In this section of our chronological history, new types of evidence are available, comments from non-astrological sources allowing some account of astrology’s place in society rather than simply an account of technical issues. Also, this chapter is not so much about the development of astrological theory, since that has already been discussed in the first chapter, but is rather concerned with its role in a new environment, that is, Rome, and the profile of astrology in the changing world of the Roman Empire. However, Greeks still play a crucial role in this account, since astrology remained mainly the province of Greeks.
The beginnings of astrology in Rome are, unsurprisingly, the most uncertain. There is a dearth of material regarding any early Roman interest in the stars, though one comic play by Plautus (c. 253-184 BCE) gives a prologue to the star Arcturus. Ennius (239-169 BCE) is the first to mention astrologi (star-gazers) and zodiac signs, but of course this may not add up to a reference to astrology proper. 1
Our sources are generally limited to a tiny proportion of the elite, and share their prejudices. The earliest references to astrology link it to the lower orders. Valerius Maximus, a Roman historian writing around 31 CE, relates an expulsion of astrologers (in company with the devotees of the foreign cult of Zeus Sabazios) from Rome and Roman Italy in 139 BCE. 2 As in most cases of expulsions, this was at a time of unrest, and astrologers were seen as a group likely to stir up trouble. The earliest definite reference by a Roman to astrology also associates it with the lower orders. Cato, the aristocrat famous for his conservative views, in his treatise on managing a farm written in 160 BCE, warns that a good overseer (the man in charge of the