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David Brown

Pliny wrote of Babylon that "here the creator of the science of astronomy was". Excavations have shown this statement to be true. This book argues that the earliest attempts at the accurate prediction of celestial phenomena are indeed to be found in clay tablets dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC from both Babylon and from Nineveh. The author carefully situates this astronomy within its cultural context, treating all available material from the relevant period, and also analysing the earlier astrological material and the later well-known ephemerides and related texts. A wholly new approach to cuneiform astral concerns emerges - one in which both celestial divination and the later astronomy are shown to be embedded in a prevailing philosophy dealing with the ideal nature of the early universe, and in which the dynamics of the celestial divination industry that surrounded the last Assyrian monarchs account for no less than the first recorded "scientific revolution". This work closely adheres to the original textual sources, and argues for the evolution on the basis of the needs of the ancient scholars and the internal logic of the divinatory and predictive systems employed. To this end, it offers, for the first time, a Mesopotamian contribution to the philosophy, and not only the history, of science.

Keeping Watch in Babylon

The Astronomical Diaries in Context


Edited by Johannes Haubold, John Steele and Kathryn Stevens

This volume of collected essays, the first of its kind in any language, investigates the Astronomical Diaries from ancient Babylon, a collection of almost 1000 clay tablets which, over a period of some five hundred years (6th century to 1st century BCE), record observations of selected astronomical phenomena as well as the economy and history of Mesopotamia and surrounding regions. The volume asks who the scholars were, what motivated them to ‘keep watch in Babylon’ and how their approach changed in the course of the collection’s long history. Contributors come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including Assyriology, Classics, ancient history, the history of science and the history of religion.


Alexander Jones


The purpose of this chapter is to examine the astronomical knowledge, and more specifically the astronomical tools, that ancient astrologers in Mesopotamia and the Greco-Roman world possessed and used. Much of its content will be well known to specialists in ancient astronomy and astrology, but this is the first broad treatment of the topic. The roughly 1200-year evolution of astrological practice surveyed in this chapter is characterized by several shifts. First, interpretation of direct observations of the heavens was progressively supplanted by reliance on predicted astronomical data. Second, prediction based on the principle that astronomical phenomena observed in the past would approximately repeat after certain time intervals (called recurrence periods) gave way to mathematical models that had a more remote derivation from observations. Finally, astrologers became increasingly removed from the production of the astronomical information they used and increasingly dependent on published almanacs comprising precomputed data. This chapter is thus a contribution to understanding the expertise of an ancient astrologer as well as its limits.


John Z. Wee

easy to notice a certain logical priority of divination over remedy or apotropaism, the latter of which comes into play often in response to a negative prediction. As we will shortly learn, the Diagnostic Handbook was in fact created to reflect this logical order and its implications of epistemic