even by [the astrologers of] Egyptian Memphis [the ancient capital of Egypt] in observations of the sky and calculations keeping pace with the stars", and he is said to have foretold the greatness of the Roman Emperor Octavius on the day of his birth. Later, the scholar Varro (116-27bce), one of the most learned of Roman scholars, commissioned a horoscope of Rome itself and of its founder, Romulus. It is the first example of the use of astrology to reveal the past by examining a horoscope drawn up for the moment of a city's foundation. It is also the first horoscope of a historical figure. The historian Plutarch (c46-120ce) fell upon the result with great interest, and reported it enthusiastically.
the turning tide
The sceptics began to be outnumbered by the believers - and though some of the former had great influence, astrology often came off best. Julius Caesar (100-44bce), for instance, famously scorned the astrological advice of one Spurinna that (as Plutarch reports) he should "beware a danger which would not threaten him beyond the Ides of March". But he paid the price when he was assassinated right on cue.
The next emperor, Augustus (63bce-4ce), was introduced to astrology when he was in exile and seemed unlikely ever to return to
Rome. He was persuaded to consult an astrologer, Theogenes, about his future. The historian Suetonius describes how when Theogenes had drawn up Augustus's chart, "he rose and threw himself at his feet; and this gave Augustus so implicit a
faith in his destiny that he even ventured to publish his horoscope, and struck a silver coin stamped with
tiberius and thrasyllus
The successor to Augustus was Tiberius (42bce-37ce), a man who became besotted with astrology. His personal astrologer, Thrasyllus, was one of the most influential who ever lived. Thrasyllus was an Alexandrian, an editor of Plato and Democritus, who happened to be on the island of Rhodes - just at the time when Tiberius found it expedient to remove himself from Rome, where he had been involved in a quarrel with his father-in-law, the Emperor. Rhodes was a relatively uncivilized and barren island, and the two men began to pass a lot of time together, the astrologer reputedly teaching Tiberius how to set up and interpret charts. He also predicted that his pupil would shortly be recalled to Rome and a bright future. When Augustus sent for Tiberius in 4ce and officially proclaimed him his heir, Thrasyllus travelled with his patron, and received the valuable gift of Roman citizenship.
During Tiberius's nine-year reign as emperor, Thrasyllus was constantly at his side, advising him on personal matters and affairs of state. Life under Tiberius was never comfortable, and if Thrasyllus was more or less safe, other astrologers had to watch their step. Two of them, Pituanius and P. Marcius, were unwise enough to attach themselves to Scribonius Libo, a slightly dim praetor who attempted to organize a coup against the Emperor
- their heads ended up on pikes. There were other plots and counterplots, and it was Thrasyllus who advised the Emperor to leave Rome in 26ce, while he himself remained in the city and supported the praetor Sejanus in his plan to succeed Tiberius. No doubt with the aid of his charts he sailed through the rocky waters of the next few years, and managed to stay alive when hundreds were tortured and executed. He is said to have foretold his own death, to the hour.
the astrologers son
Thrasyllus died shortly before Tiberius, and the new emperor, Caius
- known as Caligula - knew the astrologer's family rather well. In fact, Thrasyllus had been distinctly worried to hear that his grand-daughter Ennia was having an affair with Caligula.
Emperor Nero presided over a reign of y-
terror, but the astrologer Balbillus prospered during it and was made Prefect of Egypt.
Thrasyllus was right to be concerned: though Caligula had promised to marry Ennia on ascending the throne, he failed to do so, and when she married someone else he had her husband executed. In despair, Ennia then killed herself.
Thrasyllus's son, Tiberius Claudius Balbillus, emerged in Roman society after Caligula's death. The new emperor, Claudius, had been a childhood friend, and Balbillus became familiar at court, accompanying Claudius to England as both astrologer and chief engineer. On their return, the Emperor presented Balbillus with a golden crown of honour. Later he was made high priest of the Temple of Hermes in Alexandria, and head of the state university with its superb library. Balbillus then happily split his time between Alexandria and Rome.
Balbillus, however, was unable to stay away from politics, and when Claudius died, he set up his charts and told Agrippina the
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