited periods within cycles in which they are repeated on nearly the same dates and in nearly the same locations.

    N. M. Swerdlow's book is a study of the collection and observation of ominous celestial phenomena and of how intervals of time, locations by zodiacal sign, and cycles in which the phenomena recur were used to reduce them to purely arithmetical computation, thereby surmounting the greatest obstacle to observation, bad weather. The work marks a striking advance in our understanding of both the origin of scientific astronomy and the astrological divination through which the kingdoms of ancient Mesopotamia were governed.

    Originally published in 1998.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6486-7
    Subjects: Astronomy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Introduction. Planetary Omens, Observations, and Calculations
    (pp. 1-33)

    In the years preceding the fall of Babylon in 539 BC to the Lord’s ‘anointed’ (māšīaḥ), King Cyrus the Achæmenid, Second Isaiah condemned the ‘virgin daughter of Babylon,’ the ‘daughter of the Chaldæans,’ to sit silently in darkness while he reviled her with any number of comminations and prophecies, one of which is particularly interesting.

    Persist in your incantations and your multitude of spells, in which you have toiled from your youth, if by chance such is of use to you or makes you more bold; you have wearied yourself in your multitude of consultations. Let the prognosticators of the...

  5. Part 1 Periodicity and Variability of Synodic Phenomena
    (pp. 34-72)

    The Babylonian zodiac (lu-maš-meš) is divided into twelve zodiacal signs (sing. lu-maš). Each sign is in turn divided into 30 uš, a term with the general meaning ‘length’ interpreted, according to modern usage, as degree (°), each of which may then be divided sexagesimally to as many places as desired. The zodiac, its twelve equal signs, and the divisions of signs into uš and its fractions are purely conventional, an abstraction intended to facilitate computation, as in the ephemerides, while retaining the names of constellations of stars of irregular lengths unsuitable for computation. It is by no means obvious, and...

  6. Part 2 Derivation of the Parameters for Synodic Arc and Time from the Dates of Phenomena
    (pp. 73-134)

    For deriving the parameters of the ephemerides, we assume the following relation of synodic time and synodic arc: From the observational records are taken, in principle, the datesT1andT2of successive phenomena of the same kind, which may then be used to find the synodic timeΔT=T2T1, withΔTtaken as lunar years of 12m= 6,0τand tithis. Then, fromΔTwe take the excessΔt=ΔTi6,0τ, from which the synodic arcΔλ=Δtc. Thus, by synodic time we shall generally mean the excessΔtand...

  7. Part 3 Alignment to the Zodiac, Initial Position, Elongation, Subdivision of the Synodic Arc and Time
    (pp. 135-172)

    The remaining parameters to be found are the alignment to the zodiac of the zones of System A and of the points at which the greatest and least synodic arcs and times occur in System B—these are both equivalent to finding the direction of the apsidal line in a geometrical model—the subdivision of the synodic arc and time, that is, the arc and time between the successive phenomena within one synodic period, and a single longitude of the planet at one phenomenon to take as an initial position. The subdivision of the synodic arc and the initial position...

  8. Summary and Conclusion
    (pp. 173-182)

    The Astronomical Diaries and related collections contain systematic observations of the phenomena of the planets dated to the day of the lunar calendar month and located by zodiacal sign, or beginning and end of zodiacal sign, and, in the case of most stations and occasional first appearances, by distances from normal stars. There are also a great number of measurements of distances of planets from normal stars, as there are also many measurements of distances of the moon from planets and of planets from each other, but these do not appear to have any function in the mathematical astronomy, nor...

  9. Appendix. Alternative Methods of Deriving Parameters
    (pp. 183-190)
  10. Tables
    (pp. 191-220)
  11. Figures
    (pp. 221-234)
  12. Notation and Abbreviations
    (pp. 235-238)
  13. References
    (pp. 239-242)
  14. Index of Names
    (pp. 243-244)
  15. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 244-246)