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Published February 2013 | public
Journal Article

Babylonian Astronomy and Celestial Divination


The study of Babylonian astronomy and celestial divination has a history that now extends over 140 years. It began with the publication by Henry Rawlinson and George Smith of Cuneiform inscriptions of Western Asia, iii (1870), Plates LI-LXIV, of which LXIII, "Table of the movements of the planet VENUS and their influences", is none other than the Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa. A number of these texts, including the Venus Tablet, were soon translated by Archibald Henry Sayee in The astronomy and astrology of the Babylonians (1874), and a method of dating the Venus Tablet by dates of visibility phenomena in lunar months was described by Sayee and R. H. M. Bosanquet in "The Venus Tablet" (1880). The next year J. Strassmaier and J. Epping published "Zur Entzifferung der astronomischen Tafeln der Chaldaer" ( 1881 ), containing descriptions of the various classes of texts and a decipherment of two columns of a lunar ephemeris (ACT 122, K-L), followed by Astronomisches aus Babylon (1889) and further papers (1890-95), with analyses of texts of mathematical and observational astronomy. These were followed by the first comprehensive studies by F. X. Kugler in Die Babylonische Mondrechnung (1900) and Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel (1907-35). During this period, there was also publication of texts of celestial divination, including C. Virolleaud's edition of the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil (1905-12) and the first of the many publications of E. Weidner. O. Neugebauer's Astronomical cuneiform texts (ACT, 1955) extended and greatly enlarged Kugler's work on mathematical astronomy through the publication of all known ephemerides, as the tabular mathematical texts are known, and procedure texts, rules for computation, with restoration of missing sections and systematic analysis of the methods of computation. And the same year A. Sach's Late Babylonian astronomical and related texts (LBAT, 1955) published copies of virtually all texts then known of mathematical and observational astronomy. These latter two publications have formed the foundation of research in these subjects ever since, most notably Neugebauer's analysis of the mathematical astronomy in A history of ancient mathematical astronomy (HAMA, 1975).

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