Episodic Survey of the History of the Constellations


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R: Pioneer Mesopotamian Constellation Studies

37: Franz Kugler's Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel

Franz Kugler at Ignatiuskolleg, Valkenburg, circa 1918. (One of the three known existing photographs of him.)

Franz Xaver Kugler at Ignatiuskolleg, Valkenburg, Holland.

Franz Xaver Kugler SJ (chemist, mathematician, assyriologist, historian, chronologist, and theologian). Though obviously taken later in his life it would appear that this is the best existing portrait of him. (It may date to the mid-1920s - shortly before his final departure from Ignatiuskolleg, Valkenburg, in 1927.) Kugler was a remarkable polymath and largely a self-taught assyriologist. (Note: Due to the modern influencing mistake of Alfred de Grazia (The Velikovsky Affair (1966) many people still mistakenly write Kugler's middle name as Xavier instead of Xaver.)

Franz Kugler was born in Königsbach, (sometimes mentioned as Königsberg?), Germany (Rheinland-Pfalz [= Rhineland-Palatinate]) in 1862 and died in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1929, in a Catholic nursing home. His birth-place Haus Königsbach ("Kings Brook House") may still exist. The house is/was located at number 21 in the re-named street Franz-Kugler-Strasse, in what is now Neustadt/Weinstrasse, Germany. Apparently Kugler's birthplace was also the former manor house of the Auxiliary Bishop of Speyer (no other details presently known). In 1885 Franz Kugler received a PhD in chemistry. (At least one European library (in Paris) holds a copy of this.) In 1886 he entered the Jesuit Order and in 1893 he was ordained a priest. (During the course of his Jesuit training he may also have earned an additional Dr. phll. (= Ph.D.).) In 1897, at the age of 35, the Jesuit Order appointed him Professor of Higher Mathematics at the newly built Ignatius-College, Valkenburg (in Holland).

After the death of Joseph Epping in 1894 Kugler expressed his interest in taking over and continuing Epping's work. However, this task was originally assigned to Joseph Hontheim SJ. Hontheim took up Epping's researches in 1894 and sporadically continued with them until 1898. After the first year or two Hontheim had effectively ceased work on cuneiform astronomy. Due to the increasing number of other commitments that prevented him from proceeding effectively the Jesuit Order, in 1897, then assigned Kugler to takeover from Hontheim and continue Epping's studies. This is exactly what Kugler had wanted and had requested.

Kugler's early focus (pre World War I) was Seleucid texts dealing with mathematical astronomy. Later (post World War I) Kugler focused on calendars and chronology (primarily of the Seleucid era). However, Kugler also extended his investigations to astronomical texts preceding the Seleucid era (by several centuries).

Title page of Kugler's first erudite study of Babylonian scientific astronomy.

Kugler's monumental work on the Babylonian theory of the moon appeared in 1900 (Die Babylonische Mondrechnung [Babylonian Theory of the Moon]) and that of the planets in 1907 (Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, Volume 1 [Development of Babylonian Planetary Knowledge]). Volume 2 and supplements of SSB basically contain essays on a variety of topics relating to Babylonian astronomy. Kugler's recovery of Babylonian lunar theory in his Die Babylonische Mondrechnung was described by Noel Swerdlow (Ancient Astronomy and Celestial Divination (1999)) as "the finest, the most original, and the most difficult study carried out in the history of science up to the date of its publication."

Babylonian lunar theory exists in two distinct forms, now known as System A and System B. In this book Franz Kugler (1862-1929) made the first identification and analysis of Systems A and B (which he called Systems II and I) of Babylonian lunar theory. Kugler also made the first identification of the relation of the parameters of System B to the lunar theory of Hipparchus and Ptolemy.

Kugler's book contains a complete discussion of the computation of the syzygies according to System B (called "System I" by Kugler), and an explanation of the most essential features of System A (called "System II" by Kugler). In his investigations Kugler largely focused on System B. This was because Epping's autograph of BM 34066 provided him with an almost complete ephemeris for the new moons of two years computed according to System B. The recovery of System A presented an immense challenge. As the relevant ephemerides were in a poorly preserved state he was obliged to recover the main features of System A primarily from a text for lunar eclipses. This text only provided the elements at either six or five month intervals.

The classification of the ephemerides into the two "Systems," A and B, is based on the different way in which the solar anomaly is accounted for i.e., step function versus linear zigzag function. Each System consists of a set of arithmetic functions tabulated in columns in ephemerides and auxiliary tables, which enable the calculation of the times and dates of the syzygies and the magnitudes of eclipses. In System A the sun is assumed to move with constant velocity on two complementary arcs of the ecliptic (an arithmetical simplification which is not in accord with observation). In System B the successive positions of the sun are listed month by month, though these numbers do not form an arithmetic series because the velocity of the sun is not constant.

System A appears to have been created in the second half of the 5th-century BCE. System B, which is the simpler of the two, was probably created after System A had been created. Both systems were used until the advent of the Christian era, not only in Babylon but also in Uruk.

Kugler analyzed a large number of ephemerides of the Moon to make the identification that they can be divided into two systems. His identification and analysis of System I (which Otto Neugebauer later renamed System B) was based primarily on columns A to L of cuneiform text BM 34066, dated to the Seleucid Era 103 to 101 BCE. His identification of System II (which Otto Neugebauer later renamed System A) was laboriously reconstructed from multiple fragments of Babylonian lunar ephemerides (he relied primarily on BM 45688, which lists only oppositions which are lunar eclipse possibilities) and a procedure text BM 32651 (which contains the rules for the computation of several columns of the lunar ephemerides of System A).

Title page of Kugler's erudite series of studies on Babylonian scientific astronomy.

Title page of volume 1 of Kugler's multi-volume (but uncompleted) masterwork on Babylonian astronomy, Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel [Star Science and Star Lore in Babylon]. This volume comprises Franz Kugler's masterful identification and analysis of Babylonian planetary theory. Copies are very difficult to come by on the used book market. Like nearly all of Kugler's work it was never translated into English. To some extent, after 1914 Kugler suspended the publication of SSB (at least along the lines he had originally announced for it). From its inception he had announced that the first 2 volumes, would deal with observational data, and would be followed by a third volume dealing with mythology and cosmological concepts. The third volume (and the forth) was never published (and likely he never began work on it). His publication in 1927 of the booklet entitled Sybillinischer Sternkampf und Phaëthon in naturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung [The Sybilline Battle of the Stars and Phaethon Seen as Natural History] was unrelated to SSB.

This first volume of the monumental Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel (2 volumes and 3 supplements in 7 parts, 1907-1935 (and corrective sheets occasionally issued)) served to complement his earlier study of Babylonian lunar theory. All appeared in the same format. In his introduction to SSB1 Kugler informs his readers that the purely astronomical and chronological investigations set out in his book rely mainly on the previously unpublished cuneiform descriptions that had been copied by Johann Strassmaier SJ during his years of work at the British Museum, and are now being made available for the first time.

Babylonian planetary theory had less ambitious goals than those for lunar theory. Babylonian planetary theory consisted of predicting the longitudes and dates of the principal synodic phenomena (i.e., synodic phases) for each planet. Babylonian planetary theory appears less sophisticated and less complete in comparison to lunar theory but this appears to have been a more matter of choice than of knowledge. The results had lesser importance than for lunar theory and so the motivation for the time-consuming calculations was absent.

The contents of later volumes of SSB basically comprise collected papers on a variety of subjects relating to Babylonian astronomy (including the identification of the Babylonian constellations listed in Mul.Apin tablet 1). During his later years Kugler devoted less time to Babylonian astronomy and transferred his attention to problems of chronology (including biblical chronology).

Kugler's pioneering work on Babylonian astronomy was never completed. His Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel was planned for completion in 4 volumes. Between 1907 and 1924 he completed 2 volumes including 2 supplements in 6 parts. (The publication of an SSB 3 (III. Buch.) was anticipated after the completed publication of SSB 2 (II. Buch.) in 1924, but never eventuated. On the cover of SSB II. Buch. II. Teil. 2. Heft. published in 1924 appeared '(schluss des buches)' = 'end of the book.' It applied both to Volume 2 as well as SSB. The wider SSB project had been abandoned in favour of his pursuit of chronological matters. The focus of the last part of SSB in 1924 was on chronological issues.) After his death in 1929 a 3rd supplementary volume was completed in 1935 by Johann Schaumberger. This contained (completed) some of Kugler's unpublished material. Schaumberger, a member of the Redemptorist Order at Gars-am-Inn, Germany, had several years previously announced his intention to take up and continue/complete Kugler's work. Schaumberger, like Kugler, was a competent assyriologist, and astronomer. In 1931 he announced his intention to bring Kugler's unfinished SSB project to a satisfactory conclusion by publishing 2 further volumes (supplements), one of which would include a complete index to SSB. Basically it was Schaumberger's intention that the numerous unpublished astronomical cuneiform texts in Kugler's estate would be published to form a completion to SSB 1 and 2. However, after World War II, he worked slowly and sporadically on the project. The unfortunate result was that at the time of Schaumberger's death in 1955 the planned 4th supplementary volume to SSB was unfinished. It was to have been the concluding supplement with an index to the whole of SSB 1 and 2. It was announced on the back cover of Schaumberger's 3rd supplement to SSB (published 1935) as being in preparation, but never appeared in the 20 remaining years of his life. Schaumberger's published supplement and planned further supplement did not contain the material or address the subjects that Kugler had originally (and ambitiously) planned for SSB 3 (Sub-title: God types and cult forms) and SSB 4 (Sub-title: Astronomical and meteorological observations). (But Schaumberger's 3. Ergänzungsheft did complete/progress studies that Kugler had left incomplete at the time of his death.) Kugler's Von Moses bis Paulus (1922) and the content of SSB published in 1924 demonstrated his later (time-consuming) distraction with chronological issues. (Volumes 3 and 4, if completed, would likely have comprised 100-150 pages each.)

Overall, Kugler's publications along with Schaumberger's contribution to SSB in 1935 (and articles), dealt with lunar theory, planetary theory, astronomical observations, metrology, meteorological observations, uranography, astral omens, astral mythology, panbabylonism, calendars, and chronology. His SSB (and DBM) contained many of Johann Strassmaier's autographs of cuneiform tablets, and Strassmaier's/Kugler's phonetic transcriptions, and Kugler's German-language translations, and explanatory discussions. Some material of the type that would have comprised SSB 3 had appeared in his book Im Bannkreis Babels (1910) and a number of articles. (Babylonian astral religion received attention in SSB 2.) Some of the material also appeared in SSB and the 2 Ergänzung. Some material of the type that would have comprised SSB 4 appeared in a number of articles. The Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. 3. Ergänzungsheft zum ersten und zweiten Buch (1935) by Johannes Schaumberger comprises studies that Kugler had left incomplete at the time of his death. Schaumberger was able to make further progress or complete these. (Like Kugler, Schaumberger also involved himself with chronological issues. In the last years of his life Schaumberger involved himself (1949, 1954-1955) in determining the chronology of the Old Akkadian and Ur III periods. Other distractions from SSB included carrying out the arduous calculations (mostly very accurately) for Richard Parker and Waldo Dubberstein's Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C. - A.D. 75 (1956).) Later studies/works by assyriologists have filled the gap for SSB 3, even if not in the manner Kugler would perhaps have chosen. An early example is Tammuz and Ishtar by Stephen Langdon (1914). Also, a number of scholars put together astral material on Babylonian gods/goddesses that appeared throughout (early parts of) SSB. Examples are Pantheon Babylonicum by Anton Deimel/Nikolaus Schneider (1914, in Latin); and  Die Religion Babylons und Assyriens by Morris Jastrow (2 Volumes, 1905-1912, in German). Babylonian meteorological observations were quite selective. One of Kugler's papers in SSB 2.1 (1909) dealt with meteorology. A lengthy paper by Kugler on Babylonian meteorology appeared in Revue d'assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale, Tome 8, 1911, Pages 107-130. (It was through Kugler that an insight into the meteorological system of the Babylonians was first directly obtained. The meteorological observations of the Babylonians were quite selective - focussing on optical phenomena, especially halos.) Other sources include: The Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Volume 34, 1908 (article based in part on the lecture "Die Anfänge der Meteorologie" (= "The Dawn of Meteorology"), by Gustav Hellman, published in Meteorologische Zeitschrift Braunschweig, Band 25[26?], 1908, November, Pages 481-491; Arthur Ungnad, Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, Band 15, 1912, Columns 446-449; and Hermann Hunger, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie, Band 56, 1976, Columns 234-260; J. Neumann, Bulletin American Meteorological Society, Volume 58, 1977, Pages 1050-1055; and J. Neumann and Simo Parpola, "Wind Vanes in Ancient Mesopotamia," Bulletin American Meteorological Society, Volume 64?, 1983, Pages 1141-1143. Currently, (2010) Enrique Jiménez (Madrid, Spain) his completing his PhD project "The Winds in Cuneiform Literature." The only true observational texts are (1) (Astrological) Reports to the (Assyrian) Kings, (2) Astronomical Diaries and (3) Tables/Texts of Specific Astronomical Phenomena. These texts have now been comprehensively published. The (Astrological) Reports to the (Assyrian) Kings by Simo Parpola and also by Hermann Hunger. The Astronomical Diaries by Abraham Sachs and (principally) Hermann Hunger. Tables/Texts of Specific Astronomical Phenomena (which include records of specific types of observations, including eclipses, lunar phenomena, observations/sightings of particular planets) have been published by a variety of scholars. Also, on Babylonian catasterisms see: Cooley, Jeffrey. (2006). "A Star is Born: Mesopotamian and Classical Catasterisms." (Humanitas, Fall, Volume 30, Issue 1, Pages 8-16).

Kugler in his Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, Erg. 1, used star-lists (2) (3) and (6) in the Mul.Apin series, and computed for 500 BCE at Babylon. Kugler also identified the Babylonian constellations by assembling a large number of statements in cuneiform texts about simultaneously rising and setting stars/constellations, and also about the angular distances between certain stars. This involved Kugler in a great deal of labour but his results were highly reliable.

Not to be overlooked is the pioneering research of the Italian astronomer and science historian Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910) into the identification of Babylonian constellation/star names. In the late 19th-century Schiaparelli carried out independent pioneering investigations into the identification of Babylonian stars, planets, and constellations/star names. a notebook (now in the Archive of the Brera Observatory, in "Cartella N.426") entitled "Nomi di stelle e di costellazioni e di pianeti presso i Babilonesi." During Schiaparelli's time the only published Babylonian constellation/star name identifications (with modern named constellations/stars) were those by the pioneering researches of Joseph Epping and Franz Kugler, and consisted of some 50 identifications. Kugler's Schiaparelli identified 120 Babylonian constellation/star names using the autographs published by James Craig in his Astrological-Astronomical Texts (1899). Schiaparelli achied the identification by systematically analyzing their position relative to other known bodies or peculiar characteristics mentioned in the texts. Kugler's volumes focused on the detailed identification of Babylonian constellation/star names only appeared after Schiaparelli's death (Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. Ergänzungen zum ersten und zweiten Buch. I. Teil. (1913); and Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. Ergänzungen zum ersten und zweiten Buch. II. Teil. (1914)).

Appendix: Observational and Theoretical Texts

Mesopotamian astral texts can be classed as astrological, astronomical, and astral-mythological.

Babylonian astronomers created a large and diverse body of astral texts consisting of observational astronomy, mathematical astronomy, omen astrology, and zodiacal astrology. The majority of these texts come from Seleucid archives. The majority of cuneiform tablets from Hellenistic Babylon have an astronomical content. Most observational and mathematical tablets are readily available in two standard works. Observational astronomical texts are published by Sachs in LBAT (1955) and mathematical astronomical texts are published by Neugebauer in ACT (1955). Approximately 300 mathematical texts are known. These represent the highest achievement of Babylonian astronomical endeavour.

Note: Astronomical diaries and related observational texts have been found only in Babylon, Uruk, and Nippur, mathematical astronomy texts have been found only in Babylon and Uruk, Neo Babylonian and Late Babylonian copies of traditional astronomical and astrological texts (e.g., Mul.Apin, ziqpu star lists, and omen texts) were found at Sippar and Borsippa.

(1) Observational Astronomical Texts Comprise:

1. Astronomical diaries.

2. Material abstracted from the astronomical diaries (Almanacs, Goal-year texts).

(2) Theoretical (Mathematical) Astronomical Texts Comprise:

3. Kalendartexte ('Calendar Texts'). Note: Mathematically complicated types of calendar reckoning schemes are the so-called Kalendartexte ("Calendar Texts"). These texts are part of a cuneiform astrological genre.

4. Ephemerides.

5. Auxiliary tables (containing calculations for ephemerides). Note: Also termed Tabular texts; are computed tables of 4 types: (a) synodic tables, (b) template tables, (c) daily motion tables (for the moon or a planet), and (d) auxiliary tables.

6. Procedure texts.

7. Saros cycle texts (give the months of eclipse possibilities).

8. Isolated calculations and didactic works (miscellaneous astronomical texts).

9. Mathematical astronomy.

(3) Other Astronomical Texts (Observation reliant texts):

10. Star lists / star catalogues.

11. 'Astrolabes.'

12. Planispheres.

13. Specific types of observations (eclipses, lunar phenomena, observations / sightings of particular planets).

14. Normal star almanacs. (The Babylonian term for what has been become known as 'normalsterne' is kakkabu mindti (MUL.SID.MES) 'counting stars.')

15. Ziqpu star lists.

16. 'Astrological' texts (Enuma Anu Enlil).

17. Mul.Apin.

18. Zodiacal texts.

19. 'Astrological' reports to the kings.

20. Late astrology.

21. Horoscopes

22. Meteorological texts.

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Copyright © 2005-2018 by Gary D. Thompson


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