Beginnings of the Babylonian Signs

Cyril Fagan was fond of saying that there was only one ancient zodiac, it was sidereal, and this zodiac was marked by Aldebaran-Antares at 15° Taurus—Scorpio, Regulus at 5° Leo and Spica at 29° Virgo. But a star list in Hunger and Pingree's Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia (Brill, 1999) seems to put this statement to rest. This star list also clearly shows that the measurement of sidereal signs was imprecise, even up to 110 B.C.

The star list makes it abundantly clear that the signs of the zodiac were measured in relation to various fixed stars, the Normal Stars used in Mesopotamia rather than from an equinox point. My notes below include the current positions of the relevant stars and don't take into consideration any small proper motion that might have occurred over the centuries. I have compared the Fagan-Bradley (F-B) positions with the Krishnamurti (K) degrees because there are 59 minutes between the two, which rounds off nicely to one degree.

Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia, Page 148: THE NORMAL STARS

"The Normal Stars are stars near the ecliptic—about 30 in number—whose "conjunctions" with the Moon and the planets are recorded in the Diaries and in the Normal Star Almanacs..."

Page 150: "A study by Huber [1958] of some Almanacs and Normal Star Almanacs of –122/1 to –110/09 deomonstrated the following beginnings of the zodiacal signs to be in use at that time:" (Here I have excerpted a few stars from the list; TH)

Beginning of Gemini: "30 minutes before or after Normal Star 7" (zeta Tauri—Al Hecka)

Today's positions: K= 1° 01 Gemini; F-B= 0° 02 Gemini (A near perfect hit for F-B)

Beginning of Cancer: "With Normal Star #12" (Beta Gemini—Pollux)

Today's positions: K= 29° 28 Gemini; F-B= 28° 29 Gemini (K is within approximately half a degree.)

Beginning of Libra: "ca. 2 degrees after Normal Star 23" (Alpha Virginis— Spica)

(This puts Spica at 28 degrees of Virgo rather than the 29 degrees claimed by western siderealists or zero Libra as used in India.)

Beginning of Aquarius: "35 minutes before or after Normal Star 32" (Delta Capricorn—Deneb Algedi)

Today's positions: K= 29° 47 Capricorn; F-B=28° 48 Capricorn (K is close to zero degrees of Aquarius.)

The difficulty of zeroing in on a precise ancient zodiac is shown by the position of the northern balance pan of Libra (Beta Libra), which is listed as 25° Libra in the Mesopotamian Catalogue fragment BM 46083 (page 150 in Astral Sciences). Today's position of that star is K= 25° 37 Libra and F-B= 24° 38 Libra. '25 Libra' could refer to either position.

I don’t think it's possible for anyone to claim that a very precise ancient sidereal zodiac existed in Mesopotamia. The positions listed above and others in the list of sign beginnings aren't spaced exactly 30 degrees, zero minutes from each other. Nevertheless, the positions indicate that today's sidereal zodiacs are very close to the somewhat imprecise Mesopotamian sidereal zodiac in terms of marking stars.

A Note on Babylonian Measurement

From page 149 of Hunger and Pingree's Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia (1999)

"The statements concerning the cubits between the planets and the Moon and the "Normal Stars" they [Roughton-Canzoneri (1992)] show to be longitudinal differences, measured on the ecliptic without regard to latitudes of either the planets or the Moon or the "Normal Stars," and they suggest that in most cases the planetary longitude was computed (planetary latitudes were not computed) and not observed. This result means that the Babylonians possessed catalogues of Normal Stars giving their longitudes. We have a fragment of such a catalogue..."

The fragment, BM 46083, originally published by Sachs in 1952, is then reproduced in the text and includes:

Root of Barley Stalk: (?) gamma Virgo—Porrima: 16 Virgo

Today's positions: K= 16° 23 Virgo; F-B= 15° 24 Virgo

Bright (star) of Barley Stalk: (?) 28(?) alpha Virgo—Spica

Today's positions: K=0° 05 Libra; F-B= 29° Virgo

Southern Balance Pan: alpha Libra—Zeuben Elgenubi 20° Libra

Today's positions: K= 21° 19 Libra; F-B= 20° 20 Libra

Northern Balance Pan: Beta Libra—Zeuben Elshemali 25° Libra

Today's positions: K= 25° 37 Libra; F-B= 24° 38 Libra

So if anyone is trying to prove an ancient sidereal zodiac, it's a toss-up between the Fagan-Bradley ayanamsa and the Lahiri-Krishnamurti zodiacs of India. These zodiacs are less than a degree apart. It seems that Robert Hand is right in saying that an appeal to history won't work. We have to figure this out for ourselves with the tools we have at our disposal today.

Therese Hamilton

April 20, 2004

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