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Occidental Constellations and

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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 9: 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. It is uncertain whether the correct form of his first given name is Joseph or Josef. Josef is a German form of Joseph. The form Joseph is used in English-, French- and German-speaking countries. There are numerous examples of the spelling Josef Epping instead of the more common Joseph Epping. In Orientalia, Volume 2, 1932, Page 97, Johann Schaumberger uses the spelling Josef Epping (perhaps an indicator that this is the correct form). One reference to a letter by Epping is given as: "Carta del P. Josef Epping al P. San Román, visitador de la Compañía de Jesús en el Ecuador", 8 de octubre de 1875, Archivo de la Compañía de Jesús (ACJQ), leg. VI, Cartas de los Superiores y Viceversa 1850-1892. This also indicates that Josef Epping is the correct (or at least the preferred) form.

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. The Academy of Münster was constituted in 1902 as a University. Epping was not reliant upon the 'Company of Jesus' (Jesuit Order) for mathematical training. Epping was acknowledged as a mathematician of great merit and knowledge. (Note: Sources usually state (no doubt due to borrowing) that after completing the usual gymnasium at Rheine and at Münster, Epping matriculated at the Academy in Münster, where he devoted himself particularly to mathematics. However, one source states Epping entered the Jesuit Order at Friedrichsburg on 14 April 1859, before completing his studies in philosophy and mathematics.)

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 study 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.


Epping's 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 (Autumn, 1867-Autumn, 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. Whatever, another source states that Epping was judged to have sufficient scientific knowledge.) 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 the Andes Mountains north-central Ecuador in a long narrow valley in the Guayllabamba river basin, on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active strato-volcano in the Andes mountains. The elevation of the city's central square (Plaza de La Independencia or Plaza Grande[4]) is 2,850 metres (9,200 feet) above sea level. 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 Jesuits in Ecuador (as in other countries in South America had accumulated extensive financial resources (i.e., land and buildings, farms, livestock, control of a labour force).

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 Gabriel, 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.

Moreno's 1st term as President was from 1861 to 1865; his 2nd term as President from 1869 to 1875. He was assassinated after his re-election in 1875.

See: Historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la República del Ecuador, 1850-1950 by José Jouanen and (Father) Jorge Villalba, (2003, Privately printed).

Garcia Moreno and the National Polytechnic School

Note: The names Polytechnic Institute (Escuela Politécnico) and National Polytechnic School (Escuela Politécnica Nacional) now get used interchangeably when discussing the history of the school. The original name established under Gabriel Moreno was Escuela Politécnica National (National Polytechnic Institute. With its reopening in February 1935  by President Velasco Ibarra it was called Escuela Politécnica (Instituto Superior Politécnico). This name was changed back again in June 1946 by President Velasco Ibarra to National Polytechnic School. Regarding the names Central University of Quito and University in/of Quito, especially when discussing the university closed by Moreno in 1869. The Central University of Quito was established in 1826. In historical sources the names are often used to refer to the same university. The National Polytechnic School is frequently regarded as a public research university and referred to as the University of Quito. So, the names can mean the same and separate universities, depending on how they are used by different sources..

To near the end of the 19th-century the Ecuadorian higher education system was patterned after Spanish frameworks and with Christian doctrines. The Central University of Ecuador was established in 1769. Until the 2nd half of the 19th-century education in Ecuador continued to follow the teachings which had been established by Spain - theology, jurisprudence, and medicine. The only new subject added was republican theory and politics. The University of Salamanca - inspired by the 11th-century University of Bolonia - was the model for early Ecuadorian universities. The academic organisation and function took its model from the Napoleonic University. (Up to its closure in 1869 the University of Quito only really trained lawyers and doctors, using 17th-century training methods.)

Gabriel García Moreno was a famous Ecuadorian dictator. He is described as having a fiery personality and also as being a racist. Moreno was committed to shoring up the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Devoutly Catholic, he hoped to create a conservative Catholic nation.Natural knowledge was intended to build Moreno's utopia. Gabriel García Moreno, was an earnestly religious and resolutely authoritarian president (1861-65; 1869-75). In 1862, as one of his first executive acts, García Moreno negotiated a concordat with the Vatican, bolstering clerical autonomy against customary state patronage and intervention. Seven years later, Moreno drafted a constitution that made Roman Catholicism a prerequisite for citizenship, conformed to Pope Pius IX’s anti-liberal Syllabus of "errors," and pledged to make "political institutions" conform with "religious beliefs." (The 1869 constitution made Catholicism the religion of the State.) Between 1861 and August 1875 - the month in which Moreno was assassinated - Ecuador’s government-Church coalition laid an impressive legal and administrative foundation for the construction of a "truly Catholic nation. His national-Catholic experiment was formidably authoritarian in nature (a repressive system), functioned imperfectly, and aimed to subordinate all Ecuadorians - men and women, white and indigene, citizens and would-be citizens - within a state-defined culture of religiosity.

Moreno also generated animosity with his friendship toward the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Also, he promoted a Jesuit-led education system. (When Moreno was not able to find suitable science teachers in Ecuador he requested assistance in 1870 to Father General of the Jesuits, Peter Beckx, and Pope Pius IX.) The first invitation by Moreno for Jesuits to take over the education system in Ecuador was made in 1861. The mostly Spanish Jesuits who responded were not overly concerned to include scientific subjects in their curriculum. In 1869 Moreno issued a 2nd invitation and the response was young German Jesuit scientists came to rum run a Polytechnic Institute (University) in Quito. It was a government financed institution. The instruction was free. The cost was covered from the national income (public funding/government funding = money controlled and/or provided by the state). The Jesuits refused to come to Ecuador from Europe until a contract had been signed. Only a limited number of Jesuits arrived, especially following the first invitation. (Moreno wanted Jesuits to staff at least one secondary school in every province.)

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 January 17, 1869, García Moreno assumed the post of Interim President. On May 16, 1869, Manuel de Ascázubi (brother in-law of García Moreno) was designated Interim President by a National Convention convened by García Moreno. 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 enabled him to be re-elected). Moreno forbids all cults or religions other than Roman Catholicism and imposes the death penalty for political crimes. (The execution of perceived enemies was the norm under Moreno.) Non Catholics had few civil rights. 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 (sometimes stated erroneously as 1826).) 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.

At the same time as Moreno imposed drastic measures (a repressive system), however, he pioneered technical and scientific training at every level, and education was increasingly judged on its demonstrable utility to national progress. Moreno wished to create a national technical elite. 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's educational system focused heavily on the practical. However, he did not ignore the fine arts such as art and music. Moreno sponsored the formation of the Escuela de Artes y Oficios in Quito for artisanal training. The Academy of Fine Arts was opened with Italian professors in charge teaching sculpture and painting. Moreno also established the Conservatory of Music. For the Medical School the professors were brought from France.

In 1869 Moreno closed the (Central) University of Quito, replacing it with the Escuela Politénica National. (It appears, however, he re-opened the university.) The Polytechnic Institute was located adjacent to the (Central) University of Quito. The new school's survival was tied somewhat to Moreno's political fortunes. It was closed shortly after the assassination of Moreno and re-established in 1945.

Moreno, in a decree of 1869, converted the university in Quito (established 1826?) 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. The polytechnic school was a system of higher education. In place of the University of Quito a Polytechnic Institute was founded. The National Polytechnic School was founded on August 27, 1869. Its teaching focus comprised the study and development of the exact and natural sciences. Its aim was a high level of research and training of professionals in engineering and science. 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. (Because of Bismarck's Kulturkampf in Germany the Polytechnic Institute was able to be assigned expert Jesuit scholars.) 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. Sources are obviously confused whether this was the old Universidad (old Universidad de los Jesuitas)/Central University. Escuela Politécnica Nacional (EPN) was founded on 27 August 1869 by President García Moreno. The German provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus commissioned three Jesuit scientists (professors) to start the institute: the German Juan Bautista Menten, first Dean and founder of the Quito Astronomical Observatory, the German Teodoro Wolf, founder of the Mineralogy Museum, and the Italian Luis Sodiro, founder of the Botanical Museum and Garden. The apparatus and instruments for teaching (as example: the laboratory equipment) came from Germany. The physics laboratory equipment was ordered from the firm of Munich professor Philipp Carl. The cost of the equipment was paid for by the Ecuadorean government. Johann Menten, Theodore Wolf and Luis Sodiro arrived in Quito in August 1870. The Polytechnic Institute opened in October, several months after their arrival.

EPN was closed on 15 September 1876 by President Borrero, mostly for political reasons. EPN was reformed on 28 February 1935 by President Velasco Ibarra as Instituto Superior Politécnico.

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. Moreno closed down the Central University of Quito in order to purge it of its liberal faculty.


This building is what remains of the original or early campus (1935-1960) of Escuela Politécnica Nacional. Source: Escuela Politécnica Nacional. Historia, Régimen Académico y Perspectivas, 1869-2012 by Ing. Alfonso Ramón Espinosa, Rector de la Escuela Politécnica Nacional (2013). It is commonly stated that the university already established in the state capital (University of Quito) became the Polytechnic School. A biography of Moreno published shortly after his death states the Polytechnic School was organised by Moreno in the building adjoining the old University. Until 1960, the Escuela Politécnica Nacional (EPN) operated in a small building on the Alameda (= Calle Alameda, or Alameda Street) (campus "La Alameda"), in an area of 600 square meters, which were the classrooms, laboratories and administrative offices. The universities in Quito have now moved away from the old scattered downtown buildings and into large University multi-campuses. The long triangular "(Parque) La Alameda" is located at the beginning of Calle Guayaquil. The Alameda is the largest park in downtown Quito. The photograph above may show either the original campus or an early campus established (re-established 1935) in Calle Gánda, next to Alameda Park. The National Polytechnic School was founded on August 27, 1869 by President García Moreno, with the support of the Superior of the Society of Jesus. The German Provincial of the Order of the Society of Jesus sent a team of young Jesuit scholars with a relevant scientific background, coupled with an unwavering work ethic, to Ecuador for the nascent Polytechnic. At its beginning it had a very short existence. On September 15, 1876, President Borrero closed it due to political reasons. On February 28, 1935, President Velasco Ibarra signed a decree to reopen the EPN, for studies of mathematics, cosmography, physics, applied chemistry, electrical engineering, mining engineering and geology. On June 4, 1946 by a decree issued by President Velasco Ibarra the name of the Polytechnic Institute was changed to the National Polytechnic School.


Indicated as a sketch of the doorway to the original Escuela Politécnica Nacional established in 1869.


Epping's time in Quito, Ecuador


Early 1860s photograph by Camillus Farrand of Quito from the north with Panacillo in the background.


Quito from the north circa early 1860s Sketch based on photograph taken by Camillus Farrand. By the mid 19th-century one fourth of the city of Quito had perhaps as many as 80,000 inhabitants (but likely less). The European population comprised some 8000 persons.


Ecclesiastics in Quito circa 1868? Source: The Andes and the Amazon by James Orton (1870). By the mid 19th-century one fourth of the city of Quito was covered with ecclesiastical buildings (convents and seminaries, and churches) that were usually on extensive properties. Simón Bolívar famously quipped, "Ecuador is a monastery." It is considered that over 99 percent of Ecuadorians in the 1870s would have been at least nominal Catholics.


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." Moreno advocated technical and scientific education and hired European teachers to upgrade university education. The intention was to give Ecuadorian youth a greater choice than between the priesthood, the magistracy, or the army. The Polytechnic educated undergraduates in the core sciences. Prior to the Polytechnic 'University' curricula were mostly about social sciences; research was uncommon. The first Ecuadorian universities offered philosophy, theology, canonical law, medicine, literatures, poetry, and exact sciences. Note: The curriculum also emphasised Roman Catholic moral values.

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: There was a formal and signed contractual arrangement between the Jesuit Order and President Moreno. The Jesuits refused to come to Ecuador from Europe until a contract had been signed. I presently have not seen a discussion of the content of the contract. However, its terms created economic problems. Lewis Pyenson (Civilizing Mission (1993), Page 312) writes: "And they were the least expensive science masters that Garcia Moreno might have found - the total sum paid to the dozen Jesuit professors [the were actually more] between 1870 and 1876 was only 60,400 pesos." The economic situation of the Jesuits at the Polytechnic was rather dire and their individual meager salaries were placed into a common fund to enable the best financial management of what they had.

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. (A source stating he arrived in October likely confuses the date when he started teaching.) 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 Autumn 1876. (Epping taught both higher and lower mathematics at Quito (and theoretical mechanics?) and also on his return to the Netherlands (Blyenbeck and Exaeten).) Epping first wrote two text books of geometry (1873 and 1876) in Spanish whilst in Ecuador. The text-books are highly thought of. (See: "The Role 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 (first? and) finest school of exact sciences in Latin America. European books, equipment, and teaching aids were steadily introduced. Within a few years the newest and best instruments and machines had been obtained from Europe (Germany) regardless of the expense. 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 5 years before its demise.

The EPN had a very short existence after its initial establishment. On 15 September 1876, President Borrero closed the EPN due to political reasons. The EPN remained closed for decades until it was reopened in 1935 by Eucuadorian president José Maria Velasco Ibarra. On 28 February 1935, President Velasco Ibarra signed a decree to reopen the EPN, for studies of mathematics, cosmography, physics, applied chemistry, electrical engineering, mining engineering and geology.   It was reorganised in 1946. On 4 June 1946 President Velasco Ibarra issued a decree changing the name slightly (from Polytechnic Institute to National Polytechnic School).

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. Moreno advocated technical and scientific educatuion. The Polytechnic was formed exclusively for training technology teachers, civil engineers, architects, machinists, chemists, land agents, mining engineers, and science teachers. The founding professors - 2 German Jesuits (John Menten (an associate of the astronomer Secchi) 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. 32 Subjects were offered and six courses were taken annually from 1870-1875. 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.

See the useful reference: Boletin de la Academia Nacional de Historia, Quito, Volume 7, Issue 15-50, 1923.

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/Mente 1870 (August) German Jesuit   (Founding professor (Dean (until Faller's appointment) and Director)) Professor of Astronomy and Geodesy (Hydraulics (= Water Technology)) Responsible for the design and construction of the Quito Astronomical Observatory and installation of its equipment / Director of Public Works
Theodor Wolf (Franz Theodor Wolf) 1870 (August) German Jesuit (Had studied at the University of Bonn) Left Jesuit order in 1874 and remained in Ecuador until circa 1891/1892 (Founding professor) Professor of Geology and Geognosy (Geology, Mineralogy, Mining, Languages) (Also Geography) Wrote the Geography and Geology of Ecuador, and founded the Mineralogical Museum / Was the State Geologist
Luis (Luigi) Sodiro 1870 (August) Italian Jesuit, born in Venice in 1836 (Had studied at the University of Innsbruck) Left Jesuit Order and remained in Ecuador (Founding professor (Deputy Dean)) Professor of Botany and Agronomy (Chemistry, Pharmacy, Geology, Mineralogy) Founded the Botanical Garden and Museum
Ludwig/Luis Dressel/Oressel 1871 Jesuit (Had studied at the University of Bonn) Likely 1876 Professor of Chemistry (Geology) (Also indicated as Physics)  
Joseph Kolberg 1871 Jesuit 1876 Professor of Higher Mathematics (Engineering Mathematics) (Architecture) The subject of architecture included construction of roads, railways, bridges, and mechanical practice
Emilio Müllendorf/Mülendox 1871 Jesuit   Professor of Descriptive Machinery  ('Maquinaria Descriptiva') (Mathematician)  
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 German Jesuit 1875 (Assistant?) Professor of Chemistry  
Joseph Epping 1872 German Jesuit 1876 Professor of Higher Mathematics  
Armando Wenzel 1872 Jesuit   Professor of Lower Mathematics, Physics, and Languages  
Christian Bötzkes/Boetzkes 1872 Jesuit   Professor of Zoology  
Guillermo Jaeger 1872     Professor of Mechanical Engineering?  
Daniel Quijano/Quijardo 1873 Jesuit   Assistant Professor of Zoology? (Indicated as teaching mathematics)  
Edward Brugier/[Hrugier!] 1873 French Jesuit   Professor of Mathematics (Also indicated as Cosmography)  
Albert Clässen 1873     Professor of Higher Mathematics  
Jacob Elbert/Elbart/Elber 1873 Jesuit   Professor of Architecture and Drawing  
Nicolás Grünewald/t [Grünewalt] 1873     Professor of Civil Engineering  
Charles Honshteter/Honteter 1873 Lay expert   Animal curator for the school's Zoological Museum (Prepared stuffed animals for the Zoological Museum of the Polytechnic Institute) 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
José Maria Vivar (tentative identification)   Lay expert?   Assistant Professor of Chemistry  

 There were 19 professors on the faculty - only 18 (the first 18 listed above) are able to be readily identified. After some difficulty it appears the 19th professor is tentatively identifiable as (a lay expert?) Dr José Maria Vivar. (Another Jesuit who appears to have been associated with the National Polytechnic Institute is Federico Aguilar (= Francisco Javier Aguilar?) whose expertise was in Meteorology and Seismology. Other Jesuits who were apparently associated at some time with the National Polytechnic Institute were Ricardo Cappa (a Spanish Jesuit? who came to Quito in 1872?) whose expertise was History and also Cosmography? He was later a Professor of History. Also, Teódulo Vargas who at one time was Professor of Literature at Colegio Nacional de San Gabriel. Agustin Delgardo was involved with administration.) 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. Luis Sodiro took up residence at the Jesuit College of Humanities at the town of Pifo (Ecuador), as Professor of Humanities, to novices. The Italian-born (born 1836) Sodiro later left the Jesuits order and remained in Ecuador until his death in 1909. He became one of the leading botanists in Ecuador. Theodor Wolf left the EPN and the Roman Catholic Church in 1874 due to criticism of him teaching Darwin. (Epping's (archival) letters are a source of information for this issue.)

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 travel group from Panama as the sisters from the Religious Order of the Good Shepherd.

Note: Nach Ecuador by Joseph Kolberg has been reissued in an edited Spanish-language edition, Hacia el Ecuador: relatos de viaje (1996).

Excursus 1: Theodor Wolf (born 1841) joined the Jesuits in late 1857. Because of his talent for natural sciences the Jesuit order sent him to study at the University of Bonn in 1862. This was done with the expectation that he make a critical study of Charles Darwin's new theories. Wolf studies at Bonn for 2 years and was favourable towards Darwinism. He ignored the advice of academics at Bonn to continue his scientific training and separated from the Jesuit order. Instead, he continued his Jesuit training and taught natural history at Maria Laach for 6 years from 1864. During this time he also completed his philosophical and theological training. He sought to reconcile Darwinism and the Bible and also sought to avoid associated religious and philosophical controversies. He did not argue openly. Also, he promoted science as an end in itself. He was surprised when he was invited (by the Jesuit order) to take up professorship of geology at the new Polytechnic Institute in Quito. It appears Wolf was influential in which other European and German Jesuit scholars were invited also. A lot of the German Jesuits knew each other from Maria Laach. After only a few years at the Polytechnic Institute in Quito Wolf left the Jesuit order due to criticism of him teaching Darwin. In 1871, Theodor Wolf began teaching Darwinism in Ecuador through the geology and paleontology classes he taught at the National Polytechnic Institute. He took a conciliatory position between Evolution and Catholicism in the context of Moreno's promotion of cohesion and national identity through Catholic morality and science as a vehicle for progress. Wolf's separation from the National Polytechnic Institute would not have been due to Moreno. Moreno had demonstrated that he was not concerned with modern scientific ideas (that contradicted the Bible) being taught at the Polytechnic Institute. The official reason given by the Jesuit order was Wolf's poor health. This may have been partly true. Other reasons may have included the economic problems, the conflict between Jesuits at the Polytechnic Institute (especially between the Spanish and German Jesuits, and the imbalance between the scientific and religious activities by Wolf. (It is worth noting that in 1873, under the direction of Menten, all students at the EPN enrolled themselves in a Congregation of the Blessed Virgin.) In November 1875 Wolf was appointed state geologist of Ecuador and paid a considerable salary. When he lost his government position following the assassination of Moreno he sought private commissions. In 1887 he converted to Protestantism and married the German governess Bertha Werber (or married and then converted). Circa 1891/1892 he returned to Germany to assist with publication of his major book. He did not return to Ecuador. He worked as a private scholar in Dresden until his death in 1924.

Excursus 2: The life of the chemist Luis Maria Heiss SJ (13-3-1840 to 17-4-1876) is worth relating. He was born in Wurtemberg and on 1-10-1862 entered the Society of Jesus and studied philosophy at Friedrichsburg and then went to Maria Laach where for 3 years he taught courses in chemistry and mathematics. He then went to Ditton Hall to study for his doctorate in theology. He came to the Polytechnic Institute in Quito in 1873 when it was fully operational and Luis Dressel was Professor of Chemistry. In 1875 he taught physiological analysis, toxicology, drug preparation, military chemistry, and chemical exercises. He also taught 10 hours of English per month. However, when preparing chlorate of potash he inhaled a large amount of chlorine and was poisoned. His conditioned improved but he remained weak and his superiors ordered his complete rest on several farms in the province of Pichincha. The French Jesuit Edward Brugier appealed to the Superior Father Francisco de San Román, advising Heiss return to Europe by way of Panama, because his health had deteriorated. In late 1875 Heiss traveled to France and died in the Provence Aix Hospital on 17-4-1876 as a result of that accident. Luis Heiss was described as young, enthusiastic, active and enterprising with an agile mind, well mannered, and always eager to serve others.

Excursus 3: Luis (born Luigi) Sodiro studied botany at high school in Ragusa under (Professor) Kerner von Marilaun and entered the Society of Jesus, becoming a Jesuit priest. On arrival in Quito in 1870 he worked as professor of botany at the Polytechnical College, which (the biographical source mistakenly states) later became the Central University of Quito, and became known as Luis. In 1886 Sodiro was also named botany professor at the Agricultural College and was the founder and director of a botanic garden there. He published extensively on the flora of Ecuador (his adopted country). Note: The Central University of Quito was established in 1826.



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.


Source: "The Travels of Joseph Beal Steere in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador (1870-1873)." by Nelson Papavero et. al. (Arquivos de Zoologia, Volume 39, Number 2, 2008, Pages 87-269). Pages 239-240 contain an obvious reference to the Polytechnic Institute.


Some of the Jesuit professors at the Polytechnic Institute in Quito, perhaps circa 1871. Of the 19 professors only 11 are shown, perhaps dating the photograph to those mostly arriving 1870-1871 and early 1872. Source: Gabriel Garcia Moreno and Conservative State Formation in the Andes by Peter Henderson (2008, Page 164).


Circa 1875 perhaps showing Jesuits associated with the Escuela Politécnica Nacional.


The newly built Quito astronomical observatory (founded 1873, finished in 1878 (but according to one source finished in 1875). The first astronomical observatory in South America (and fitted with one of the best telescopes in the world at that time). Photograph date is 1877. (See: Historia y descripción del Observatorio Astronómico de Quito por Juan B. Menten (Quito, 1882). The title also appears as: Historia y boletín del Observatorio astronómico de Quito.


The closure of the National Polytechnic School

Following the assassination of Moreno the National Polytechnic School experienced insurmountable financial difficulties. Moreno left no clear successor and political power struggles quickly developed. Vice-President Francisco León consented to remain in power until the new elections months later. However, he was succeeded by José Ríofrío in early October until the elections in early December. Following the elections Antonio Borrero became President. Antonio Borrero established a liberal government but due to lack of any real changes it only lasted from 1875 to 1876. It would appear that the National Polytechnic School was not only allowed to remain open but continued to be financed from national revenue per Moreno's contractual agreement. The EPN was tuition free. Under Moreno the government - despite the issue of public debt - bankrolled the EPN.

After the death of Moreno it appears serious disagreements emerged between the Spanish Provincial of the Jesuits and German Provincial of the Jesuit. This caused Menten to leave the Jesuits. There was also the issue of the declining health of several of the Jesuit teachers. Additionally, several of the German Jesuits at the Polytechnic Institute in Quito suffered a crisis of faith. (In 1874 Theodor Wolf left the Jesuit order. It was perhaps more a crisis of theology than a crisis of faith. He was criticised for teaching Darwin per articles published back in Europe.) An attempt to restart classes in October 1876 was not possible. Luigi Sodiro also left the Jesuit Order whilst in Quito. Also, Federico Gonzalez Suarez (born Quito 1844-died 1917) left the Jesuit Order in 1872, and began to write and publish on Ecuadorian history. It is indicated in one of Epping's letters in the Jesuit archive in Quito that Epping was sympathetic/empathic to the plight of Wolf.

Then the EPN was closed on 15 September 1876 by President Borrero, mostly for political reasons. The liberal revolution of September 1876 led by General Ignacio de Veintemilla defeated the government led by Antonio Borrero, and appointed himself President of Ecuador. (In 1876 Borrero named General Ignacio de Veintemilla Chief of the Army but soon dismissed him. Shortly afterwards Veintemilla lad a successful revolt against Borrero.) It appears it was this revolution that ended any hope that the National Polytechnic School would be able to continue. The new government had no intention to finance the school or allow it to reopen. (Presidents Borrero, and Veintemilla both issued decrees prohibiting reopening the school.) After defeating the Borrero government, Veintemilla governed Ecuador until 1883.

August, September, and October is Autumn in the northern hemisphere. Veintemilla established himself in power in September (Autumn). Epping returned to Europe in the Autumn of 1876. Epping likely left Ecuador in September (Autumn), with the establishment of Veintemilla in power and reached Europe in October.

The staffing of the EPN involved both German and Italian Jesuits. Presumably the Italian Jesuits left with the German Jesuits. The relative quickness with which they left Ecuador indicates lengthy prior communication with Europe since the assassination of Moreno the year before. The Jesuits had stipulated (in their contract) that in case of any expulsion by any future post-Moreno government they should not be exiled or dispersed for 8 months after the day of their suppression had been notified; so that they had time to dispose of their property before their departure.

Epping's correspondence whilst in Quito

This is only recently being mentioned by Spanish-speaking historians. One reference to a letter by Epping is given as: "Carta del P. Josef Epping al P. San Román, visitador de la Compañía de Jesús en el Ecuador", 8 de octubre de 1875, Archivo de la Compañía de Jesús (ACJQ), leg. VI, Cartas de los Superiores y Viceversa 1850-1892. (See: Cuvi, Nicolás. et. al. (2014) "La circulación del darwinismo en el Ecuador (1870-1874)." Procesos: revista ecuatoriana de historia, Number 39, enero-junio, Pages 115-142. [Page 119, Note 5.]) There was, of course, no correspondence with Strassmaier. La primera Escuela Politécnica del Ecuador. Estudio histórico e interpretación by Francisco Miranda Ribadeneira (1972) makes use of correspondence by Epping in the Archives of the society of Jesus in Quito. Specifically aspects regarding Wolf leaving the Jesuit order. Epping apparently wrote that the environment (apparently meaning more than simply the climate) in Quito would influence a man of melancholic temperament to leave the Jesuits. Another letter by Epping in the Quito archives is dated enero [January] 22 1876.

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. Soon after British-owned steamships began to run to America a company was formed by leading business men interested in the West Indies, to carry the mails from England to that part of the world. The charter of this company, to be known as the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, was granted in 1839. In 1846 the company began to carry the mails for places on the western coast of South America, the Pacific Steam Navigation Company receiving them at Panama. In January 1851, the company by contract with the government inaugurated a monthly service to Brazil and the river Plate, and new steamers were built which greatly increased the rapidity of transit. This company was therefore the first to institute direct mail communication by steamer between Europe and the countries of South America, as it had also been with the West Indies. 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.

Steamships usually use the prefix designations of "PS" for paddle steamer or "SS" for screw steamer (using a propeller or screw). As paddle steamers became less common, "SS" is assumed by many to stand for "steam ship". The term steamboat is used to refer to smaller, insular, steam-powered boats working on lakes and rivers, particularly riverboats.

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.

The Pacific Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) was formed in London in 1838. The company commenced operations on the West Coast of South America in 1840. In 1852 they were granted the British Government Mail contract to the area. From 1846-1923 one of the ship routes was: Valparaiso - Callao - Guayaquil - Panama (and return). A typical passenger/mail ship perhaps was the Panama - PSNC. It was a PSNC steamer that provided a coastal mail and passenger service along the Pacific coast of South America.

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

First leg of Epping's return to Europe

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).


RMSP Elbe. Steam powered. Royal Mail Line's last square rigged ship. Completed 1872, scrapped 1903, length 350 feet, breadth 40.2 feet, depth 33.3 feet, tonnage 3063g, 1772nrt. (Source: 2012.)

Atlantic routes for RMSP ships.

Pacific Steam Navigation Company iron screw steamship John Elder photographed in 1870. It was wrecked when it ran aground in 1892.

Panama - PSNC. The ship provided a passenger and mail service along the Pacific coast of South America.


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.

Epping's work at Blyenbeek


Sketch of Blyenbeek 1880.


Epping's publications at Blyenbeek were: Epping, Joseph. (1881). "Zur Entzifferung der astronomischen Tafeln der Chaldäer." (Stimmen aus Maria Laach, Band 21, Number 8, September, Pages 277–292); and Epping, Joseph. (1882). Der kreislauf im kosmos. (Egänzungshefte zu den "Stimmen aus Maria Laach" 18; Freiburg im Breisgau ; Louis, Mo. : Herder).

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.

The entry "Epping, Joseph" (Page 1270) in The Biographical Dictionary of Astronomers edited by Thomas Hockey, et al. (Springer, 2007) is barely adequate and possibly contains errors. It states: "In Exaeten he published Der Kreislauf im Kosmos (1882), a criticism of the Immanuel Kant/Pierre-Simon Laplace "Nebular Hypothesis" for the origin of the Solar System." It seems certain that in 1882 Epping was still at Blyenbeck. A number of sources place him there.

It is difficult to believe that Epping transferred in 1881 (but not so 1882), 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. Out of this muddle we can perhaps rely on Jesuit-Lexikon, A-J, by Ludwig Koch (1934, Reprinted 1962; Page 518) that from 1885 to 1894 Exaeten was the location of the Philosophy students and also the writer's home (Schriftstellerheim). Both Stimmen Maria-Laach and Katholik Missionen were produced from there. Also, from 1885 it was the location of the German Provincial. Jesuit-Lexikon, A-J, by Ludwig Koch (1934, Reprinted 1962; Page 218) has Blyenbeek as the location for the Philosophy students from 1st July 1873 until 1885, when they moved It seems some sources mix 1885 events with 1886 activities. The move from Blyenbeek was in 1885 and the start of studies at the new location was 1886.

At least during the 1890s the German Jesuits at Exaeten gained recognition for carrying out extensive historico-philosophical research (philosophy, political theory, and ancient literature). "Another band of Jesuit workers have devoted themselves to mental and natural philosophy and have acquired distinction in both. The Philosophia Lacensis has now an acknowledged place in the philosophical world; and the names of Fathers Tilmann Pesch, Cathrein, Boedder, Meyer, Epping, Dressel, and Gruber, are known far and wide, as authorities in various departments of philosophy." (The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Third Series, Volume XVIL, 1896, Page 243.)

Note: One publication by an ex-Jesuit at Exaeten states that Epping was "Professor für Mathematik und Physik in Exaeten (and taught physics at Quito). This is a mistake of memory.

Epping persuaded by Strassmaier to interpret cuneiform texts thought to deal with mathematical astronomy

In AaB Epping explains how he was persuaded by Strassmaier to work on the interpretation of some of the astronomical texts that Strassmaier had copied and shown him. (Strassmaier required some one familiar with positional astronomy and also could do the necessary mathematical calculations.) Strassmaier first explained the philological-historical aspect of the astronomical cuneiform texts; and then the question of whether astronomy is able to help shed some light on their meaning. Strassmaier had judged the content of the tablets to be scientifically valuable. He (Epping) had an opportunity for significant historical research.

Epping also points out the difficulties confronting him. These involved: (1) his lack of knowledge of cuneiform, (2) his being primarily a mathematician rather than an expert positional astronomer, and (3) his computations to analyse the numbers appearing on tablets would involve a very large number of unknowns and a very limited number of knowns.

Epping began his effort with an unregistered tablet containing 7 columns of numbers. (Later the fragmentary tablet was formally registered as SH 81-7-6, 277 = part of BM 34580 = ACT 122.) The fragment studied by Epping forms the largest central fragment of a now restored 9 fragment System B lunar ephemerides.

Knowledge of Babylonian mathematical astronomy had disappeared so completely that nobody knew of it until it was recovered by the studies of Strassmaier, Epping, and Kugler.

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. Some tablets from the Hellenistic Babylonian cities of Babylon and Uruk presented columns of numbers that understandably early cuneiformists were reluctant to try and decode. Epping too was initially reluctant to try and find meaning within large number sets, as too many possibilities were presented. The tabular texts containing mostly numbers lack any indication of their astronomical significance.

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. Strassmaier only really began the interpretation of texts he copied when he began assisting Epping. It is certain that Epping did not treat Strassmaier in the harsh manner that Kugler was to later treat Strassmaier.

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." It was the combination of the epigraphic skill of Strassmaier and the astronomical knowledge of Epping that combined to make their investigations successful. Epping and Strassmaier divided the task: Epping dealt with mathematics and astronomy, and Strassmaier dealt with philology and palaeography. At that early period in assyriology grammatical notes and transliterations were more useful than attempts at translations.

Epping's investigative method

The years following 1880/1881 became a period of intense research by Epping.

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. Asger Aaboe remarked: "Epping brilliantly and swiftly came to understand much of the basic structure and terminology of Babylonian astronomy." 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.


Source: Essay Review "Empirical Foundations of Babylonian Lunar Theory." by Noel Swerdlow (JHA, Volume 30, 1999, Page 169).


Epping and his assistance from Hontheim and Lorenz

The astronomical interpretation was mainly the work of Epping. Strassmaier made almost no contribution.

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?). It is indicated that Augustus Lorenz did not become the Parish Administrator (Pfarradministrator), Rector at a branch church in Groß-Leubusch until November 1889. 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. Also, not to be confused with A[dolf] F[riedrich] Lorenz author of "Das Alter des heutigen jüdischen Kalenders." (Historisches Jahrbuch Görres-Gesellschaft, Band 26, 1905, Pages 81-99).

Both Kugler DBM (1900) and Schaumberger Ergan. 3 (1935, Page 375) mention "Aug. Lorenz" but neither adds any new information. A strong possible source of  further biographic information is, Forschungen und Quellen zur Kirchen- und Kulturgeschichte Ostdeutschlands, Volume 6, 1969 (Böhlau Verlag, Institut für Ostdeutsche Kirchen- und Kulturgeschichte, Bonn).

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

Many of the tablets consisted largely of numbers, month names, and technical terms unknown to Strassmaier. The difficulties in decipherment were enhanced by the damaged condition of the tablets.

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. His free time from teaching was spent in intensive study of the astronomical cuneiform texts provided by Strassmaier. 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.

It was Epping who first showed that Babylonian uranography (star names and constellations) was similar to that still in use in Western celestial cartography.

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. (Epping, Joseph and Strassmaier, Johann. (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). The introduction was by Johann Strassmaier. The modest article explained the difficulties experienced and their first results.)

In Epping and Strammaier's 1881 paper Strassmaier - in the introduction - discussed his conclusions that: (1) There was a relation between the Assyrian reports of lunar visibility and fragments of a hemerology (calendar commentary) giving the god and rituals for the days of Ulūlu II [a second Ulūlu (month)] and Arahsammu [the Assyrian word for "eighth month."], (2) From the evidence of an eponym list and the date in an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser I the Babylonian calendar could be extended back beyond the 10th-century BCE. (3) The astronomical knowledge of the Assyrians was introduced from Babylon. (4) Tablets fragments from the Seleucid period (described by Strassmaier) indicated a series of astronomical observations that appear to belong to a great collection [beginning] from a very early period [= Astronomical Diary project]. (5) Tablets containing lists of numbers appear to apply to the computation of the heliacal risings and settings of the planets and to the new and full moon. (6) Some tablets with the names of stars with numbers appear to contain observations of the motions of the planets or of lunar eclipses.

It was astute of Strassmaier to identity that tablets fragments from the Seleucid period indicated a series of astronomical observations that appear to belong to a great collection [beginning] from a very early period [= Astronomical Diary project]. For the most part - aside from recording standardised information - the Astronomical Diary genre give very few clues; certainly regarding their authors and origins. They comprise an extensive record of astronomical observations from the last 7 or 8 centuries BCE.

In the part of Epping's contribution he took 81-7-6, 272 [the 'Crescent Table'] as the starting point for his study. Epping demonstrated he correctly understood 81-7-6, 272 (= BM 34580, = ACT 122) to be calculations of the new moon. For this he only had 13 lines to work with. Specifically, Epping identified that column K plus 29 days gives the differences for the dates in column L; and that column K is formed from 2 columns to the left, evidently G plus J. (BM 34580 was part of the obverse of a large well preserved lunar ephemeris.) BM 34580 is a large fragment of one of the best-preserved lunar ephemerides from Babylon calculated using 'System B.' It was written in the Seleucid Era 209 IX 18, as the scribe tells us in the colophon, and it treats new moons for the years 208, 209, and 210 of the Seleucid Era (104/103 – 102/101 BCE). (Note: The largely reconstructed tablet comprises BM 34580 + 42690 + 42869 + 42902 + 43000 + 43030.) 81-7-6, 272 (= BM 34580, = ACT 122) was in effect a master text for System B.

Epping remarked that the computation of the new moon is related to the computation of the full moon, and also the computation of the solar and lunar eclipses. He also remarked that this tablet fragment confirms the old traditions of the (astronomical) science of the Chaldaeans. Epping also commented that this tablet fragment provides more information concerning the (astronomical) science of the Babylonians than all the extant reports from antiquity.

Astronomisches aus Babylon


Title page of Astronomisches aus Babylon (1889). Epping appears as the author and Strassmaier is mentioned as the provider of texts.


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. Asger Aaboe wrote that Astronomisches aus Babylon: "… conveys a sense of the excitement of his [Epping's] pioneering efforts."

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. ("Strassmaier and Epping's Astronomisches aus Babylon." by Archibarld Sayce also appeared in The Critical Review of Theological and Philosophical Literature, Volume 1, 1891, Pages 135-140.) Sayce made the point that the recent attempt (Die Kosmologie der Babylonier) by the assyriologist Peter Jensen to solve the same problem of deciphering Babylonian astronomical texts by philology alone was unsuccessful. 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 titled "L'astronomie á [à] Babylone." were published by Father J. D. [J-D] Lucas S.J. of Louvain (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgique) in the volumes of the Revue des Questions Scientifiques, Volume XXVIII, October 1890 and April 1891, also 1892 (and Volume XXXIX (= XXXI?). See also: "Ephémérides planētaires des Chaldéens." by J. D. Lucas in Revue des Questions Scientifiques, Volume XXXI. See a similar (Dutch-language) essay based on AaB: "Der sterrenkunde der Chaldeērs." by J. van Mierlo, S.J. in Het Belfort, Jaargang 6, 1891 Pages 83-90, 144-149, 172-178, and 302-309.

At the time of publication of Astronomisches aus Babylon, George Bertin published a series of articles in the journal Nature in which he maintained that Babylonian astronomy was only concerned with omens and denied the Babylonians had any knowledge of the (complicated) movements of the planets. See: "Babylonian Astronomy." by George Bertin (Nature, Volume XL, 1889, July 4, Page 237; July 11, Page 261; July 18, Page 285; and August 8, Page 360). However, German scientific periodicals recognised the value of Astronomisches aus Babylon. Peter Jensen, who had just published a book on Babylonian cosmology immediately praised Astronomisches aus Babylon.

Epping and Babylonian lunar theory

Amongst other things Joseph Epping originally identified an ephemeris of positions of the Moon (1881). The small book AaB (1889) was highly important from the standpoint of astronomy and chronology. It contained an exposition of the late astronomy of the Babylonians worked out from copies of Ephemerides of the moon and planets. 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.

Texts used by Strassmaier and Epping

Texts used by Strassmaier and Epping
Old catalogue number and date first copied by Strassmaier Date first published New catalogue numbers Type of text Date of text
SH 81-7-6, 277 (Date copied: ?) 1881 (Tablet forming part of BM 34580+ investigated by Epping in 1881 (pages 282-291), 1889, and 1890.) BM 34580+, LBAT 66, ACT 122 Moon System B (new moons) 104 to 101 BCE (-103/2 to -101/0)
Sp 128 (Date copied: ?) 1881? (1889) (Identification attempted by Epping in AaB pages 117-133, then 1892, ZA 7, pages 224-225.) BM 34032, LBAT 1059 Normal star almanac 111 BCE (-110)
Sp 129 (Date copied: ?) 1881? (1889) (Identification attempted by Epping in AaB pages 117-133, then 1892, ZA 7, pages 224-225.) BM 34033, LBAT 1055 Normal star almanac 123 BCE (-122)
Sp 162 (Date copied: ?) 1889 (Studied by Epping in AaB pages 8-16.) BM 34066, LBAT 60, ACT 120 Moon System B (new and full moons) 133 to 132 BCE (-132/1)
Sp 175 (Date copied: Copy completed by Strassmaier on 25 June 1879.) 1889 (Published by Epping in 1889, AaB, pages 21-22. Normal star almanacs discussed pages 17-108.) BM 34078, LBAT 1051 Normal star almanac 124 BCE (-123/2)
Rm IV 118A (Date copied: ?) 1889 (Published by Strassmaier 1888 in ZA 3, pages 147-148; and Epping in 1889 in ZA 4, pages 168-171.) BM 33562A, LBAT 1445 Lunar eclipse report 80 (79?) BCE
78-11-7, 4 (Date copied: ?) 1890 (Unique proto-almanac. In ZA 5, Epping explained the lunar and planetary data.) BM 33066, LBAT 1477 Excerpt text number 55 (Known as "Cambyses 400" = "Strassmaier Cambyses II tablet number 400") 523 BCE
Rm 678 (Date copied: ?) 1890 (Transliteration and translation in ZA 5, pages 353-363, computations pages 363-366; copy in ZA 6, 1891, pages 229-230.) BM 92682, LBAT 1297 Goal-year text number 86 76 BCE
S+ 76-11-17, 1949 (Date copied: ?) 1890(/1?) (Transliteration and translation of part in ZA 6, pages 89-98, notes and computations pages 98-101, copy page 231.) BM 32222, LBAT 1237 Goal-year text number 20 194 BCE
SH 88-7-21, 9 (Date copied: ?) 1890 (Partial translation with notes and computations in ZA 6, pages 217-225.) CBS 17, LBAT 1295 Goal-year text number 82 87 BCE
Rm 710 (Date copied: ?) 1891 (Analysis in ZA 6.) LBAT 498 Astronomical diary (fragment) 89 BCE (-88)
Rm 844 (Date copied: ?) 1891 (Published in ZA 6, pages 226, 230.) None Horoscope (fragment) 89 BCE? (88 BCE)
Rm 845 (Date copied: ?) 1891 (ZA 6, pages 226-227, copy page 232.) None Astronomical diary (fragment) 329 BCE (-328)
Rm IV 397 (Date copied: ?) 1891 (ZA 6, pages 226-227, copy page 236. Transliteration and translation in ZA 7.) BM 33837, LBAT 284 Astronomical diary (fragment) 233 BCE (-232)
82-7-4, 137 (Date copied: ?) 1891? (1890/1891) (Reference made to in ZA 6.) BM 92688+, LBAT 243 Astronomical diary (fragment) 274 BCE (-273)
Sp I, 131 (Date copied: ?) 1891 (Discussed in ZA 6.) BM 34035 Astrological text 138 BCE
Sp II, 48 (Date copied: ?) 1892 (ZA 7, pages 198-200. Also, Strassmaier in 1893 in ZA 8, pages 106f.) BM 34576+ Saros list 405 to 99 BCE
Sp II, 71 (Date copied: ?) 1893 (Analysis in ZA 8, pages 149-178. Also in 1895 in ZA 10, pages 64-69.) BM 34579+, LBAT 1428 Saros Canon 401 to 272 BCE
Sp II, 955 (Date copied: ?) 1893 (Analysis in ZA 8.) BM 34576+ Saros list 549 to 423 BCE
SH 81-7-6, 93 (Date copied: ?) 1893 (Analysis in ZA 8, pages 149-178.) BM 45688, LBAT 50, ACT 60 Ephemeris of full moons (Moon System A) at which  lunar eclipses were possible 175-152 BCE (-174/3 to -151/0)

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.) For a brief discussion of Epping's involvement in the discussion of what was deemed 'the principal questions of natural philosophy' see: A Christian Apology by Paul Schanz (3 Volumes, 4th revised edition, Volume 1, 1891, particularly page 65); and Katholisch oder jesuitisch?: Drei zeitgeschichtliche Untersuchungen by Friedrich Nippold (1888) (Page 46). The Jesuits believed there was a close correlation between philosophy and natural science.

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 Epping 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. Epping may also have 'pulled back' somewhat regarding preparation for his lectures because of the effort required for numerous calculations to understand Babylonian astronomy.

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 repeatedly and increasingly ill (suffered a protracted illness) and also became (at least partially) 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. Epping had begun to be ill before AaB was published. He became increasingly ill and died before discussions regarding its strong and weak points were settled, and before he could introduce the necessary corrections for errors made. 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.

During the period in Quito of what has been labelled the 'crisis of faith issue,' and also during the later separate period of serious disagreements between the Spanish and German Jesuits in Quito, Epping's archival letters show him to be calm and moderate.

Epping suffered greatly from declining ill-health during the last years of his life. According to Alexander Baumgartner S.J., Epping was none-the-less a man of untiring activity and combined geniality and a keen sense of humour with a deep and simple piety.

Epping's death

During the last years of his life Epping suffered from failing health. Epping died on the evening of August 22nd (aged 59 years) at the Jesuit College at Exaeten Castle, Holland (22.08.1894). Epping died prematurely aged 59. His death was due to his worsening ill-health. At the time of his death Epping had not exhausted the astronomical drawings made by Strassmaier.

Strassmaier and Epping had worked together for circa 12 years and stayed in constant correspondence.

With the death of Epping further studies of Babylonian mathematical astronomy effectively came to a standstill until 4 years later when Kugler was commissioned to continue Epping's work. During the intervening years Hontheim made limited progress and did not publish anything.

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).


On Babylonian astronomy, Epping published 6 articles in joint authorship with Strassmaier and 2 as sole author. Strassmaier published 2 of Epping's 'letters' in which Epping set out the results of his further studies.

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

Epping, Joseph [José]. (1873, 2 Volumes). Tratado de Geometría Elemental. [Contents: Volume 1.- Relaciones entre líneas rectas. Triángulos. Paralelógramos. Círculo. Areas de las figuras rectilíneas. Proporciones en general. Proporciones entre cantidades geométricas y semejanza de figuras. Polígonos regulares y medida del círculo. Ejercicios prácticos. Volume 2.- Rectas y planos en el espacio, ángulos sólidos. Poliedros. Cilindro y cono. Esfera. Ejercicios prácticos.]

Epping, Joseph [José]. (1874). Geometría del Espacio.

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. (In 1874 Daniel Quijano (Tratado de aritmética elemental para uso de los Colegios de Segunda Enseñanza) wrote that he was grateful to Epping for the kindly cooperation extended in writing his book on mathematics.) 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: A monograph stated by some to be published when he was working at Exaeten. Most likely Epping was still at Blyenbeck. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia entry states: "It was an exposition and critique of the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis [for the origin of the solar system] and a refutation of the pantheistic and materialistic conclusions which had been drawn from it." According to Epping it was a scientific phantasy. The monograph was issued as a criticism/rebuttal to the materialism of Immanuel Kant and Pierre-Simon Laplace, and also possibly Darwinism. (See the article in Der Katholik, 1883.) It was apparently based on a philosophical and theological study of contemporary scholasticism.]

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). [Note: Cambyses 400, dated 523-522 BCE.]

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). [Note: A complete calculation of the Saros period.]

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. Several of his letters are held in the Jesuit archive in Quito. Several more of his letters are mentioned in Woodstock Letters Index, Volumes 1-80, 1872-1951 compiled by George Zorn, S.J. (1960; see page 86). Epping of course corresponded with Strassmaier. He also corresponded with Joseph Hontheim and Augustus Lorenz.

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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