The Recovery Of Babylonian Astronomy by Gary D. Thompson
Copyright © 2009-2014 by Gary D. Thompson
Return To Site Contents Page
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
(9) The Pinches Era - Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs (and Theophilus Pinches), and Bartel van der Waerden
Part 21: The Pinches Era
Despite the enormous pioneering efforts of Strassmaier, Epping, Kugler and Schaumberger, the extensive cuneiform astronomical material was still largely unpublished and insufficiently studied. To be dealt with were the increase of scattered material in museums worldwide and the huge amount of still unpublished texts from Strassmaier's notebooks. In the 1940's Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs, both interested in the study of astronomical cuneiform tablets, formed a collaborative partnership for the purpose of studying and publishing all astronomical cuneiform tablets not yet dealt with.
When Otto Neugebauer began his studies of Babylonian mathematical astronomy it was supposed that Strassmaier's copies of astronomical tablets would form the basis of of his research material. However, as Neugebauer gradually gained the co-operation of various museum directors he was able to expand the number of mathematical astronomical texts available for use. From 1945 to 1955: (1) More than 100 texts from Uruk were collected (in the form of photographs, autograph copies, and transcriptions) from different museums. (2) In 1949 Strassmaier's original notebooks were made available to Neugebauer (and Sachs) and 83 new texts were obtained from them. (3) In 1952 the British Museum made available to Sachs some 1350 sheets (approximately 1600 texts) of autograph copies made by Pinches of astronomical texts. Included in Pinches' drawings were 60 new mathematical astronomical fragments.
The close of the Strassmaier era
What Otto Neugebauer has fittingly termed the "Strassmaier era" came to a close in the summer of 1952. A Rockefeller Foundation travel grant enabled the Assyriologist Abraham Sachs to work during the summer at the British Museum. Whilst there he was given access (in the summer of 1952) to approximately 1350 sheets of copies of astronomical texts made by Theophilus Pinches in the British Museum between 1895 and 1900, before Ernest Budge forced the termination of his official activity at the museum. Many of these masterly finished copies duplicated texts which had been previously copied by Johann Strassmaier. But there were also many copies of new texts. Approximately 60 new ACT class fragments were included in the drawings; half of these joined previously known texts. All of the new texts enabled a substantial increase in our knowledge of Babylonian astronomy. (It did not become known - at least outside the British Museum - until 1953 that Theophilus Pinches, between 1895 and 1900, had copied approximately 1350 fragments of astronomical texts. The attitude that the British Museum curators had adopted towards the copies of Pinches' drawings having astronomical content - they locked them away in a drawer for some 50 years - can reservedly be termed extraordinary.)
In 1952 Sachs received a Rockefeller Foundation travel grant to study astronomical cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. This work was carried out during 1953 and 1954. His work there assisted Otto Neugebauer to complete his protracted project Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (3 Volumes, 1955). The masterly copies of cuneiform astronomical and astrological texts that the pioneer British assyriologist Theophilus Pinches had made during his employment there between 1895 and 1900, and which had been kept locked in a cupboard for some 50 years, were made available to Sachs. Approximately 60 new ACT class fragments were included in Pinches' drawings. Sachs published Pinches' drawings, comprising approximately 1350 sheets (approximately 1600 texts), (including, in cooperation with Johann Schaumberger, some texts copied by Johann Strassmaier), in Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts (1955). These included both mathematical, observational, and omen, texts. However, no translations were published. Until 1955 very few late Babylonian astronomical tablets had been published. Extensive translations of texts in Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts have only become available since circa the mid-1980s.
The Pinches era
Between 1895 and 1900 Pinches, whilst working at the British Museum, drew masterful copies of numerous tablets, including many astronomical ones. Many of Pinches' copies duplicate Strassmaiers, but Pinches' copies are in a final form, ready for publication. Strassmaier only copied in a preliminary fashion for identification and later study. Furthermore, many of Pinches' copies include new texts, which Strassmaier never copied. From 1880 up till 1952 only drawings by Strassmaier, made prior to 1893, were available.
In his prodigous writings on Babylonian astronomy Otto Neugebauer also fittingly introduced the term the "Pinches era." The texts copied by Johann Strassmaier were basically done before 1897. (He left 1 drawing half-completed in 1897 - the last he was to work on.) Strassmaier's notebooks cover only those texts with the inventory numbers between BM 32,000 and BM 36,000. However, he did make notes about similar texts, numbered between BM 45,000 and BM 47,000, that he had been informed of by Pinches. This made it certain that the astronomical archive held in the British Museum collection was much more extensive, and not at all limited to that part of the collection investigated by Strassmaier. (In 1952 this conclusion was confirmed in 1952 by Abraham Sachs.) Pinches copied texts between 1895 and 1900. To a considerable extent Strassmaier and Pinches copied the same tablets. Described in terms of the older British Museum designations, both men worked through Sp[Spatali]. and Sp. II. Strassmaier also copied most of Rm[Rassam]. IV, selected texts of S† [St] 76-11-17, and almost all of SH[Shemtob]. 81-7-6. Furthermore, Pinches copied many new texts which Strassmaier had not copied. Pinches did copy Sp. III and 81-6-25, collections that Strassmaier gave almost no attention to. (Texts marked as "Rm" means acquired through Hormuzd Rassam, a naturalised British subject, for many years British consul in Mosul (circa 1880). Texts marked "Sp" means acquired through the London antiquities dealer Spartali. Texts marked "SH" means acquired through the London antiquities dealer Shemtob.)
Pinches also often succeeded in making joins between fragments which Strassmaier had recorded singly. Four fragments of an ephemeris for Venus were discovered by Strassmaier in 1891 in the Spartali Collection of the British Museum. He copied them in his notebook and then made second copies which he sent to Joseph Epping (and after Epping's death these copies finally reached Franz Kugler). Several years later Theophilus Pinches realized independently that three of these fragments could be joined to form a bigger segment and copied them again. Kugler, having no knowledge of Pinches' results, published only one of the three connected fragments plus the fourth disconnected fragment, both in normalized cuneiform writing.
Also, whilst many of Pinches' copies duplicate Strassmaier's they have the advantage of being a finished product. Strassmaier's practice was to copy only in a preliminary fashion for identification and later study. Pinches' copies are superior and executed in a final form, ready for publication. His ability to identify technical terminology was occasionally not as assured as Strassmaier's ability, but overall he was successful in dealing with very difficult passages.
The ability of Pinches to make joins
Pinches often succeeded in making joins between fragments which Strassmaier had recorded singly.
Strassmaier and Pinches method of copying
Pinches was attached to the British Museum for almost a quarter of a century. Probably no other Assyriologist has published as many cuneiform texts as Pinches. Theophilus Pinches, Johann Strassmaier, and Leonard King form the trio of the most expert pioneering copyists of cuneiform texts.
One aspect of Strassmaier's method of copying was also shared by Pinches. Both Strassmaier and Pinches shared the premise that the "standard" form of a sign should be copied even when the tablet exhibited a variant form. Thus both persons, when copying, after having recognised a variant form of a sign, wrote the "standard" form of the sign on the drawing without regard for its actual written form on the tablet. This convention is always to be reckoned with, since many of the tablets were written with a heavy slant. When the slant is marked, one can almost never distinguish between certain similar wedge signs, and it is therefore not surprising that both Strassmaier and Pinches sometimes made wrong decisions.
The suppression of Pinches unpublished drawings
The suppression of Pinches unpublished drawings was the continuation of a long-running feud, which was in some sense an outworking of rivalry between Rawlinson and Layard. Pinches appeared as a witness on Rassam's side in the libel suit which Rassam (Layard's protegee) initiated against Budge (Rawlinson's protégée). Budge, and the Museum management, felt that Pinches had let them down, no matter how justified Rassam was in his complaint. Indeed, Rassam won the case and was also later vindicated by Mallowan's later excavations at Balawat in the 1950s. Subsequently Budge vindictively engineered the dismissal of Pinches from the British Museum in 1900. After his dismissal Pinches took up a position as a Professor at University College, however, it seems clear that he was never again allowed access to the British Museum's collections. When Pinches left the service of the British Museum in 1900 all his unpublished drawings were stored in the archives (put away (locked) in a cupboard) where they remained untouched for more than 50 years - neither used nor shown to anyone. (They were literally forgotten about.) Only in 1952 was Abraham Sachs granted access to all the known copies of astronomical and astrological texts in the British Museum. Pinches drawings were rediscovered. This new source of copies also had the advantage that Pinches had often been able to piece together many fragments of the same tablet. Sachs published Pinches' drawings in 1955 in LBAT. Note: Layard had the practice of using his private resources to remove duplicate sculptures for his own purposes. The Trustees of the British Museum disapproved.
The splendid drawings by Pinches went unexamined for over 5 decades. The drawings by the Jesuit assyriologist Strassmaier were to be used for all the pioneering studies of Babylonian mathematical astronomy.
It is interesting that Strassmaier, working as a favoured visitor, always kept his copies of the drawings he made. His drawings were always taken away with him to the Jesuit residence in Mount Street. This was of course enabled by the British Museum's very liberal rules at the time. On the other hand Pinches did not personally keep the sheets of drawings that he made. (It would appear they were kept in his private office or similar.)
Part 22: Otto Neugebauer
Otto Neugebauer as science historian
The National Academy of Sciences has called Otto Neugebauer "the most original and productive scholar of the history of the exact sciences, perhaps of the history of science, of our age." Neugebauer began as a mathematician, turned first to Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics, and then took up the history of mathematical astronomy. Characteristic of Neugebauer's writings were brevity and understatement.
Biographical overview of Otto Neugebauer
Otto Neugebauer (life dates: 1899-1990). Austrian mathematician and historian of early mathematics and early astronomy. He was born in Innsbruck, Austria and died in the USA. His PhD was obtained in 1926 from the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. His doctoral dissertation title was Die Grundlagen de agyptischen Bruchrechnung. His academic career was dominated by the study of the early history of mathematics. Whilst studying mathematics at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen he made the decision to specialise in the early history of mathematics. He was generally rated as the most brilliant mathematical student at the University of Göttingen in the 1920s. Neugebauer's PhD at the University of Göttingen was completed in 1926. It dealt with the history of Egyptian unit fractions. In 1927 he was appointed to the staff of the University of Göttingen and a student at his first lecture course on the history of ancient mathematics was Bartel van der Waerden. (Bartel van der Waerden had arrived at the University of Göttingen in 1924, when he was 22 years old.) Neugebauer had studied Egyptian and then to facilitate his study of Babylonian mathematics he learned Akkadian. An early major study was his three-volume Mathematische Keilschrift-Texte (1935-1937). Neugebauer had begun, in 1931, to edit the newly created mathematical review journal (of which he was founding editor) Zentralblatt für Matematik. In 1934 he took the editorial office of the journal with him to his new appointment at the University of Copenhagen. This appointment was arranged through his friend Harald Bohr. Neugebauer then began, in 1937 whilst at the University of Copenhagen, to publish a series of papers on Babylonian mathematical astronomy. In his first paper of this series he set out his plan to achieve the publication of all classes of Babylonian astronomical texts. This plan was initially inhibited by the advent of World War II and has not yet been fully realised. In 1939, due to his clashes with the Nazi regime, he accepted an academic posting at Brown University, Rhode Island (in the USA), as Professor of Mathematics. This posting was arranged through the efforts of the American mathematician Oswald Veblen. Neugebauer brought with him the journal Zentralblatt für Matematik and the first issue appeared in January, 1940, as (the transformed American-based) Mathematical Reviews which he continued to edit until a full-time executive editor was appointed in 1945. In 1940 Neugebauer also toured the USA examining collections of cuneiform tablets. In 1947 he became the head of the newly created Department of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. This department, established on January 7, 1947, is now the world leader in the study of the exact sciences to the Renaissance period. He retired from Brown University in 1969 but still remained incredibly active. Neugebauer's prolific scholarship has revolutionised our understanding of the history of the exact sciences in antiquity. Relevant key publications: Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (3 Volumes, 1955); Egyptian Astronomical Texts (3 Volumes (in 4)), 1960-1969, in collaboration with Richard Parker); A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy (3 Parts, 1975).
"Otto Neugebauer's father, Rudolf Neugebauer, was a railway engineer. His mother's name is unknown. Both parents died when Otto was a young child and he was brought up by an uncle. He became interested in mathematics while at the Gymnasium in Graz but, in 1917, he joined the Austrian army as an artillery lieutenant to avoid having to take his final school examinations. In 1918 the war ended and he became a prisoner of the Italians. He was held in a prison camp in Italy along with another Austrian who went on to achieve world-wide fame, namely Ludwig Wittgenstein. After he was released from the prison camp, Neugebauer moved around. First he studied electrical engineering and physics at the University of Graz from 1919 to 1921, then he studied mathematics and physics at the University of Munich with Sommerfeld. He settled in Göttingen in 1922 where he began a serious study of mathematics having become friends with Courant, Harald Bohr, and Aleksandrov. His friendship with Bohr developed into a mathematical collaboration and they wrote a joint paper on almost periodic functions. It was to be Neugebauer's first and last paper on mathematics as such for his work at this point took a definite turn." (http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Neugebauer.html)
Neugebauer's training in assyriology/cuneiform philology
Otto Neugebauer had been counselled and trained in assyriology/cuneiform philology by Anton Deimel during a lengthy stay at the Pontificium Institutum Biblicum in Rome (See: MKT, 1927: 5).
Neugebauer's growing interest in Babylonian astronomy
Otto Neugebauer began to work the astronomical cuneiform material in 1935. Kugler’s pioneering work only made a well deserved impact when Neugebauer began his studies of Babylonian mathematical astronomy, based on Kugler's work, in the 1930's.
Otto Neugebauer's first paper touching on Babylonian astronomy was a short review of "The Venus Tablets of Ammizaduqa" by Stephen Langdon, John Fotheringham, and Carl Schoch (1928). By the 1930s Neugebauer's interest in Babylonian astronomy had intensified. He started investigating the Babylonian theory of the Moon in 1935. Neugebauer's next relevant paper on Babylonian astronomy, published in 1936, was concerned with the method of dating and analysing fragmentary mathematical cuneiform texts using diophantine equations. Neugebauer then began, in 1937, to publish a series of papers on Babylonian mathematical astronomy.
Otto Neugebauer and Albert Schott
Otto Neugebauer was friends with Albert Schott as his numerous references in Mathematische Keilschrift-Texte (= MKT) to Schott's assistance in philological matters show. However, Neugebauer recognized that Albert Schott had a strong interest in astronomy and later sought to utilize this.
Neugebauer's 1930's strategy for the publication of Babylonian astronomical texts
The decisive impulse for a new program for the decipherment and publication of Babylonian astronomical tablets originated with Neugebauer in the (early) 1930s. The need for a new publication of all the astronomical cuneiform material had become obvious. The date is a little uncertain but in the 1930s Neugebauer, Schott, and Schaumberger decided to cooperatively proceed with Neugebauer's plan. This was an expansion of the earlier original cooperative partnership between Neugebauer and Schott (arising out of their involvement in the CAD project). Neugebauer would have been aware that at the 18th International Congress of Orientalists in Leiden in 1931, Johann Schaumberger had declared his intention to continue Kugler's unfinished work on Babylonian astronomy (i.e., bring the first 2 volumes to completion). (I cannot find any evidence that either Neugebauer or Schott attended this conference.) In 1935 Schaumberger also published a lengthy paper on Babylonian astronomy and a 3rd supplementary volume to Kugler's unfinished Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. Albert Schott had published a lengthy and important paper on Babylonian astronomy in 1934. At least as early as 1935 Neugebauer had established his plan to achieve the publication of all classes of Babylonian astronomical texts. (It appears the origin of this plan dates to 1930/1931.) By circa1935 in addition to the German Assyriologist Albert Schott being a collaborator, the German historian Johann Schaumberger became an additional collaborator in Neugebauer's plan to publish a "corpus" of Babylonian astronomical texts. In an article in 1937 (in the mathematical review journal Zentralblatt für Matematik he was then publishing in Copenhagen) Neugebauer announced his (original?) plan/project involving collaboration with several prominent German assyriologists to publish the large corpus of Mesopotamian astral texts, involving mathematical astronomy, astral lore texts, omen texts, and observational texts. Unfortunately World War II stalled the original project and it came to nothing.
Important sources for understanding the development of Neugebauer's plan are: (1) Neugebauer's 1937 article in the mathematical review journal Zentralblatt für Matematik (he was then publishing in Copenhagen) where he announced his plan/project involving collaboration with several prominent German assyriologists to publish the large corpus of Mesopotamian astral texts, involving mathematical astronomy, astral lore texts, omen texts, and observational texts; (2) Albert Schott's presentation "Eine geplante Gesamtbearbeitung der astrologischen und astronomischen Keilschrifttexte." at the 1938 International Congress of Orientalists. A draft translation of part of Schott's presentation: "A plan for completely publishing astrological and astronomical cuneiform texts; and (3) Blog: Jack Sasson, "The Oriental Institute Fragments for a History of an Institution, September, 2008." (http://oihistory.blogspot.com.au/2008_09_01_archive.html).
Source (1) I have not yet seen: Neugebauer's 1937 paper "Untersuchungen zur antiken Astronomie I." in Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik, (Series B, Volume 4), in which Neugebauer set out his plan to achieve the publication of all classes of Babylonian astronomical texts.
Source (3): In 1927 Edward Chiera was appointed professor of Assyriology at the University of Chicago, and editor of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD). By 1929/1930 work on the CAD began to make progress. Circa 1930/1931 the step was taken to expand the production of the CAD by inviting non-resident, mainly foreign, Assyriologists to participate in the work. "Chiera conceived a plan whereby production of manuscripts was to be assigned to non-resident scholars, limiting the production of Dictionary cards to the resident Dictionary staff. With the help of F. W. Geers and T. Jacobsen, all the cuneiform sources which by 1929 had not yet been taken in by the Dictionary were broken up into categories, and a list of scholars all over the world who could provide the CAD with manuscripts containing transliterations, translations, and notes for certain categories of texts was made. An honorarium was established in payment for the manuscripts, with variations dependent on the size of the assignment and the difficulties attending the preparation of the manuscripts for certain categories of texts. The outside time limit for the completion of the assignments was set at two years. The scholars preparing the manuscripts retained full rights of publication in whatever place and form they might choose, and the CAD obligated itself to give credit for the completed work in its final publication." Schott was one of approximately 40 (non-resident) Assyriologists who completed individual assignments for the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, as requested by Edward Chiera. Neugebauer also completed individual assignments (regarding mathematical texts?). In Schott's case he contributed on material on astronomical and astrological texts. "Chiera's plan was put into effect immediately, and some forty Assyriologists were approached with the request that they take over individual assignments for the CAD. Those who accepted the assignments and completed them at least partially were … Albert Schott …. Those who accepted the assignment, but were not able to fulfill it were Peter Jensen, … [and] Otto Neugebauer ….. Scholars who were asked to take over an assignment, but who found it impossible, for one reason or another, to accept were … E. F. Weidner, … and Heinrich Zimmern. Non-Resident Collaborators … Schott, Albert …. Non-Resident Collaborators and their Dictionary assignments … Schott, Albert: Astronomical and astrological texts (very few texts delivered). Stuneck, Maude A.: New Babylonian economic and legal texts (Strassmaier) …."
Source (2), draft translation of part of Schott's 1938 presentation: "In 1930 the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago engaged Professor Otto Neugebauer (now in Copenhagen, Göttingen) and myself [in Bonn] to fulfill projects editing [Babylonian] cuneiform tablets dealing with astronomical and astrological cuneiform texts. It soon turned out that the deadline (time period) [of 2 years], which was set for us to complete our respective tasks was inadequate and needed to be extended if anything reasonable was to result. As a result of deadlines not being met the Oriental Institute cancelled/withdrew the projects given to Neugebauer and me. But the great task was and remains: a systematic editing/revision of all the cuneiform texts in accordance with a uniform plan, in collaboration with as many Assyriologists as possible from around the world. Otto Neugebauer and I decided to cooperate in this special field of astronomical-astrological cuneiform texts, and continue in a way that would systematically enable our expertise to effectively deal with the mathematical and astrological material. I took over the astrological texts. To our delight, Professor Pater Johann Schaumberger has made the editing of astronomical observation texts his responsibility. It is possible that Pater Louis Hartman [Mount St. Alphonsus (Redemptorist Seminary), Esopus (a town in Ulster County, New York State), USA] will assist me with some of the astrological cuneiform texts. Other volunteers are also welcome."
According to the plan, as of circa 1938 (but agreed several years earlier), essentially, Neugebauer was to deal with the mathematical astronomical texts, Schaumberger was to deal with the "observational" texts, closely related to Franz Kugler's work, and Schott was to deal with the earlier material i.e., the astronomical texts written before the Seleucid era, and the "astrological' texts. The complete results of their work were to be made available to the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project according to plans discussed with the Egyptologist James Breasted (who founded the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project in 1921), at the 19th International Congress of Orientalists in Rome in September 1935. Neugebauer's project was independent of the CAD project. Neugebauer, Schott, and Schaumberger all presented papers at this conference. Apparently Neugebauer did not discuss or plan the project with Edward Chiera who was the editor of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD), or take up discussions with Chiera after Breasted's death. It was Neugebauer's project plan, it was aimed at the publication of all Babylonian astronomical texts, it was open-ended regarding time, and it was based on obtaining volunteer effort. Neugebauer possessed organisational skills and the ability to garner support. (For Neugebauer possessing organisational skills and having the ability to attract support, see: J Gray, "Otto Neugebauer (b. 1899)," European Mathematical Society Newsletter, Volume 34, 1999, Pages 23-24.) (Schaumberger's paper "Der Stand der Arbeit an Kuglers Lebenswerk" was related to material comprising Kugler's unfinished studies on Babylonian astronomy.) Breasted died shortly after the conference, in December 1935. When Neugebauer began work on ACT in 1935, it was still Strassmaier's material that formed the basis of the investigation. In 1937 Neugebauer (then at the University of Copenhagen) began to publish a series of papers on Babylonian mathematical astronomy. In his first paper of this series "Untersuchungen zur antiken Astronomie I." in Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik, (Series B, Volume 4), Neugebauer set out his plan to achieve the publication of all classes of Babylonian astronomical texts.
Neugebauer's plans were soon to go astray. Firstly Breasted had died in 1935. Secondly, Neugebauer's plans were effectively inhibited by the advent of World War II. Both Schott and Schaumberger remained isolated in Germany for the duration of the war. Next Schott (born 1901) died at the end of the war in 1945. In all Schott's output was limited to 4 papers (3 of which appeared after cooperation with Neugebauer and Schaumberger was established); 2 of these were joint papers with Schaumberger (in 1938 and 1942). After completing 3 Ergan. of Kugler's Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel in 1935 Schaumberger sporadically published less than 10 papers on Babylonian astronomy prior to his death in 1955. After the war Schaumberger's activities in studying astronomical cuneiform texts declined. He never completed the (i.e., his) planned final 4th supplement of Kugler's Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel.
Observational texts report different astronomical phenomena. Astronomical observational tablets such as reports to the kings, diaries, lunar and planetary texts, and eclipse texts, contain observations as well as occasional calculations. ACT class texts predict different (certain) astronomical phenomena that were observed. The ACT class texts deal exclusively with the mathematical astronomical texts (i.e., mainly the tables of ephemerides) from the last few centuries BCE. Direct observation played only a small part in the computation of the ephemerides.
Neugebauer continues his strategy
In the spring of 1941 Neugebauer gave a lecture at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Whilst there he met Abraham Sachs, a young Assyriologist who had received his doctorate in 1939 from John Hopkins University and was working on the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. It appears that Neugebauer immediately decided that Abraham Sachs was the person to help continue his great project of publishing all the principal classes of cuneiform astronomical texts. Neugebauer arranged with the Rockefeller Foundation for Sachs to initially come to Brown University as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow.
The completion of Neugebauer's publishing project has not yet been realised. However, great progress has been made by the work of additional scholars over the past 50 years. In 1955 the results of Neugebauer's study of mathematical astronomical texts was published in the 3 volume Astronomical Cuneiform Texts. Also in 1955 Abraham Sachs edited the publication of the largest single collection of astronomical texts in the British Museum in Late Babylonian Astronomical Texts. The editing and translation nonmathematical astronomical texts (all nonACT texts are called nonmathematical texts), specifically the "astronomical diaries," was initially undertaken by Abraham Sachs and, since his death, continued by Hermann Hunger. Since 1989 multiple volumes of Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylon by Sachs and Hunger have appeared. From 1975 (with the publication of (the fascicle) The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa by Erica Reiner and David Pingree) there has been extensive publication of astrological texts by various scholars including Erica Reiner, David Pingree, Francesca Rochberg, Simo Parpola, and Hermann Hunger.
Neugebauer's access to Strassmaier's notebooks at the Pontificio Instituto Biblico
Otto Neugebauer mentions that he slowly gained access (year by year) to more copies of astronomical texts made by Johann Strassmaier.
In 1949 Strassmaier's notebooks at the Pontificio Istituto Biblico were made available to Otto Neugebauer (and Abraham Sachs).
In the post World War II period, as cuneiform texts from Uruk texts continued to become available to Otto Neugebauer, it also become obvious to him that Strassmaier's notebooks contained additional material which he had not yet seen. In 1949, on the recommendation of Anton Deimel (an Assyriologist and former student of Johann Strassmaier), in Rome, Otto Neugebauer was given full access to all of Johann Strassmaier's (relevant) notebooks, through the courtesy of the Pontificio Instituto Biblico. Abraham Sachs went through some thousands of such copies and identified those which belonged to the ACT class of texts. The result was that about 100 new fragments were identified. When joins were made these fragments reduced to form 83 more or less complete texts.
Neugebauer's acquisition of photographs of cuneiform texts in the British Museum
It was through the unflagging helpfulness of Cyril Gadd (then, circa 1929, Assistant Keeper, Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, British Museum) that Otto Neugebauer obtained photographs of all texts mentioned by Franz Kugler, and also a large number of additional texts whose existence in the British Museum was known through the copies made by Johann Strassmaier.
Neugebauer's acquisition of cuneiform texts from the Berlin Museum
Similarly, Hans Ehelolf (1891-1939, the Hittite specialist), during the late 1930s, made additional astronomical texts, from the collection of the Staatliche Museum in Berlin, available to Neugebauer. Whether this was by providing copies of the texts or enabling personal access to the texts is apparently uncertain.
Neugebauer's attempt to establish the number of known astronomical mathematical texts
From Johann Strassmaier's notebooks, and from Franz Kugler's publications, about 240 astronomical texts were recovered. All of these were probably found in one archive in Babylon. When Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs accessed Strassmaier's notebooks at the Pontificio Instituto Biblico approximately 100 additional fragments forming 83 astronomical texts were identified.
Publication of ACT in 1955
ACT contains a full technical analysis of all mathematical astronomy texts known at the time of its publication. Neugebauer dedicated ACT to the Jesuit fathers Strassmaier, Epping, and Kugler. In the 3 volumes comprising Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (1955) Neugebauer published most of the now known texts of mathematical astronomy. Neugebauer's comprehensive edition of Astronomical Cuneiform Texts is a monumental work that has become a paradigm for editions of scientific texts, and is likely to remain the standard interpretation of ancient mathematical astronomy. In his book review of the 1983 reprint (The American Mathematical Monthly, Volume 93, Number 2, February, 1986, Pages 135-138) Noel Swerdlow described ACT as: "... one of the monuments of the history of science, an accomplishment of enormous industry and considerable genius."
ACT deals with about 300 tablets and fragments. The majority are ephemerides: 142 of the moon, 81 of the planets, (41 of Jupiter, 12 of Saturn, 11 of Mercury, 9 of Venus, 8 of Mars). There are 56 procedure texts, and also auxiliary tables. Unlike the ephemerides, the procedure texts are not simply rows of numbers. Procedure texts contain detailed instructions how to compute the ephemerides. A large linguistic apparatus is needed to understand them.
Since the publication of ACT and LBAT research into Babylonian astronomy/astral sciences has continued without interruption.
Excursus: Mathieu Ossendrijver's recent work on procedure texts
Excerpt from article book review by John Steele, "Moving beyond 'Act' Babylonian Mathematical Astronomy: Procedure Texts, by Mathieu Ossendrijver (2012)" (Journal for the History of Astronomy, Volume 44, Number 156 , August 2013, Pages ?-?):
"The study of Babylonian mathematical astronomy has since the mid-1950s been founded on Otto Neugebauer's monumental publication Astronomical cuneiform texts (generally referred to as 'ACT'). In ACT Neugebauer edited and discussed all of the then known Babylonian tablets containing mathematical astronomy. These texts fall into two main categories: tabular texts, which contain calculated data for the Moon or a planet, and procedure texts, which contain instructions for calculating the data in the tables. In the years since the publication of ACT there has been a trickle of publications containing further texts, principally by Asger Aaboe, John Britton, Hermann Hunger and myself. It is only in the past ten years, however, that a comprehensive reassessment of the Babylonian mathematical astronomical texts has been undertaken through the work of Mathieu Ossendrivjer. The volume under review deals with the procedure texts and represents the first half of Ossendrijver's project. A planned second volume will deal with the tabular texts.
Ossendrijver's book contains a comprehensive study of the procedure texts. In addition to editions and detailed commentaries for each text, Ossendrijver provides a long introduction discussing the provenance and archival context of the tablets, their physical characteristics and layout, the terminology and mathematical methods employed in the texts, and detailed analysis of the various Babylonian lunar and planetary theories. The volume concludes with a glossary, indexes and high-quality colour photographs of all the tablets.
The centrepiece of the book is the editions of slightly more than one hundred procedure texts. Among these texts are many new fragments that have been identified by Ossendrijver. Some of these new fragments join tablets that previously were known, but a significant number represent new sources that attest to previously unknown aspects of Babylonian mathematical astronomy. The editions themselves are accurate and easy to follow with facing transliterations and translations, critical and philological notes (these are especially useful in providing explanations where there are improvements in the readings and interpretations over earlier editions), and detailed astronomical commentaries. The translations strike just the right balance between clarity and literalness. Crucially, Ossendrijver's translations preserve the subtle distinctions between the formulations of related mathematical operations in a way that many earlier translations failed to do. …"
Neugebauer's publication of The Exact Sciences in Antiquity
Neugebauer did not like synthetic work. The existence of this historical synthesis of the ancient sciences of mathematics and astronomy (published in 1951) is due to the invitation Cornell University made to Neugebauer to deliver 6 lectures in the autumn of 1949. (See the (English-language) book review by George Sarton and Francis Carmody in Isis, Volume. 43, Number 1, April 1952, Pages. 69-73.)
Neugebauer's 'big picture' approach
One of the principal themes of Neugebauer's work was the tracing of concepts and methods from one culture to another.
"Neugebauer received many awards, prizes, and honorary degrees. He was elected to membership of the leading academies around the world including the Royal Danish academy of Science, the Royal Belgium Academy of Science, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the British Academy, the Irish Academy and National Academy of Sciences (United States). The American Philosophical Society awarded him their Franklin Medal. He received the Balzan Prize in 1986. Boas writes ... [P. R. Boas, "Otto Neugebauer : 1899-1990," Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 37, 1990, Page 541] that his greatest pleasure was in the award he received in 1979 from the Mathematical Association of America when they gave him their Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics." (http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Neugebauer.html)
Neugebauer's written estate/archives
Neugebauer, Otto. (1936). "Jahreszeiten und Tageslängen in der babylonischen Astronomie." (Osiris, Volume 2, Part 12, Pages 517-550, 8 figures).
Appendix 1: Vassar Miscellany News
Vassar Miscellany News, Volume XXXV, Number 8, 15 November 1950: "Dr. Otto Neugebauer Lectures on Babylon Math and Astronomy. Professor Otto Neugebauer will lecture on "Babylonian Astronomy and Mathematics" at Vassar College on Wednesday. November 15. The lecture is scheduled for 7:45 [pm] in Taylor Hall. Professor Neugebauer is a world authority on the translation and interpretation of Babylonian cuneiform mathematical and astronomical texts. Professor of Mathematics at Brown University since 1939, he has been spending one half of each academic year at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. Education Professor Neugebauer was educated at the Universities of Graz, Munich and Gottingen and received the Ph.D. degree in Egyptian Mathematics. He received the degree of LL.D. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Before joining the Brown University faculty he taught at Gottingen from 1930 to 1934 and at Copenhagen from 1934 to 1938. He is a member of the American Mathematical Society, the Oriental Society and the History of Science Society. Recent publications include "Mathematical Methods in Ancient Astronomy" in the Bulletin of the American Mathematics Society and "Mathematical Cuneiform Texts." in the American Oriental Series."
Appendix 2: Louis Hartman
The Redemptorist priest Louis Francis Hartman (1901-1970) was located at Mount St. Alphonsus (Redemptorist Seminary), Esopus (a town in Ulster County, New York State), USA. He obtained his License degree in Orientalism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and later was for 20 secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association. He was co-author, with Adolf Oppenheim, of the article “On beer and brewing techniques in ancient Mesopotamia.” (Supplement to the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 70, 1950). In 1941 Hartman began making preliminary copies of cuneiform tablets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City, the largest art museum in the USA) with the intention of preparing and publishing a catalogue of the tablets. However, Hartman was not able to complete his task. Unfortunately, other commitments made it impossible for Hartman to collate his rough copies, and prepare the catalogue for publication. Whilst engaged in this work, Hartman identified several mathematical tablets and sent preliminary hand copies to Otto Neugebauer. (See: Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume III: Private Archive Texts from the First Millennium B.C. edited by Ira Spar and Eva von Dassow (2000).)
Part 23: Abraham Sachs
Abraham Sachs (life dates: 1915-1983). American assyriologist. He received his PhD in Assyriology in 1939 from John Hopkins University and at the time of his death was Professor Emeritus of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. Sachs was regarded as a brilliant assyriologist. He spent his life giving careful attention to all late Babylonian astronomical texts, particularly the nonACT class. Abraham Sachs met Otto Neugebauer by chance in 1941 when the latter visited the Oriental Institute in Chicago to give a lecture. Sachs was then working on the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project. Neugebauer quickly concluded that Sachs was the person to assist him in his plan, announced in the 1930s, to publish all available classes of astronomical cuneiform texts (i.e., a "corpus"). Sachs accepted the invitation that Neugebauer extended to him to come to Brown University to collaborate with him on the publication of Babylonian astronomical texts. In 1941 Neugebauer arranged for Sachs to initially come to Brown University as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow. When the Department of Mathematics at Brown University showed reluctance to promote an assyriologist to a professional rank Henry Wilson, the University President, created, in 1947, the Department of the History of Mathematics. Sachs joined such, becoming associate professor in 1949 and professor in 1953. This new department was created for Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs primarily as a research unit - but it was also given the responsibility to train highly qualified graduate students.
In 1948 Sachs, still with the title of research assistant, was offered, and declined, the Chair in Assyriology at John Hopkins University in succession to the eminent Near Eastern scholar William Albright. Both Sachs and Neugebauer had become both close colleagues and close friends.
After WWII Neugebauer and Sachs contacted Anton Deimel, who was trhe curator in charge of Strassmaier's notebooks. In 1949, through the recommendation of the assyriologist Anton Deimel SJ, in Rome, Otto Neugebauer was given full access to all of Johann Strassmaier's relevant notebooks. (Following Strassmaier's death in 1920 these notebooks had been sent to Rome and were in the care of Anton Deimel at the Pontificio Istituto Biblico. (It is not clear whether Deimel obtained all or most of Strassmaier's notebooks.) In the early 1900s Deimel had studied assyriology in London under Strassmaier and on Strassmaier's death had arranged for his notebooks to be sent to Rome.) Neugebauer and Sachs then proceeded to catalogue the contents of Strassmaier's notebooks. In 1949 Sachs worked through Strassmaier's notebooks at the Pontificio Instituto Biblico and identified 100 new ACT class fragments. (I presently cannot establish whether the large number of Strassmaier's drawings that Anton Deimel loaned to Schaumberger at Gars am Inn in 1923 ever came to the notice of Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs. Some of these drawings were lost in 1955 and the rest were never returned to Rome until 1981.) From Strassmaier's drawings Neugebauer and Sachs were able to determine some of the inventory numbers and so obtain access to those (comprising some but not all of the astronomical texts).
In 1952 Sachs (then a professor of the history of mathematics at Brown University) received a Rockefeller Foundation travel grant (of 1 years duration?/2 years duration) to study the collection of astronomical cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. This period of work at the British Museum was carried out during 1953 and 1954. (It actually involved 2½ years work.) Sachs' work at the British Museum assisted/enabled Otto Neugebauer to complete his protracted project Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (3 Volumes, 1955). Sachs' growing friendship with the curators and their assistants at the British Museum eventually resulted in him being given access to a large part of the British Museum collection of cuneiform tablets that was never accessed by Strassmaier or Pinches. Over the course of 2½ years Sachs examined 50,000 to 60,000 cuneiform tablets in order to find those of interest to him.
It was Sachs who - whilst at the British Museum - was introduced to the large folders containing Pinches' masterful drawings of cuneiform texts, including approximately 1300 pieces of astronomical texts. The masterly copies of cuneiform astronomical and astrological texts that the pioneer British assyriologist Theophilus Pinches had made during his employment there between 1877 and 1900, and which had been kept locked in a cupboard for some 50 years, were made available to Sachs. Another source states Pinches' copies were kept secret or forgotten in a back room until the 1920s or so. Approximately 60 new ACT class fragments were included in Pinches' drawings. Sachs published Pinches' drawings, comprising approximately 1350 sheets (approximately 1600 texts), (including, in cooperation with Johann Schaumberger, some texts copied by Johann Strassmaier), in Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts (1955). These included both mathematical, observational, and omen, texts. However, no translations were published.
Until 1955 very few late Babylonian astronomical tablets had been published. Extensive translations of texts in Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts have only become available since circa the mid-1980s. The last major project begun by Sachs was the editing and translation of the "astronomical diaries" and related texts. However, due to declining health, he only managed to focus on the material for Volume 1 of the "astronomical diaries" prior to his death. The material for this volume was completed by Hermann Hunger and published in 1988. Sachs' death at a relatively young age was due to cancer. His wish that the Austrian assyriologist Hermann Hunger continue the completion of the "astronomical diaries" project has been realised. Relevant key publications: Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts (1955).
Since the publication of ACT and LBAT research into Babylonian astronomy/astral sciences has continued without interruption.
Part 25: Theophilus Pinches
Professor Dr. Theophilus Goldridge Pinches, LL.D. M.R.A.S. (born 1856 – died 06.06.1934, Muswell Hill, London), was a pioneer British assyriologist. Pinches was originally employed in father's business as a die-sinker, but, following an amateur interest in cuneiform inscriptions, joined the staff of the British Museum in 1878 (but may be 1877), working there as assistant keeper, then curator, till his retirement on a pension (forced by Ernest Budge). He was then a lecturer in Assyriology at University College, London, and at the University of Liverpool, resigning the latter post, owing to ill-health, circa 1932/1933. Pinches was a highly accomplished copyist. His hand copies of cuneiform tablets are considered masterly copies. By painstaking work, between 1895 and 1900, he joined many pieces of of tablets fragments acquired by the British Museum together again. When Pinches was forced to retire from the British Museum in 1900 his hundreds of drawings were stored in the archives, where they remained untouched for more than 50 years.
Employment of Pinches and Budge at British Museum
Extract from letter to William Henry Fox Talbot by William Ricketts Cooper, dated 14 July, 1877: "The sad loss at the B.M. has most disturbed Dr Birch [1813-1885, linguist, Keeper at the British Museum] and Mr Boscawen [1854-1913, Assyriologist] is dismissed. Alas the New Assyrian students are now Mr E[rnest]. A[lfred]. Budge and Mr T[heophilus]. G[oldridge]. Pinches [1856-1934, Assyriologist] both brought forward by the Archaic classes."
Pinches-Strassmaier scholarly interaction
Source: Between High and Low: A Chronology of the Early Hellenistic Period by Tom Boiy (2007, Page 31).
Cuneiform texts copied by Pinches at the British Museum
The period of his employment at the British Museum spanned 1877-1900. It appears he began copying tablets in 1877 and continued up to 1900. From 1895 to 1900 he was involved with making joins.
|None of Rm IV|
|None of S† [St] 76-11-17|
|Beginning of SH 81-7-6 (Example: BM 46229 pieced together by Pinches from SH 81-7-6, 691 + BM 82-7-4|
|Sp III (Example: BM 35603 = Sp III 113)|
|81-6-25 (Example: BM 41581 (81-6-25, 195 + 197))|
|BM 45,000 and BM 47,000|
|Copies and notes on BM 55646 through BM 58521|
Part 25: Bartel Leendert van der Waerden
Bartel Leendert van der Waerden (1903-1996) was a Dutch mathematician and historian of early mathematics and early astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1926 from the Universiteit van Amsterdam. The title of his doctoral dissertation was De algebraiese grondslagen der meetkunde van het aantal. His book Moderne Algebra (2 Volumes, 1930) revolutionised 20th-century algebra. As a student at the Universiteit van Amsterdam he attended a course that Hendrik de Vries gave on the history of mathematics. Later, at the University of Göttingen, he attended the courses that Otto Neugebauer gave on Greek mathematics and Egyptian mathematics. He also later visited Otto Neugebauer in Copenhagen where Neugebauer discussed Babylonian astronomy with him. In 1928 he obtained his first academic appointment. This was at the University of Groningen and it was one of five universities he held a professorship at during the course of his career. From 1951 to 1962 he held an appointment to a chair of mathematics in Zurich. (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Zürich.) He remained there until his death. Throughout his career he published numerous books and papers on aspects of the early history of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, and Persian mathematics and astronomy. Some were controversial (he was supportive of Willy Hartner's controversial views on the earliest constellations. And also Werner Papke's early dating for Mul.Apin, which attracted severe criticism. (See: van der Waerden, Bartel. (1984). "Greek Astronomical Calendars I. The Parapega of Euctemon." (Archive for the History of the Exact Sciences, Volume 29, Pages 101-114). Contains a section redating the Mul.Apin series to circa 2300 BCE. This change was influenced by Werner Papke's 1978 doctoral thesis. Bartel van der Waerden believed that astronomy of the Babylonians and Greeks attained a high level at an early date and so was drawn towards speculative arguments for such.). But many of his publications remain important. Van der Waerden contributed considerably to our knowledge of the exact sciences in antiquity, including aspects of Babylonian astronomy.
Bartel van der Waerden accepted the conclusions of the highly speculative paper: Hartner, Willy. (1965). "The Earliest History of the Constellations in the Near East and the Motif of the Lion-Bull Combat." (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume XXIV, Pages 1-16, and Plates I-XVI. [Note: Also printed in Oriens-Occidens, Volume 1, 1968, Pages 221-259 (comprising 1 of 2 volumes of Hartner's collected essays). The paper is highly speculative and remains unsupported by any archaeological evidence.
Relevant key publications:
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1945/1948). "On Babylonian Astronomy I: The Venus Tablets of Ammisaduqa." (Jaarberichte Ex Oriente Lux, Volume 10, Pages 414-424).
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1949). "Babylonian Astronomy II: The Thirty-six Stars." (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume VIII, January-October, Pages 6-26).
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1951). "Babylonian Astronomy III: The Earliest Astronomical Computations." (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume X, January-October, Pages 20-34).
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1952/1953). "History of the Zodiac." (Archiv für Orientforschung, Volume 16, Pages 216-230). [Note: An important article. It needs to be noted that in other articles the author held divergent and at time flimsy viewpoints.]
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1965 (reprinted 1966?/1968), in collaboration with Peter Huber). Die Anfänge der Astronomie: Erwachende Wissenschaft II. [Note: A general treatment of Babylonian astronomy, astral religions, and mythology. Somewhat different in arrangement and a little different in content to the later revised English translation The Birth of Astronomy (1974).]
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1974). Science Awakening II: The Birth of Astronomy. [Note: A translation of the 1965 (reprinted (1966?/1968) German edition. A generally excellent overview of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Persian astronomy and star lore. The book is an English-language revision of his Die Anfänge der Astronomie (1965; republished 1968). The book contains detailed information on Babylonian constellations and star names but needs to be used with some caution. Contains Also a brief discussion of Egyptian decans/constellations based largely on Egyptian Astronomical Texts (3 Volumes, 1960-1969) by Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker. One book reviewer stated that the extensive chapter on "Cosmic religion, astrology and astronomy." was quite inaccurate and should have been left out of the book.]
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1978). "Mathematics and Astronomy in Mesopotamia." In: Gillespie, Charles. (Editor in Chief). Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Volume XV. Supplement I. (Pages 667-680).
van der Waerden, Bartel. (1988). Die Astronomie der Griechen. [Note: Contains a brief discussion of the ideas of Werner Papke regarding Babylonian star identifications.]
Return to top of page.
This web page was last updated on: Friday, November 7, 2014, 4.00 pm.
This web page was created using Arachnophilia 4.0 and FrontPage 2003.
You can reach me here by email:
Return To Site Contents Page