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The Astronomical Diaries in Context
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.

"Babylon has always exerted a magical charm on everyone who has been told of its splendour and grandeur. Nobody who has succumbed to this charm, whether he is a layman who just wants to browse a little in his search for old secrets, or a scholar who wants to inform himself about the latest academic research, will be disappointed by this volume."
- Erlend Gehlken, Universität Frankfurt/Main, Bryn Mawr Classical Review February 2, 2020

Abstract

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.

In: The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi