Episodic Survey of the History of the Constellations
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L: Iranian Constellations
22: Early constellations in Iran
There was a long tradition of ziggurat building in the Iranian world. The ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil in Khuzestan Province, southwestern Iran (near Susa). (Ziggurats were pyramidal structures built in receding tiers with sun-baked brick cores and multi-coloured glazed-brick exteriors.) It was built on a plateau above the banks of the Dez River. (The great canal built to supply water from the river is still in use.) It is the largest monument in Iran (and the largest of all the ziggurats) and dates to circa 1250 BCE. It is surrounded by 3 huge concentric walls. The outer city wall was about 4 kilometres long and enclosed an area of approximately 100 hectares. The first (outer) wall has 7 gates. Between the inner and middle walls, several temples dedicated to different Elamite divinities were built. Thousands of baked mud bricks bearing inscriptions with Elamite cuneiform characters, all inscribed by hand, adorn the most important buildings. Chogha Zanbil is the best preserved of all the ancient ziggurats. At the time of its construction this part of present-day Iran was part of ancient empire of Elam. The country of Elam dominated large parts of the Western and South-Western Iran, from the late 4th-millennium till the mid 1st-millennium BCE. Within an ethnological and cultural context the ancient Elamites were close to the Mesopotamian civilisations. However, it is not unusual to come across the claim that the written history of Iran began circa 3200 BCE with the Proto-Elamite civilization and was followed by the Elamite civilization. The ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil was part of an ancient Elamite complex built by the Elamite King Unta-Napiria (1275-1240 BCE) near the Elamite capital city of of Susa. The complex was apparently abandoned after his death. (All ziggurats were built by kings to demonstrate they could perform greater religious deeds than the priesthood.) The ziggurat is a square structure with its base measuring 105 metres x 105 metres. It had 5 levels and it's height is variously estimated but believed by some to have been 52 metres. The ziggurat was a temple dedicated to Inshushinak, the bull-god of near-by Susa. It has been speculated that it may also have served an astronomical purpose. This four-sided, broadly stepped ziggurat is aligned so that its corners face the cardinal directions. Ziggurats originally had a cosmic significance. They were an image of the 7 spheres of the world and were also the seat of the Sun-god. The building complex at the site of the ziggurat includes 11 temples, a palace, and burial chambers. It took some 10 seasons of archaeological excavations between 1951 and 1962 just to rediscover the extent of the complex. It is believed that 22 temples were originally planned, but King Unta-Napiria died before the construction of the complex could be finished, and his successors discontinued the building work. It is considered unlikely that many people actually resided there. When King Unta-Napiria died the site was not abandoned, but continued to be occupied until it was destroyed by the Assyrian king Ashurbannipal in 640 BCE. However, it appears only a few priests continued to live on the site until its destruction by the Assyrians. Some scholars speculate, based on the large number of projected temples and sanctuaries, that King Unta-Napiria was attempting to create a new religious centre (possibly intended to replace the city of Susa) which would unite the gods/goddesses of both highland and lowland Elam at one site.
According to David Pingree, (scientific) astronomy developed in Iran in successive phases of Babylonian, Greek, and Arabic influences.
Iran (Persia) is a West Asian country and one of the world's oldest continuous major civilisations. (The name Iran has been in use natively since the Sāsānian period.) Pre-Islamic Iran can be divided into 4 broad phases: (1) 3200 BCE to 728 BCE, Early history. (The written history of Iran began circa 3200 BCE with the Proto-Iranian civilisation). (2) 728 BCE to 550 BCE, Median Empire (First Iranian Empire). (3) 648 BCE to 330 BCE, Achaemenian Empire (Second Iranian Empire). (4) 248 BCE to 224 BCE, Parthian Empire (Third Iranian Empire). (5) 224 BCE to 651 CE, Sassanian (Sasanian) Empire (Fourth Iranian Empire). Zoroastrianism, the religion founded by Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in Persia played an important role in all four Iranian empires. During the Sassanian era Zoroastrianism was revived and became the State religion. (Many experts consider the oldest Zoroastrian texts to have been composed sometime between 1700 BCE and 1000 BCE, although it is conceded it is difficult to be certain regarding dating issues. However, attempts to date Zoroastrianism to the 2nd-millennium BCE are also considered by many scholars to be without foundation and they argue for a date toward the end of the seventh century BCE. There is still a strong argument that a date of circa 7th-century BCE is excluded on linguistic grounds - the language of the Avesta excluding such a late date. Mary Boyce believes the teachings of Zoroastrianism arose during a period of societal disturbance and conflict between warriors and tribesmen sometime in the late 2nd-millennium BCE.) In the Sassanian period the initial oral tradition of the Avesta was written down. The earliest surviving manuscripts date only to circa 1000 CE. It is thought that Pahlavi Zoroastrian literature preserves only a few remnants of what was a larger astronomical and astrological literature.
Prior to the Sasanian period there is no evidence of systematic indigenous contributions to skywatching. Because of the paucity of written sources - only a few written archives from ancient Iran have been found - almost nothing is known about calendars and skywatching in ancient Iran. External written evidence from Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, is not very assistive. The Avesta - a fragmentary collection of Zoroastrian writings collected and compiled in written form from rather fluid oral tradition during the Sassanid period (224 CE - 651 CE - does contain some information of celestial objects. (The legends of an Arsacid-era collation and recension of the Avesta are no longer taken seriously.) Because the Avesta was compiled over several hundred years it is almost impossible to put the astronomical data in it in either a chronological or territorial context. Most of the Avesta's texts were handed down independently of one another and its different parts date from different periods and different locations within ancient Iran. Sasanian kings were interested in astrology (especially Saturn/Jupiter conjunctions) and during the Sasanian period some Greek and Hindu astrological texts were translated into Persian. Basically, the reconstruction of the early history of ancient Iranian interest in the sky is reliant on much later medieval sources dating from the to the 9th-century CE to the 11th-century CE. The most important of these late sources are the Bundahišn (an encyclopaedic collection of Zoroastrian cosmogony and cosmology), the Dēnkard (or Dēnkart) (a compendium of Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs, including the calendar and astronomy), and the writings of al-Biruni (who wrote numerous books about Islamic, Persian, and Indian astronomy and astrology).
The Persian word for "star" is sitareh. There does not appear to have been any cult of the stars or astral speculation in ancient Iranian religion. The association of the Iranian god Zurvan with astral phenomena in Mithraism (and Gnosticism) most likely was derived from Mesopotamia.
Evidence for pre-Sassanian Zoroastrian astronomy/astrology is meagre, the brightest luminaries being the only ones singled out in the Avestan texts: Sun, Moon, and Sirius. In the Avestan pantheon the main astral divinities were the Sun, Moon, and Sirius (whose key role was that of liberator of the waters and who fought against the demons of draught). These were considered divine and associated with cosmic order. The other astral bodies were considered negative beings who were responsible for famine. The planets are not mentioned in the Avestan sources. Iranian religions did not have any type of professional astronomers or any form of developed astral divination. It is thought likely that some observation-based agricultural predictions existed in ancient Iran. It is thought likely that the agricultural predictions were connected with the helical rising of Sirius (Tistrya). (The Harvard Armenian scholar, James Russell, identifies the Armenian tiara star (the star depicted on the tiara of the Armenian king Tigranes II, ruled from circa 95 BCE to circa 55 BCE) as Sirius (See: Zoroastrianism in Armenia by James Russell (1987, Page 317).) In the Achaemenid period inscription (in the Old Persian language) of Antaxerxes (King of Persia from 465 BCE to 424 BCE) found at Hamadan (a city in the western part of Iran) the name of Ahura Mazda is mentioned and associated with other gods/goddesses mentioned: Mithra and Anahita. It is known that Mithra = the Sun, and Anahita = Venus. (See: Der Planet Venus im Awesta by Joannes Hertel (1936).)
Claims that pictures painted on early Iranian pottery dating back to circa 3000 BCE perhaps depict constellations remain vague. Also unsubstantiated is the claim that the inside walls of the cave where Zoroaster lived to contemplate for ten years were full of drawings of stars, the sun, the moon, and their movements. Regarding early Elam: Representations of the stars, moon, and sun appear on cylinder seals and clay tablets from the 3rd-millennium BCE. As example: A cylinder seal from Susa, dated circa 2500 BCE, depicts the figure of a goddess seated on a lion or lions, and next to her is the representation of crescent moon, sun-disk, and 8-pointed star. An earlier artifact, a vase from Jīruft (an ancient city in Iran), depicts the representation of the crescent moon, and an 8-pointed star surrounding a central dot. It is thought the star symbol represents simply the fixed stars (the heaven) as well as the planet Venus.
The seemingly rather repetitive hymn to Rašnu, Yašt 12, which is not divided into Kardes, has been recognized as containing materials of interest for Avestan cosmology and astronomy. The various allusions to cosmogony in Yašt 13.1–84,122 (This section provides, according to Kellens 1989, Page 39, "the only known elements of ancient Mazdean cosmogony.") and to the resurrection of the dead and the final defeat of evil in Yašt 19.88–96 are of interest for Younger Avestan cosmology and eschatology.
The few literary remains left to us are insufficient to establish details of early Iranian astronomy. (See: Poorbahram, Mitra. and Kargar, Mahdi. (2014). "The predicates of ancient Iran astronomy in the narratives of history." (International Journal of Management and Humanity Sciences." Volume 3, Number 2, Pages 1367-1369).) The Avesta remains a key source. "In the earlier portions of the Avesta there is no trace of mathematical astronomy (which in any case, would be inappropriate in such a context) and only a few hints at some sort of observational astronomy involving the sun, the moon, and certain fixed stars. See Yašts 6 (to the sun), 7 (to the moon), 8 (to Tištrya), and 10 (to Miθra). The earliest mathematical astronomy that developed in territory under Iranian control was that which originated in Mesopotamia, was improved during the Achaemenid period, and culminated in the Babylonian solar, lunar, and planetary theories of the Seleucid and Parthian periods. That some of this Babylonian astronomy and the astral omen literature that was associated with it was adopted by scholars in Iran itself is implied by its transmission to India in the late fifth or early fourth century B.C. and by the preservation of Babylonian methods of interpreting gnomon-shadows. ("Astrology and Astronomy in Iran." by David Pingree (Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume II, Fascicle 8, Pages 858-871))"
Early Iranian astronomical information is embedded in mythological and religious contexts. However, the old-Persian names of the planets are not known. Astral gods/goddesses figured prominently in ancient Iranian religion and the most important seem to have been Tishtrya and Tiri (Tīr). In the Pahlavi Books Tishtrya is frequently confused with Tiri (Tīr). Tiri is sometimes the star Sirius, sometimes the planet Mercury. Tiri is not mentioned in the Avesta. The four leader stars (so-called (in popular literature) "Royal Stars") named as: Tishtrya, Vanant, Satavaesa, and the Haptoiringas, and are claimed to have been made by Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda, the supreme god in ancient Iranian religion, especially in the religious system of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster (7th century–6th century BCE) shaped the sky and the heavenly bodies producing first the celestial sphere and the constellations, especially the zodiacal signs. The stars are a warlike army destined for battle against the evil spirits. (In Persian mythology, Akhtar is the zodiacal constellation that makes up the army of the good god, Ahura Mazda.) There are 6,480,000 small stars, and to the many which are not numbered places are assigned in the four quarters of the sky presided over by the 4 leader stars. Ahura Mazda then created the moon and afterward the sun.
Tishtrya was a prominent eastern Iranian astral god. It has been suggested that the Avestan Tishtrya is a syncretistic god composed of originally 2 distinct astral gods. Tiri was a popular western Iranian astral god. In Zoroastrianism, Tishtrya was identified with the western Iranian astral god, Tiri (Mercury in Sāsānian astronomy).
The Sasanids established an empire roughly within the frontiers achieved by the Achaemenids. The Sasanids sought to re-establish Iranian traditions and to obliterate Greek cultural influence.
Relatively reliable Iranian history only begins with the founding of the Sassanian dynasty in 226 CE. However, not much is established regarding astronomy. Throughout the Sassanian period it is presumed the majority of the Iranian peoples practiced reverence to the sun, moon, Sirius, and some other stars in essentially the same way their ancestors had done. Attempts to identify the Sênmurw (a legendary dog-headed bird appearing in the Late Sassanian period of the 6th-century CE) with a constellation such as Aquila (the Eagle) or its most prominent star Altair (the Bird) remain speculative, if not completely fanciful.
There is plenty of evidence demonstrating Sassanian (Sasanian) interest in astronomy, astral iconography and astrology. Most historians agree that Sassanian astronomy (and astrology) was syncretic, based entirely on both Greek and Indian (Hindu) sources. Edward Kennedy (the late historian of Islamic science) wrote the available evidence suggests that Sassanian astronomy was under strong Hindu influence. With the establishment of the Sasanian dynasty Sasanian kingship took an increasingly astral, cosmic character. The Sasanian king of kings shared in the divine quality of the sun, moon, and stars. The Sasanian king was not one of the gods, but, like the sun and moon, he was a divine creation of Ohrmazd, essential for the proper functioning of the cosmos, and served an antidemonic role in creation. When Zoroastrianism became the state religion of Sasanian Persia, efficacious against the demonic forces was important. Cosmic elements, such as the sun, moon, and stars, predominate on late Sasanian crowns per numismatic iconography. In several issues of coinage by Kosrow II (the last great king of the Sasanian dynasty, reigning from 590 to 628 CE) three dotted rings corresponding to the three heavens in Zoroastrian cosmology encircle the image of the regnal fire.
From the Sassanian times the ecliptic was divided longitudinally into 27 lunar mansions of 13° 20' each; there were also modifications to the Indian system of 28 mansions. This mapping of the sky accentuated the identity of various constellations and asterisms, which now became viewed as companions of the zodiacal signs. (See: Bundahišn, Chapter 2.2.)
Pre-Sassanian Empire records for astronomy and astrology are rather meagre. Almost nothing is known of the astronomy and astrology of pre-Sassanian Iran. Further, reliable knowledge of Iranian astronomy and astrology is non-existent before the reign of King Shâpûr I (reigned 240-270 BCE). Neither constellations nor individual star names are mentioned in either the Gathas of Zoroaster or in Old Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenian (Achaemenid) Period.
The key sources for constellations and star names are the Avestan and Pahlavi texts. The Avestan texts are earlier than the Pahlavi texts. The Avesta was committed to writing perhaps circa 3rd-cenrury BCE. (The present text of the Avesta was compiled circa 3rd- to 7th-century CE from texts that survived destruction during the conquest of Persia by the Macedonian general Alexander the Great.) (Only about a quarter of the original Avesta has been preserved. The rest of the Avestan texts are post-Zoroastrian and composed in the young Avestan language.) The Bundahishn was compiled circa 9th-century CE from earlier texts.
In the earliest material incorporated into the Avesta there are a few references that indicate the existence of some sort of observational astronomy. There are individual yashts dedicated to the sun, moon, Sirius, and Mithras. See yashts 6 to the sun, yashts 7 to the moon, yashts to Tišhtya ([Tištrya] = Sirius (α Canis Maioris)) and yashts 10 to Mithra. The oldest extant Old Iranian source that makes reference to constellations is the Younger Avesta. It contains the names of 2 constellations only - the modern-day constellation Ursa Major (Great Bear) and the modern-day asterism Pleiades. From the names 'the seven marks/having seven marks' for Ursa Major and 'first' for the Pleiades they are clearly indigenous Iranian constellations. (Antonio Panaino states that the only constellations clearly attested in the Avestan texts are Haptoiringa with 'Ursa Major,' Titryaeini with 'Canis Minor,' and Paoiryaeini with the 'Pleiades.') The date of the first identification of Iranian constellation names is uncertain but it is thought that they can be placed in a prehistoric period of the eastern Iranian world. In the later Avestan literature, however, both constellations and star names are mentioned. These include the star Sirius, the constellation Ursa Major, the Pleiades (yashts 8:12), and the Milky Way. (There is an Avestan yashts addressed to the Milky Way (which is personified as feminine).) The Avesta mentions a stellar Raven 'Eorosch.' A (mortal) wonder-working bird is common to many mythologies. (See: "The Primeval Bird." by Phyllis Simpson (Fabula, Volume 15, Issues 1, 1974, Pages 95-102).) It is also stated that the ancient Iranian celestial goddess Ashi was associated with the stars of Cassiopeia. This is unlikely and probably speculation dating to early Iranian studies. The goddess Ashi (female angel) was daughter of the high god Ahura Mazda and A ̄rmaiti. The nature of the Iranian goddess Ashi is debated. According to Mary Boyce, Avestan 'ashi' means 'thing attained/ acquired; recompense, reward.' Avestan 'ashi' means 'thing attained/ acquired; recompense, reward'. The old concept of Ashi appears to have been simply that of an amoral goddess of Recompense/Fortune. Symbols of Ashi are fish and pomegranate.
Four leader stars (so-called royal stars) are succinctly mentioned in verse 13 headed Tishtar in both Siroza (Hymn) 1 and Siroza (Hymn) 2 forming part of the Khorda Avesta. (It is usual to divide Zend-Avesta into five groups of texts and the Sirozas - being short dedications for the "thirty days of the months" - and, forming part of the Khorda Avesta, would not appear to be amongst the oldest texts and are considered to be quite late.) These leader (royal) stars are Tishtya, Vanant (or Wanand), Satavaesa (or Sadwēs), and the Haptoiringas (or Haftoreng). Only 2 of the 4 can be reasonably identified (i.e., Tišhtya with the star Sirius, and Haftoreng with the stars of Ursa Major. However, many popular publications still proceed to identify Aldebaran, Antares, Formalhaut, and Regulus as the four leader (royal) stars of Persia. This error is obviously based on the 105 year old book Star Names by the amateur American star-lorist Richard Allen. (The identification Aldebaran, Antares, Formalhaut, and Regulus was first proposed by the 18th-century French astronomer and historian Jean Bailly. (See: Burrows Smith, E. (1954). "Jean-Silvain Bailly, Astronomer, Mystic, Revolutionary." (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Volume 44, Number 4, Pages 425-538).)
The various identifications made of the leader stars (so-called four royal stars) are: Tishtya has been variously identified as Aldebaran, Sirius, Arcturus, and the Summer Solstice. Vanant (or Wanand) has been variously identified as Regulus, Vega, Altair (earlier Corvus), Sirius, and Procyon. Satavaesa (or Sadwēs) has been variously identified as Antares, Aldebaran, the stars of Musca Australis (the actual constellation being invented circa 1595), and Crux. The Haptoiringas (or Haftoreng) have been variously identified as Formalhaut, and Ursa Major. (The Haptoiringas are described in the Sirozas as a group of seven stars.)
Source: Boyce, Mary. (1975). A History of Zoroastrianism. Volume I: The Early Period. (Pages 77-78).
Speculations regarding the functions of the leader stars (so-called "Royal Stars" stars) as markers for the seasons or equinoxes/solstices can only hinge on the effective identification of the stars involved and the dating of such. (We are likely dealing with the 1st-millennium BCE at earliest.) Tishtrya was closely connected with rainfall and agriculture. Tishtrya is responsible for starting the process of rain making and for replenishing water.
The primary myth is Tishtrya/Sirius battling with its adversaries over the problem of drought and the release of rain. In the first part of the myth of cosmic combat/struggle Tishtya faces challenges before finally successfully combating the drought-god Apaosha/(?) (Apaoša, Apauša) (the demon-like adversary). The structure of the story likely offers a sufficient indeterminateness in the timing of the autumnal rains. The second part of the myth of cosmic combat/struggle connects the "shooting stars" (meteors) with the clash/combat between Tishtrya and Pairika (a female fairy-like adversarial demon). Pairika (Pairikā Dužyāiryā) is described in such a way as to be equated with "shooting stars." The clash/combat is between the army of fixed stars commanded by Tishtrya and the Pairikās (meteors = demonesses) led by a demoness called Pairikā Dužyāiryā "The Bad Year Witch." The Leonid meteor shower is perhaps the most suitable candidate for being associated with Sirius.
The association of the benevolent Indo-Iranian/Zoroastrian god Tišhtrya with the star Sirius occurred during the Achaemenid Period. (Tišhtrya is usually stated to be a rain god identified with the star Sirius (because of the star's prominence in the sky during the rainy season). Tišhtrya is perhaps more accurately identified as the angel (Yazad) who presided over the star Sirius and also directed the rain. Sirius rose helically when the rains came. In north-eastern Iran in the first half of the 1st-millennium BCE the star Sirius heliacally rose in July.) Vanand was the "home' of the drought-god Apaosha/(?) (Apaoša, Apauša), with whom the rain-god Tišhtrya/Sirius had violent contests. The principal myth associated with Tishtrya involves a battle with a demonic star named Apaosha (Apausha) over rainfall and water. Apaosha is a drought-bringing demon. Drought and the heat of summer were the great scourges in Iran. Apaosha was said to have captured the waters, which had to be released by the god of the star Sirius. Circa 2000 BCE Iran had low rainfall. (Apaosha has been identified with Sagittarius but the identification is not certain.) The star Fomalhaut is an ally of Tišhtrya. Within the scheme there was also a guardian-god of the pole-star (Mēx ī Gāh). Polaris, however, has little mythological significance. (However, it has been claimed that the god Mithras was connected with the pole-star.)
The Tishtrya Yasht and other Avesta texts indicate that the rising of Tishtrya was anxiously awaited by the Iranians and also by the creations of Nature (Yasht 8.36, 41, 42, and 48) at the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. The phrase, "Mithra's forehead shines like that of the star Tishtrya." (Yasht 10.143) indicates the heliacal rising of Tishtrya and that in the Avesta times the sun rose in the constellation of Canis Major (Khareghat). (See: Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute, Issue 45, 1976, Pages 24-69.)
The Mesopotamian idea of associating stars with cardinal directions is reflected in Iranian texts such as the Pahlavi Bundahishn. It can be reasonably speculated that the Iranian (Persian) association of the four leader stars (so-called royal stars) and cardinal directions found in the Pahlavi Bundahishn likely comes from Mesopotamian astronomy. Western Iran frequently borrowed from Mesopotamia. (The Pahlavi Bundahishn is a Zoroastrian text dating from the early Sassanian Period. Considerable attention was given to astronomy during the Sassanian Period. The Bundahishn itself is actually a ninth-century (Medieval; believed completed 1178 CE) compilation of earlier material. However, the Pahlavi texts also preserve large summaries and translations of lost Avestan texts. The astronomy of the Bundahishn is elementary and basically Indian in origin.) The Mul.Apin series associates a constellation with each of the cardinal directions. In the Mul.Apin Series Ursa Major ('wagon') is associated with the north, Piscis Austrinus ('fish') is associated with the west, Scorpius ('scorpion') is associated with the east, and Perseus ('old man') and Pleiades ('bristle') with the east. According to Walter Henning, in the Pahlavi Bundahishn Sirius (Tišhtrya) is the general of the east (= Tišhtrya represents the east), alpha Scorpii (Sadwēs) is the general of the south, alpha Lyrae (Wanand) is the general of the west, and Ursa Major (Haftoreng) is the general of the north (= the Great Bear represents the north). (In both Mesopotamia and Iran (Persia) the constellation Ursa Major is associated with the north.)
No Old Persian or Avestan source directly refers to the concept of the zodiac. (None of the gods/goddesses of the Avesta - which covered the period circa 7th-century BCE to 4th-century BCE had any zodiacal attributes.) The history of the Iranian calendars, as well as the pattern underlying the basic Mazdean scheme of the great cosmic (and mythological) period of 12,000 years, presuppose a certain crude acquaintance with the simple scheme of the 12 zodiacal constellations, which were originally linked with the 12 months of the year. By the Sassanian Period the concept of the zodiac had been borrowed from Greece. (The 12 signs of the zodiac correspond in concept to the Greek designations.) The 2nd (and 5th?) chapter of the Pahlavi Bundahishn (which dates to the Islamic Period) contains the names of the 12 signs of the Greek zodiac. (The Bundahishn is a Persian encyclopedia that was completed in 1178 CE.)
In the Mazdean religion the planets were regarded as evil.
The existing evidence indicates that a well-developed knowledge of mathematical and spherical astronomy was mastered in Iran only in the Sasanian period (224-651 CE). However, there was likely earlier astronomical activity in the Arsacid period (but mostly mastered in non-Iranian languages). During the Sasanian period the traditional astral lore (mostly of Avestan origin) and the local background culture were greatly enhanced, due to Greek, Egyptian, and also Indian astronomical and astrological doctrines. The zodiac is well attested in the Pahlavi texts and the names of the zodiacal constellations listed basically follow the Greek forms. The standard name of the zodiac in Pahlavi was dwazdahān (dw’cdh’n) "the twelve ones", but there is also the term 12-axtarān. According to the model of multiple spheres adopted in Sasanian Iran under the impact of Greek and Indian astral sciences, the inferior sphere was called the spihr ī gumēzišnīg "sphere of mixture"; it comprised the zodiacal belt with its 12 constellations (Pahlavi 12-axtarān). In addition to the 12 Zodiacal constellations Sasanian astrologers also used the originally Egyptian series of the decans; each Zodiacal constellation (= 30°) was divided into 3 decans, each of 10°, for a total number of 36.
The first two Sassanian kings (3rd-century CE) sponsored Pahlavi translations of both Greek and Sanskrit works on astronomy and astrology. The Pahlavi Bundahishn contains a list of the zodiacal constellations plus the Persian lunar mansions (See Chapter 2, Verses 1-8). The importance which the Sāsānians gave to the sciences of astronomy and astrology is evident from a number of names which exist for the practitioners of these sciences. The "astrologer" (Middle Persian) axtarmār; starōšmār, and "soothsayer" (Middle Persian) murw-nīš; kēd; kundāg, "zodiac-teller" (Middle Persian) 12-star-gōwišn, "star-reckoner" (Middle Persian) stārhangār, and "time-knower" (Middle Persian) hangām-šnās were valued and active during the Sāsānians period which welcomed and utilised new Greek, Indian, and Babylonian astronomy and astrological material. The result was the Sāsānians developed a syncretism of the Greek, Indian, and Babylonian astrological material.
In the Pahlavi Bundahishn, Kēwān (Saturn, holding the highest position in the planetary order) fights directly against the Pole Star (the highest star) Mēx ī Gāh (Gāh), and Ohrmazd (Jupiter) struggles with the Great Bear (Haftoreng). The Pahlavi Bundahishn (Bundahisn) records the tradition of a world year of 12000 years. According to the tradition the world would last for 12000 years, and it would be ruled by each of the 12 signs of the zodiac for 1 millennium. On the question of the influence of Mesopotamian and Greek ideas on the number of heavens in the cosmology of the Sāsānian period see: "Uranographia Iranica I: The Three Heavens in the Zoroastrian Tradition and the Mesopotamian Background." by Antonio Panaino, In: Au carrefour des religions, Mélanges offerts à Philippe Gignoux, edited by R. Gyselen (1995, Pages 205-226).
The Indian system of the nakṣatras (Pahlavi xwurdag) with 27 and 28 "asterisms" is well attested in the Iranian sources. (The Iranian lists with 27 or 28 asterisms are of Indian origin.) They are generally referred to as "lunar stations" (but might also called manāzel, as in Arabic), each of them measuring 13° 20'. Their diffusion in Iran is placed in the Sasanian period, but it is likely that they were already known in Central Asia about the 2nd-century CE (through the mediation of Buddhist sources in Sanskrit and the derived Chinese translations, such as those by the Parthian prince An Shih-kao. Also in the Khotanese literature we can find references to the nakṣat(t)ra- (with a term clearly derived from Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit), sometimes with the direct mention of the individual asterism referred to. According to Walter Henning the Indian system of lunar mansions was introduced into Iran (Persia) circa 500 CE. When the system of the lunar mansions (naksatras) was introduced into Iran (Persia) from India a completely new set of names was created for them. We have lists of the Iranian lunar mansions from 4 different sources. The Pahlavi Bundahishn (Chapter 2) contains a detailed discussion of the naksatras. (The number of lunar mansions listed in the Pahlavi Bundahishn is 27.)
The Sassanian period Takht-e Taqdid associated with King Khusru II, circa 620 CE) was apparently the first antecedent of the modern domed planetarium. Takht-e Solaymân is the largest complex from the Sassanian era ever discovered. A cosmic throne-room is mentioned as historic fact in accounts of the capture of the Sassanian residential complex. When Byzantine soldiers under Heraclius (the Emperor of Byzantine) conquered the Sassanian complex of Takht-e Solaymân (= the old city of Shiz [Ganzak/Ganjak] in west Azarbaijan (alternatively Azerbijan) Province) in 624 CE they reported the existence of what we term today a planetarium. In a structure called Takht-e Taqdis (or Takht-i Taqdis) ("The Throne of the Dome") the soldiers found representations of the sun, moon, planets, and stars moving across the ceiling of a domed throne room. (Apparently there was a complex system of gears and another room contained horses to drive the system. If a number of early commentators on it are to be believed it was an impressive mechanical planetarium.) The soldiers also reported rain falling from holes in the simulated sky to the accompanying sounds of thunder. Because they believed the Persians and their Zoroastrian religion were pagan the throne room was destroyed by the invading soldiers. The existence of the planetarium is associated with the Sassanian King Khusru II, who was contemporary with Heraclius. The various sources recording the story actually vary regarding whether the cosmic room was in a palace or fire temple. However, the planetarium is mentioned as historic fact. (See: Studies on the Iconography of Cosmic Kingship by Hans L'Orange (1953, Reprinted 1982); Chapter 2: Khusrau's Cosmic Hall; Pages 18-27; Acta Iranica by Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin (1978, Pages 255-257.)
An earlier precedent for the modern domed planetarium was apparently the Roman Emperor Nero's 'planetarium'/rotating dining room. However, whether it was a reality or a myth still seems undecided. A report on a 2016 Nero exhibition in Germany made the claim that the octogonal dining room (having 8 sides and 8 angles) - coenatio principalis - of his palace Domus Aurea (Latin for Golden House) in Rome had either one rotating dome or several nested ones in order to display celestial motions. Or - since there is no archaeological evidence for such mechanisms - that there was a fixed dome with moving lanterns instead. (The Domus Aurea was a 3-floor villa complex built in the few years between the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE and Nero's suicide in 68 CE. It was rediscovered early in the 20th-century.) According to Christopher Dewdney (2004), inside the the dome ceiling of the coenatis, the Roman radical/audacious architects Severus (Lucius Septimius Severus, architect/designer) and Celer (Petronius Celer, machinator or engineer) built a series of nested semispherical rotating domes (the mechanism being cranked by slaves) that simulated the movement of the planets across the night sky. Also, according to the Roman historian Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (70 CE - 130 CE)): "The main chamber was round and revolved continually day and night, as does the world." Engineers also incorporated a network of metal tubing into the mobile domes so that the effect of rain could be reproduced from the artificial sky. In 2009, archaeologists thought they could show the floor would have been able to rotate, if not the domes, ceilings or lanterns mentioned. If the dome or ceiling was fixed, but the floor rotated, the end result would have been somewhat similar. The only contemporary source seems to be one line in a text by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Scholars have long debated whether this planetarium-like aspect of the room was a marvel of Roman engineering or simply a figment of Suetonius' often whimsical imagination. Because nothing in the room indicates the former presence of rotating apparatus - at least until very recently - some have suggested that there was a lantern with constellations illustrated on the underside, and that this lantern rotated on wheels or rollers. Nero's Rotating Dining Room (https://news.cnrs.fr/videos/neros-rotating-dining-room; 08.19.2016) ""The main dining table, which was round, rotated night and day, imitating the motions of the globe." The surprising construction mentioned by Suetonius in his biography of Nero [Nero 31.2] has been found. On Palatine Hill (Rome), a Franco-Italian team of archaeologists discovered remains of a mechanism that could have allowed the rotation of the floor of the main dining room [banqueting room] of the Domus Aurea - Nero's vast imperial palace." An even better 'planetarium' is believed to have existed in Domitian's private palace, Domus Augustana, built in 80 CE high on the Palatine hill. It comprised a huge hall (measuring 87 feet high (26.5 metres) by 99 feet wide (30.2 metres)), called the Coenatio Jovis (Dining Hall of Jupiter) had glowing stars inserted into the overhead rotating domes. The simulated sky was described by the poet Publius Papinius Statius (circa 45 – circa 96 CE) - who had visited the dining hall - in his Silvae (a collection of Latin poetry). See the discussion on planetariums in: Acquainted with the Night: A Celebration of the Dark Hours by Christopher Dewdney (2004).
A Chinese predecessor, also a mechanical planetarium, that could have inspired the Sassanian period exemplar is the mingtang (also, Ming Tang/Ming-Tang/Ming-t'ang) or the "Luminous Hall" ("Bright Hall") of the Wei dynasty. This late example of a "Luminous Hall" is located in the Northern Wei dynasty capital, Pingcheng (present-day Datong).) The Sassanians had been in close contact with the Chinese for centuries via the Silk Route, as well as by sea routes in the south. "The Luminous Hall was round above and square below and on the four sides there were twelve doors and nine rooms, without common walls. Outside the rooms, within the columns and beneath the silk atrium awning, were installed mechanical wheels and pale blue-green silk decorated with blue semi-precious stones – looking up it resembled the sky. [On it] were painted the Polar Asterism and lunar lodges so that it resembled the canopy of Heaven. Each month as the [Northern] Dipper pointed to [successive] chronograms, it revolved to correspond to the way of Heaven; in this respect [the Luminous Hall] departed from the ancient [model]. On top [of the Luminous Hall] was added a Spirit Terrace (ling tai), and below water was led in to form a Circular Moat. Along the water’s edge stones were laid to form embankments, in this respect according with the ancient scheme. This is what was laid out and built during the Taizhong reign period. (Early Chinese astronomy and Cosmology by David Pankenier (2013, Page 375.)" Note: The mechanical aspect of this particular mingtang must have been a 5th-century CE innovation as the geographer Li Daoyuan (flourished during the Northern Wei Dynasty, died 527 CE) notes in his book Shui jing zhu (an annotated and expanded version of an older text, the Shui Jing ("Waterways Classic"): "in this respect departing from the ancient model." The Taizhong reign period of the Tang dynasty/period was 626-649 CE. The "Luminous Hall" ("Bright Hall") was a sort of cosmological temple or architectural microcosm. A description of "The Luminous Hall" appears in Sancai tuhui, gongshi (a Chinese encyclopedia) compiled by Wang Qi and Wang Siyi and published in 1609. The origin of the mingtang dates back to the Zhou dynasty (1046/45/40-256 BCE). By the time of Emperor Wu (reigned 140-87 BCE) of the Han dynasty, the mingtang was modelled on T'ai-i numerology for structural principles for a cosmological system. (The cult of T'ai-i dates to the mid-T'ang. The T'ang/Tang dynasty/period (608/618-906/907 CE) is considered the high point of Chinese civilisation.) Only a few Chinese emperors (or empresses) actually built a mingtang. The mingtang is comprehensively discussed in the (unpublished but available through UMI) PhD dissertation, "Ming-Tang: Cosmology, Political Order and Monuments in Early China." by Hwang Ming-Chorng (1996, Harvard University, approximately 1800 pages). (See also: Wang, Tao. (2005). "Mingtang: The Hall of Luminosity." In: Maréchal, C. and Yau, S., (Editors). Proceeding of the International Symposium The Visual World of China. (Éditions Langages Croisés, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris), Pages 137-170); Henderson, John. (1984). The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology. (Pages 59-87); and Soothill, Wiliam. (1951). The Hall of Light: A Study of Early Chinese Kingship. (Pages 84-96).)
The origin of the planetarium (at least Western planetariums/planetaria) probably goes back to the Classical Period. Cicero, in the first century BCE, wrote of two "spheres" built by Archimedes that Marcellus (the Roman consul who conquered Syracuse in 212 BCE) looted from Syracuse and brought to Rome. One was a solid sphere on which were engraved or painted the stars and constellations. Marcellus placed this in the Temple of Virtue. (Such celestial globes predate Archimedes by several hundred years and Cicero credits the Thales and Eudoxus with first constructing them.) The second sphere, which Marcellus kept for himself, was a planetarium: a mechanical model which shows the motions of the sun, moon, and planets as viewed from the earth. Cicero writes that Archimedes must have been "endowed with greater genius that one would imagine it possible for a human being to possess" to be able to build such an unprecedented device.
The transmission of early Iranian astral beliefs is a difficult subject. In the 1930s Jehangir Coyagee (1875-1943) (a Bombay Parsi, a Cambridge University economist, and at his retirement Principal, Presidency College, Calcutta) published two books setting out evidence for the transmission of Iranian beliefs into India and China (and elsewhere). The first book was Cults and Legends of Ancient Iran and China (1936). The second book, a companion volume to his Cults and Legends, The Legend of the Grail: Its Iranian and Indian Analogous (1939) (the title is also given as, Iranian and Indian Analogues of the Legend of the Holy Grail). It was comprised of lectures. In his book Cults and Legends Coyagee showed, for example, close similarities between several characters and episodes in the Persian epic, the Shāh-nāmak by Firdausī of Tūs and the Chinese epic or legend-cycle, the Feng Shen Yen I (Fen-shen Yen-I or Fengshen Yanyi). See: the (English-language) book review by the sinologist John Shryock in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 57, 1937, Pages 198-204; and Science and Civilisation in China by Joseph Needham (Volume II, 1956, Page 165). The Shāh-nāmak consists of 2 parts: a historical record, and an epic part. The Feng Shen Yen I (usually translated as, The Investiture of the Gods) is a popular vernacular novel having 100 chapters. It combines historical romance and mythological tales. It was perhaps authored by either Xu Zhongling or Lu Xixing. The story is set in the era of the declining Shang dynasty and the rise of the Zhou dynasty. Coyagee believed the main centre for many of the common myths and legends was the province of Seistan (a border region in eastern Iran).
In early Iranian belief the stars in general are concerned with the mechanism for the circulation of the waters; others are plant patrons.The earliest Iranian system able to be reconstructed from extant texts involves stars of the 4 quarters and the centre. The most individualized stars are the quadrant commanders, already venerated in the Avesta. In the Pahlavi Bundahishn Ohrmazd appointed 4 generals, one for each of the four directions, and one general of generals over the 4 generals. In effect the 4 generals are quadrant commanders exercising jurisdiction over the various parts of the sky, all under the chief commander Haftoring (Ursa Major (Great Bear)) is the general commanding the north, Titar (Titrya) (Sirius) is the general commanding the east, Sadwēs (Satavesa) [Star/Asterism = ?] is the general commanding the south, Wanand (Vanand/Vanant) [Star/Asterism = ?] is the general commanding the west, and Mēx ī Gāh (Great One) (Polaris (the peg in the centre of the sky)) is the chief commander over all 4 generals (because of its nearly stationary position).
In the context of astral lore:
(1) Ursa Major guards the ominous northpoint, the direction of hell, with the aid of the guardian spirits. He prevents the entrance of any more demons to harass the zodiac. Each of his seven stars is attached by a cord to one of the seven earth-continents, and he is a patron of rivers.
(2) Sirius is the major patron of the atmospheric and earthly waters: he fought the second battle of the original creation. (In Homeric astral lore Sirius has the role of promoting fertility.) Sirius has an affinity with the "water-lord" Cancer (the rising sign of the world) and is termed "the horse of Cancer."
(3) Polaris is variously termed Peg of the Place (i.e., the pole), Peg of the Meridian (literally "of mid-sky"), and Peg of Culmination. While its nearly stationary position earns it the role of commander-in-chief of the stars, Polaris is otherwise of little mythological significance.
(4) Formalhaut, an assistant to Tištar (along with Ursa Major and Vega), protects the seas. On the problem of the identity of Sadwēs, Formalhaut is also rendered probably by the positional order in which the commanders are listed (according to right ascension).
(5) Vega watches the rampart of the Harburz mountains and repels demons; he may thus be invoked as a curer.
sophisticated astral scene is depicted on the inside of an Aramaic bronze bowl, once part of the Mohssen Foroughi
collection in Teheran comprising Iranian artifacts from the 2nd-millennium BCE
to the late 18th-century CE, now in the Shlomo Moussaieff collection in London).
The bronze bowl is unprovenanced but believed to have every likelihood of
being genuine, because the complexity of the interior astral design would have
taken a long time to prepare.
The first published discussion of this inscribed astral bronze bowl (18 cm in
diameter and 3.5 cm high), apparently from Luristan (western Iran) or ancient
Syria, engraved with a complex astral scene (sun, moon, various stars, and
constellations), was first discussed in print by the British archaeologist R. D.
Barnett in 1966. The bowl
is believed to be manufactured by an Aramaic craftsman during the first half of
the 1st-millennium BCE. It is believed to be of Syrian or Phoenician
craftmanship due to its similarity to Phoenician copper/bronze bowls of the
8th-7th centuries BCE. Also the 7 tiny Aramaic labels (text) can be dated
paleographically and this adds to the evidence in favour of its authenticity.
The 7 engraved inscriptions are typical of Aramaic culture for the 6th-7th
centuries BCE. The cup reproduces a starry sky with some recognizable
constellations and heavenly bodies.
The interior of the bowl is completely filled with an astral scene composed of
central motifs surrounded by 8 zones. Depicted are constellations, the sun, and
the moon, but it is perhaps not intended as a sky map. (See: "La *Coppa Foroughi
: un atlante celeste del 1. millennio a. C." by Maria Giulia, Amadasi Guzzo, and
Vittorio Castellani. (Rivista
italiana di archeoastronomia :
This remarkable bronze bowl gives us a star map of the heavens (or similar construct), that is unique in our surviving material from antiquity. It is also remarkable in illustrating what appears to be a mostly non-Mesopotamian, most probably Iranian, astronomical scheme. It reproduces a starry sky with some recognizable constellations and heavenly bodies (the sun, the moon, perhaps the visible planets). It is also claimed by some persons that comets are depicted. Placed amongst two large (rayed) stars and two constellations shaped as a pair of hunting boots is the starry figure of a hunter-god armed with spear (in his right hand) standing on an ibex. The figure seems to represent the constellation Orion (as a hero), the Babylonian Papsukkal, standing on SUHUR.MASU (he Sumerian goat-fish) or Caper [Caper-bush?]. To his right is (apparently) the Plough and the Pleiades (as ‘7 dots’). (Note, however, it has been commented that the dots appear to be linked by parallel vertical lines and may have had a different meaning altogether i.e., that of a stylized palmette.) To his left is a bull’s head, made of stars, presumably the constellation Taurus; below it is a kind of starry ankh sign, possibly Corona Borealis or Coma Berenices, while above it is a tailed monkey surrounded by twelve stars. The name and relevance of the monkey is unknown. This intriguing symbolism, associating the monkey with the hunter (though in an astronomical depiction), may possibly be relevant to a terracotta plaque of the Old Babylonian period. The two Bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), are respectively positioned at 2 opposite sides of the center in the cup. Interestingly, there are 4 figures (constellations) placed at the tips of a cross, 2 of them appear to represent Taurus and Leo; the 3rd one seems to be Scorpio and the 4th one can no longer be identified (but is speculated as Aquarius) because of an additional engraving placed on it.
Monkeys have a long and quite respectable history in the ancient Near East. Monkeys were pets in Egypt and most likely also in Mesopotamia from early times. The idea of animals acting like humans is found in Mesopotamian art and perhaps came to Sumer, along with the monkey, from India. India was the classic home of the animal fable. A well-known terracotta plaque of the Old Babylonian period shows a quite remarkable scene in which a hunter shoot is shooting an arrow at a monkey in a tree. There is a kneeling man behind the hunter who seems to be restraining him. Also, in the scene a boar is approaching the tree. We may have here a depiction of a now lost animal fable. The 12th/13th-century CE Persian poet Nizami’s/Nezami’s story of Bahram Gur, the famous hero hunter of the onager (wild asses native to the deserts of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel, and Tibet) which once thrived in Iran and Syria, was based on a real historical figure, Bahram V, a Sasanian king (reigned 420–438 CE.
It is very probable that the Avestan Titar (Titrya) (Sirius) corresponds to the Vedic Tisya (Tishya). The Vedic Tisya appears as a vaguely astralised archer. The connection lies not in the Rig Veda but in later Indian literature. Also, a Babylonian text dealing with the new year rituals states that the star KAK-SI-SÁ [KAK.SI.DI] (Sirius) measures the waters. This compares with the Iranian Titrya raising the waters of Vourukaša. (The month of Sirius (Tīrī) was associated with the rainy season.)
Source: Malandra, William. (1983). An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion: Readings from the Avesta and Achaemenid Inscriptions. (Pages 140-143). [Note: See the discussion: Tishtrya, Pages 140-149.]
Tištrya also battled and defeated the 'shooting stars,' which were identified as witches. The connection of the Tištrya myth with 'shooting stars' (with which he does battle i.e., is an opponent) is likely due to several meteor showers appearing several months prior to, appearing 'coincident' with, and occurring for several months after, the heliacal rising of Sirius. The 'shooting stars'/meteors are referred to as 'worm stars.' The Leonid meteor shower is perhaps the most suitable candidate for being associated with Sirius/Tishtrya.
Léopold de Saussure held that the Iranian and Chinese cosmologies had a parallel structure. In each the sky and the earth was divided into 5 regions - 1 central region and 4 peripheral regions. Cultural relations between Iran and China were particularly strong during the Middle Iranian Period (the 1250 year long period from around 300 BCE until 950 CE).
Appendix 7: The Celestial Bow and Arrow
Antonio Panaino identifies Titrya as an important Old Iranian astral divine being that is to be identified with Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). The 8th hymn (Tiar Yat) of the Later Avestan corpus was dedicated to Titrya.
In the Rig Veda the god Tisya is the celestial archer. Bernhard Forssman has proposed an etymological explanation showing it is most likely that the Vedic Tisya corresponds to the Avestan Titrya, and that Sirius has a direct and clear relationship with the three stars of Orion's belt. In several mythological passages in Vedic literature the three stars comprising the asterism of Orion's belt were represented as an arrow shot by Tisya. In the Avestan Yast 8.6-7 and 37-38 Titrya flies in the sky as the arrow shot by their Aryan hero archer.
The similarity occurring in in Babylonia, China and Egypt with the ancient constellation figures to the southeast of Sirius is quite remarkable.
The Chinese have a Bow and Arrow asterism Hou-Chi (reputedly dating to at least the 4th-century BCE) formed by the same stars (in Canis Major) as the Mespotamian Bow and Arrow constellations. The Bow and Arrow is aimed at the Jackal (T'ien-Lang) which is the star Sirius. The celestial Emperor (i.e., mythical ancient Emperors) shot an arrow at the sky jackal (Sirius).
In later Egypt, on the round zodiac of Denderah the Egyptian divine archeress, Satit (Satet) (one of two wives of Khnumu), situated just to the east of the Cow in the Barque (Sirius), aims/shoots her arrow at Sirius.
Mesopotamian uranography (late period) had constellations comprising of Bow and Arrow (mul BAN and mul KAK.SI.DI). (Also written as mul KAK.SI.DÁ.) Sirius is KAK.SI.DI the Arrow Star (specifically the (shining) tip of the arrow). The Bow is formed from the stars of Argo and Canis Major. Presumably one or more stars between Sirius and mul BAN marked the shaft of the arrow. The MUL.APIN text states "the Bow Star is the Ishtar of Elam, daughter of Enlil." (The Mesopotamian mul KAK-SI-DI (Sirius) is always identified as an arrow.) The planet Mercury was also called "Arrow." This is likely because both Sirius and Mercury move across the sky at a rapid speed. Sirius was associated with Ninurta (god of the thunderstorms, the plough, and the south wind, and god of the city of Nippur), and Mercury with Nabû (god of wisdom and writing). The Mesopotamian Bow and Arrow constellations are identifiable as the original source for the Iranian, Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian Bow and Arrow schemes.
In cuneiform texts Venus as morning star is sometimes called the Bow Star (due to Ishtar of Agade being a war goddess). The issue was first discussed by Franz Kugler in his SSB II.
Source: The Babylonian Epic of Creation by Stephen Langdon (1923, Page 177).
According to Antonio Panaino Mesopotamian astral beliefs regarding mul KAK.SI.DI began influencing Iranian beliefs about Titrya in the Achaemenid Period. Iranian beliefs about Titrya became syncretistic and Titrya also became a god related to (1) the calendar, (2) the astral interpretation of the feasts of the Adonis-Tammuz fertility cycle, and (3) astrological speculation.
Kenneth Brecher ("Sirius Enigmas." In: K. Brecher and M. Feirtag (Editors), Astronomy of the Ancients (1979), Page 97) succinctly describes the relationship between the arrow and the dog in Sirius and surrounding stars: "The Babylonians identify it [Sirius] as part of a constellation which they describe as a bow and arrow; for them, Sirius was a star marking the tip of the arrow. The Chinese independently described a bow and arrow in the sky, but they used different stars for their construction. For them, Sirius was part of the image at which the arrow is shooting; and curiously, the image at which that arrow is aimed is a dog. In Western tradition, Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog. It is remarkable that the same images — dogs, bows and arrows — occur in the cosmographies of different cultures; after all, if you look at the sky, you see only points of light on a dark field." The transmission of Mesopotamian astral lore is sufficient explanation.
A drawing of "The Arrow" constellation is clearly preserved on K 8538 (a Neo-Assyrian 'planisphere' dated circa 650 BCE) on display in Room 55 in the British Museum.
The so-called "four royal stars" is a mistake that continues to be perpetuated due to its use in the outdated but still popular book, Star-Names by Richard Allen (1899, 1936, 1963). There were no four royal stars of Persia. See: "The So-Called Royal Stars of Persia." by George Davis Junior (Popular Astronomy, Volume LIII, Number 4, 1945, Pages 149-159). The original (mistaken) identification of Aldebaran, Antares, Regulus, and Formalhaut was made by Jean Sylvain Bailly in his book Histoire de l'Astronomie Ancienne (1775). The so-called "four royal stars" are four chieftains preparing their forces for battle against Ahriman and his forces of evil.
Appendix 9: Avestan Uranography
In Avestan uranography - because there are 3 types of celestial bodies recognised - the sky is divided into 3 levels. The lowest level, closest to the earth, is that of the stars, the 2nd level that of the moon, and the 3rd level that that of the sun. Above the level of the sun is the realm of "endless light," "best life," and the "House of Welcome." Identifications vary regarding the named stars. According to one source there are 3 individual named stars, namely Vanant, Tiśtrya, and Haptôiringa.
Appendix 10: The Apadana
Two of the greatest monuments of the ancient world date from the 5th-century BCE - the Parthenon (Greece) and Persepolis (Persia). There is reason to think that the sculptors employed at Persepolis were largely Greeks. The construction of Persepolis began during the reign of Darius I (552-486 BCE) about 518 BCE and continued under his son Xerxes I (486-465 BCE). The largest and most complex building in Persepolis was the Apadana palace, likely an Audience Hall. (Apadana = a palatial building.)
Informal claims for summer solstice sunrise alignment have been made for Persepolis. However, no exact alignment is apparent. In a posting to Hastro-L (22-January-2011), Ed. Krupp notes that the field study tour he led to Iran in 2000 "... the first gleam of the sun [on the summer solstice] over a modest hill to the northeast is at least a degree north of the line given by the balustrade of the north stairway of the Apadana. I selected that well-defined architectural line for the comparison. By the time the sun actually lined up with the northeast/southwest axis, it was at least a degree above the actual horizon. The sunrise would have occurred even a little more to the north 2500 years ago." There is also a claim that that shadows of columns on the Apadana (a hypostyle hall = having multiple rows of columns to hold up the roof - 36 columns in all) line up with other columns, perhaps on the equinox (but I think that solstice is intended). Ed. Krupp notes (Hastro-L, 22-January-2011) that "... such an arrangement is hard to understand architecturally." The discussion has some confusion with clear references for claims not being identified. However, see: Exploring Ancient Skies by David Kelley and Eugene Milone (2011, Page 575), "Plate 2. (Ch. 9)" captioned: "Persepolis, the capital of Darius I: The columns of the royal palace are aligned so that the shadows of each row of columns strikes the next row at the summer solstice. Photo by W. Dutz for D.H. Kelley." This simply repeats the statement on page 299. Kelley/Milone give no reference - either on the page or in the References and Bibliography - but the source must be J. George, 1979. There is a solstice (an equinox?) 'shadow discussion' in "Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979), that involves the Apadana columns. I have seen another reference to 'columns and shadow alignment' at Persepolis but didn't copy it. The long axis of the original Treasury of Persepolis was aligned in a west-east orientation.
Source: The World of Achaemenid Persia edited by John Curtis and St John Simpson (2010, Page 223). Reference note 16: "See George (1979) for the alignment of the Persepolis platform and the buildings on the platform." This is: "Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979). See also: New Perspectives in Safavid Iran edited by Colin Mitchell (2011, Page 152). The western facades of Persepolis were aligned to allow the rays of the setting sun at the summer solstice to fall on the entrances.
Some References for Persepolis as a Celestial/Cosmic City
"Persepolis - Ein Beitrag zur Functionsbestimmung." by Wolfgang Lentz and Wolfhard Schlosser (Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Supplement I, Part 3: XVII, 1968?/1969?, Pages 957-983). (Included in: XVII. Deutscher Orientalistentag : vom 21. bis 27. Juli 1968 in Würzburg; Vorträge.)
"Persepolis - Weitere Beiträge zur Funktionsbestimmung." by Wolfgang Lentz, Wolfhard Schlosser and Gerd Gropp (Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Volume 121, Number 2, 1971, Pages 254-268).
"Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979)
"Persépolis, ¿arquitectura celestial o terrenal?" by Manel Sánchez, University of Barcelona, 2006 conference paper. À paraître dans Azara, Pedro; Frontisi-Ducroux, Françoise; Luri, Gregorio (Editors). Arquitecturas celestiales, Actas del congreso internacional celebrado en el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona, 14-16 de septiembre de 2006 (sous presse, 2007). Also published in: Historiae, Número 5, 2008, Pages 11-25. (Argues against a celestial function.)The World of Achaemenid Persia edited by John Curtis and St John Simpson (2010, Page 223). Reference note 16: "See George (1979) for the alignment of the Persepolis platform and the buildings on the platform." This is: "Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979).
New Perspectives in Safavid Iran edited by Colin Mitchell (2011, Page 152).
Persepolis : discovery and afterlife of a world wonder by Ali Mousavi (2012). See section "Persepolis as an observatory of celestial bodies" Pages 54-55. Supportive of the ideas of Lentz/Schlosser.
Copyright © 2007-2018 by Gary D. Thompson
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