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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: MESOPOTAMIA, EGYPT AND GREECE

INTRODUCTION

In antiquity there was disagreement over whether astrology originated in Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, or in Egypt. The name ‘Chaldaean’, which in the first place referred to the people who provided the last dynasty which ruled in Babylon before Cyrus of Persia, came commonly by the Roman period to designate all astrologers, regardless of ethnic origin. On the other hand, as Egypt, since the time of the fifth-century historian Herodotus, was judged the repository of antique wisdom, astrologers tended to claim that the ‘ancient Egyptians’ were their sources.

Astrologers’ own claims are to be greeted with caution in this regard; since Greeks had long considered their own civilisation as relatively young, claims for astrology’s great age inevitably involved attibuting its invention and development to those civilisations they saw as older. The astonishing declarations astrologers made are reflected in our sources. In the first century CE, the Elder Pliny, who wrote a great compendium of natural-philosophical scientific matters, mentions that Berossus, who was believed by many to have brought astrology to Greece from Babylon, claimed that observations had been carried out in Chaldaea for 490,000 years. In the previous century, Cicero was sceptical of the figure of 470,000 he had heard. Diodorus, who accepted in the first century BCE that the Chaldaeans were colonists from Egypt, and was impressed by the antiquity of their predictive star-science, still baulked at the figure of 473,000. Others who favoured Egypt were less sceptical, and claimed that in the 48,863 years from Ptah to Alexander, 373 eclipses of the Sun and 832 lunar eclipses had been observed. 1

Though there were reasons to doubt ancient testimonies to the

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Ancient Astrology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations viii
  • Preface xxiv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Historical Background: Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece 9
  • 2 - Greece and Rome 32
  • 3 - The Triumph of Christianity 64
  • 4 - The Principles of Astrology 86
  • 5 - Astrological Practice: Casting a Horoscope 114
  • 6 - The Social World of the Astrologers 157
  • 7 - Reflections and Ramifications 179
  • Conclusion 208
  • Glossary 212
  • Notes 215
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 235
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