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  • 12/20/2011

Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia

part 1


Astrology is an occult practice that originated in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China. The oldest records belong to the 2nd millennium BC and from the Old Babylonian period. However, Sumerians had some understanding of the subject as early as 3000 BC. The astrologers observed the movements of the planets and assigned them godlike features and powers. Each planet represented a god or a goddess and ruled certain areas of life. The astrologers advised the rulers/kings and interpreted the pattern of planetary movements as omens or signs for understanding the future. The practice is deeply rooted in the concept of Divination an important aspect of the Mesopotamian life. Divination was employed as a technique to communicate with gods, who according to the Mesopotamian religious thought, shaped the destinies of humans and controlled all events in the cosmos. Divination presupposes supernatural cause and effect in all perceived phenomena and assumes the cooperation of the gods in their willingness to reveal their future intentions. Observing the planets resulted in rudimentary scientific advances in astronomy and the practitioners of the prophetic aspects of astronomy became astrologers with great prestige and influence.

The oldest Mesopotamian records are astrological omens preserved from the reign of king Ammi-saduqa (1683-47 BC). Appearance and disappearance of the planet Venus behind the sun is recorded primarily for the interpretation of omens. The observations might have been important to the regulation of the calendar as well. More records exist from the later periods and most are from the library and archive of Assurbanipal at Nineveh (668-627 BC).

Celestial omens are discovered in at least 70 tablets with observations relating to the moon occupying 23 tablets. Meteorological phenomena thunder, rain, hail and earthquakes are also observed and thought to have prophetic validity. Six observatories located in different cities including Babylon itself are mentioned in the tablets.

The Babylonian/Assyrian astrology later took hold in Egypt, Persia and other regions. Remnants of the Babylonian practice, such as the omens and settings of the planets and stars merged with Egyptian traditions. Scientists from both the nations made accurate measurements of areas using geometry and developed arithmetic in an algebraic direction. Mathematical astronomy was used to build multistory ziggurat towers (Choga Zanbil in Susa is an example built by the Elamites). The towers were usually seven-floor high and astrologers/astronomers conducted observations of the movements of heavenly bodies from the rooftop. They recorded empirical observations of the sun, the moon and the arrangement of the planets and constellations.

Tables with astronomical computations of the distances between stars have been preserved and contain information on the basic fixed stars and constellations, their relative positions, periods of the solar rising and settings, etc. Around 1000BC the astronomical knowledge of the Babylonians was passed on to the Greeks, who identified 48 constellations. The Greeks employed geometrical explanations of motion rather than the numerical relationships the Babylonians used. As a result Greeks progressed in astronomy and moved slowly into pure sciences while Babylonians remained closer to vernacular astrology. One of the principal stars in Mesopotamian religion and astronomy was Venus, personified by the goddess Ishtar in Babylonia and Assyria, Astarte in Phoenicia, Athtar in Arabia, Astar in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), and Ashtart in Canaan and Israel (Persian world Setareh comes from the same origin).

            As Ishtar of Erech (in Babylonia) she was worshipped in connection with the evening star, while as Ishtar of Akkad (also in Babylonia) she was identified with the morning star. Ishtar was called "the eldest of heaven and earth", and daughter of Anu, the god of heaven. She was the goddess of love and beauty, the "Great Mother", and to the Assyrians, a goddess of hunting and war. Greeks identified Ishtar with the goddess Venus.

Other Links:

Haft Keshvar (7 Countries)-part 1    

History of Ancient Medicine in Mesopotamia & Iran-part 1   

Iran, a Brief History (part 1)    

A – Z of Iran History (A)   

History of Ancient Medicine in Mesopotamia & Iran-part 2   

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