Ordering the Heavens

Roman Astronomy and Cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance


The astronomy of the Carolingian era has commonly been represented as concerned exclusively with computus, the science of calendar construction as well as arithmetical calculation in general. This volume shows the error of that portrayal by exploring the study and teaching of four Roman texts on astronomy and cosmology in the Carolingian world and the diagrams connected to those texts.
As each of these works came into use over the Carolingian era, its contributions merged into a progressively more ordered picture of the heavens. Both eccentrics and epicycles appeared by the 840s. These techniques were subsequently introduced clearly and qualitatively to complete the Carolingian enterprise. The primary tool for understanding this effort is the analysis of their diagrams.

Medieval and Early Modern Science, vol. 8
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EUR €130.00USD $161.00

Biographical Note

Bruce S. Eastwood, Ph.D. (1964) in History, University of Wisconsin, is Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. He has published, with Gerd Grasshoff, Planetary Diagrams for Roman Astronomy in Medieval Europe (American Philosophical Society, 2004).

Review Quotes

“In Ordering the heavens: Roman astronomy and cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance, Bruce Eastwood has produced an important book, valuable not only for what it tells us about Carolingian astronomy and cosmology, but also because it forces at least a partial reassessment of the importance of Roman writings in these areas. […]Eastwood’s book is well illustrated, with images carefully chosen and reproduced. His long-standing interest in diagrams is particularly brought to bear in the final chapter of the book, in which he confronts many important issues regarding their production, function and use.”
Liba Taub, BSHM Bulletin Volume 25 (2010)

"La familiarita con i concetti di eccentrico ed epiciclo sara fornita al mondo carolingio, secondo la ricerca di Eastwood, dalla pregnante attenzione concessa in quel tempo allo studio di testi scientifici di eta romana che, pur con le precisazioni cui mi e sembrato opportuno far cenno, vengono a constituire la privilegiata fonte delle conoscenze astronomiche dell'Europa di Carlo Magno."
Dario Giorgetti, Nuncius: Journal of the History Science, IMSS, vol. XXIV, 1 - 2009, 190 p.

"The rich material presented in the book, which includes numerous reproductions of manuscript pages, its nuanced analysis, and its conceptual contributions make it valuable not only for those who are interested in medieval science or manuscript studies but for a much broader audience. The new perspectives that this book opens and the new questions that it generates are bound to have influence beyond its immediate subject."
Natalia Lozovsky, Speculum (July 2008) 692-694.

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction
2. Macrobius’s Commentary on Scipio’s Dream: Its Carolingian Uses for Astronomy and Cosmology
3. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: Encyclopedia for Carolingian Astronomy and Cosmology
4. Martianus Capella’s Synopsis of Astronomy in The Marriage of Philology and Mercury and its Major Carolingian Commentaries
5. Using Calcidius’s Commentarius in Carolingian Astronomy
6. Carolingian Diagrams for Astronomy and Cosmology

Appendix. Content of the Paragraphs on Astronomy and Cosmology in Calcidius’s Commentarius

Index of Manuscripts Cited
Index of Persons, Places, and Subjects


Those interested in early medieval science, history of astronomy, and the passage of ancient astronomy through Roman texts into the Middle Ages.


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