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The Recovery Of Babylonian Astronomy by Gary D. Thompson

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The Recovery of Babylonian Astronomy

Strassmaier, Epping, Kugler, and Schaumberger: A History and Legacy of Their Co-operative Pioneering Effort to Recover Babylonian Astronomy

by Gary D. Thompson


(5) Joseph Epping

Part 6: Joseph Epping


Joseph Epping S.J. (life dates: 1835-1894) was a German mathematician, astronomer, and assyriologist. He is acknowledged as the founder of the study of cuneiform mathematical astronomical texts. Ascertaining correct dates for episodes in his life is difficult; the various sources are sometimes contradictory.

Epping was born at Neuenkirchen (Scheswig-Holstein), near Rheine in Westphalia (01.12.1835) (one source identifies district of Steinfurt) and died on the evening of August 22nd (aged 59 years) at the Jesuit College at Exaeten Castle, Holland (22.08.1894). (At least one modern writer mistakenly writes that Epping died in 1891.) Epping died early aged 59.

His parents are described as being wealthy burghers (prosperous and respected middle class towns people). (In medieval Europe the term 'burgher' meant the mercantile class.) However, one source has "E., Sohn eines Glasers." Glasers is a German occupational name for a glassblower/glass cutter/glazier. Both his parents died while he was very young and his early education was due to the fostering care of relations. Epping completing the gymnasium course at Rheine and at Münster and he matriculated at the academy in Münster, where he particularly studied mathematics. Epping was not reliant upon the 'Company of Jesus' (Jesuit Order) for mathematical training.

After becoming acquainted with the Jesuits and during Easter (April 14) 1859 he entered the Order of Münster, as a Novitiat(/Novitiate). This was the Jesuit novitiate at Friedrichsburg near Münster in Westphalia. It is indicated Epping formally joined the Jesuits (i.e., took his vows) before the end of his studies in philosophy (and mathematics) at Friedrichsburg. (The novitiate is the period of training and preparation that a novice (or prospective) member of a religious institute undergoes prior to taking vows.) After completion of his Novitiat(/Novitiate) and 3 years of scholastic philosophy, his recognized talent for mathematics saw him posted, in 1863, to the College of Maria Laach as Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy (teaching the younger members of the Jesuit Order). He taught mathematics (and astronomy?) for 2 years at the College of Maria-Laach, provincial Rhineland. Then, from Fall 1867 to Fall 1871, he completed 4 years of scholastic theology.

Early life

Epping rebelled against the strictness of his higher education by deciding to walk to France, but, due to lack of required papers, was not able to cross the border into France. He then walked to Bremen hoping to gain passage (working or otherwise) on a ship to America. After missing an opportunity to gain passage on a ship, and having no further money, he placed himself in the hands of the police, who returned him to the care of his relatives in Münster. His romantic dreams of freedom and adventure were replaced by resumption of studies, and greater appreciation of the care shown to him by his relatives. His schooling was completed with his studies (mainly mathematics) at the Academy of Münster.


Eppings father Joseph was a glaser/gläser (= spectacle-maker or glass maker/blower?) and his mother Elisabeth (1809-1835) was the daughter of a labourer/hireling (Taglöhners-T). (The very young Epping was obviously named after his father.)

Epping's Jesuit training

On 14 April 1859 Epping entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Münster (North Rhine-Westphalia). Dates and details of his other Jesuit training vary and become contradictory. According to a recent source, after completing his Novitiate (2 years?) he studied philosophy for 2? years (1861-1863) in Aachen (which had a Jesuit College and residence), and then taught mathematics to the Jesuit scholastics at Maria-Laach (1864?-1865?), where he also completed the 3rd year of philosophy (1866-1867) and then 4 years of theology (1867-1871). According to an earlier source, in 1863, after completing his philosophical studies, he was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Maria-Laach (Rhineland-Palatinate). From 1863 to 1867 he taught mathematics and astronomy there. This would have comprised his Regency though it is not specifically mentioned in any source as such. From 1867 to 1871 he then continued with his Jesuit training, studying theology. It is established that he was ordained a priest on July 15, 1870 at Maria Laach. In 1872 he went to Quito and returned in 1876. Also, ú.v. 2 February 1878, Blijenbeek.

The completion of the end of the third (and final) probation (tertiate (tertianship)?) comprising 1 year (1871-1872) at Paderborn (North Rhine-Westphalia) coincided with the beginning of the Kulturkampf. The Jesuit Order was expelled from Germany (1872), and Epping - who had barely completed the third probation (?) or tertiate (tertianship) - was sent to Quito. (Most sources state he volunteered.) He perhaps went to the Jesuit grammar school Gymnasium Theodorianum for his tertiate. It is unlikely he went to the Jesuit College at Bürden near Paderborn.

On his return from Quito in 1876 he first went to Blijenbeck and then later (perhaps in 1881, but likely later) he was transferred to Exaeten. I presently do not understand the use of the Latin abbreviation 'ú.v.' sufficiently to make sense of: "ú.v. February 2, 1878, Blijenbeek (Limburg)." within the context of other established dates. It likely means this was the date he was sent to Blijenbeek or was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy there. It was not until at least 1881, but perhaps 1886 that he was transferred/moved to Exaeten. He was still at Blijenbeek in the summer of 1881. The scenario could be: Epping returned to Europe in the autumn of 1876 and for the remainder of his life he taught mathematics and astronomy at the Jesuit scholastics of Blijenbeek (from February 2, 1878?) and Exaten (from April 29, 1886?).

The Jesuits in Quito

San Francisco de Quito (most usually called Quito), is the capital city of Ecuador. It is located in north-central Ecuador in the Guayllabamba river basin, on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active stratovolcano in the Andes mountains. The elevation of the city's central square (Plaza de La Independencia or Plaza Grande[4]) is 2,800 metres (9,200 feet. The central square of Quito is located about 25 kilometres (16 miles) south of the equator and the city itself extends to within approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) of zero latitude.

The Jesuits first arrived in Quito in 1586. It offered the easiest starting point for travel to the rain forests of the Amazon basin (the region of the headwaters) and the people who lived there. The complex of early Jesuit buildings constructed on a square block in the historic centre of colonial Quito comprised the church (La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, built in what is termed Latin America Baroque style), the Jesuit residence, the Colegio de San Luis, and the University of San Gregorio. A long-time resident of the Jesuit house/residence in Quito in the 18th-century characterized the residence as truly regal. In 1767 Charles III of Spain expelled all Jesuits from the lands he ruled. The Jesuits returned to Quito in 1850. It appears there are 5 monasteries in Quito.

The first high school in Quito was founded by Jesuits in 1589. With the expulsion of the Jesuits the Quito school was closed and later reopened in 1862 under the name National High School San Gabrie, when President Gabriel Garcia Moreno of Ecuador initially requested the Jesuits to take over public education. It operated under the regime of the "Ratio Studiorum." The "Ratio Studiorum" was the curriculum of the Jesuit system of education around the world and was first published in 1598.

Garcia Moreno and the National Polytechnic School

Gabriel Moreno was a famous Ecuadorian dictator. On January 16, 1869, Garcia Moreno, with the support of troops from the artillery barracks in Quito, initiated a "coup d'état" and deposed President Espinosa. On August 10, 1869, Moreno assumed the post of Constitutional President. The VIII Constitution (known popularly as "The Black Charter") is passed in Quito giving Moreno dictatorial power and a 6 year term of office (but it also enables him to be re-elected). Moreno forbids all cults or religions other than Roman Catholicism. Quito, the oldest South American capital city, is the site of the National Polytechnic School established in 1869 by Moreno. (Quito is also the site of the Central University of Ecuador, established 1769.) Quito is laid out mainly according to a rectangular plan and has an expansive central plaza, numerous parks and flower gardens, and many steep, narrow streets.

Moreno reformed the universities and established 2 polytechnic and agricultural colleges and a military school. The number of primary schools were increased from 200 to 500.The number of school students increased from 8000 to 32,000. In order to staff the enormously expanded health-care and educational facilities, foreign religious orders were brought in.

Moreno, in a decree of 1869, converted the university in Quito into a polytechnic school (= institute of technology) destined exclusively to educate teachers of technology, civil engineers, surveyors, architects, mechanical engineers, mining engineers, astronomers, scientists, and science teachers. Law and medicine were disaggregated into separate schools. Moreno handed the system of higher education over to the Jesuit hierarchy in Germany, who were able provide Jesuits who were experts in a range of subjects and able to teach the exact sciences and their applications. He petitioned the General of the Jesuits in the early 1870's for members of the Society to form the faculty (i.e., take charge) of the Polytechnicum at Quito.

The National Polytechnic School - like other polytechnics (or institutes of technology), existing since at least since the 18th-century - was a school of higher technical education specialising in vocational education. It appears the National Polytechnic School was similar to the Central University of Ecuador in that it was granted the right (was given the legal right) to award academic degrees.

Epping's time in Quito, Ecuador

President José Urbina had expelled the Jesuits from Ecuador in 1852. This ended the period when learned Jesuits scholars had come from Italy and France to teach in the Universities of San Gregorio and the Colegio Seminario de San Luis. Ten years later the Catholic President, As part of a nation-building plan that sought to modernise the country Gabriel Moreno, allowed the Jesuits to return, and gave them back their ancient church and college. In gratitude, the Jesuits renamed the college "St. Gabriel."

When Garcia Moreno, President of Ecuador, petitioned the General of the Jesuits in the early 1870's for members of the Society to form the faculty (i.e., take charge) of the Polytechnicum at Quito, which he had recently founded, Epping was among a number of German Jesuits who responded to the request (= were sent by the Jesuit Order?). (According to one source the Jesuits called upon were former professors and students of Maria-Laach. One source incorrectly states a group of 6 young German Jesuits came from Valkenburg.) The Jesuit group that went to Quito to lecture comprised different disciplines of science. Included were the natural historians Theodor Wolf and Christian Bötzges (zoologist?), chemist and physicist Ludwig Dressel, the mathematician Joseph Epping, and Alberto Claessen (came 1873), the physicist Emil Mülldorf, and Joseph Kolberg mathematics, physics and chemistry. (There were some Jesuits already in Quito. Also, the mathematician Armando Wenzel came in 1872. In 1873 came mathematicians Eduardo Brugier and Alberto Claessen, and chemist Luis Heiss.)

Note: Likely there was a formal and signed contractual arrangement between the Jesuit Order and President Moreno.

In June 1872 Epping went with the Jesuit mission to Ecuador and was appointed Professor of Mathematics (Profesor de Matemáticas (Profesor de Matemáticas superiores); Matemáticas Superiores = Higher Mathematics) at the newly formed Escuela Politécnica Nacional (National Polytechnic School) (established/converted in 1869 from the former Central University of Quito). (Also referred to as Escuela Politécnica de Quito. (Polytechnic School of Quito).) According to one source, Epping left Europe for Quito in June 1872 and arrived in Quito at the end of July. On arriving in Quito he then worked hard to acquire a solid knowledge of Spanish. He quickly learned Spanish and wrote a Spanish-language textbook of geometry. As well as writing a text-book on Geometry he assisted a colleague (Daniel Quijano) to write a Spanish-language Algebra book (published 1874). Epping began teaching at the National Polytechnic School on 1st October 1872. He taught mathematics there until 1876. Epping first wrote two text books of geometry (1873 and 1876) in Spanish whilst in Eucador. The text-books are highly thought of. (See: "The Rôle of Catholic Culture in Ecuador." by Richard Pattee (The Catholic Historical Review, Volume 25, Number 4, January, 1940, Pages 434-458).)  He also took an active part in all the scientific work of the Jesuits in Quito (likely including astronomy at the observatory).

García Moreno had visited the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and wanted a similar institution for Ecuador. The Polytechnic was the favourite creation of President Moreno and he endowed it generously. It quickly established both reputation and respect. In short order Moreno's efforts assembled the finest school of exact sciences in Latin America. European books, equipment, and teaching aids were steadily introduced. The Jesuit staff at the Polytechnic were also used by President Moreno as advisors for public works and social planning. Sometimes during holidays and schools vacations scientific excursions were conducted regarding the geology of the volcanic-rich country, and also the flora and fauna, and also ethnological studies of the people and their culture. Wild-life, such as monkeys, was also shot. From these various multi-faceted excursions collections were created.

In 1872 Moreno decided to also create an astronomical observatory and asked Johann Menten (1838-1900) one of the German Jesuits teaching science at the Polytechnical School (and Director of the Meteorological Observatory from 1870) to take change of the project. The newly built Quito astronomical observatory (founded 1873, finished in 1878 (but according to one source finished in 1875) and completely restored in 2009) enabled Epping to increase his knowledge of astronomy, both theoretically and practically. The observatory building brought together under one roof the professor of different subjects for lively discussions. Almost all were old acquaintances and friends from Epping’s time at Maria Laach.

Following the murder of President Moreno, and his patronage now gone, Epping, and other Jesuits returned to Europe in the Autumn of 1876. (This also included Luis Dressel who went to Exaeten, and Joseph Kolberg who went to England and then Exaeten.) The political disturbances that followed the assassination of Moreno on August 6, 1875, made it necessary for the Jesuits to return to Europe. There were protests against the Jesuit presence in Ecuador. (On Good Friday (March 30, 1877, the Archbishop José Ignacio Checa y Barba (Archbishop of Quito since 1868) was lethally poisoned in the Cathedral.) After the death of Moreno the new government stopped all government support to the Jesuits in Quito, and began arbitrary interference. A series of anticlerical measures were implemented.

The Polytechnic had - in rather short time - organised the finest school of exact sciences in Latin America - but it lasted only some 4 years before its demise.

See: La primera escuela politécnica del Ecuador: estudio histórico e interpretación by Francisco Miranda Ribadeneira SJ (1972). Also, Church and State in Ecuador by César Bustes-Videla (1966, Dissertation).

Note: The details change somewhat with the sources. The National Polytechnic School was founded on August 27, 1869, by a decree issued by the National convention of Ecuador. This was on the initiative of Catholic President Gabriel Moreno, who wanted to have a high level of training and research for professionals in engineering and science. The Polytechnic was formed exclusively for training technology teachers, civil engineers, architects, machinists, mining engineers, and science teachers. The founding professors - 2 German Jesuits (John Menten and Theodor Wolf) and 1 Italian Jesuit (Luis Sodiro) - arrived in Ecuador in August 1870, and classes began October 3, 1870 (with 20 students enrolled for courses in mathematics and physics, and 8 enrolled for the natural sciences). On July 18, 1871, more teachers arrived (Luis Dressel, Joseph Kolberg, Emilio Müllendorf, and Joseph Honshteter (and Luis Heiss?)). Sevill Pérez (see below) includes Joseph Epping in this arrival to make 7 teachers. However, most sources have Joseph Epping - and 2 others (Armando Wenzel, Christian Boetzkes) - arriving in late 1872. It seems that for some reason Sevill Pérez has missed the date 1872. Note: The sources deemed most reliable have Epping arriving in July 1872 and starting teaching on 1st October 1872. (Sources vary regarding the starting date for classes/teaching. Most state the Escuela Politécnico opened for taking classes on October 1, 1872, under Jesuit leadership. ) Other Jesuits arrived in 1873 (Edward Brugier, Albert Clässen). Also hired in 1873 were James Elbert, Nicolas Grünewalt, and Charles Honshteter). The Jesuit Clement Faller came in 1874. On September 15, 1876, the National Polytechnic School was closed by President Antonio Borrero for political reasons. It had been the best school of sciences throughout Latin America. The school was reopened in 1935.

In the 2 decade period (1875 to 1895) after Garcia Moreno's assassination civil wars were started leading to the complete exhaustion of the resources of the country and the loss of many thousands of valuable lives. In 1895 Eloy Alfaro assumed the presidency. (See: Webster Browning, The Republic of Ecuador, Social Intellectual and Religious Conditions Today (1920).

Name Year Arrived Ecuador Jesuit Or No Year Left Ecuador Background and Role Achievements in Ecuador
Johann Menten 1870 (August) German Jesuit   (Founding professor) Professor of Astronomy and Geodesy  
Theodor Wolf 1870 (August) German Jesuit   (Founding professor) Professor of Geology and Geognosy Wrote the Geography and Geology of Ecuador, and founded the Mineralogical Museum
Luis Sodiro 1870 (August) Italian Jesuit, born in Venice in 1836 Left Jesuit Order and remained in Ecuador (Founding professor) Professor of Botany and Agronomy Founded the Botanical Garden and Museum
Ludwig/Luis Dressel 1871 Jesuit Likely 1876 Professor of Chemistry  
Joseph Kolberg 1871 Jesuit 1876 Professor of Mathematics (Engineering Mathematics)  
Emilio Müllendorf 1871 Jesuit   Professor of Descriptive Machinery  
Joseph Honshteter 1871 Lay expert   Animal curator for the school's Zoological Museum Founded the Zoology Museum (Also identified/confused as Charles Honshteter)
Luis Heiss 1871     Professor of Chemistry  
Joseph Epping 1872 German Jesuit 1876 Professor of Mathematics  
Armando Wenzel 1872 Jesuit   Professor of Mathematics, Physics, and Languages  
Christian Bötzkes/Boetzkes 1872 Jesuit   Professor of Zoology  
Guillermo Jaeger 1872?     Professor of Mechanical Engineering?  
Daniel Quijano/Quijardo 1872? Jesuit   Assistant Professor of Zoology?  
Edward Brugier 1873 French Jesuit   Professor of Mathematics  
Albert Clässen 1873     Professor of Mathematics  
Jacob Elbert/Elbart 1873 Jesuit   Professor of Architecture and Drawing  
Nicolas Grünewald/t 1873     Professor of Civil Engineering  
Charles Honshteter 1873 Lay expert   Animal curator for the school's Zoological Museum Founded the Zoology Museum (Also identified/confused as Joseph Honshteter)
Clement Faller 1874     Dean of the school from 1874 to 1876 Responsible for the construction and installation of the Quito Astronomical Observatory

 There were 19 professors on the faculty - only 18 are identified above. Note the confusion in the sources with Honshteter (variously identified as Joseph and Charles, and variously identified as arriving 1871 and 1873). The Finnish German (= Prussian) astronomer Friedrich Argelander (1799-1875) became the dean and director of Moreno's new school. Clement Faller is also identified in one source as Eduardo [Edward] Faller.

The party of Jesuits that came to Quito in 1871 may have met up with, and travelled to Ecuador with, members of the Canadian Sisters of the Religious Order of the Good Shepherd. In 1869 President Moreno had asked for members of this Religious Order to come to Ecuador "to meet the urgent need for the rehabilitation and preservation of women from moral danger." The first 6 missionaries from Religious Order (plus 2 young lady-volunteers (also from Montreal?)) to come to Ecuador left Montreal on May 1, 1871, and they stayed in New York until May 30. They then embarked by ship to Ecuador. In Panama they met up with Archbishop José Ignacio Checa y Barba and several Jesuits, who were also journeying to Quito. The recorded route of the missionaries from the Religious Order of the Good Shepherd was: From Panama by ship to Guayaquil, then following the route to Babahoyo (and ascending the Sierra on mule-back), passing the foothills of Mount Chimborazo, arriving at Latacunga on July 1, and on July 3 taking a coach bound for Quito. They arrived in Quito on July 4 and were welcomed by the Jesuits and the Sisters of Charity.

Comparing this with the information to be found in the book, Nach Ecuador (1897) by Joseph Kolberg we have close similarities. From Panama by (steam?) ship to Guayaquil, then to Babahoyo, then up into the central highlands of the Andes Mountains and passing (through a small market town ?) near the foothills of Mount Chimborazo, then through Riobamba, then through Latacunga, and then arriving at Quito. It is difficult not to believe that Kolberg, Dressel, Müllendorf, Honshteter, and Heiss did not form part of the same as the sisters from the Religious Order of the Good Shepherd.        


Source: "The Return of the Jesuits to Postcolonial America" by Sevill Pérez (2011, Page 15). Note: The arrival date of Epping is unspecified and unclear here.


Epping's passage to Quito

As yet I have not been able to identify Epping's route of travel to Quito with certainty. Obviously the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was accomplished by ship. The Cunard Line, established in 1840, was the first shipping line to use steamships for ocean travel. The 4 small steamships it commissioned in 1840-1841 each had space for only 155 passengers. The Cunard Line was also the first to introduce a constant, reliable trans ocean service on a fixed departure/arrival schedule. Because of its methods of training and operation the Cunard Line also established an unmatched reputation for safety. Passenger steamships, specialising in steerage passengers were only introduced to cater for the emigration movement to the USA (beginning circa 1870). (Founded in 1840 as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, the name was changed to the Cunard Steamship Company, Limited, in 1878 but that name was soon shortened to simply the Cunard Line.) The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company received the mail contract for the West Indies and commenced operating in 1841. A West Indies inter-island service was also operated. In 1850 services expanded to South America. Several short lived routes were operated. R.M.S.P. steamships (Steamers) providing the West Indian and New York Service left Southampton fortnightly. The steamers/steamships on this (West Indies) route sailed out of Southampton on the 2nd and 17th of each month.

It seems certain that Epping voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean on a passenger steamship (likely directly to South America). The information is to be found in the book, Nach Ecuador (1897) by Joseph Kolberg in which he told of his travel to Ecuador (Quito). Kolberg identified the ship he voyaged on as the R.M.S.P. Shannon. (It was not an iron screw steamship but a wooden paddle steamer.) (Some information about the ship varies. The R.M.S.P. Shannon, was built on the Thames River in 1826?/1859?, was wrecked near Colón in 1875. It was 513 tons burthen, with the basic dimensions 55 metres length and 15 metres breadth width. Burthen = builder's old measurement - the method used in England from approximately 1650 to 1849 (until the advent of steam propulsion) for calculating the cargo capacity of a ship.) Places visited on the voyage by Kolberg to Panama were St. Thomas Island, Haiti, and Jamaica. Doubtless, Epping voyaged in the same manner. The likely scenario is the voyage involved passage on a ship from Southampton to Aspinwell in the Isthmus of Panama, and then continuation to Ecuador (Quito). (Colón on the Atlantic coast was the connection for places on the western coast of South America. The Jesuits would have travelled from Colón to Panama on the trans-isthmus railway.) There was an established overland route from Panama to Ecuador. Also, there was a shipping route from Panama to Ecuador. Passenger ships sailed from Panama to Esmeraldis, a coastal city in northwestern Ecuador, situated on the Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Esmeraldis River. (It is now a major international seaport.) Candidates for the ship that Epping sailed on to reach Panama (and also return to Europe) are ships belonging to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The company had a ship/ships scheduled to sail to Panama. An iron screw steamship seems likely. Possibilities are: R.M.S.P. Elbe (iron screw steamship); R.M.S.P. Shannon; R.M.S.P. Tasmanian (built 1858 by Clyde; compound engines were installed in 1871 to reduce coal expenditure); and the sister ships R.M.S.P. Moselle and R.M.S.P. Targus (both built by Elder in 1871). Another possibility is the Etruria. An 1876 sailing schedule for R.M.S.P. Moselle was: Southhampton, October 2; St. Thomas, October 16-17; Jacmel [Haiti], October 19; Jamaica, October, 20-21; and Colón [Panama], October 25. These destinations match those of Kolberg's 1871 voyage.

See: Mail and Passenger Steamships of the Nineteenth Century by Arthur Macpherson, Harry Parker, and Frank Bowen (1928).

When the Jesuits left Ecuador in 1876 they may have taken an Ecuadorian national ship to Panama. In 1853 when 32 Jesuit priests were compelled by the Ecuadorian government to leave the country they travelled on the Ecuadorian national Ship Hermosa Carmen to the port of Panama, and then travelled overland to the port of Aspinwell (as the Americans called it). Aspinwell (now called Colón, as the Spanish originally did) is a sea port on the Caribbean Sea coast of Panama. Aspinwall (now named Colón) began in 1850 as the starting point of a railroad on the Atlantic that was to carry people across the Isthmus of Panama. The city was founded by Americans in 1850 as the Atlantic terminus of the Panama Railroad, then under construction. For a number of years early in its history, the sizable United States émigré community called the town Aspinwall after Panama Railroad promoter William Aspinwall, while the city's Hispanic community called it Colon, in honor of Christopher Columbus. There was no overland railroad or stage coach system south to Quito from Panama. (A railroad and stage coach system existed within Quito and Guayaquil.) The Pacific Navigation Company founded by the American William Wheelwright (but subsidised by Britain and considered a British Institution) operated cargo/passenger ships from Panama southward down the west coast of South America. Though passage was expensive the ships had open decks and airey state rooms. The ships were contracted to call at multiple ports on the way south to Chile. The port town (now a city) of Guayaquil - the commercial metropolis of Ecuador - was 4 days sailing from Panama. The journey to Quito was made from Esmeraldis or Guayaquil (Esmeraldis being the closest to Quito).

The Quito astronomical observatory

Quito Astronomical Observatory (Spanish: Observatorio Astronómico de Quito) is a research institute of the Excuela Politécnica Nacional in Quito. Ecuador is located in a strategic geographic position for observing both hemispheres. The Quito Astronomical Observatory is situated almost on the equator. Due to the support/sponsorship of Gabriel Moreno when president of the Republic of Ecuador, the Quito Astronomical Observatory was built 1873-1878. Moreno had a national government plan to promote and develop education, sciences and technology. Moreno sought the collaboration of Jesuit Father Juan Menten for the project. In 1873, the construction of the Astronomic Observatory, or El Observatorio Astronomico, began in La Alameda Park and was completed in 1878. (The park is approximately 6 hectares in size.) On February 7, 1873 the Ecuadoran government purchased a plot of land in the "Avenue" (for?/from? the municipality) for building the astronomical observatory. When the observatory opened it was - through government financial support - one of the best equipped in the world.

The observatory is located in the middle of the La Alameda Park. The building was designed and constructed with arched doorways and large arched windows. The observatory also has its own garden that surrounds the building. The project was led by the German astronomer Father Johann [John/Juan] Bautista Menten, who planned and directed its construction. (The observatory (at least the main building) was designed by the Jesuits Menten and Dresse, and the design of the observatory building was modeled on and observatory in Bonn, Germany.) Menten was also a member of the newly created National Polytechnic School of Ecuador (and the first director of the observatory). The German made 30 cm Merz equatorially mounted refractor telescope was installed in 1875. The observatory was equipped with numerous other important instruments related to astronomy, meteorology, hydrology, and geodesy (geodetics). Within a few deades the instruments and equipment were out of operation and abandoned, and the building completely deteriorated. Currently the main building is still working as an observatory and scientific institution. Starting late 1996 renovations began on the the observatory building and the restoration of the scientific instruments. The building was completely restored in 2009. Part of the building complex is also now an astronomical museum (The Museum of the Quito Astronomical Observatory) that exhibits all the equipment that the 19th-century astronomers and scientists used.

Moreno was Head of State (President) from 1861 to 1865 and from 1869 to 1875. He was well educated – a chemistry professor. He almost entered the priesthood, but was talked out of it by his friends. In 1869 Moreno developed a project with the intention of turning the Central University of Quito into a Polytechnical School. To establish this ambition Moreno contracted a group of German Jesuits, who specialised in various sciences. In order to stimulate the establishment of an observatory, Moreno required one of the group of teachers to take charge of the chair of mathematics, as well as being an astronomer. This was fulfilled by the first Jesuit teachers who came to the new Polytechnical School in Quito. The founding professors - 2 German Jesuits (Johann Menten and Theodor (Teodoro) Wolf) and 1 Italian Jesuit (Luis Sodiro) - arrived in Ecuador in August 1870, and classes began October 3, 1870 

Epping's return to Holland

When the Jesuits were forced to leave Eucador in 1876 (after the assassination of Moreno on August 6, 1875, by a small group of 'liberals' i.e., those who opposed strong Church control over Ecuadorian Society) Epping couldn't/didn't return to Germany because of the Jesuitengezetz of 1872 and in 1876 he went to Holland (first to Blijenbeck and then to Exaeten). Epping arrived in Holland in the fall of 1876. (Petrus Albers (1914), Liber Saecularis Historiae Societatis Jesu : ab anno 1814 ad annum 1914 states that Epping returned to Holland in 1875. Petrus [Peter] Albers S.J., 1856-1932. The large commemorative book, for private circulation only, gave a brief summary of the 100 year history of the Jesuit Order following is restoration.) After 1876 Epping taught mathematics and astronomy at the seminars in Blijenbeck (Holland) and Exaeten (Holland). He spent the remaining years of his life at Blijenbeck, and later at Exaeten, as professor of astronomy and mathematics. In 1885/1886 (though perhaps as early as 1881) Epping was transferred/moved to Exaeten as part of the intention of the German Province of the Jesuit Order to gather together at Exaeten most of its Jesuits involved in writing. (Writers were gathered together (or started to be gathered together) at Exaeten by/starting 1880.) Epping was included among the elite writers gathered at Exaeten.

Epping's leisure time from his teaching duties at Blyenbeek and Exaeten was occupied by research and the publication of articles on Babylonian astronomy, the writing of Der Kreislauf im Kosmos [The Cycle of the Cosmos] (published in 1882 when Epping was perhaps at Exaeten), and literary work. It seems indicated he found the European weather uncomfortable after his time in Quito.

Strassmaier, when in Holland 1880/1881 to 1884 to work on his cuneiform syllabary (Alphabetisches Verzeichniss), remained at Blijenbeck.

Date of Epping's transfer to Exaeten

Relocations could be quite sudden.

I can't recall having seen a clear reference for the date Epping transferred to Exaeten. According to Teije de Jong Epping transferred in 1885 with the Philosophate. A number of references state Epping was included amongst the elite writers who were transferred to Exaeten during the 1880s - no mention being made of Epping transferring with the Philosophate. However, as the philosophy students studied mathematics and astronomy this seems to indicate that Epping would transfer with them. My understanding is from 1886 (not 1885) to 1894 Exaeten accommodated the Philosophy students and the writers. (Hoensbroech completed his Novitiate in July 1880 at Exaeten, and then his Scholasticate at Wynandsrade.) The date of 1886 for the writers (scriptors) is, however, misleading if taken to be the exact date. Hoensbroech was transferred to Exaeten as a scriptor in 1887 at the conclusion of his theological studies at Ditton Hall. Karl Rahner was Philosophieprofessor at Blyenbeck for 1876-1884, then Schriftsteller (writer), then at Exaeten for 1889-1895. (Scriptor was the title given to a Jesuit involved in writing articles and books.) A Jesuit associate with the Blijenbeek scholasticate  was there for 1882-1885, then lived at Exaeten 1885-1886 and in-house at Aalbeek Stephan Beissel for the first 2 years of collaboration with Stimmen aus Maria Laach lived in Exaeten (1879-1881), and then at Blijenbeek for further years of collaboration with Stimmen aus Maria Laach (1881-1885), and then again at Exaeten. Bernhard Duhr was Socius Scriptorum for 1 year (1883-1884) to Blyenbeek. Jesuit records for 1889/1890 specifies him as writer in the College of Exaeten, but the added "extra domum" indicates that his place of residence was elsewhere, i.e. in Lainz. From 1894-1903 his name is found again listed under Exaeten. In 1885 the chemist Ludwig Dressel was transferred from Blyenbeek to Exaeten. These examples match a move in 1885. However, uncertainty and confusion of dates is indicated. It is usually stated the Stimmen aus Maria Laach editorial staff were gathered at Exaeten. 

It is difficult to believe that Epping transferred in 1881, even though the transfer of writers perhaps began in 1880 (and perhaps only being completed by the late 1880s). Hoensbroech went to Blijenbeek in the summer of 1881 to begin his philosophy studies and mentions Epping's lectures on astronomy to the philosophy students. Hoensbroech would have studied philosophy for 2 years at Blijenbeek before going to Ditton Hall for 4 years of theological studies. This places the date of Epping's transfer to Exaeten between circa 1883 and 1886. The German Jesuit Otto Syre (1913-2008), in his Calendar of the Society of Jesus placed on the internet, has 1885-1919 for Exaeten as the location of the Provincial, and 1886-1894 for Exaeten as the location of the Philosophate. It seems that when the Philosophate moved Epping moved with it and remained Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy for the Philosophate. This places the possible date of Epping's move to Exaeten to 1885-1886. A recently located source gives 1885-1894 for the Philosophate at Exaeten. However, another recent source gives the following details: When the complex was purchased (in 1886), a new building with a large Romanesque Revival chapel was built. The philosophate moved there in 1886 as well as the writers and editors of the German magazine Stimmen aus Maria Laach and Katholische Missionen. From 1885 to 1919, Exaeten is the established residence of the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Germany.

Epping and his collaboration with Strassmaier 

The first critical study of (late) Babylonian astronomy was undertaken by Strassmaier and Epping. The interpretation in 1889, by Epping and Strassmaier, of a collection of astronomical cuneiform tablets preserved in the British Museum clearly showed the methods of official Babylonian astronomy in the 2nd-century BCE. The tabular data sets devised by the Babylonians were perfectly effective for the purpose of preparing yearly ephemerides determining expected celestial events, and predicting the paths of the moon and planets.

It was on Strassmaier's initiative that Epping began the study of Strassmaier's transcriptions of astronomical texts. It is popularly believed that Strassmaier sent annotated copies of his drawings of astronomical texts to Epping, when Epping was based in Quito (Ecuador), and this led to further research. However, this belief is mistaken. Strassmaier only approached Epping after Epping's return from Ecuador. Strassmaier was then living at Blijenbeeck klooster (temporarily for several years) which is where Epping initially returned to from Eucador, before being transfered to Exaeten in 1885/1986.

When the Jesuits were forced to leave Ecuador in 1876 Epping went to Blijenbeeck Castle, Holland (because of the continuing Jesuitengezetz in Germany). He met again with Johann Strassmaier (in 1880/1881) at Blijenbeck) when Strassmaier came to Blijenbeeck Castle in 1880/1881 to work on his cuneiform syllabary (Alphabetisches Verzeichniss). Strassmaier was a past colleague ('classmate') of Epping's from Maria Laach. Epping was requested by Strassmaier to assist in establishing the nature of the astronomical content of numerous late astronomical cuneiform tablets. Epping agreed to take up the study of such - which involved numerous laborious calculations. In September 1881 they described the nature of the problems they faced in a joint article in the Jesuit journal Stimmen aus Maria Laach.

In their shared effort Epping contributed mathematics and astronomy, and Strassmaier contributed philology and paleography. Strassmaier made copies of tablets (drawings) and the astronomical interpretation was largely the work of Epping. For Epping the work largely involved a series of long and complicated calculations.

The collaboration between Epping and Strassmaier continued to remain in place even after Strassmaier (permanently) returned to London in 1884. Strassmaier and Epping remained in continuous contact with exchanges of data, translations, and improvement of results.

The first major breakthrough in understanding Babylonian scientific astronomy was achieved by Epping and Strassmaier. Many of the cuneiform tablets thought by Strassmaier to contain astronomical information consisted largely of recorded numbers, month names, and technical terms unknown to him. The first decipherment of an astronomical cuneiform text was published by them in 1881. Once Strassmaier had secured the collaborative assistance of Epping he made copies of texts he deemed astronomical and provided these to Epping for advice. After only a few years Epping, through some brilliant work, came to understand much of the basic structure and terminology of late Babylonian scientific astronomy. (Another great breakthrough was Kugler's interpretation of the Venus tablets.) In his later small book, Astronomisches aus Babylon (1889) Epping was able to synchronize the Babylonian calendar with the Julian, so that we know that the last dated inscription of Cambyses is of the eleventh of March, 521 BCE. Also in Astronomisches aus Babylon Epping discussed what we now call normal-star almanacs for Seleucid Era 188, 189, and 201. Later, in 2 articles published in the journal Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Epping discussed the Saros-Canon of the Babylonians, and worked out the calculations for the years 38 and 79 of the Seleucid Era.

Early results of the the Epping-Strassmaier collaboration included: (1) the method of calculating and predicting the new moon, (2) the establishing of the dates of the Seleudæ in Julian chronology, (3) the explanation of the lunar and planetary calendars (and the mode of prediction used therein), and (4) the identification of several lunar and planetary tables of observation (including lunar eclipses)

Their work has been fundamental for understanding Babylonian astronomy and enabling more detailed studies. Epping published his findings alone or together with Strassmaier in the journals Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, and Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete.

Strassmaier's assistance to Epping

Most of the cuneiform texts that intrigued Strassmaier were the late texts which contained long lists of numbers. Strassmaier believed that these texts could possibly record astronomical data. "He succeeded in the fall of 1880 after intensive prodding to convince his formed astronomy professor Joseph Epping (1835-1894) to try to make sense of this numerical material. Epping was at that time employed as professor of mathematics and astronomy at the German Jesuit College in Blijenbeek in Limburg, the Netherlands. Based on about 15 texts translated by Strassmaier he succeeded step by step to interpret these and to discover some of the astronomical principles underlying  the computations." (Annual Report 2007, Astronomical Institute Anton Pannekoek, Page 18.)

Aloysius Cortie writes (The Month, 1892): "With the text of the tablets transcribed as faithfully as possible in our alphabet, Father Strassmaier furnished his colleague with some indications which would serve as the starting-point of his researches."

Epping's investigative method

Both Epping and Kugler followed an inductive method and both demonstrated astute reasoning and judgment. Both Epping and Kugler relied on the astronomical analysis of the texts in order to 'decode' them. Both were prepared to do the laborious calculations and recalculations. Epping relied rather heavily on his calculations to derive meaning from the cuneiform material, rather than simply focusing on the translations of the textual parts provided by Strassmaier. Strassmaier only being able to provide translations (at times provisional and not wholly accurate) was not sufficient to understand the contents. Epping and also Kugler relied rather heavily on their respective astronomical calculations rather than decipherment of the texts in order to identify/establish their content. To help facilitate his astronomical analysis Kugler was concerned to obtain accurate texts through the process of (constant) collations.

Epping and his assistance from Hontheim and Lorenz

Circa 1890 Epping was receiving decipherment assistance from Joseph Hontheim and Augustus Lorenz acting independently. Augustus Lorenz is briefly discussed by Epping (in a footnote) in Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Band 39, Heft 3, 1890, Pages 225 and 237. Lorenz participated in solving some aspects of Babylonian lunar theory (the Lunar ephemeris included in Astronomisches aus Babylon. After Lorenz studied Astronomisches aus Babylon he sent at least 1 letter to Epping with suggestions that aided further insight. At that time Augustus Lorenz was a Parish Administrator (Pfarradministrator), Rector at a branch church in Groß-Leubusch (= the district of Greater Laubusch?). He sent Epping detailed and insightful comments to Epping on his book Astronomisches aus Babylon, and also an article (about the ephemerides table for the moon). Lorenz helped provide a method for understanding table columns C1 and C2 (as apparently did Hontheim) The assistance given by Hontheim and Lorenz resulted in: Epping, Joseph. (1890). "Die babylonische Berechnung des Neumondes." [= "The Babylonian Calculation of the New Moon."] (Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Band 39, Heft 3, September, Pages 225-240). [Note: Supplementing studies in Astronomisches aus Babylon.] (The following may be relevant genealogical information for Augustus Lorenz: Born: 23.01.1845; Christened: 26.01.1845, Sankt Maria Katholisch, Landau in Pfalz Stadt, Pfalz, Bavaria; Father: Ferdinandi Lorenz; Mother: Catharinae Buehi. Augustus Lorenz is indicated as being a scholar (of Latin texts?).) At this period the name Aug./August/Augustus Lorenz can be applied to several persons. Augustus Lorenz is not to be confused with August Lorenz. August Otto Friedrich Lorenz (born 1836), was educated in Copenhagen and ultimately became a school-master in Berlin, edited the Mosiellaria, Miles Gloriosus, and Pseudohis (1866-76) by the great Roman poet and comic playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BCE-184 BCE), and wrote many papers and reviews on the subject of Plautus. The following sources all appear to refer to August Lorenz and should not be confused with Augustus Lorenz: Rivista di filologia e di istruzione classica, Volume 17, 1889, Page 434; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum, 1896, Page x; Sancti Avreli Avgvstini Confessionvm libri tredecim, Volume 39, 1896, Pages v and x; and Commentatio de vidularia Plautina by Wilhelm Studemund, 1890, Page 14. See: Forschungen und Quellen zur Kirchen- und Kulturgeschichte Ostdeutschlands, Volume 6, 1969, Institut für Ostdeutsche Kirchen- und Kulturgeschichte (Bonn), Böhlau Verlag.

First decipherment of an astronomical cuneiform text

The first decipherment of an astronomical cuneiform text was made by Epping in 1881 in collaboration with Strassmaier.

This work was based partly on existing translations of non-astronomical texts made in the mid 19th-century and partly as the result of numerous lunar and planetary calculations made by Epping. As a result, Epping was able to investigate Babylonian methods of predicting lunar phenomena and he correctly identified the names of the planets, the names of the zodiacal constellations, and the meaning of various Babylonian astronomical terms.

Preceding efforts

The efforts of Strassmaier and Epping to understand Babylonian astronomical texts were preceded by Jules Oppert, Alchibald Sayce and Robert Bosanquet. The efforts of these scholars were partially successful. Their results identified the names of some of the planets and stars, and the discovery that the Babylonians could and did predict certain celestial phenomena which they observed. 

The nature of many of the cuneiform texts deciphered by Epping

Among the texts considered by Epping and Strassmaier, many consisted of nothing more than columns of numbers following recurring sequences between fixed limits.

Professional history 

Epping's teaching duties were reduced to allow him to concentrate on writing and research. In 1881 the key to the understanding of Babylonian mathematical astronomy was found by Epping. in British Museum cuneiform tablets which had been identified as astronomical by Strassmaier.

The results of Epping’s work

The first decipherment of an astronomical cuneiform text was made by Epping in 1881 in collaboration with Strassmaier. After numerous failed attempts at dealing with the material, in 1881 Epping found the key to the understanding of a lunar ephemeris. (Or at least the rules for computing many of the columns.) Soon after he also uncovered the underlying chronological patterns. Epping  was also able to explain correctly for the first time the ideograms for the planets and their phases. The work was based partly on employing existing translations of non-astronomical texts made in the mid 19th-century and partly as the result of Epping making numerous lunar and planetary calculations. The result was successful and Epping was swiftly and brilliantly able to investigate Babylonian methods of predicting lunar phenomena and he correctly identified the names of the planets and zodiacal constellations as well as the meaning of various Babylonian astronomical terms.

When the decipherment proved to be successful Strassmaier excerpted, from his notebooks, astronomical texts on special sheets, often adding explanatory remarks (and apparently transliterations). These sheets were then sent to Epping for final investigation. After Epping's death the process was continued for Kugler. At Exaeten, Kugler's contact with the work of Epping and Strassmaier aroused enormous interest. Later, Kugler would learn (mostly through his own efforts) enough Assyrian to read the astronomical texts.

Epping's first paper in Holland was published in 1881 in a short joint paper with Strassmaier, and his first book in Holland was published in 1882. (J. Epping & J. N. Strassmaier (1881), "Zur Entzifferung der astronomischen Tafeln der Chaldaer." ("On the deciphering of Chaldaean astronomical tables."), in: Stimmen aus Maria Laach, Volume 21, 1881, Pages 277–292. Epping's first published book, the slim volume, Der Kreislauf im Kosmos, appeared in 1882. It was an exposition and critique of the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis and a refutation of the pantheistic and materialistic conclusions which had been drawn from it.) This first paper on Babylonian astronomy by Epping and Strassmaier appeared in 1881 whilst Epping was still at Blijenbeck? Otto Neugebauer described the 1881 paper by Epping and Strassmaier as "a masterpiece of a systematic analysis of numerical data of unknown significance." In 1881 Epping (and Strassmaier) succeeded in understanding the concluding columns of a lunar ephemeris (BM 34033) Epping (and Strassmaier) also correctly identified the names of the planets, the names of the zodiacal constellations, month names, and the meanings of many astronomical terms. (Epping identified Guttu with Mars, Sakku with Saturn, and Te-ut with Jupiter.) The end results of studying further texts were presented in 1889 in book form in the small book Astronomisches aus Babylon (which also had Strassmaier's name). This contained the first detailed results of their efforts. It was published as supplement number 44 to the Catholic general science journal Stimmen aus Maria Laach). The title of the publication was Astronomisches aus Babylon [Astronomy from Babylon] (1889, in collaboration with Johann Strassmaier).

Epping, with the help of copies of Babylonian lunar calculations, etc., made by Strassmaier, was able to discuss the Saros-Canon of the Babylonians, and work out the calculations for the years 38 and 79 of the Seleucid Era. See: J. Epping and J.N. Strassmaier, "Der Saros-Canon der Babylonier." in: Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, Volume 8, Issue 1, 1893, Pages 149-178.

The monumental investigations of Babylonian astronomy by Franz Kugler was based on the initial investigations by Epping and Strassmaier.

First publication by Epping and Strassmaier

Epping and Strassmaier first published in 1881 (Epping, Joseph. (1881). "Zur Entzifferung der astronomischen Tafeln der Chaldäer." (Stimmen aus Maria Laach, Band 21, Number 8, September, Pages 277–292)) when Strassmaier was at Blyenbeek. Strassmaier did not return to London until 1884.

Astronomisches aus Babylon

The small book comprising 190 pages, Astronomisches aus Babylon (1889), was the result of years of deciphering and calculation, and attempted solutions for the data presented in the cuneiform tablets. The contents of the book made clear the methods of official Babylonian astronomy in the 2nd-century BCE.

Systematically set out in the book are: the names of the months, the words for time divisions (e.g., the division of the day into 6 periods), the names of the planets, zodiacal signs (Die Zeichen des Thierkreises (the signs of the zodiac ), pages 170-171) [The signs of the zodiac were also dealt with by Peter Jensen in his book, Die Kosmologie der Babylonier [The Cosmology of the Babylonians] (1890).], orientation, and the names of 6 stars (Die Namen der Sterne (the names of the stars), pages 174-175), all with the cuneiform ideogram, transliteration, and translation. Also, the drawings of Kudurrus with possible astronomical meanings. Included in Astronomisches aus Babylon was the transcription and comments of BM 35516, a Babylonian horoscope found during the excavations in Babylon and dated to 142 BCE. It was the first Babylonian horoscope to be studied. Calculations by hand, involving hours and days for each aspect, involved: (1) ephemerides (pages 68-80), (2) solar and lunar eclipses (pages 103-108), the conjunctions of the moon with stars, and planetary conjunctions with stars (pages 114-134), the oppositions and stations of planets, and their heliacal rising and setting (pages 140-148). The calculations for the ephemerides table for the moon involved establishing the dates (Seleucid Ere and corresponding Julian calendar dates) SE 189 (122/-121), SE 188 (-123/-122), and SE 201 (-110/-109). Another version states Epping's decipherment of cuneiform planetary ephemerides lad to the 1st reliable chronology of antiquity in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world.

The 12 abbreviated names of the zodiacal signs, appearing in the tablets examined, are discussed in considerable detail.

The Babylonian methods identified were effectual for the main purpose of preparing yearly ephemerides calculating expected celestial events, and identifying in advance the paths of heavenly objects.

Nature, Volume 43, 19 February 1891, Pages 369-373, Babylonian Astronomy and Chronology. Abstract: "BABYLONIAN astronomy has been investigated during the last year successfully by the Rev. Joseph Epping and the Rev. J. N. Strassmaier, S.J., who have explained and annotated two Babylonian calendars of the years 123 B.C. and 111 B.C. in their publication "Astronomisches aus Babylon oder das Wissen der Chaldæer über den gestirnten Himmel" (Freiburg, Herder, 1889). They have succeeded in giving a satisfactory account of the Babylonian calculation of the new and full moon, and have for the first time identified by calculations the Babylonian names of the planets, and of the 12 zodiacal signs and twenty-eight normal stars which correspond to some extent to the 28 nakshatras of the Hindoos. In the following passages, translated from their book, we give the general results they have obtained, but for many interesting details we must refer the reader to the work itself."

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 52, 1891: "It was in the year 1881 that Fathers Strassmaier and Epping first began their joint labours on this almost unknown branch of science, Father Strassmaier deciphering the Assyrian texts, and his colleague submitting them to mathematical analysis, thereby suggesting new readings and the meanings of unknown words. The result has been that they have established in great measure the system of the astronomy of the Babylonians, and not merely the translation of a few odd texts. The work so far accomplished--and it is still progressing--embraces the thorough understanding of their method of calculating and predicting the new Moon, the establishing of the dates of the era of the Seleucidte in Julian style, the explanation of their lunar and planetary calendars, and the mode of prediction used therein, as also the publication of several lunar and planetary tables of observation: one of the lunar eclipses thus brought to light being, as Dr. Oppert has pointed out, one of the nine used by Ptolemy in the Almagest. The papers published by Fathers Strassmaier and Epping have appeared in the Stimrnen aus Maria Laach, since 1881; as also in the Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete."

A book review by Archibald Sayce, of Astronomisches aus Babylon, appeared in the Critical Review (Edinburgh), 1891. An answer by Joseph Epping to the leading French assyriologist Jules Oppert (1825-1905) appeared in the Journal Asiatique, Volume XVIII, Number 1, July-August, 1891, Pages 186, et seq. A series of essays on Astronomisches aus Babylon were published by Father J. D. Lucas of Louvain (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgique) in the volumes of the Revue des Questions Scientifiques for 1891 and 1892.


Extract from Essay Review by Noel Swerdlow in JHA, Volume 30, 1999, Pages 169-172, Page 169.


Epping and Babylonian lunar theory

Amongst other things Joseph Epping identified an ephemeris of positions of the Moon. The so-called cuneiform "lunar ephemerides" and "planetary ephemerides" date predominately to the Hellenistic period. They were first studied by Epping. Later, Franz Kugler (DBM, 1900) examined a large number of Ephemerides of the Moon.

Epping as author

Epping's first published volume (approximately 100 pages), Der Kreislauf im Kosmos, appeared in 1882. In the book, Epping challenges atheistic naturalism. The slim book contains an informed discussion of the Kant - Laplace hypothesis, and a detailed criticism of its materialistic and pantheistic conclusions. Employing scholastic philosophy and dialectic Epping defends the concept of a supernatural universe. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia entry states: "It was an exposition and critique of the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis and a refutation of the pantheistic and materialistic conclusions which had been drawn from it." (Oddly, Epping's small book, Der Kreislauf im Kosmos was listed in Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, 1883, Page 584.) Epping's most important work was begun in collaboration with the pioneering assyriologist Johann Strassmaier who, in connection with his own studies in Assyriology, had persuaded him to undertake a mathematical investigation of the Babylonian astronomical observations and tables. Circa 1881, after a brief period of a few years involving considerable effort Epping's efforts at decipherment were successful. These initial successes were published by Epping and Strassmaier in Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Volume XXI, 1881, Pages 277-292. Eight years later he published Astronomisches aus Babylon oder das Wissen der Chaldäer über den gestirnten Himmel (1889). This small book of approximately 190 pages was important both from the standpoint of astronomy and chronology. It contained an exposition of aspects of late Babylonian astronomy, worked out from Strassmaier's copies of Ephemerides of the moon and the planets. This was later supplemented by the article "Die babylonische Berechnung des Neumondes" (Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Volume XXXIX, 1890, Pages 225-240. He was also the author of a number of other articles in the journal Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete.

Epping and the Philosophia Lacensis library

The Philosophia Lacensis library - a collection of learned Jesuit books - was begun at Maria-Laach by Tilmann Pesch and other Jesuits (and continued at Exaeten?). The different branches of philosophy covered included logic, cosmology, psychology, theodicy, and natural law. All volumes were published at Freiburg, 1880-1900. Jesuit authors of books comprising the Philosophia Lacensis included Pesch, Cathrein, Boedder, Meyer, Epping, Dressel, and Gruber. All were considered - at least in Jesuit circles - authorities in various departments of philosophy. Epping contributed Der Kreislauf im Kosmos (1882); a critique of materialism. The content of the Philosophia Lacensis volumes comprised the revival of scholastic philosophy in the 19th-century. The books comprising the Philosophia Lacensis were decidedly scholastic in their method, including Epping's slim volume.

The "Stimmen aus Maria Laach" (Voices from Maria Laach") appeared from 1865, firstly as individual pamphlets defending against liberalism within the Roman Catholic Church, and from 1871 as a regular wide-ranging periodical. After Maria Laach the elite Jesuit writers were later gathered at Exaeten. Included were Dressel, Epping, Langhurst, Baumgartner, Dreves, Cathrein, Lehmkuhl, Pesch, Spillmann, Wasmann, Meyer, Hœnsbrœch, Beissel and Gruber.

Maria Laach was the Collegium Maximum (and also known as the Collegium Lacense).

Epping as a lecturer on astronomy

Count von Hœnsbrœch, in his critique, Fourteen Years a Jesuit (Volume II, 1911, Page 248) wrote: "When I studied philosophy at Blyenbeck, "lectures" delivered by the Jesuit Epping on astronomy were anything rather than scientific. We laughed a good deal, slept not a little (the lessons were early in the afternoon), and profited accordingly." Hœnsbrœch does not mention was becoming quite ill at this time. Also, Epping was expert at mathematics and calculations involving positional astronomy. The value of this to Jesuit students at Blyenbeck was undoubtedly limited.

Physical traits

He is described as small (short in stature) and stocky. His legs are described as somewhat short, his eyes as small, and his nose as upturned. His blonde hair was all lost with aging.

Epping's illness(es)

After Epping returned to the Netherlands from Ecuador he became ill (suffered a protracted illness) and also became deaf. His degree of deafness is now not likely to be established. The effect of this early ill-health issue was persistent lack of energy to pursue his cooperation with Strassmaier. Epping's continuing work on Babylonian astronomy was greatly hindered by the serious illness he suffered during the last 13 years of his life.

Epping then suffered greatly from ill-health (a severe skin disorder?) during the last years of his life. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia entry states: "He was none the less a man of untiring activity and combined geniality and a keen sense of humor with a deep and simple piety." One source has mentioned Epping's illness as a severe and painful skin disorder. It is perhaps possible he contracted skin diphtheria - a highly contagious bacterial disease not uncommon in Europe at this time - which can cause redness, sores, and ulcers. Franz Kugler may have suffered similarly. Diphtheria is caused by toxin-producing strains of the gram-positive bacillus Corynebacterium diphtheriae. There are four biotypes of the bacterium (gravis, mitis, intermedius, and belfanti), and each differs in the severity of disease it produces. Nontoxigenic strains are usually responsible for less severe cutaneous diphtheria. Apart from suffering from a progressively worsening skin rash, in 1891/1892 he suffered a lung infection which degenerated into consumption. Diphtheria can affect the lungs (respiratory diphtheria) causing severe damage.

Epping's cooperation with Strassmaier continued despite his several bouts of illness. Despite the increasing discomfort of his last illness Epping maintained a cheerful disposition and continued his investigation of Babylonian mathematical astronomy.

Epping's personality

He is described as possessing a happy (cheerful) nature, and as being a popular person. He is described as being honest, genial, unpretentious, without any ambition, and always ready to help others. Within the Jesuit Order he was recognized as a sharp, clear thinker. The humorous and comical element of his personality was also recognized. As a scholar he was described as tireless. Also, he was serious regarding religious issues, deeply religious and pious, and exemplary in fulfilling his duties as a priest.

Giovanni Schiaparelli and Joseph Epping

Epping died (of an illness) in 1894. It appears, however, that Schiaparelli believed that Epping died in 1891. (?) See: Scritti sulla storia della astronomia antica by Giovanni Schiaparelli (3 Volumes, 1925; Volume 1, Page 48).

Reports of the progress and results

Cortie, Aloysius. (1892). "Babylonian Astronomy." The Month: A Catholic Magazine and Review, Volume 74, Pages 528-546.

[Cortie, Aloysius.] (1892). "Strassmaier and Epping's Researches on Babylonian Astronomy [I]." (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 52, Pages 298-301).

[Cortie, Aloysius.] (1893). "Strassmaier and Epping's Researches on Babylonian Astronomy [II]." (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 53, Pages 290-292).


Epping, Joseph [José]. (1873). Geometría Plana.

Epping, Joseph [José]. (1873). Tratado de Geometría Elemental.

Epping, Joseph [José]. (1874). Colaboración en la abra: Quijano, Daniel. Tratado de aritmética general. [Note: In the book Daniel Quijano pays tribute to the cooperation of Epping in the preparation of the book. The book is usually (and incorrectly) identified as being first published in 1878. In 1876 Daniel Quijano was a mathematics teacher at Colegio San Luis Gonzaga in Costa Rica.]

Epping, Joseph. (1881). "Zur Entzifferung der astronomischen Tafeln der Chaldäer." [= "The decipherment of the astronomical tablets of the Chaldeans."] (Stimmen aus Maria Laach, Band 21, Number 8, September, Pages 277–292). [Note: With an introduction by Johann Strassmaier. The modest article explained the difficulties experienced and their first results. The Stimmen aus Maria Laach was described by Otto Neugebauer as an obscure theological publication. Actually, it was a well-known and highly regarded Catholic publication dealing with a range of topics, including the sciences.]

Epping, Joseph. (1882). Der kreislauf im kosmos. (Egänzungshefte zu den "Stimmen aus Maria Laach" 18; Freiburg im Breisgau ; Louis, Mo. : Herder). [Note: Published when he was working at Exaeten. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia entry states: "It was an exposition and critique of the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis and a refutation of the pantheistic and materialistic conclusions which had been drawn from it."]

Epping, Joseph. (1886). "Die Meteorite und ihr kosmischer Ursprung. 1." (Stimmen aus Maria Laach: katholische Blätter, Band 30, Heft 2, Pages 159–167). [Note: "The cosmic origin of meteorites." Appears to be a continuation of themes in Der kreislauf im kosmos - the cosmology of Laplace and the origins of meteorites.]

Epping, Joseph. (1886). "Die Meteorite und ihr kosmischer Ursprung. 2: Schluß." (Stimmen aus Maria Laach: katholische Blätter, Band 30, Heft 3, Pages 304–313).

Epping, Joseph. (1889). "Aus einem Briefe des desselben an J. N. Strassmaier." ["Aus einem Briefe des Herrn Professor J. Epping an J. N. Strassmaier."] (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 4, Pages 76-82). [Note: Letter from Epping at Exaeten dated 12 December, 1888.]

Epping, Joseph. (1889). "Aus einem Briefe des Herrn Professor J. Epping an J. N. Strassmaier." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 4, Pages 168-171). [Note: Letter from Epping at Exaeten dated 25 March, 1889.]

Epping, Joseph. and Strassmaier, Johann. (1889). Astronomisches aus Babylon, oder das Wissen der Chaldäer über den gestirnten Himmel. (Egänzungshefte zu den "Stimmen aus Maria Laach" 44; Freiburg im Breisgau). [Note: Nature, Volume 43, 19 February, 1891, Page(s) 369[-373]) Babylonian Astronomy and Chronology. Abstract: "Babylonian astronomy has been investigated during the last year successfully by the Rev. Joseph Epping and the Rev. J. N. Strassmaier, S.J., who have explained and annotated two Babylonian calendars of the years 123 B.C. and 111 B.C. in their publication "Astronomisches aus Babylon oder das Wissen der Chaldæer über den gestirnten Himmel" (Freiburg, Herder, 1889). They have succeeded in giving a satisfactory account of the Babylonian calculation of the new and full moon, and have for the first time identified by calculations the Babylonian names of the planets, and of the 12 zodiacal signs and twenty-eight normal stars which correspond to some extent to the 28 nakshatras of the Hindoos. In the following passages, translated from their book, we give the general results they have obtained, but for many interesting details we must refer the reader to the work itself." The published works of Epping and Strassmaier, which showed the sophisticated content of late Babylonian astronomy, gave impetus to the Panbabylonian school which uncritically projected it back to earlier periods. See the (French-language) book review by R[?]. Radau in Bulletin Astronomique, Serie 1, tome 6, Pages 434-436.]

Epping, Joseph. (1890). "Die babylonische Berechnung des Neumondes." [= "The Babylonian Calculation of the New Moon."] (Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Band 39, Heft 3, September, Pages 225-240). [Note: Supplementing studies in Astronomisches aus Babylon.]

Epping, Joseph. (1890). "Sachliche Erklärung des Tablets No. 400 der Cambyses-Inschriften." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 5, Pages 281-288).

Epping, Joseph, and Strassmaier, Johann. (1890). "Neue babylonische Planeten-Tafeln I." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 5, Pages 341-366).

Epping, Joseph, and Strassmaier, Johann. (1891). "Neue babylonische Planeten-Tafeln II." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 6, Pages 89-102).

Epping, Joseph. and Strassmaier, Johann. (1891). "Neue babylonische Planeten-Tafeln III." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 6, Pages 217-244).

Epping, Joseph. and Strassmaier, Johann. (1892). "Babylonische Mondbeobachtungen aus den Jahren 38 und 79 der Seleuciden-Aera." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 7, Pages 220-254).

Epping, Joseph. and Strassmaier, Johann. (1893). "Der Saros-Canon der Babylonier nach der Keilschrift-Tafel Sp. II, 71 des Britischen Museums, nebst dem entsprechenden babylonischen und julianischen Kalender vom Jahre 13 Artaxerxes’ II. bis zum Jahre 34 des Seleukos, d.i. von 392 bis 278 v.Chr." (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete, Band 8, Issue 1, Pages 149-178).

Epping's 'study room' at Exaeten

Items in Epping's 'study room' at Exaeten included a telescope and celestial globe, Oppolzer's Canon der Finsternisse, almanacs, log tables and star charts, Babylonian word lists, and mathematical journals. At times all enveloped in dense smoke from cigars/pipes smoked by young German Jesuit students. (In the 19th-century tobacco use - as snuff, or smoked with cigars/pipes - was still common with Catholic clergy throughout Europe, the Jesuits being no exception.)

Epping's grave

Presently I am not certain where Epping was buried. I presently believe it is most likely he was buried in the Churchyard at Baexem. (At least 1 Jesuit who died at Exaeten in the late 19th-century is buried there.) There is no indication that there was a cemetery at Exaeten during the period of the Jesuit occupancy. There is another possibility. The Redemptorists were located at both Roermond and Wittem. (They had seminaries at both locations.) There was a cemetery at Roermond and a cemetery at Wittem. There is a slight possibility that Epping was buried at either Roermond or Wittem.

Epping a member of Leopoldina

It appears that Joseph Epping was a member of the Leopoldina, the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (renamed since 2007 to Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (German Academy of Sciences) when declared a national academy of Germany. Historically it was known under the German name Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina. The Leopoldina is a supranational association of scientists and academics. It elects new members to itself. Apart from being a fellow, a means by which excellence can also be rewarded is by receiving the honour of honorary membership.

The Leopoldina was founded in 1652 as scientific-medical society in Schweinfurt, and claims to be the oldest continuously existing learned society in the world. In 1670 the society began to publish the Ephemeriden, the world's first medical and scientific journal. In 1677, Leopold I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, recognised the society and in 1687 he gave it the epithet Leopoldina. Since 1878 the Leopoldina has been permanently located in Halle. It did not meet regularly until 1924.

The Leopoldina is now formally explained as: The Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (founded in 1652) is the German National Academy of Sciences. The members of the Leopoldina are outstanding scientists, primarily in the natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, but also in the behavioral and empirical social sciences and the humanities. The Leopoldina head offices are located in Halle on the Saale. The Academy also has an office in Berlin.

Epping's nachlaß

Nachlaß (Nachlass) is a German word, used in academia to describe the collection of manuscripts, notes, correspondence, and so on left behind when a scholar dies. It is not known what became of most of Epping's written estate. Strassmaier's drawings made for Epping went to Hontheim, and then to Kugler.

Photograph of Epping

After 20 years of searching I am somewhat puzzled why locating a photograph is proving so difficult. A photograph of Epping is likely only to be obtained from Quito, or elsewhere in Ecuador.


No suitably detailed obituary for Joseph Epping exists. This means that most of the details of his life/working life are now lost. See the most detailed (but generalised) obituary for Joseph Epping by Alexander Baumgartner S.J. in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebeite, Volume 9, 1894. See also the brief (German-language) obituary for Epping in Jahrbuch der naturwissenschaften, Volume 10, 1895, Page 432; and see the brief (Spanish-language) entry for Joseph Epping in: Diccionario histórico de la Compañía de Jesús : Biográfico-Temático edited by Charles E. O'Neill, ‎Joaquín María Domínguez (2001, Volume II Costa Rossetti-Industrias, Page 1248). Also the entries: Epping, Joseph. In: Neue Deutsche Biographie, Band 4, 1959, Page 550, (by Adam Falkenstein); Epping, Joseph. In: Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie der Theologie und der Kirchen, Band 1, 2005, Pages 380-381, (by Anon); Epping, Joseph. In: Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archaologie, Band II, 1938, Page 458, (by F. H. Weißbach); and in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche; Epping, Joseph. In: World Who's Who in Science: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Scientists from Antiquity to the Present edited by Allen Debus (1968, Volume 2, Page 527).


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