ZODIAC: Ancient Astral Science in Transformation

The ZODIAC project, funded by the European Research Council and hosted by the Free University of Berlin, aims to document and explain the spread of mathematical astronomy and personal, zodiacal astrology from Babylonia to Egypt and the Graeco-Roman world. We seek to understand what drove this spread and popularity. I am studying astrological treatises preserved on papyrus and how they illustrate the application of astral science “on the ground.” Read a blog post about astrological papyri here.

This Greek papyrus book-roll (P.Louvre N 2329+2388), part of an archive of papers kept in an Egyptian temple (the Serapeum of Memphis) in the second century BCE, preserves a scientific treatise of “Pseudo-Eudoxus,” showing the importance of the zodiac as a structural concept in contemporary astronomy. This example of the accompanying illustrations shows the constellation and zodiac-sign Scorpio.

Another Greek papyrus book-roll (P.Michigan inv. 1) from Egypt of several centuries later, the early Roman period, shows a combination of astronomy and astrology. The astronomical calculations make use of Babylonian sexagesimal numbers, and the astrology offers forecasts for individuals and theory on how celestial bodies produce effects in earthly matters, for example by assigning parts of the human body to astral influences (“melothesia”).