Episodic Survey of the History of the Constellations
The illustrations on this page have been compiled from a variety of sources. They are reproduced in accord with 'fair use' provisions unless copyright is otherwise noted. If advised that copyright has been infringed I will immediately remove the particular illustration(s).
Return To Section Index Page
G: Greek Constellations
14: Sphaera Barbarica and Sphaera Graecanica
Zodiac of Cairo' or the 'Daressy Zodiac.' It dates from the Roman Imperial Period. It consists of 3 concentric circles and the various signs have been divided from each other. Outside the central roundel there are 2 rings, the inner ring containing the dodekaoros and the outer ring the Greek zodiac. In the centre are the busts of the Sun and the Moon gods, and a snake.
'Zodiac of Cairo' or the 'Daressy Zodiac'
Roman-period Greek zodiac that is loosely called the 'Zodiac of Cairo' or the 'Daressy Zodiac.' The grey marble plaque (also described as a disk or slab, and made of bronze) some 0.25 metre square was sighted by Georges Daressy in an antiquities dealer's shop in Cairo prior to 1901. (It has also been described as being found by Georges Daressy in (a) Cairo market at the beginning of the 20th-century.) Georges Daressy (1864-1938) was a leading French Egyptologist. The Daressy Zodiac remains one of the few extant examples of an Egyptian zodiac (Dodekaoros) from Roman times. (Another example is the 18th-century planisphere of the Italian philosopher and scientist Francesco Bianchini.) The Daressy Zodiac is now lost in that its present location remains unknown. What we have is a squeeze that was made by Georges Daressy. The squeeze is now kept in the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo.
The dodekaoros was a system of 36 "decans" according to which 3 "paranatellonta" were attached to each sign of the zodiac. Also, each zodiacal sign was divided into 12 equal parts or dodecatemories. The 'Daressy Zodiac' follows the the Egyptian tradition in that it includes the dodekaoros.
Depicted on the Daressy Zodiac are the Greek zodiacal signs and associated animals according to a doctrine called "Dodekaoros." (The astrological doctrine of Dodekaoros is known to us from the writings of the astrologer Teucrus (circa 1st-century BCE) and the Byzantine astrologer Rhetorios (circa 600 CE).) There are 2 concentric bands enclosing a central area. Depicted in the central area are busts of the sun (Sol) as Apollo and the moon (Luna) as Phoebe (with a bow); and a snake(?). The outer band has the clockwise depiction of the signs of the Greek zodiac. The inner band has 12 animals depicted. Twelve radial lines divide the bands into 12 individual sectors. In his book Sphaera (1903) the German philologist Franz Boll showed that the inner band contains representations of animals that are associated with the zodiacal signs according to an astrological doctrine called "Dodekaoros."
The pairs pictorially depicted (juxtapositioned) on the Daressy Zodiac are:
Aries (ram (with belt): cat (sitting),
Taurus (bull): dog, (or jackal)
Gemini (twins (man and woman): serpent,
Cancer (crab): scarabaeus/crab,
Leo (lion): donkey/ass,
Virgo (virgin): lion (walking),
Libra (balance (borne by a man): goat (or gazelle),
Scorpio (scorpion): bull/ox,
Sagittarius (archer (centaur)): falcon,
Capricorn (goatfish): baboon/ape,
Aquarius (waterman): ibis,
Pisces (fishes): crocodile.
The dodekaoros circle follows the description given by the astrologer Teucrus.
The 'Daressy Zodiac' has important connections with the 'Planisphaerium Bianchini' and the 'Ponza Zodiac.' All show Egyptian influences. (It appears that it was (like the 'Planisphaerium Bianchini') an astrological dicing board of the kind described by the Armenian Bishop Eustathius of Antioch. It involved divination by throwing and also served for casting horoscopes.)
'Planisphaerium Bianchini' or 'Tabula Bianchini,' a marble astrological table. It is likely that dice were thrown on it to cast horoscopes. It is dated not earlier than the 2nd-century CE by Wilhelm Froehner (1869) but is now thought to likely date to the 3rd-century CE. The illustration above was included as 1 of 22 engravings (plates) in l'Origine de tous les cultes ou religion universelle by Charles-François Dupuis (1795) with the title/description 'Planisphere astrologique de style Egyptian.' The 'Planisphaerium Bianchini' (or 'Tabula Bianchini') shows 5 concentric circles, in 2 of which the zodiac sequence is presented. The The centre of the system is drawn on the pole of the ecliptic (with the constellation Draco or Dragon), not on the pole of the equator (with the constellation Ursa Major) because the Sun's passage through the sky along the ecliptic is the relevant path for the system of astrology. The separation of the 2 bear constellations is accurately represented in the central roundel. Around the central roundel are a series of concentric bands (rings). From the centre outwards the bands contain: (1) the dodekaoros (i.e., the Egyptian zodiacal signs), (2) and (3) the Greek zodiacal signs repeated in 2 identical bands, (4) the 36 decans (i.e., the guardians of each third of each sign, of Egyptian origin like the dodekaoros), and (5) the planetary deities corresponding to each decan. An inscription in Greek is on the black ribbon. Of the 36 decans only the figures of 8 have survived on the fragments recovered.
'Planisphaerium Bianchini' (or 'Tabula Bianchini')
'Planisphaerium Bianchini' (or 'Tabula Bianchini') now held in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. (The Louvre catalog/illustration reference is given by Hans Gundel as: Louvre, v. vol. lv, p. 1040, fig. 1231.) It is a remaining fragment of a largely damaged Roman (Egyptian-Roman) planisphere dated to the 2nd- or 3rd-century CE incorporating the Sphaera Barbarica (i.e., Greek, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian (zodiacal) constellations). The artifact is made of marble. It was found in several fragments in 1705 (1708?) on Mount Aventin (the Aventine Hill/Mount) in Rome and given to the French Academy by Francesco Bianchini. (It is called the planisphere of Bianchine because it was first published by that Italian astronomer.) Though the exact find spot was not recorded it has been suggested by Maarten Vermaseren (1974) that it was perhaps discovered in the grounds of the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca (discovered in 1958 and located beneath the 4-century CE church of Santa Prisca). The Planisphaerium/Tabula shows 5 concentric circles and 4 of these concentric circles are divided into segments by radial lines.
It basically presents 3 circular zodiacs side-by-side. Depicted in the centre (innermost circle) are the 2 Bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) and the intertwined Dragon/Snake (= Draco). The 2 Bears are represented facing in opposite directions. The Dragon/Snake (= Draco) does not surround them both but coils between them. (The centre of the system is drawn on the pole of the ecliptic and, from the nature of the depiction, is obviously located in alpha Draconis. This placement is a concept within the scheme of the Sphaera Barbarica and is devoid of any precessional concept. That said, whilst the pole of the equator moves due to precession the stars in the region of the pole of the ecliptic are not subject to precessional movement. In the Classical Graeco-Roman sky the coils of Draco entwine the pole of the ecliptic.) There are then 4 concentric bands and an outermost ring of figures. The figures comprising a "Chaldean" zodiac are depicted in the first circle (i.e., the 12 animals of the Dodecahōros Chaldaikē). Two identical Greek zodiacs are depicted in bands 2 and 3 - meaning evidently the fixed and the movable ecliptic distinguished by Ptolemy and coinciding accurately as they were at the instant of the creation. (This dates the item to no earlier than the the 2nd-century CE.) We then have a zone of Greek numerals giving the oria or limits of the planetary influences in the several signs of the zodiac. (This is the inscription in Greek on the black ribbon.) The figures in the fourth band (the second most outer ring of depicted figures) depict the Egyptian decans (which appear in authentic Egyptian stylization), the Graeco-Egyptian names of each one inscribed below the figure. On the outermost ring, outside of the fourth band, we have the prosōpa, facies (= faces/persons) depicted. These faces are loosely the Greek decans. These faces have their heads encircled by a nimbus. (The interpretation by Robert Eisler is they are the faces of the 7 planetary gods repeated again and again, in the septizonium order, each one co-ordinated with one of the decans.) On the planisphere each of the Egyptian decans is associated with a planetary ruler (dignitary) prosōpa, facies. Lines drawn from the circumference of the central circle, through the limits of the zodiacal signs, divide the whole planisphere into 12 sectors. In each of the 4 corners (extremities) the winged heads of the 4 main winds are depicted. (Only 1 is depicted in the remaining fragment.)
It has been commented that the decan system on the 'Tabula Bianchini' insinuates itself as a separate region between the fixed stars and the planets.
The Italian polymath and Vatican courtier Francesco Bianchini was a noted antiquarian and director of antiquities in Rome. However, he is largely forgotten today. He was born in Verona (Northern Italy), studied in Bologna and Padua, and in 1684 permanently transferred his residence to Rome and became part of the scholarly circle there. He achieved high levels of church patronage through a combination of family connections, fortunate circumstances, and his demonstrated intellectual ability. (His enormous breadth of learning included expert knowledge of mathematics, physics, astronomy, and the natural sciences.) Throughout his life Francesco Bianchini remained financially dependent on the Roman Curia. On arriving in Rome he immediately found a patron in Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (later Pope Alexander VIII (1689-1691)) and became custodian of his library. He also held minor orders in the Roman Catholic Church. He studied theology and in 1699 achieved deaconship but never progressed to ordination as a priest. As presidente delle antichità di Roma (to which he was elected in 1703) he was enormously influential in the Vatican museums and also in the archaeological excavations in the Papal States. He was especially interested in the transmission of knowledge through images which functioned both as a form of illustration (historical evidence) and as a mnemotic aid (memory aid). During the course of several journeys in Europe he traveled with a wagon-load of scientific instruments.
Franz Boll (Sphaera (1903), Page 303) reproduces a similar fragment, now lost, known only through an old engraving by the French antiquarian Nicolas Peirese (1580-1637) that was later reproduced in a book by the French Benedictine monk and scholar Bernard Montfaucon (1655-1741).
The 'Planisphaerium Bianchini' has important connections with the 'Daressy Zodiac' and the 'Ponza Zodiac.' All show Egyptian influences. (It appears that it was (like the 'Daressy Zodiac') an astrological dicing board of the kind described by the Armenian Bishop Eustathius of Antioch. It involved divination by throwing a dice on to it and also served for casting horoscopes.) There are only 2 zodiacal monuments preserved from the whole of antiquity that show the sign of the North Pole in the centre. One of these is the 'Planisphaerium/Tabula Bianchini' and the other is the Ponza zodiac.
The Sphaera Babarica
The Sphaera Graecanica and the Sphaera Barbarica were the 2 main constellation systems of the classical Graeco-Roman world. The term Sphaera Barbarica means the "barbarian sphere"/'sky-map of the foreigners" (predominantly Babylonian and Egyptian) and the Sphaera Graecanica means the "sky-map of the Greeks." The Sphaera Barbarica existed from the late Hellenistic period. Sphaera Barbarica originally meant the star-map of the Babylonians. However, it likely comprised late Egyptian and Babylonian traditions. (Jim Tester, A History of Western Astrology (1987)) states the term was used in classical antiquity to refer to any non-Greek description of the heavens, most usually the Egyptian constellations.) Knowledge of the Sphaera Barbarica comes exclusively from the preserved fragments of Graeco-Roman astrological literature. The first evidence for the Sphaera Barbarica is connected with Nigidius Figulus (1st-century BCE). The Sphaera Barbarica of Figulus seems to have been a composite of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian spheres. It had little effect on Greek astronomical tradition but greatly affected Indian, Islamic, and medieval Western astrology and it artistic representation. In antiquity the Sphaera Barbarica originally referred to any non-Greek description of the heavens, and later the term included an eclectic mixture of the Egyptian sphere, elements of Babylonian astronomy, constellations described by Ptolemy, and the star map of the Romans. The system was codified for the first time by the astronomer/astrologer Teucrus in the 1st-century CE. The position of many of constellations belonging to the Sphaera Barbarica are now not not known.
In the opinion of the classical historian Frederick Cramer (and others) there were probably 2 Sphaera Babarica, known to the Greeks in Hellenistic times, a Mesopotamian one and an Egyptian one. (Teukros, Antiochus, Valens, (and Peterios ?) mention Egyptian constellations. Figulus, Varro, Manilius, and Maternus mention Babylonian constellations.)
Aby Warburg proposed that the Sphaera Barbarica was devised in Asia Minor. From there it eventually (1) passed to Egypt, and (2) passed eastward to the Orient (India and then the Islamic Persian Empire) and eventually became incorporated in the Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum (Latin title: Introductorium maius) by the Islamic scholar Abū Ma'shar. (The Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus was translated into Pahlavi for the first time circa the 3rd-century CE.) This astrological tradition finally reached Latin Europe via the Arab-Islamic world toward the end of the Middle Ages (via Spain into France).
The Sphaera Barbarica has been described as a kind of parasite on the Sphaera Graecanica. It has been claimed that it eventually came to rival the Sphaera Graecanica. However, it may not have been a serious rival at all.
(2) Sources for Graeco-Roman knowledge of the Sphaera Barbarica
Evidence for direct constellation borrowing from Mesopotamian is almost non-existent.
It is possible that Babylonian uranography was passed to the Greeks through particular intermediaries such as the Phoenicians and Egyptians. During the Hellenistic period it is possible that Berossus and some Chaldaean contemporaries made the Babylonian sphaera familiar to the Greeks. Berossus the Chaldean (flourished circa 290 BCE), a Hellenistic-era Babylonian writer who taught astrology when residing on the Greek island of Cos, and some of his Babylonian contemporaries may have familiarised the Greeks with the late Babylonian sphere. In the early Ptolemaic period the Hellenistic scholars engaged with a mass-translation of Egyptian texts in Greek would have become familiar with the Egyptian sphaera of that period. Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian star groupings differed from those of the Greeks. When they sometimes did use similar star groupings they used different mythological/animal names.
All references to the Greek Sphaera Barbarica come from Latin writers/astrologers. Latin authors writing about the Sphaera Barbarica include Critodemo, Cicero, Nigidius, Dorotheos, Manilius, Maternus, Asclepiades, Valens, Antiochos, and Teucrus.
(3) The invention of the Sphaera Barbarica
The Sphaera Barbarica was an invention of the Greek world. The Sphaera Barbarica is thought to have originated in Greek Asia Minor. The Greeks appear to have originally introduced the term to distinguish the Greek sphere from the hybrid Egyptian sphere (of the Hellenic period) comprising native Egyptian constellations and borrowed Babylonian constellations. After the ('traditional') Greek constellations were established (which included adopted Babylonian constellations) some Graeco-Roman astrologers began modifying the constellation set by introducing foreign (non-Greek) constellations and stars, both Babylonian and Egyptian, into the (established) Greek scheme of constellations.
Construction of a Sphaera Barbarica in antiquity was carried out from circa the 2nd-century BCE onwards. In Hellenistic times the non-Greek constellations were still well-known. It is doubtful whether there was yet a definitive Greek sphaera. The Greek astronomer Eudoxus in the 4th-century BCE and the Greek poet Aratus in the 3rd-century BCE laid the basis of a Greek celestial picture-atlas. However, it was the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in the 2nd-century BCE who first defined the outlines of the constellations systematically in terms of individual stars identified by coordinates. Hipparchus basically followed the constellation scheme of Eudoxus and Aratus. The Greek Sphaera which was passed down to the West was that of the Hellenized astronomer Ptolemy (2nd-century CE), which owed much to Hipparchus. No addition was made to it until the 17th-century CE.
(4) The composition of the Sphaera Babarica
The Sphaera Barbarica was comprised primarily of Babylonian and Egyptian constellations. The Sphaera Barbarica seems to have been a composite of Mesopotamian constellations and Egyptian constellations. (Additional information about this syncretic "barbaric" constellation scheme is contained in Greek astrological texts, especially those of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.) The Sphaera Barbarica basically comprised decans and paranatellenta. (Paratellonta are non-zodiacal constellations that rise and set at the same time as the zodiacal constellations.) The Greek zodiac, however, was basically left unchanged. The Sphaera Barbarica was based on the 12 constellations of the Greek zodiac. (The Sphaera Graecanica was based on the 12 (Greek) zodiacal constellations.) Pictures of the signs of the zodiac of the Sphaera Barbarica were, however, different to the classical Greek pictures. The non-zodiacal component of the Sphaera Barbarica apparently was not standardised and was changed over time. The later texts mentioning the Sphaera Barbarica often actually discuss (sky-maps consisting of) a mixture of Greek and Mesopotamian/Egyptian material. Broadly, however, the Sphaera Barabarica was a Hellenistic name for alternative constellations (zodiacal constellations excluded) that were not used in the the established constellation set comprising the Sphaera Graecanica.)
The astrologers Teucrus and Valens listed Eridanus among the paranatellonta of Aquarius. However, they called the liquid (water or a mix of water and nectar) gushing from the jug of Aquarius Eridanus. This liquid gushing from the jug of Aquarius was meant to join the constellation Eridanus (of the Sphaera Graecanica) below Piscis Austrinus.
To some extent the 'Sphaera Barbarica' is a collective term for the catalogues of ancient astrologers known as paranatellonta. (Chapters 5-17 of Mathesis by Firmicus Maternus deal with the paranatellonta (the stars rising with the signs of the zodiac). Prior to the time of Claudius Ptolemy (circa 85 - circa 165) a system of paranatellonta was developed that could be used to tell the hours of the night when the signs of the zodiac were hidden. Paranatellonta (or synanatellonta) are stars which rise at the same time as a given zodiacal sign, or bright stars such as Regulus or Sirius. Teucrus laid stress on the decans and their paranatellonta. The use of these paranatellonta for astrological purposes has been ascribed to Teucrus but is undoubtedly earlier. In the Sphaera Barbarica Figulus gave for each of the 360 degrees of the ecliptic the astral forecasts based on the character of the stars "rising together" (paranatellontes). (The references to constellations, in particular their simultaneous risings and settings, make it possible to distinguish between two different sets of uranography - a Sphaera Barbarica and a Sphaera Graecanica.)
According to one researcher the sphaera barbarica is the Egyptian description of the heavens extensively modified by the Roman astronomers.
Our knowledge of Teucrus is limited and his system of paranatellonta has been reconstructed only after Franz Boll combined several later textual sources. In the system developed by Teucrus constellations/asterisms simultaneously rise to the north and to the south of the celestial equator at the time when the sun is in the corresponding ten degree arc of the ecliptic (sphaera barbarica). When constellations of the sphaera barbarica rise north or south of the celestial equator they are called paranatellonta. Teucrus also explained the astrological influence of his constellations through a system of paranatellonta. The word "paranatellonta" comes from the Greek para ('rapa; together) and anatellein; to rise), and it refers to the stars and constellations simultaneously rising to the north and to the south of the celestial equator. With Teucrus the paranatellonta never appear individually, but always in relation to the zodiac. It is significant that they are temporal and not spatial sequences. The stars or constellations of paranatellonta related to a single zodiacal sign (or its decan) do not belong to the same 30° (or 10°) of the ecliptic. Rather, they rise simultaneously anywhere in the sky during the period which is determined by the temporal sequence of that particular sign (or decan). Franz Boll concluded that Teucrus combined in the paranatellonta two different systems: one in which the paranatellonta were related to the decans, and the other in which they were related to the zodiac.
(5) Nigidius Figulus and the Sphaera Barbarica
Only fragments of the Sphaera Barbarica have come down to the present-day. Most of our knowledge about non-Greek constellations and star names comes from extant fragments of the Latin book on the Sphaera Barbarica by Nigidius Figulus. (Nigidius Figulus was a neo-Pythagorean and the leading figure among the Roman Pythagoreans.) Figulus seems to have dealt methodically with both the Greek and "barbaric" constellations. However, Teucrus also transmitted many names of the Sphaera Barbarica. The Sphaera Babarica of Figulus was concerned with paranatellonta. The Sphaera Graecanica of Figulus was also concerned with paranatellonta.
(6) Teucrus 'the Babylonian'
Teucrus is (first?) called "the Babylonian" by the Greek philosopher Porphyrius (circa 270 CE). It is generally accepted that "Babylon" presumably designated Seleukeia on the Tigris. The historian Robert Eisler suggested (without evidence) that "Babylon" referred to the fortress-town of this names in Egypt (near Cairo). It is thought that Teucrus probably wrote his Sphaera Barbarica in Asia Minor. Several forms of the Sphaera Babarica of Teucrus are known. The form of the Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus which passed through Arab-Islamic scholarship is arranged according to decans. Also, Teucrus supplemented or replaced the traditional Greek constellations with exotic ones. "The sphaera barbarica (i.e., non-Greek mappings of the heavens) - in particular representations of the decans, whose iconography was transformed through Indian mediation - was transferred to Sasanian Iran; thence it entered Arabic astrological texts. Greek descriptions of the paranàtellonta toîs dekanoîs, that is, the constellations rising on the horizon together with a particular decan, were made by Teucer the Babylonian, an astrologer to be placed between the 1st century BCE and the first century CE. ("Zodiac." by Antonio Panaino, Encyclopædia Iranica.)"
The work of Teucrus on the Sphaera Barbarica (De Sphaera Barbarica) was described by the art historian Aby Warburg as being nothing more than a description of the Greek fixed-star sky with the addition of star names from Egypt, Babylonia, and Asia Minor (causing it to surpass the 'star catalogue' of Aratus almost 3 times over). (It seems that in many cases Teucrus gave a different ('barbaric') name to the same Greek constellation.) However, it was Teucrus who codified his system as the Sphaera Barbarica. The Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus has come down to the present-day in several forms. In one of these forms the Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus is arranged according to decans. This form of Teucrus' Sphaera Barbarica was transmitted to the Western Europe during the Middle Ages through Arab-Islamic star catalogues and lapidaria (books of precious stones).
The Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus was different from the Sphaera Graecanica, which was based on the twelve constellations of the zodiac, and which Greek astronomers had almost entirely borrowed from Babylonian uranography. Boll demonstrated that the Sphaera Barbarica, at least the system finalised by Teucrus in the 1st-century CE, derived from the list of stars (paranatellonta) that accompanied the rising of the zodiacal constellations. It appears that Teucus did a number of things. He made a register of stars that rose to the north and south of each zodiacal sign. His work was important in the transmission of the astrological system of the decans, i.e. the subdivision of the zodiac into 36 decans, each one 10 degree (3 per constellation), and also of the so-called paranatellonta (i.e. the constellations rising on the horizon simultaneously with a certain decan).
As example of constellation differences with his system: Teukros the Babylonian mentions a group of stars called the Trident in the neighbourhood of the Fish.
The French scholar Joseph Scalinger (1540-1609), in his 2nd edition (commentary) of Manilius (1600) (effectively a treatise on ancient astronomy), began the investigation of the Sphaera Barbarica on the basis of a version preserved in the writings of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) - who had derived it from the writings of Abū Ma'shar.)
The influence of Teucrus
The Sphaera Barbarica by Teucrus was used by Marcus Manilus, Firmicus Maternus, and Rhetorius of Egypt. Also by Johannes Kamateros as late as the 12th-century. Marcus Manilius (his name is uncertain, flourished 1st-century CE) was a Roman poet, astrologer, and author of a poem in 5 books called Astronomica. It is a work of great learning. Interestingly, the author of Astronomica is neither quoted nor mentioned by any ancient writer. Julius Firmicus Maternus (flourished early 4th-century CE) was a Roman writer and notable astrologer. Rhetorius of Egypt (flourished in either the early 6th or early 7th century CE, in the early Byzantine era) was the last major astrologer of the Hellenistic tradition from whom we have any excerpts. He wrote an extensive astrological compendium/anthology that consisted largely of excerpts from earlier astrologers such as Antiochus of Athens. The compendium is mainly concerned with the techniques of the Hellenistic astrologers who preceded him. The didactic astrological poem (Compendium of Astrology) of the Byzantine Johannes Kamateros (circa mid 12th-century), was dedicated to the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I (Mauel Komnenos), 'the defender of astrology.' The chapter on paranatellonta is linked to the tradition of Teucrus.
(7) The function of the Sphaera Barbarica
In Book VIII of his Mathesis, Firmicus Maternus deals with the Sphaera Barbarica. Part of it is uncritically copied from Marcus Manilius. The work of Firmicus Maternus provides evidence that the Sphaera Barbarica was an astrological sphere. The Sphaera Barbarica comprised stars and constellations outside the Greek zodiac. The Sphaera Barbarica was a non-Greek system of astrology. The astrology of the Sphaera Barbarica involved astrological forecasting by stars and constellations outside the zodiac.
Observations of the constellations rising on the horizon together with a particular decan, were made by Teucrus the Babylonian, an astrologer who can only be placed between the 1st-century BCE and the 1st-century CE.
(8) The influence of the Sphaera Barbarica
According to Hans Gundel its actual prominence in the Greek world may not have been great. However, the Sphaera Barbarica (with its decans and paranatellonta) had a major impact in Indian astrology, Arab-Islamic astrology, and Latin astrology during the Middle Ages.
(9) The success of the Sphaera Graecanica
The ultimate success of the Sphaera Graecanica (i.e., its complete acceptance by the Greek world and later the Roman world was largely due to the work of the Greek astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus (4th-century BCE) and the Greek poet Aratus of Soli (3rd-century BCE). Eudoxus constellated and catalogued the entire Greek sky in his works Enoptron and Phaenomena. Aratus later turned these works into an astronomical poem concerning the constellations. The Phaenomena became hugely popular in the Graeco-Roman world. Without this popularisation by Aratus the works of Eudoxus may never have exerted the lasting influence they achieved. (The final consolidation of the Greek constellations was based Hipparchus and the writings of Ptolemy.)
(10) History of the Sphaera Barbarica
The first text to cite the Sphaera Barbarica was by Critodemo in the 3rd-century BCE (?). Teucrus (Teucer), 1st-century CE, gave the (supposed) final version.
In the 1st-century BCE the Roman senator and astrologer Nigidius Figulus (circa 100-45 BCE), a revivalist of Pythagoreanism, wrote his 2 books (now lost) on the Sphaera Barbarica and the Sphaera Graecanica. (The term Sphaera Barbarica and Sphaera Graecanica was first used by Nigidius Figulus.) The Sphaera Barbarica of Nigidius is indicated as a mix of Egyptian constellations/decans and Greek-Babylonian constellations. It is thought that Nigidius' work on the Sphaera Barbarica was probably derived from the like-named work of Asclepiades of Myrlea. (Note: Perhaps Nigidius wrote a single book Sphaera graecanica et sphaera barbarica.) The Sphaera Barbarica dealt with the pre-Greek nomenclature of the stars and constellations, mostly Mesopotamian and Egyptian in origin. (It is most likely that there were two "barbaric" constellation schemes, a Mesopotamian one and an Egyptian one.) Teucrus the Babylonian (circa 1st-century BCE (circa 1st-century CE?)) also wrote a basic work (now lost) on the Sphaera Barbarica. (The Hellenistic astrologer Teucrus of Babylon lived between the 1st-century BCE and the 1st-century CE.)
Traces of the Sphaera Barbarica also exist in the astrological writings of Marcus Manilius (circa 1st-century CE), of Vettius Valens (circa 2nd-century CE), of Antiochos of Athens (circa 2nd-century CE), and Firmicus Maternus (circa 4th-century CE). (The Sphaerica of Vettius Valens is not identifiable with treatises on the sphere written by Aratus, Eudoxus, or Hipparchus.) The fact of the Sphaera Barbarica (or rather traces of it) being encountered in the astrological writings of Firmicus Maternus (flourished circa mid 4th-century CE) demonstrates that its progress into oblivion was not rapid. Also, nearly all the constellations discussed by Marcus Manilius (1st-century CE), including the paranatellonta he enumerates, which are commonly referred to as Sphaera Barbarica, are actually Greek. More correctly, only traces of the Sphaera Barbarica are found in Marcus Manilius. What in Manilius really belonged to a Sphaera Barbarica is now unable to be established. One of the few exceptions is the so-called Haedus (Kid), which is described as one of the paranatellonta of Libra. Both Firmicus and Manilius had no understanding of astronomy. Both simply followed their sources.
There seems little doubt that in Hellenistic period the non-Greek constellations were still well-known to the Greeks. References to the Sphaera Barbarica in the 2nd-century CE by Vettius Valens shows that it had not yet been wholly superseded by the Sphaera Graecanica. Valens derived some of his material from Teucrus. In the 4th-century CE Firmicus Maternus was still familiar with the Sphaera Barbarica even if this was a syncretism of the Sphaera Barbarica and Sphaera Graecanica.
(11) The confused state of the Sphaera Barbarica
A variety of sources from the classical period attest to knowledge of, and use of, non-Greek constellations i.e., constellations having Mesopotamian or Egyptian origins. However, these texts frequently discuss a mixture of Greek, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian constellations/asterisms. In antiquity the name Sphaera Barbarica was inexactly used (i.e., far removed from its proper and original sense) for a scheme of non-Greek and Greek constellations i.e., the Latin astrologer Firmicus Maternus and the Greek physician Asclepiades of Bithynia. Marcus Manilius also does not strictly set out the Sphaera Barbarica. The Sphaera Barbarica of Asclepiades of Myrlea contained both Greek and non-Greek constellations. Also, it was not concerned with paranatellonta. The phrase Sphaera Barbarica referred (properly) in antiquity to any non-Greek description of the heavens, and usually to the Egyptian pattern of constellations. By the 1st and 2nd centuries CE the Sphaera Barbarica encountered in Greek astrological texts is usually syncretic; a mix of Greek and non-Greek spheres. Katharina Volk (Manitius and his Intellectual Background (2009)) writes: "They do so typically without showing any awareness of their own syncretism or of the possibility that they may be describing the same stars over and over again - whether as parts of different constellations, or as the same constellation with a different name. ... The title [Sphaera Barbarica] appears to have been used in this strict sense only by Nigidius Figulus, who wrote both a Sphaera Graecanica and a Sphaera Barbarica, with the first containing the Greek and the second the non-Greek constellations ...." Also, proponents of the scheme of the Sphaera Barbarica, to a considerable extent, introduced fictitious constellations.
(12) Horoscopes and the Sphaera Barbarica
Only a few horoscopes surviving from antiquity contain date pertaining to the Sphaera Barbarica. One example is a Greek papyrus in the British Museum dating from 81 CE in which an astrologer named Titos Pitenios drew up the horoscope of a person name Hermon.
(13) Introductorium maius in astronomiam by Abū Ma'šar
The main source for the transmission of Persian astrological iconography to the West was Introductorium maius (Great Introduction to Astronomy) by Abū Ma'shar. This book was also the main authority for Western medieval astrology.
Antonio Panaino has pointed out Teucrus' work was very important in the transmission of the astrological system of the decans. (This astrological system of decans (involving the subdivision of the zodiac into 36 decans, each decan of 10 degrees length, with 3 decans per constellation (sign)) also included the so-called paranatellonta (those constellations rising on the eastern horizon simultaneously with a certain decan).) The Egyptian iconography of the decans, modified with Indian and Sasanian elements, was transferred through the Arabic work of Abū Ma'shar, Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum (Latin title: Introductorium maius) to Spain, and then to France. A Latin translation of the treatise Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum was completed by Hermann of Dalmatia in 1143 CE. An abridgement based on this version was made in the second half of the 12th-century CE by Georgius Fendulus. Numerous copies of both Latin manuscripts were made and circulated in Europe. The writings of Teucrus later influenced the Arabs.
In his Sphaera (1903) Franz Boll showed that the Persian astrologer Abū Ma'shar (Latin name: Albumasar) (circa 787-886 CE) used a (Middle) Persian translation (or rearrangement) (made in 542 CE under Xusraw Anōširwān) of the Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus the Babylonian in the writing of his Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum (Latin title: Introductorium maius). Abū Ma'shar also used Indian sources, derived from the 6th-century CE Indian astronomer Varāhamihira, about the iconography of the decans. (Varāhamihira had in turn used the Yavanajātaka of Sphujidhvaja (a 3rd-century CE Indian astrologer) which was a versification of a 2nd-century CE Sanskit translation of a Greek-Alexandrian astrological text.) In his book Abū Ma'shar Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum also linked astrology to both Neoplatonic Aristotelianism and to Hermeticism. (The titles of Latin translations of key books by Abū Ma'shar are: Flores astrologiae (1488), Introductorium maius (1489), Introductorium in astronomiam (1489), and De magnis conjunctionibus (1489).) In this way Abū Ma'shar is an important source for early Hellenistic constellation lore. Abū Ma'shar's description of the three astrological systems related to the zodiacal signs: (1) the Greek firmament based on the writings of Ptolemy (sphaera graecanica); (2) the Indian system of decans by Varahamihira (sphaera indica); and (3) the system of Teucrus (sphaera barbarica).
Abū Ma'shar was also the father of European Medieval and Renaissance astrology. (Abū Ma'shar was born in northern Afghanistan and settled permanently in Baghdad during the reign of Caliph al-Ma'mum (813-833).) For scholars in western Europe the principal source of scientific astrology was the Graeco-Roman tradition of Ptolemy. It is commonly believed today that the medieval astrological tradition developed as a direct extension of Antiquity. However. the astrological, mythological. and symbolic traditions were translated from Antiquity to the Middle Ages in a broad circle, through Arab-Islamic civilisation, touching diverse cultures such as those of Persia, India, and the Arabic regions. What reached Europe in the 12th-century was a conglomerate of different traditions, comprised of Western and Eastern characteristics in somewhat equal measure.
(14) Georgius Fendulus and the reappearance of the paranatellonta
The Croation scholar and translator of Arabic texts, Hermann of Dalmatia (actually Hermann of Carinthia) (circa 1110-circa 1154), a pioneer of European science, translated into Latin in 1140, Introductorium maius in astronomiam by Abū Ma'šar. The work was twice translated into Latin in the 12th-century. The work was first translated into Latin by Juan (John) from Seville in 1133. An illustrated abridgment of the treatise was made in the 2nd part of the 12th-century by Georgius Fendulus, and was based upon the lengthy multi-volume Latin translation by Hermann of Dalmatia (from 1140-1143) of Introductorium maius in astronomiam. (Fendulus misleadingly claimed he translated the text from Persian to Latin.) Between the 1220s/1240s and circa 1500, Fendulus' abridgment of Introductorium maius in astronomiam, written by Abū Ma'šar (787-886), was copied several times and 6 copies have been preserved, originating from southern Italy, the Low Countries, and Paris. Within the celestial imagery introduced by Georgius Fendulus is the appearance of the paranatellonta. The original treatise by the Arabic astrologer, astronomer, and philosopher Abū Ma'šar (787-886) was written in Baghdad in 848 CE. It had an extensive influence on the development of both astrology and astronomy in the Latin West and the Arab-Islamic East.
(15) Astrolabium Magnum by Pietro d'Abano
The Sphaera Barbarica, as described in the book Astrolabium Magnum (1448) by the Italian philosopher, medical doctor, and astrologer Pietro d’Abano (1257-1315/6), played an important role in the program of decoration of the so-called Salone at the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua (1306) and in the Salone dei Mesi at the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrera (1470). Aby Warburg writes that Boll: "... discovered, for instance, a small book illustrated with woodcuts that is in fact a reproduction of an astrological diary of the kind used in Asia Minor: the Astrolabium Magnum, edited by the German scholar Engel, and first printed by Ratdolt in Ausburg in 1488. Yet the book was written by a world-famous Italian, Pietro d'Abano, the Paduan Faust of the Trecento, a contemporary of Dante and Giotto. ... And the book's journey can once again be followed all the way down to Pietro d'Abano; having made its way from Asia Minor, via Egypt, to India, the Sphaera landed (probably via Persia), in the aforementioned Introductorium majus [Great Introduction] of Abū Aā'sār, which then was translated into Hebrew by a Spanish Jew, Aben Esra (who died in 1167). The Hebrew translation was then translated in turn into French in Mecheln, by the Jewish scholar Hagins for the English-man, Henry Bates. And this French translation was finally the source of a Latin version completed in 1293 by Pietro d'Abano. The book was frequently reprinted ...."
(16) Renaissance period fresco cycles
One of the sources of astrological imagery of the Renaissance was the Sphaera Barbarica. The Egyptian iconography of the decans in Introductorium maius finally became embedded in the book Astrolabium planum by Pietro d'Abano (a famous Italian physician, philosopher, and astrologer; circa 1257-circa 1316). The 14th-century CE program of decoration of the so-called Salone (begun in 1306) in the Palazzo della Ragione (Padua's massive secular and civil centre) was inspired by the Sphaera Barbarica and astrological concepts in Astrolabium planum. (An early appearance in Europe of the Sphaera Barabarica was also the small book Astrolabium magnum (1448) by Pietro d'Abano.) Later, the Sphaera Barbarica and astrological concepts in Astrolabium planum also played an important role in the decoration (begun in 1470) of the Salone dei Mesi at the Palazzo Schifanoia (Schifanoja) in Ferrara (commissioned by Duke Borso d'Este and executed by Farrarese artists led by the painter Cosimo Tura). The fresco cycle of the months in the Schifanoia Palace is unique of its kind, such is its range and complexity: it contains a triple register of allegories, astrological decans and scenes of court life. The fresco cycle (a pictorial calendar in which each of the 12 months were personified as 1 of the 12 main Roman gods) is located in the great hall. Aby Warburg ("Italienische Kunst und internationale Astrologie im Palazzo Schifanoja zu Ferrara" (1912)) identified that the 15th-century frescoes of constellations with their decans in the Palazzo Schifanoja - based on the calendar illustrations that were in frequent use in Northern European manuscripts - were ultimately those of the Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus the Babylonian. (According to another source the fresco cycle was identified by Aby Warburg as going back to the Roman astrologer Manilius.) Seven of the 12 original wall areas survive in good condition, and traces of the other five are more or less visible. (The series of allegorical frescoes in each building each depict the concept of the "yearly astrological cycle" and comprise a compendium of symbolic, astrological, religious, scientific, and philosophical beliefs of the Middle Ages.)
(17) The discussion by Joseph Scalinger of Manilius' Sphaera Babarica
The belief of the Renaissance chronologist Joseph Scalinger that Book 5 of Marcus Manilius' work Astronomica was derived from the Sphaera Barbarica was shown by Boll in his Sphaera to be a (typically) confused description of the Greek sphere mixed/mingled with 'barbaric' doctrine. (Scalinger's 1st edition of Manilius was published in 1579.) However, the French scholar Joseph Scalinger (1540-1609, born in Agen, southern France, into the family of an Italian scholar and physician), in his 2nd edition (commentary) of Manilius (1600) (effectively a treatise on ancient astronomy), began the investigation of the Sphaera Barbarica on the basis of a version preserved in the writings of Rabbi Araham Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) - who had derived it from the writings of Abū Ma'shar.) It has been remarked that Scalinger over-simplified the problem of the Sphaera Barbarica. He believed it to comprise merely of the paranatellonta and 'clarae stellae' (of the zodiac) of the Greek sphere as seen in Egypt. He overlooked his own quotation from Nigidius Figulus that stated it included non-Greek constellations.
(18) The recovery by Franz Boll of the Sphaera Barbarica
It was Franz Boll who discovered and reconstructed the history of the passage of the Sphaera Barbarica. Later, it was Aby Warburg who first recognised the resurgence of the Sphaera Barbarica in the imagery of the Renaissance period. Perhaps the next most important study of the Sphaera Barbarica is the monograph-length study forming the last section of the Introduction to the book Catalogue of Astrological and Mythological Illuminated Manuscripts of the Latin Middle Ages, III, Volumes 1-2: Manuscripts in English Libraries by Fritz Saxl and Hans Meier, Edited by Harry Bober (1953, 2 Volumes). (Other scholars are currently working on additional volumes.)
The first major modern work devoted to elucidating the Sphaera Barbarica was the classic book-length study Sphaera by the German philologist Franz Boll (1903). The masterly work Sphaera, published in 1903, was Franz Boll's ingenious recovery of the Sphaera Barbarica, based on the discovery of new manuscripts. Boll became aware of the Sphaera Barbarica through the discovery of excerpta (brief segments of writing taken from longer works) from the Byzantine period. He ingeniously reconstructed the Sphaera Barbarica and also traced the major stages of its journey to the Islamic Persian Empire and back to Europe.
(19) Aby Warburg and the Renaissance period fresco cycles
It was Aby Warburg who first recognised the resurgence of the Sphaera Barbarica in the imagery of the Renaissance period. Aby Warburg's study, Heidnisch-antike Weissagung in Wort und Bild zu Luthers Zeiten (1920) was a ground-breaking assessment of the role of astronomical iconography in the Renaissance. Decanal images at the Palazzo Schifanoia and the Palazzo della Ragione were first studied by Aby Warburg. With the help of certain types of historical astrological texts Warburg succeeded in explaining the enigmatic cycle of frescoes from the 15th-century in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. Aby Warburg's iconographical analysis of frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara showed that they represented the signs of the zodiac and their divisions into 36 decans. His most famous paper, "Italienische Kunst und internationale Astrologie im Palazzo Schifanoja zu Ferrara" was delivered at the height of his career to the 10th Art-Historical Congress in Rome in October, 1912. Following his pioneering work Warburg (an independent Privatgelehrter = independent/(private scholar)) explained his discovery that each of the 3 figures marking each month are decans. The Indian decans of Abū Ma'shar dominate the central plane (of frescoes) in the Palazzo Schifanoia. (See: Die Erneuerung der heidnischen Antike (1932) by Aby Warburg.) The Warburg scholar Eugenio Garin in his short book, Astrology in the Renaissance: The Zodiac of Life (1983)) has provided a fuller understanding of astrology in the Renaissance. See also the important study: La Tirannia degli astri: Aby Warburg e l'astrologia di Palazzo Schifanoia (1985) by M. Bertozzi.
Note: For a critical discussion of the speculative and erroneous ideas of Aby Warburg and Fritz Saxl on proposed paths of transmission of planetary iconography/iconographical tradition (uncritically re-stated by Jean Seznec in his Survival of the Pagan Gods (1940)) see the first critical analysis in Regenten des Himmels by Dieter Blume (2000). Also, Duits, Rembrandt. (2005). "Celestial Transmissions. An Iconographical Classification of Constellation Cycles in Manuscripts (8th-15th Centuries)." (Scriptorium, Volume 59, Pages 147-202); and Duits, Rembrandt. (2011). "Reading the Stars: Fritz Saxl and Astrology." (Journal of Art Historiography, Number 5, December, Pages 1?-18?). Also, Duits, Rembrandt. and Quiviger, François. (Editors). (2009). Images of the Pagan Gods: Papers of a Conference in Memory of Jean Seznec. [Note: "Research in astrological manuscripts has always been one of the strong points of the Warburg Institute (already true by the time of Aby Warburg's 1912 Rome conference): thus, it comes as no surprise that a considerable part of the publication is dedicated to it. Duits's presentation of illustrated constellation cycles revisits Saxl's thesis and, in the light of new research, concludes that instead of "a consistent set of classical constellation images . . . it appears that there were different parallel and sometimes intertwining traditions" (100). In a less nuanced way, Kristen Lippincott, who studies the constellation of Eridanus, discards expediently altogether all previous work and Dieter Blume, in his paper on planetary astrology, is equally blunt: "there was in fact no survival of the pagan gods" (136). [Extract from (English-language) book review by Natalia Agapiou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens) in Renaissance Quarterly, Volume 64, Number 1, Spring, 2011, Pages 167-169."]
(20) Failure of the Sphaera Barbarica to take hold in Latin Europe
The Sphaera Barbarica did not obtain wide popularity in western Europe and interest in it remained within the domain of specialist scholars. There were 3 different iconographic schemes for illustrated versions of the Sphaera Barbarica. The most common iconographic scheme involved the depiction of the Persian, Indian, and Graeco-Roman spheres in separate strips placed one above the other. (MS M.785 (A Latin translation, circa 1400, of a work originating from Abū Ma'shar) now in the Pierpont Morgan Library is a typical example. The Sphaera Persica (i.e., Sphaera Barbarica) appears in the top register, the Sphaera Indica appears in the middle register, and the Sphaera Graeca appears in the lower register.) This artistic tradition originated with manuscripts produced in southern Italy in the 12th-century CE and continued through to the 15th-century CE. The illustrations accompanied the translated Latin text of Introductorium maius by Abū Ma'shar and were primarily for manuscripts made for the (educated and/or wealthy) layperson.
Ancient Writers mentioning the Sphaera Babarica (Most of these are Roman/Latin)
|Name||Egyptian Sphaera Mentioned||Babylonian Sphaera Mentioned||Mixed (Syncretist) Sphaera Barbarica and Sphaera Graecanica|
|Petrosiris [Peterios], circa 4th-century BCE; Egyptian astrologer.||
|Critodèmo, uncertain date, 3rd-century BCE (?), perhaps 2nd-century CE; Greek astrologer.||
Mentions the Sphaera Barbarica.
|Marcus Varro, circa 2nd-century BCE; Roman antiquarian and writer whose works are full of astrological references.||
|Asclepiades of Myrlea (also (mistakenly?) identified as Asclepiades of Bithynia (a physician), circa between 2nd and 1st centuries BCE; grammarian and historian who focused on topics such as Homer, astronomy, and astrology.||
Mentions the Sphaera Barbarica. Not concerned with paranatellonta.
|Nigidius Figulus, 1st-century BCE; Roman magistrate; astrologer; according to some writers the first evidence for the Sphaera Barbarica is connected with Nigidius Figulus.||
√ Concerned with paranatellonta.
|Antiochus of Athens, circa 1st century BCE/1st-century CE; astrological poet.||
√ Extant fragments of Antiochus of Athens contain references to the Sphaera Babarica.
|Marcus Cicero, circa 1st-century BCE; Roman philosopher, politician, and critic of astrology (De Divinatione).||
Mentions the Sphaera Barbarica.
|Teucrus 'the Babylonian', 1st-century CE; Egyptian astrologer.||
√ Concerned with paranatellonta.
|Marcus Manilius, circa 1st-century CE; Roman poet and astrologer.||
√ Whether any of the material really belonged to a Sphaera Barbarica now cannot be established. Marcus Manilius does not seem to have known Nigidius Figulus' Sphaera Graecanica and Sphaera Barbarica. Concerned with paranatellonta.
|Dorotheos of Sidon, 1st-century CE; Greek astrological poet, astrological works by Dorotheus of Sidon were copied into Pahlavi during the 3rd and 4th centuries (including Pentabiblos).||
Mentions the Sphaera Barbarica.
|Vettius Valens circa 2nd-century CE; Hellenistic astrologer. Valens derived some of his material from Teucrus.||
√ Extant fragments of Vettius Valens contain references to the Sphaera Babarica.
|Firmicus Maternus, circa 4th-century CE; Latin astrologer.||
√ Chapters on the Sphaera Barbarica in Firmicus Maternus (Mathesis, Book VIII) are based on Marcus Manilius. The sense that Firmicus Maternus attached to the Sphaera Barbarica was far removed from its proper and original sense.
Appendix 1: Franz Boll and Sphaera (1903)
It was Franz Boll who discovered and reconstructed the history of the passage of the Sphaera Barbarica. The first major modern work devoted to elucidating the Sphaera Barbarica was the classic book-length study Sphaera by the German philologist Franz Boll (1903). (The word "Sphaera" refers to the celestial sphere, the map of the night sky. The title is plural because 2 sky maps existed in Graeco-Roman antiquity - the Greek and the Barbarian.)
Boll's most important and most outstanding work is perhaps Sphaera (1903). It is still an important work on ancient and Arabic astrology. The masterly work Sphaera was Franz Boll's ingenious recovery of the Sphaera Barbarica, based on the discovery of new manuscripts. Boll became aware of the Sphaera Barbarica through the discovery of excerpta (brief segments of writing taken from longer works) from the Byzantine period. Boll became aware of the Sphaera Barbarica through the discovery of excerpta (brief segments of writing taken from longer works) from the Byzantine period. In Sphaera Boll published and annotated the texts of then newly discovered Classical and Byzantine astronomical/astrological manuscripts by Teukros the Babylonian, Antiochus of Athens, Vettius Valens, and Johannes Kamateros, a 12th-century Byzantium astrologer.
He ingeniously reconstructed the Sphaera Barbarica and also traced the major stages of its journey from Ptolemaic Egypt and Babylon to the Islamic Persian Empire (in Persian manuscripts translated into Arabic) and back to Latin Europe (retranslated into Latin). Boll recognised the contributions of Teukros the Babylonian to constellation lore ahead of his contemporaries. The first part of the book is a critical discussion of the newly discovered texts, the second part describes the constellations in them, and the third part deals with the history of the "Sphaera Barbarica" as described by Nigidius Figulus and others. In Sphaera Boll first described the genre of paranatellonta writing and edited much of the material.
Appendix 2: Teucrus/Teucer and the Sphaera Barbarica
Teucrus 'of Babylon' lived in the 1st-century CE. Teucer of Babylon was an ancient Egyptian astrologer. Teucrus is called "the Babylonian" by the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (circa 270 CE) and by subsequent writers. The writings of Teucrus are known only through excerpts preserved in later astrological works. Their historical importance was first fully recognised by the German classicist/philologist Franz Boll in his important book Sphaera (1903).
The Sphaera Barbarica were mostly based on the writings of Teucrus. He made a register of stars that rose to the north and south of each zodiacal sign. Teucrus' work was very important in the transmission of the astrological system of the Decans, i.e. the subdivision of the Zodiac into 36 Decans, each one 10 degree, three per constellation, and also of the so-called Paranatellonta (i.e. the constellations rising on the horizon simultaneously with a certain Decan).
The Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus survived in the form of a Greek manuscript with partial contents, the Arabic work of Abū Ma'shar, Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum [Great Introduction], and Arab-Islamic star catalogs and lapidaria. Teucrus' work was translated in Pahlavi for the first time about the 3rd-century or later. Unfortunately the Pahlavi translation is lost and only a number of fragments in Arabic still survive. A Middle Persian translation of Teucrus was written or probably rearranged in the 6th-century (precisely 542) under Xusraw Anōširwān. This very translation was used by Abū Mashˁar together with Indian sources about the iconography of the Decans deriving from the Indian astronomer Varāha Mihira (6th-century CE), taken in its turn from the Yavanajātaka of Sphujidhvaja (3rd-century CE), a Sanskrit translation of a Greek-Alexandrian astrological text. Some Pahlavi material from Teucrus was probably embedded in the Introductorium Maius of Abū Mashˁar, and via such a translation they returned to Byzantium and the West. It has been shown that the Egyptian iconography of the Decans, intermingled with Indian and Sasanian modifications, was transferred through the Arabic Introductorium Maius to Spain, then to France and finally was embedded in the Astrolabium Planum of Pietro d'Abano.
According to Aby Warburg, writing on the Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus: "This work is nothing more than a description of the fixed-star heaven, which with the addition of star names from Egypt, Babylonia, and Asia Minor, surpasses the star catalog of Aratus almost three times over. ... The Sphara Barbarica of Teukros comes down to us in yet another form , corresponding to the surviving Greek text [of Teucrus' Sphaera Barbarica], a form arranged according to decans, that is, thirds of months, each of which encompasses ten degrees of the respective zodiacal sign. This type came to the western Middle Ages via the star catalogs and lapidaria (books of precious stones) of the Arabs. So the "Great Introduction" of Abū Aā'sār (who died in 886), the main authority for medieval astrology, contains a synopsis of three different conceptions of the fixed-star heaven, each apparently quite peculiar and belonging to a different nation. Closer examination reveals, however, that these disparate parts can all be traced back to the Greek Sphaera of Teukros, expanded by barbaric additions."
The Sphaera Barbarica with its elements of paranatellonta (the system of constellations "which accompany" certain points of the ecliptic in the north and south = the constellations rising on the horizon simultaneously with a certain decan) and Dōdekaōros (the system of subdivision of each zodiac sign into 3 parts (10 degrees of the ecliptic) - making a system of 36 "decans" according to which 3 "paranatellonta" were attached to each sign of the zodiac) gained fixed form in the 1st-century CE(BCE?) in the Sphaera Barbarica devised by Teucer of Babylon (Egypt?). Paranatellonta are stars or star groups that are viewed as attendants. In ancient astrology the term was applied to the constellations that rose with the zodiacal decans. Teucer is supposed to have lived in the 1st-century CE(BCE?). The Sphaera Barbarica of Teucrus/Teucer also established the subdivision of each zodiac sign into 3 parts (10 degrees of the ecliptic), each subdivision (= the decans) controlled/ruled over by specific gods/goddesses of ancient Egyptian or Asiatic origin (Mesopotamian, or Persian, or Indian).
A fragmentary list attributed to Teucrus/Teucer associates each of the zodiacal signs with a specific country. As example: The Ram represents Persia, and the He-goat represents Syria. To date the connection of the signs of the zodiac with particular countries is unattested in the 2nd-century CE.
Franz Boll (Sphaera, 1903) showed the features of the Sphaera Babarica of Teucrus included the Hades-constellations being found around Sagittarius and Scorpius.
Appendix 3: Nigidius Figulus
Publius Nigidius Figulus held public office as an aedile and later as practor or magistrate. (Aedile was an office of the Roman Republic. Based in Rome, the aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings and regulation of public festivals. They also had powers to enforce public order.) Circa 60 BCE he started/was at the centre of the first school of astrology in Rome (indeed the earliest Roman astrological school) and published books on astrological prediction and meteorology. Julius Caesar when he came to power banished him for political reasons. Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 BCE) the greatest Roman scholar and an incredibly prolific writer was a colleague of Figulus but not an astrologer.
We owe most of our knowledge of the non-Greek constellations and star names from extant fragments of Figulus' work(s) on the subject. Figulus seems to have dealt methodically with both the 'Greek' and 'Barbaric' spheres, describing also their mythological and astrological characteristics/features.
A book quoted by Nigidius Figulus under the title of Sphaera Barbarica ("Sky-map of the Foreigners" i.e., the Babylonians and Egyptians) gave for each of the 360° of the ecliptic the astral forecasts based on the character of the stars "rising together" (paranatellontes).
Appendix 4: Daivajna Varāhamihira and the Sphaera Indica
Daivajna Varāhamihira (505-587 CE) was an Indian astronomer, (outstanding) mathematician, and astrologer who lived most of his life in Ujjain. The Indian sphaera is attested in Chapter 27 of the Brhajjātaka (a treatise on astronomy and horoscopic astrology) written by Daivajna Varāhamihira. Varāhamihira was Abū Ma'shar's unnamed influential source for information on the decans and their gods. (Franz Boll showed that prior to the 6th-century CE knowledge of the Egyptian decans had reached India.) Abū Ma'shar's Kitāb al-madkhal al-kabīr contains Indian material and is one of the principle conduits for the transmission of genuine Indian astrological doctrines to the West. It contains information about Indian terms and decans. It has been determined by David Pingree (1963 paper) that Varāhamihira's decan descriptions are a mixture of those of the decans and horās (Vedic jyotish unit of time, the Egyptian decans were sidereal gods of time) in the Yavanajätaka of Sphujidhvaja. Pingree also determined that these decans and horās are misinterpretations (influenced by Śaivite iconography) of the Greco-Egyptian pictures in a Greek manuscript translated into Sanskrit by Yavaneśvara in 149/150 CE.
Appendix 5: Aby Warburg
In the early 20th-century Germany Aby Warburg (1866–1929) and his followers Fritz Saxl (1890–1948) and Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) built on, and expanded, the practice of identification and classification of motifs in images to that of using iconography as a means to understanding meaning. Panofsky codified an influential approach to iconography in his 1939 book Studies in Iconology, where he defined particular definitions - "iconography" (the identification of visual content) and "iconology" (the analysis of the meaning of that content). In the USA, where Panofsky immigrated in 1931, students such as Frederick Hartt, and Meyer Schapiro continued his ideas. In an influential 1942 article, Introduction to an "Iconography of Mediaeval Architecture", Richard Krautheimer, another German émigré and a specialist on early medieval churches, extended iconographical analysis to architectural forms.
Copyright © 2006-2018 by Gary D. Thompson
Return to top of page.
This Web Page was last updated on: Thursday, December 28, 2017, 9:00 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