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  • 12/21/2011

Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia

part 2


The earliest formal calendar in Mesopotamia was probably the Sumerian lunar calendar. The lunar calendar required intercalation (insertion of days or other portions of time in calendars) and was later improved by the Babylonia priests. They intercalated months according to an 8-year cycle when they would add 3 extra months. The calendar months started with the direct observation of a new crescent moon at dusk.

Today Judaism and Islamic calendars still use the same principle that the new calendar day begins at sunset. The constellations of the Zodiac preserved at the British Museum from this period have several familiar representations.

The Bull, the Tortoise, a female figure with wings, the Scorpion, the Archer and the Goat-fish are all portrayed on stones, cylinder seals and gems. Calendars extensively utilized all such information and were both civil and religious institutions. Their origin was attributed to be the work of Gods and Goddesses.

The time of the Persian dominion, particularly from the last quarter of the fifth century BC until the Greek conquest, was the most creative period for Babylonian mathematical astronomy. Astronomical schools existed in Uruk, Sippar, Babylon and Borsippa. The Achaemenians maintained an atmosphere favorable to the development of science. Under Darius a great Babylonian astronomer, Nabu-rimanni (Naburianus), was instructed to carry out a study of lunar eclipses and arrived at calculations more accurate than those of Ptolemy and Copernicus. His works were translated and used for many centuries by all including Seleucid and Parthian rulers of Persia. His picture of Heavens was borrowed by the Greeks and eventually reached the famous Greek scientist Democritus. The terminology employed by Naburianu includes spheres, orbits, ecliptic, inclination, celestial equator, poles, circular motion, revolutions, retrogression and moon’s highest north and south latitudes. All these terms were used extensively by the Greek astronomers, including, the brilliant Eudoxus of Cnidus, precursor of Euclid. Another well-known Babylonian astronomer under the Persian rule, Kidinnu (Cidenas) of Sippar, distinguished the solar year from the lunar, discovered the precession of the equinoxes and arrived at an exact calculation of the length of the year, making an error of only 7 minutes, 41 seconds.

The advances enabled the astronomers to draw almanacs for the ensuing year. Almanacs in which, eclipses of the sun and the moon, and times of the new and full moon were accurately noted. Also the positions of the planets throughout the year were determined using astrological charts. There are tablets that set forth observations of Jupiter from the 43rd year of the reign of Artaxerexes II to the thirteenth year of Alexander the Great. Some old Persian names in astronomy have barely survived. The names of the four "Royal Stars" which were standing guard at the equinoxes and solstices still resembles the modern ones. Aldebaran, Watcher of the East; Regulus, Watcher of the North; Antares, watcher of the West; Fomalhaut, Watcher of the South were used by the Persians. Today’s equivalents would probably be Alcoyne, Regulus, Albireo and Bungula.

Despite all advances astronomy remained inseparably linked to astrology. Astronomical texts, in particular, contain allusions to the ties between the stars and various illnesses. By the end of the Achaemenid period in Babylonia and other territories under the Persian rule, science had declined and the potential for its development was stalled. Science was no opponent of religion in the ancient times. In fact it developed in the shadow of temples and was influenced by religion.

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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