Astronomical Observations

However, if these omens seem a long way from what we would recognise as astrology, the astronomical foundations for the art were being put in place. A text which perhaps reached its final form in around 1000 BCE, written down in about 700 BCE, known as Mul.Apin (the Plough-star), reveals these foundations. It lists the constellations in three broad bands running roughly parallel to the equator. Each band is envisaged as the path of one of the gods, who enter through gates on the horizon. Seventeen constellations along the ecliptic are set down. Though there are many unfamiliar stargroups, the origins of the modern zodiac are clearly here. The Bull of heaven, the Crab, the Lion, the Balance, the Scorpion, the Goatfish and the Tails (Pisces), the Barley-stalk (Virgo) and the Great Twins are all obviously ancestors of zodiac signs. The text also includes the dates of heliacal risings, simultaneous risings and settings of stars, an account of the Moon's path, some account of the planets, schemes for adding extra days to the calendar in order to reconcile solar and lunar data and a shadow table recording variations throughout the year, as well as instructions for using a water-clock. It ends with a list of omens, some of which are also found in the Enuma Anu Enlil, and which are generally of a similar type.

In 747 BCE, dated observations of eclipses begin at Babylon. By the seventh century BCE, the royal archives at Nineveh reveal that skyomens have taken priority over those revealed by extispicy in the reports of diviners to their Assyrian rulers. These diviners are now apparently organised to collect information, based in various cities. They report in teams, according to a format, and give predictions, and directions as to the necessary procedure:

That fellow Akkulanu has sent word as follows. It so happens that the Sun made an eclipse when rising, about two 'digits' wide, but there is no namburbu ritual (needed), this is not the same as an eclipse of the Moon. But if you give the order, I can write down the pertinent omen and send it to you.9

Some reports are precise about locating planets in relation to the map of the sky similar to that of Mul.Apin.

To the king my lord [from] your servant Mar-Istar. As regards the planet Jupiter about which I previously wrote to the king my lord: It has appeared on the way of the Anu stars, in the area of the True Shepherd of Anu [Orion].10

He offers a variety of interpretations. If the star of Marduk (Jupiter) moves into Orion, the gods will consume the land, but if it appears on the way of the Anu stars, a crown prince will rebel against his father and seize the throne.

It was from the middle of the seventh century BCE that monthly summaries of planetary movements were kept. The first astronomical 'Diary', as these texts are known, is of 652 BCE. Dates of first and last visibility and precise positions in relation to the constellations were recorded. A probable motivation for these records was an interest in constructing a calendar. In fact there were two calendars in use, a more precise one for astronomical records, and another, schematic one, which assumed a year of twelve months of thirty days each, for day-to-day affairs such as economic transactions.

It was in an attempt to gain precision for the astronomical Diaries and other similar texts that the division of the ecliptic into twelve equal parts of 30 degrees was adopted, probably early in the Achaemenid period, after the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BCE. However, the system of plotting positions in relation to the fixed stars continued to be used in 'observation-texts'. The first time the zodiac is used in a Diary, consisting mainly of monthly summaries, is in 464 BCE.

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