Ancient Zodiacs, Star Names, and Constellations: Essays and Critiques


 The Influence of Babylonian Uranography on the Origin of the Greek Constellations by Gary D. Thompson

Copyright ę 2011-2020 by Gary D. Thompson


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 The Influence of Babylonian Uranography on the Origin of the Greek Constellations

Introduction:

The issue of the influence of Babylonian uranography on the development of the Greek constellation scheme is fraught with considerable difficulties. However, there are numerous similarities between Eudoxan and Babylonian constellation arrangement and nomenclature that can hardly be coincidental. Which Mesopotamian constellations were adopted or adapted by Greek astronomical tradition is somewhat established, but not completely certain. Recently, Susanne Hoffmann has compared/matched the basic constellation "figures" of Mesopotamia and Greece to help determine which show correspondence. There is still restricted evidence available for reconstructing the history of Babylonian astronomy, and Babylonian uranography, before the Seleucid era (began 312 BCE). A degree of congruence does not rule out that the similarities are simply coincidences between 2 separately developed constellation systems. If constructed, no celestial map has survived from ancient Mesopotamia. Likewise, no celestial map has survived from ancient Greece. A number of celestial globes have survived from the Roman period. These are based on Greek uranography. According to the astronomer and researcher Susanne Hoffmann there are several hints pointing to uranographies in both cultures. The Mesopotamian scheme of uranography used what may be termed equatorial coordinates. The Greek scheme of uranography used ecliptical coordinates. The Greek zodiac is a system distinct from but closely dependent upon the earlier Babylonian zodiac. There is little doubt that the Greeks adopted many Babylonian constellations with or without modification. (The Greek Scorpion comprising 2 halves was originally much larger than the later constellation of the Romans. One half of the Greek Scorpion comprised the body and sting and the front half comprised the Claws (named Chelae). The later Romans made the Scorpion smaller and the space previously occupied by the Claws became the separate constellation Libra (Scales).) Why exactly the Classical Greeks relied on Mesopotamia for constellations is not known. However, it is no longer controversial to state that ancient Greece was part of the Near East/West Asia. In the late 19th-century the German Assyriologist Peter Jensen and the German Semiticist Fritz Hommel independently (and successfully) argued the case that the Greeks had borrowed the Babylonian zodiacal constellations. The classical Greek constellation set is comprised of Babylonian and Greek constellations.  The 12 zodiacal constellations are of Babylonian origin and were adopted by the Greeks (by the 5th-century BCE), with only a few modifications. (When the early Greeks (5th-century BCE) borrowed the zodiacal constellations from the Babylonians the Scales/Balance were left out. The early Greeks joined this 'group' of stars to the Scorpion, and called it the Claws. The Greeks had, at first, pictured the Scorpion as one constellation.) Most of the extra-zodiacal constellations are of Greek origin. Since the military expeditions of Alexander the Great (his army conquered Babylon in 331 BCE), communications between Greece and Mesopotamia were easy and numerous.

For more than 300 years during the Late Bronze Age, from circa 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE, the Mediterranean region was a complex international region in which Egyptians, Mycenaeans, Minoans, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Cypriots, and Canaanites all interacted, creating a unique cosmopolitan and globalized world-system. This Bronze Age internationalism ended in what has been termed an "apocalyptic disaster." After centuries of cultural and technological evolution, the civilized and international world of the Mediterranean regions came to a dramatic halt in a vast area stretching from Greece and Italy in the west to Egypt, Canaan, and Mesopotamia in the east. Large empires and small kingdoms, that had taken centuries to evolve, collapsed rapidly. This end was the world's first recorded Dark Ages. It was not until centuries later that a new cultural renaissance emerged in Greece and the other affected areas. The reason for the end of the Late Bronze Age is usually attributed to the so-called Sea Peoples, known to us from the records of the Egyptian pharaohs Merneptah and Ramses III. However, the end of the Bronze Age empires in the Mediterranean and Near East was more likely the result of multiple causes rather than a single wave of invasion. Whilst the "Sea Peoples" may likely have been responsible for some of the destruction that occurred at the end of the Late Bronze Age it is much more likely that a series of interconnected events, both human and natural - including earthquake storms, droughts, rebellions, and systems collapse (political, economic, and social) - combined to create the apocalyptic disaster that ended the Bronze Age. See especially: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Turning Points in Ancient History 1 by Eric Cline (2014). The author makes the case that various civilizations of the Near East and Aegean were economically and politically interconnected beginning as early as the 15th-century. The 4 centuries from 1600 BCE to 1200 BCE saw the establishment of a system of complex internationalism throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East. At the start of the 12th-century - roughly contemporary with the battle between Ramses III and the Sea Peoples - this interconnected system fell apart and the various participating civilizations collapsed. Cline establishes that the major civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean belonged to an interconnected system by the start of the Late Bronze Age in the 15th-century and that this system originated in the preceding Middle Bronze Age. Cline gives a number of examples: Exchange between Crete and Mesopotamia in the Middle Bronze Age; the appearance of envoys from Crete in the tombs of New Kingdom Egypt; political tensions between New Kingdom Egypt and the Mitanni of Syria; and interactions between the Mycenaeans and Hittites along the western coast of Turkey. A 13th-century example of the interconnectedness of the Eastern Mediterranean is the Uluburun shipwreck off the coast of southern Turkey. The contents of the ship to illustrate the great extent of trade that joined the various civilizations of the Near East and Aegean. This is also supported with texts from the archive of a 13th-century merchant from Ugarit. Tablets dating to the first decade of 12th-century Ugarit (when the Late Bronze Age came to an end and the Early Iron Age began) suggest that trade and diplomatic correspondence continued until the destruction of the city around 1185 B.C. Besides Ugarit, a number of other cities in northern Syria and the Levant have destruction levels dating to the beginning of the twelfth-century. How civilizations that had been thriving since the 15th-century collapsed is unknown. Possibly it was due to multiple events: Earthquakes, climate change, internal rebellion, invaders and the collapse of international trade, decentralization and the rise of the private merchant, and the invasions of the Sea Peoples.

Ancient Greece was part of West Asia and subject to cultural influences from the Near East. (Ancient Greece also lay at the crossroads of many trade routes.) The 1st period of ancient Greece being influenced by Near Eastern civilization was the high Mycenaean period (1450-1200 BCE) with the establishment of extensive international trade networks and communications networks between rulers. The 2nd period was the late Bronze Age period (1200-1050 BCE) with the substantial Greek colonisation of Cyprus and some parts of the south Anatolian littoral (sea coast). The 3rd period was the expansionist Assyrian empire - the occurrences of the Assyrian conquest of the Near East and Middle East. The greatest expansion of the Assyria took place during the 9th to 7th centuries BCE.  During the 7th-century BCE the Assyrian empire was expanded to its greatest extent and included the conquest of Mesopotamia, western Iran, northern Arabia, western Anatolia, the Middle East, and Egypt. Greek populations were resident within the Assyrian empire. Assyrian and Babylonian populations were established in north Syria and Cilicia (the south coastal region of Asia Minor). The Assyrian empire was eventually destroyed in 612 BCE by a military coalition of the Medes (Iran) and Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. The period of the Persian wars (Greco-Persian wars) - a series of conflicts fought between 492 BCE and 449 BCE - did not promote cultural exchanges. Also, the Persians had annexed Ionia circa 545 BCE. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire in 330 BCE the cultural contact between the Babylonian civilisation and Greek civilisation became closer than before. Traditional borders that had acted as cultural barriers ceased to be so. There was an increased movement of people and ideas between countries.

A somewhat ongoing passage of astronomical information from Babylonia - prior to Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire - was possible through the Hittites to the Ionian (Asiatic) Greeks. The Hittites were one of a group of Indo-European speaking peoples who moved into Anatolia some time before 2000 BCE. The Hittites rose from a modest city state to eventually establish an empire that fought with the kings of Babylon and Assyria, the Hurrians, and the pharaohs of Egypt for control of southeast Anatolia, Syria and Palestine, and competed with one or more Mycenaean Greek kings over control of western Asia Minor. One of their many vassal states was Wilusa - identified with Troy. The multiethnic Hittite kingdom absorbed heavy cultural influence from many peoples and played a role in transmitting ancient Near Eastern culture to the Greeks. A combination of factors, including the assaults of the so-called "Sea Peoples," brought an end to the Hittite empire shortly after 1200 BCE.

Note: The fact remains that the evidence for direct borrowings from Babylonian astralism/astral lore remains quite scarce. During the Babylonian period astronomical knowledge was transmitted unchanged, due to the superiority of Babylonian astronomy, to all neighbouring cultures. Sometime around the middle of the 1st-millennium BCE Mesopotamian astronomical knowledge (including the accurate prediction of particular astronomical phenomena) spread westward. It had already done so during phases of the Assyrian Period. During the late 2nd-millennium BCE the astronomical knowledge summarised in the Mul.Apin series had spread to the Middle East, Greece, Iran and India. It was the Mul.Apin series that formed the basis for inter-relatedness between astronomical systems in these regions outside Mesopotamia.

According to an anonymous Greek commentator of Aratus it was Eudoxus who brought Assyrian uranography to the Greeks. In his works Eudoxus gave descriptions of a large number of constellations known in Mesopotamia. Eudoxus continued the Mesopotamian traditions of constellations in the Mul.Apin series. There is a case for Babylonian astronomy being introduced to the Greeks through Philip of Opus and Eudoxus of Knidos. (Philip (or Philippus) of Opus (Opous), was a Greek philosopher and a member of Plato's Academy during Plato's lifetime. Philip of Opus is probably identical with the Philip of Medma (or Mende).)

The Greek names from which the modern descriptions of the zodiacal constellations/signs are derived are mostly translations of the much older Babylonian constellation names.

A number of writers consider the earliest evidence of Babylonian influence upon Greek astronomy is the Greek adoption of the Babylonian zodiacal constellations - both figures and names - with only slight changes being made. The exact date is uncertain but is thought to have occurred in the 6th-century BCE or perhaps even earlier. Towards the end of the 6th-century BCE the Greek astronomer Cleostratus of Tenedos (an island situated near Troy) is stated by Pliny the Elder to have distinguished (set apart) the zodiacal constellations. Pliny states that Cleostratus "recognised the signs in it." From this statement it is reasonable to infer that Cleostratus imported knowledge of the Babylonian zodiacal constellations (and perhaps some other constellations) into Greece.

Eudoxus of Cnidus (early 4th-century BCE) may have been the first Greek to employ Babylonian zodiacal signs each equal to one twelfth of the ecliptic circle. It appears that Eudoxus was aware of the Babylonian division of the ecliptic into 12 equal parts. (Plato may not have been aware of the Babylonian division of the ecliptic into 12 equal parts.) The classicist and philologist Franšois Lasserre (Die Fragmente des Eudoxus von Knidos (F. 2., 1966, P. 39)) refers to an anonymous commentator on Aratus claiming that Eudoxus brought "the Assyrian sphere" to Greece. We know the Assyrians (and the Babylonians) did not construct celestial spheres. However, Eudoxus did describe a large number of constellations and it is believed by modern scholars that many of these constellations likely originated in Mesopotamia. Eudoxus also placed the solstices and equinoxes in the middle of the zodiacal signs (divisions) Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn. This appears to be an adoption of the Mul.Apin tradition which placed/located them in the middle of the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th months.

Note: The Greek nomenclature for the planets is a transposition of the names used for them by the Babylonians. It also appears that the Greek and Roman names for animals and plants (zoological and botanical lists)) were derived partly from the Babylonian language. (Scientific American, Volume 102, February 5, 1910, Page 126.)

 

The Northern Constellations:

(1) Greek: Little Bear. Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. Has been suggested as having a Phoenician origin.

(2) Greek: Great Bear. Has been identified with the Babylonian Margidda (Wagon). In Babylonia the constellation of the Wagon (basically our Ursa Major (Big Bear) but also other stars) was divided into 3 parts, the Yoke, the Pole, the Side-pieces.

(3) Greek: Dragon (or Snake), (Latin, Draco). Has been suggested as having a Babylonian origin.

(4) Greek: Cepheus. Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. There seems to be no corresponding name in Babylonian texts. Has been suggested as having a Phoenician origin.

(5) Greek: Ploughman (Wagoner) (Bo÷tes (Arcturus, Arctophylax)). Has been identified with the Babylonian ŠU.PA (Arcturus). It has been suggested that the Greek concept of a 'guard' in connection with Bo÷tes may be connected to a Babylonian shepherd constellation. Regarding the Babylonian Yoke and the stars of the constellation Bo÷tes. In Babylonia the constellation of the Wagon (basically our Ursa Major (Big Bear) but also other stars) was divided into 3 parts, the Yoke, the Pole, the Side-pieces. The Babylonian Yoke (of the Wagon) was a constellation approximately equivalent to the stars of our modern Bo÷tes. The Yoke involved Arcturus and likely several stars centred on Arcturus; or stars approximately equivalent to Bo÷tes. In the Mul.Apin series SU.PA was the star Arcturus, or Arcturus and the stars of Bo÷tes. According to Franz Kugler, SU.PA was Arcturus and likely the entire southern part of Bo÷tes. Mul.Apin describes SU.PA (Šūpű) as: "dEnlil, who decrees the fate of the land." Some writers speculate that the Greek Bo÷tes constellation was perhaps originally a Babylonian constellation, and the Greek name derived from such. It has been proposed that the connection of Bo÷tes with the idea of 'guard' might owe to its origins as a Babylonian shepherd-constellation. Both this and similar proposals seem unsupported. The error is likely due to reliance on Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians by Robert Brown Junior (Volume 2, 1900, Pages 133-134) where he erroneously identified Arcturus as the 'heavenly shepherd-guardian.' The Greek name Bo÷tes may have had a popular origin. The Greek Bo÷tes literally means 'Oxman' but is usually given the meaning 'Ploughman' or 'Wagoner.' However, an alternative Greek name for Bo÷tes was Bear-guardian/Bear-warden. Another proposal is the Greek name Bo÷tes was earlier than the introduction of the Greek names Archtophylax (for Bo÷tes) and Arcturus. The bright reddish star Arcturus (near the tail of the Great Bear) was not strictly/consistently identified by the Greeks as part of Bo÷tes. It was located between the kneecaps of Bo÷tes. The Greeks only applied the name Archtophylax to the constellation Bo÷tes and only applied the name Arcturus to the bright star located between the kneecaps of Bo÷tes. Archtophylax has the same meaning as Arcturus. A seemingly unanswerable question is whether the term 'Bear-guardian/Bear-warden' was originally applied to Arcturus the star or Archtophylax the star-group. The Greek constellation Bo÷tes (a rather roughly construed figure) is likely to be a later extension of the star Arcturus. Likely the Babylonians had earlier done the same.

(6) Greek: Northern Crown (Corona Borealis). Northern Crown is most likely a Greek constellation. Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin.

(7) Greek: Kneeler (Hercules). Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. The Babylonians saw a hound/dog, UR.KU (Dog), instead of a human figure (Hercules). Has been suggested as having a Phoenician origin.

(8) Greek: Lyre (Latin, Lyra). The origin of this constellation is obscure. Has been identified with the Babylonian UZA (goat). Identification has also been proposed with the Egyptian asterism Sit (tortoise).

(9) Greek: Bird (Cygnus, Swan). Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. The Babylonians had a different constellation figure for these stars (a four-footed animal). In the Babylonian scheme the constellation, The Demon with the Gaping Mouth, comprised the Greek Cygnus (with parts of Cepheus).

(10) Greek: Cassiopeia. Has been identified with the Babylonian LU.LIM (stag). Has also been suggested as having a Phoenician origin.

(11) Greek: Perseus. Has been identified (in part) with the Babylonian ŠU.GI ((the) old man) (su.gi). The Greek Perseus was a hero figure whereas the Babylonian 'old man' was not a hero figure. 

(12) Greek: Charioteer (Latin, Auriga] Has been identified with the Babylonian GAM (ZUBI) (zubi) (the sickle sword (the hooked staff). Regarding the Charioteer. The stars of the Greek constellation Auriga (Charioteer) were the stars of the Babylonian constellation Gamlu/Gam (the Crook (possibly the Babylonian sickle implement)). The source for the perpetuating error that Gamlu = Babylonian charioteer is Robert Brown Junior in his totally unreliable Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians. (1899-1900; 2 Volumes). In the Babylonian scheme of the Stars of Amurru SHU.GI (Su.gi/Sibu) was - until rather recently - identified as Old Man or Charioteer. This was done by Waerden in Science Awakening II. However, SHU.GI (in both the Astrolabes/Mul.Apin) is now identified as Old Man (See either: Mul.Apin or Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia by Hunger/Pingree). Hunger/Pingree identify SHU.GI as the stars of Perseus. The Babylonian chariot constellation, Giš-Gigir, was most likely depicted as a charioteer/chariot-driver. It was in this form that it was adopted by the ancient Greeks.

(13) Greek: Serpent Holder (Ophiuchus, Serpentarius). Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. Serpent Holder appears to be a Greek constellation in its origin.

(14) Greek: Serpent. Serpent of the Serpent-holder. (Latin, Serpens). Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin.

(15) Greek: Arrow. Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. The Greek Arrow constellation has no connection with the Babylonian KAK.SI.DI (arrow). KAK.SI.DI was part of  Canis Major, including Sirius.

(16) Greek: Eagle (Aquila). Has been identified with the Babylonian A.MUSHEN (Amušen) (eagle). The Babylonian Thunderbird (Anzu-Bird) was not constellated (remained a figure in mythology only) and is not relevant.

(17) Greek: Dolphin. The origin of the Dolphin constellation is unknown. It is most likely a Greek constellation.

(18) Greek: Forepart (or bust) of Horse (Equuleus). Not mentioned by Aratus, nor in the Catasterisms. Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin.

(19) Greek: Horse (later Pegasus). Is itself a fore-section only. It has been proposed that this constellation had a Babylonian origin but there is no clear identification able to be made. It has been proposed that the Greek constellation Pegasus (Winged Horse) is indicated as originating from Assyrian mythology of a like creature and the use of mul d IM DUGUD musen "the divine Storm-bird" and mul ANSU.KUR.RA (kakkab sisu) "Horse" as names of the same constellation. However, the Greek Pegasus is located differently in the sky. (Which perhaps points to constellation boundaries and location - at least between cultures - do not seem to have become standardised until Ptolemy's catalogue.)

(20) Greek: Andromeda. Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. The Babylonians had 3 constellations where the Greeks had Andromeda.

(21) Greek: Triangle (Latin, Triangulum). Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. The Babylonians had the Plough constellation. The triangle of stars was the Babylonian constellation APIN. The Greeks called this triangle of stars Deltotan (Triangle) because it was shaped like the letter delta, or Trigonen, the triangle. However, geometric shapes are not uncommon in Babylonian uranography.

The Zodiacal Constellations:

(1) Greek zodiac: Ram (Latin, Aries). Has been identified with the Babylonian LU.HUN.GA (a hired man/the Hired Man) (lu.hung.ga). "The first sign of the zodiac, represented since Roman times as a ram, was originally referred to by the Babylonians as LU.HUN.GA (Akk. lu.agru) "the hireling." Two orthographic variants encountered include the transparent abbreviations HUN and and HUN.GA. A third variant LU, common to Seleucid astronomical texts, is generally taken to be a homophonic substitution for the otherwise unattested abbreviation *LU. The LU-sign, however, may also be read UDU, the usual Sumerogram for Akk. immeru "a ram." Since the HUN and LU signs are paleographically quite similar in the late Babylonian ductus and the celestial hireling was equated with Dumuzi, the shepherd par excellence of Sumerian literature, some form of punning may have led to the metamorphosis of this sign from the hireling to the ram in Hellenistic Babylonia rather than later and elsewhere. Seals depicting rams en passant, with heads forward or reversed, are known from throughout the Hellenistic period in Uruk." ("Zodiacal Signs among the Seal Impressions from Hellenistic Uruk" by Ronald Wallenfels (Pages 282-283), In: The Tablet and the Scroll, edited by Mark Cohen, et. al. (1993).)

(2) Greek zodiac: Bull (Latin, Taurus). Has been identified with the Babylonian GUD.AN.NA (Heavenly Bull/Bull-of-Heaven) (gu4.an.na) (the bull of Anu). Also, the Pleiades has been identified with the Babylonian MUL.MUL (mul.mul). The Babylonian mul.mul = "The stars/the hair brush" (Pleiades).

(3) Greek zodiac: Twins (Latin, Gemini (the Twins). Has been identified with the Babylonian Mastabba-Galgal. The 2 bright stars α and β Geminorum were known to the Babylonians as MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL (mash.tab.ba.gal.gal) (The "Great Twins"). 

(4) Greek zodiac: Crab (or Prokyon). (Latin, Cancer). Has been identified with the Babylonian AL.LUL (al.lul). Also, the nebula Praesepe has been identified with the Babylonian NANGAR. Possible Egyptian origin for the Greek Crab in the Scarab has also been suggested. Note: In June 2015 I received a query regarding a possibly error in suggesting Procyon as part of an ancient constellation Cancer. Basically, "If the Greek constellation is Cancer and Cancer only, "Procyon" should say "Praesepe". If "Procyon" is correct, the Greek constellations would be Cancer and Canis Minor, because Procyon is the alpha star of Canis Minor." Some additional discussion is indicated as required. Part of the issue is the comparison is being made with early Greek constellations. There really is no exact identifications between Babylonian and later Greek constellations. The boundaries of the Babylonian constellations are not known. The Greek constellations and their boundaries only mostly became canonical with Eudoxus (there were later changes), but we do not know what the boundaries were until after the period of Aratus (circa 3rd-century BCE). Aratus does not mention Canis Minor in his Phainomena (but has Procyon among the weather signs). Until the 2nd-century BCE there is no evidence the Greeks recognised Canis Minor as a separate constellation/asterism. Ptolemy, in his Almagest catalogued only 2 stars comprising Canis Minor (1 being Procyon). The ancient Greek constellation boundaries generally lay beyond the visible stars. The article was written in the early 1990s and basically simplifies Bartel van der Waerden's 1952 article on the history of the zodiac. When writing the article I have begun considerations from 1952. Waerden has Procyon in his 1952 article and later book published 1974 in English. Werner Papke who I consider unreliable made the identification KAK.SI.DI = Procyon (not Sirius per Franz Kugler)) + AL.LUL = Sirius = Cancer. Ernst Weidner would have alluttu (crab) = Capricornus, not Cancer. Most have AL.LUL (= alluttu) = Cancer (crab). Most have NANGAR/NAGAR = Praesepe/Cancer, especially Praesepe. Some consider AL.LUL = allutu is likely but not suitably demonstrated, but the later NANGAR/NAGAR as suitably demonstrated. The conclusion that AL.LUL (Sumerian logogram) and alluttu (Akkadian) = Praesepe = (in) Cancer is still recent. Hunger and Pingree in Astral Sciences (1999) have other identifications (i.e., some particular stars in Cancer). Gennadij Kurtik and Alexander Militarev (2005) have: (1) for mulal.lul (mulal.lub) 'crayfish' or 'crab,' located in the area of modern Cancer; and (2) late use of NAGAR as name of constellation and zodiacal sign Cancer. Wayne Horowitz in his 2014 book on Babylonian "Astrolabes" has alluttu = Cancer.

(5) Greek zodiac: Lion (Latin, Leo). Has been identified with the Babylonian UR.GU.LA (ur.gu.la) (The "Lion" (or Lioness). Also, Regulus has been identified with the Babylonian LUGAL (Star of the King).

(6) Greek zodiac: Virgin (Latin, Virgo). Constellation likely formed around Spica (AB.SIN) (an ear of corn). Has been identified with the Babylonian AB.SIN (ab.sin). (The "Furrow (The barley-stalk)" (or Spica).) The Maiden (carrying an ear of corn).)  In Babylonian mythology the goddess Shala (the consort of Adad) was a goddess of grain.

(7) Greek zodiac: Scales (Claws). Originally called by the Greeks "the Claws" (of the Scorpion) but the Romans later (re)introduced Libra (the Scales/Balance), a name that has Babylonian roots. The constellation Libra been identified with the Babylonian RIN (which use of a Sumerian logogram (cuneiform sign)); Akkadian ZIB.BA.AN.NA (zi-ba-ni-tum) (The "Scales of Heaven" (= The balance)). The Greek constellation Libra is undoubtedly of Babylonian origin. When the early Greeks (5th-century BCE) borrowed the zodiacal constellations from the Babylonians the Scales/Balance were left out. The early Greeks joined this 'group' of stars to the Scorpion, and called it the Claws. (The Greeks had, at first, pictured the Scorpion as one constellation. Some dated/mistaken sources state the Babylonians originally called the Scales (Libra) the "Claws" of the Scorpion (The Scorpion’s Claws) and counted it as a distinct part of a double constellation.) It seems the Greeks are meant. However, the mistake may originate with Robert Brown Junior. The later Greeks and Romans did recognise the Scales. The Romans (astrologers?) circa 1st-century CE reintroduced the Scales and named the constellation Libra.

(8) Greek zodiac: Scorpion (Latin, Scorpius). Has been identified with the Babylonian GIR.TAB (gir.tab) (The "Scorpion").

(9) Greek zodiac: Sagittarius (the Archer). Has been identified with the Babylonian Pabilsag (Babylonian god of war and hunting). (PA.BIL.SAG (pa.bil.sag) (The "Grandfather" (Pabilsag (a god)) (archer?)).

(10) Greek zodiac: Capricornus (the Goat/Goat-horned). Has been identified (in part) with the Babylonian SUHUR.MASH (suhur.mas.ku6) (The "Goat fish"). But perhaps not altogether equivalent to the Babylonian constellation.

(11) Greek zodiac: Aquarius (Water-pourer/Water-Carrier). Has been identified with the Babylonian MUL.GU.LA [gu.la] (The "Great One" (The giant/the great star?).

(12) Greek zodiac: Fishes (Pisces (the Fishes, the tails). Has been identified (in part) with the Babylonian ŠIM.MAH (great swallow) (sim.mah). The Babylonians saw a Great Swallow instead of the south-western part of Pisces. (The "Great Swallow" (SW Pisces [+ epsilon Pegasi).) (ZIBBATI.MESH (MUL.KUN.MESH) (kun.mes) MUL.A.NU.TI.TUM (a-nu-ni-tum, Anunitum (a goddess) (Anunitu, 'sky-dweller) (NE Pisces (+ middle part of Andromeda).) In Greek mythology, Pisces is connected with the river Euphrates.

The Southern Constellations:

(1) Greek: Sea-Monster (Whale). It has been proposed that this constellation had a Babylonian origin (in Babylonian monster lore) but there is no clear identification able to be made.

(2) Greek: Orion. It was one of the earliest Greek constellations. Much the same star configuration as the Babylonian shepherd god. Has been identified with the Babylonian SIPA.ZI.AN.NA (sipa.zi.an.na), "The true shepherd of Anu" (Orion). Sibzianna was the shepherd god; "The True Shepherd of Heaven."

(3) Greek: River (Eridanus). The River appears to be a Greek constellation in its origin. There is no clear evidence of a river in this part of the sky in either Babylonian or Egyptian lore. However, in Babylonian uranography a part of the southern sky was called 'the sea' and was fed by 2 streams of water.

(4) Greek: Hare (Lepus). The Hare appears to be a Greek constellation in its origin. No Babylonian hare constellation is identifiable.

(5) Greek: Dog (Greater Dog). The Dog was primarily a name for Sirius. A non-Greek origin has been suggested. The Babylonians had no constellation corresponding to the Greek constellation Dog (though they did have a hound/dog constellation). The Babylonians saw a Bow and Arrow in the region of the Big Dog. For the Babylonians the sets of stars forming the Bow and Arrow constellations formed 2 interlocked constellations.

(6) Greek: Dog's Forerunner (Lesser Dog). Not suggested as having a Babylonian origin. Most likely a Greek constellation.

(7) Greek: Argo. There is no evidence for a Babylonian origin of Argo. There is no evidence that the Sumerians (or later Babylonians or Assyrians) depicted the stars that the ancient Greeks constellated as Argo, as a ship. No multiple star ship-constellation appears in any known Mesopotamian star-list. The Greek constellation Argo is unknown in Mesopotamian tradition. The Babylonians had other constellations in this part of the sky. The constellation Argo was well attested in the Hellenistic period.  The Magur boat constellation MA.GUR8 (or rather star), cannot be identified with the position of the Greek constellation Argo (or in the region of Argo). There is no evidence the Babylonian Magur ship-constellation was adopted in Greek constellation iconography as the (enormous) ship-constellation (that was renamed) Argo (and located by the Greeks in the same region of the sky). The English solicitor Robert Brown Junior made several mistaken identifications of Mesopotamian ship constellations in his Primitive Constellations (2 vols., 1898-99). Though full of errors, and long outdated, the book is still popularly used. As example: Theony Condos' book Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans (1997) used Brown to connect the origin of the Greek Argo with the Mesopotamian "Ship of the Canal of Heaven". Brown's attempts to reconstruct the "Euphratean Planisphere" pivoted on the circular "astrolabes" and are full of errors. One of his identified constellations in the outer ring (southern division of Ea) - for the fifth month Dumuzi - is the "Ship-of-the-Canal-of-Heaven". The identification of such a constellation is fallacious. Its idea has also been proposed as Egyptian. The suggestion that the Argo was made a constellation in conformity with Egyptian astronomical lore (i.e., the supposition that the ship of Osiris was set in the night sky) can be rejected. Franz Boll in his masterwork Sphaera (1903) rejected the suggestion. The ship of Osiris traversed the underworld, not the night sky. This fact ensures the ship of Osiris could not have been an Egyptian constellation. It is likely that the identification of the ship of Osiris with the Argo is actually a Greek idea.

(8) Greek: Watersnake (Hydra). Has been identified with the Babylonian MUSH (MUŠ) (Serpent).

(9) Greek: Bowl (Crater). Appears to have been unknown to the Babylonians. It was most likely the invention of the Greeks. The Latin name is Crater.

(10) Greek: Raven (Latin name, Corvus (Crow)) Has been identified with the Babylonian UGA (UGA MUSHEN) which was the Babylonian Raven constellation.

(11) Greek: Centaur (Latin name, Centaurus). Has been identified with the Babylonian EN.TE.NA.MAŠ.LUM, the celestial Marsh Boar.

(12) Greek: Beast (Lupus, the Latin name for Wolf (Wild Dog). Has been suggested as having a Babylonian origin in UR.IDIM (Wolf).

(13) Greek: Censer (Incense-burner), Latin name, Altar). The origin of this Greek constellation is unknown. It has not been identified clearly with any Babylonian group and an Egyptian source has been proposed.

(14) Greek: Southern Crown (Corona Australis, Wreath) Possibly the invention of the Greeks. Has been suggested as having a Babylonian origin in MA.GUR (the Bark).

(15) Greek: Southern Fish (Piscis Austrinus (also known as Piscis Australis), is the Latin name for "the southern fish"). Has been suggested as having a Babylonian origin in KUA (KU6). Franz Kugler originally thought the Babylonian star name HA, "The Fish," was β Piscium, but later changed his identification to Fomalhaut.

Note: See: Bowen, Alan. and Rochberg, Francesca. (Editors). (2020 (Not yet published.)). Hellenistic Science: The Science and its Contexts. [Note: Chapter 6.3. "Star-Lists from the Babylonians to Ptolemy." by Gerd Grasshoff.]

Appendix 1: Babylonian Catasterisms

Catasterisms existed in Babylonian uranography. Possible Babylonian (or Egyptian) influences on Greek catasterisms is yet to receive scholarly attention. It has been suggested that Babylonian sky lore was possibly brought westward in the form of sky tales/stories. It is likely that Babylonian astronomical knowledge initially/mostly reached the Greeks residing in Asia Minor.

Appendix 2: Extract from The East Face of Helicon by Martin West (1997)

Extract from: The East Face of Helicon by Martin West (1997, Pages 29-31).

 


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