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Mesopotamia - Its technology and culture 04 Astrology, Astronomy and Mathematics



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience



Babylonian astrology was one of the first organized systems of astrology.  It appears as a developed system in about the 2nd millennium B.C. but the basics and principles go back as far as the Sumerian period in the 3rd millennium BC.

The history of scholarly celestial divination is therefore generally reported to begin with late Old Babylonian texts (c. 1800 B.C.), continuing through the Middle Babylonian and Middle Assyrian periods (c. 1200 B.C.).”

One of the limitations of the astrological models developed and one which was removed as more observations were taken was that astronomical knowledge was also still being developed.  In effect, astrology progressed as astronomy progressed.

Even before astrological models had developed, belief in both fate and destiny were well established.


The complex mathematical system developed by the Babylonians helped astrology and astronomy progress.  Even as far back as the Old Babylonian period, the system included tables for multiplying and dividing, and for calculating squares and roots, cubes and cube roots, reciprocals, exponential functions, the sums of squares and cubes needed for the numerical solution of certain types of cubic equations and so on.  The systems of tables alone, as it existed in 1800BC puts the Babylonians well ahead of all other arithmeticians in antiquity.

Geometrical concepts seem to have played little part in Babylonian mathematics, although the scribes commonly employed the Pythagorean theorem more than a thousand years before Pythagoras”[Oates].

The Babylonian mathematical system had two inherent disadvantages:  the symbolism was clumsy and for many years no special sign for zero existed.  The sign for zero was invented sometime in the 1st millennium BC and from then started to be used extensively in astronomical texts [It was left to Hindu mathematicians 1000 years later to do the final improvements allowing zero to be used for smaller decimal as well as large numbers].

The theory of the ecliptic as representing the course of the Sun through the year, divided among twelve constellations with a measurement of 30° to each division, is of Babylonian origin.  Similarly, the other accomplishments of Babylonian astronomers, such as their system or rather systems of moon calculations and the drawing up of planetary tablets, belong to later periods simply because they were dependent upon mathematics.

One interesting text/set of tablets of relevance here is the MUL.APIN - the conventional title given to a Babylonian compendium that deals with many diverse aspects of Babylonian astronomy and astrology, likely compiled around 1000 BC. The text lists the names of 66 stars and constellations and further gives a number of indications, such as rising, setting and culmination dates, that help to map out the basic structure of the Babylonian star map.

There appears to be very clear evidence that recognition of the Great Work and its stages came long before any mapping was done to the physical stars. 

as early as the days of Hammurabi c. 2000 BC, Babylonian astrologers did develop the idea of constellations by depicting prominent groups of stars with outlines of images derived from their mythology and religion”.


In other words the stages of the Great Work and the symbols for them already existed, they were then mapped to the sky – probably as an aide memoire, much as the Intelligences were mapped to the physical planets.

The signs of the zodiac appear on cuneiform texts in a standard from around 1st millennium BC, although the concepts they represent are far older.  The first known evidence for personal horoscopes, as opposed to horoscopes for the country or larger aggregates, is dated to about the 3rd century BC, one for example is dated to 410 BC.  The early horoscopes use the date of birth, but there is at least one that uses the date of conception.  These ‘reports’ then continue with a description of the Destiny of the child.

It is worth noting that the Babylonian day was divided into 12 double hours, each divided into 60 double minutes which in turn contained 60 double seconds.  The Babylonians were the first to use a water clock.

Every time we look at our watches we are reminded of the ancient mathematicians who counted on their fingers and multiplied 10 by 6, to give us minutes and seconds, and divided the day and the night into twelve hours by multiplying six by the two leaden feet of Time. The past lives in the present.

The source of the experience

Mesopotamian system

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items


Activities and commonsteps