Noted for their complex astrology, the Babylonians (the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia: Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria) were also accomplished astronomers. From their seven story Ziggurats, these astronomers watched the rising and setting of the stars, as well as, the five bright planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). By keeping meticulous records of lunar and solar events, the Babylonians were able predict the next eclipse. Some of their contributions to astronomy are the discovery of many of today’s constellations.
Using their based-sixty numerical system, the Babylonians set circles at 360 degrees. Stemming from this, came the measurement of angles. With their degree system (similar to longitude and latitude), the astronomers could pinpoint the position of various stars. Using their records, they developed formulas to predict the next celestial event. Their observations were so accurate that some modern people wonder if the Babylonians had invented a primitive telescope.
Starting their month with the New Crescent of the Moon, the Babylonian astronomers divided the period into six phases, each with its own particular meaning. They measured synodic months to be the period between full moons. To insure that their year started on the first day of spring equinox, the Babylonians devised a nineteen year cycle (235 synodic months), that contained leap years. Six of the nineteen years had a month added called Addaru, and another year at the seventeen year mark had the month Ululu added. This cycle of 235 synodic months, known as the Saros cycle, allowed for the repetition of celestial eclipses at defined periodic intervals.
Since the Gods resided in the heavens, the Babylonian rulers had to understand the stars. Their power came from correctly interpreting the desires of the Gods. In fact, the dynasties of each city state and later empire were tied to particular Gods. Therefore before any decisions of State could be made, the Gods had to be consulted.
According to the Babylonians, the Gods communicated with humans through various celestial events. They built their Ziggurats to reflect this belief. Each of the tower’s seven stories represented the bright planets, the sun, and the moon. Using’ their careful records of correspondences of local and celestial events, the Babylonians astrologers could interpret the will of the Gods. The Babylonians used their astronomy/astrology to aid their rulers in the affairs of State.
Full-time astrologers became the intermediaries between the ruler and the Gods, by translating the will of the Gods. Some of their predictions were “when the Moon occults Jupiter that year a King will die.” On that particular day, the king would have a substitute king be killed. “When Jupiter goes out from behind the moon, there will be hostility in the land.” When the ruler was informed of that, he prepared his armies.
The Babylonians watched the skies to understand what their Gods were telling them. Since their ruler acted by the consent of the Gods, he had to know what They were telling him. His astrologers not only informed him of the will of the Gods but also what the future would be. In this way, Babylonian astrologers ensured a well-ordered society.
Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky.” Thames and Hudson: New York. 2009. Print.
Halsall, Paul, “The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, c. 2500 – 670 BCE.” Ancient History Sourcebook. March 1999. Web. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/bablylonian-astrology.asp .
Kolev, Rumen, “Some Reflections About Babylonian Astrology.” Centre Universitaire de Recherche en Astrologie. 2001. Web. http://cura.free.fr/decem/09kolev.html .
Lendering, Jona, “Kidinnu, the Chaldaeans, and Babylonian Astronomy.” Livius.org: Articles on Ancient History. 2014. Web. http://www.livius.org/k/kidinnu/kidinnu.htm.
Magli, Guilio, “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy.” Copernicus Books: New York. 2009. Print.
White, Gavin, “The Exaltation System in Babylonian Astrology.” SKYSCRIPT.co.uk. May 2009. Web. http://www.skyscript.co.uk/exaltations.html .