A Brief History of Ancient Astrology


  • Format: PDF
  • Pages: 172
  • Published Date: 2007


A Brief History of Ancient Astrology explores the theory and practice of astrology from Babylon to Ancient Greece and Rome and its cultural and political impact on ancient societies. This book Discusses the union between early astrology and astronomy, in contrast to the modern dichotomy between science and superstition and Explains the ancient understanding of the zodiac and its twelve signs, the seven planets, and the fixed circle of ‘places’ against which the signs and planets revolve. Also Demonstrates how to construct and interpret a horoscope in the ancient manner, using original ancient horoscopes and handbooks.


Modern studies of ancient astronomy and astrology tend to accentuate a dichotomy between the astronomy of antiquity as an emerging science and its astrology as a superstition whose only historic value was that it furnished a motive for investigating celestial regularities.

It is true that astrology, in the form in which it developed historically, could not have done so unaided by mathematical astronomy. To predict earthly ‘‘outcomes,’’ as in a natal horoscope, one must know the posi-tions of the stars and planets relative to each other and to the local horizon of the subject at the time of birth.

Direct observation is obviously insufficient – births in daytime, cloud cover, phenomena below the horizon, unavailability of an astrologically qualified observer, and so on – and it was in fact seldom if ever used. Accordingly, ancient astrologers, like their modern successors, worked with tables, and the better the tables, the more accurate, so it seemed to the astrologers, must be their astrological predictions. It was of course the astronomers, or the astrologers themselves qua astronomers, who developed the mathematical models from which accurate tables, notably tables of planetary (including solar and lunar) longitudes, could be generated.

The history of science, precisely because its remit is the historic development of the scientific method and mentality, quite properly treats ancient astrology as a stage which astronomy outgrew, a necessary stage perhaps, but in the longer term an embarrassment to be discarded. While I will of course respect the scientific distinction between astro-nomical fact and astrological fantasy, I will not be overly concerned with it. As a historian of astrology my remit is cultural and intellectual history, in particular how the Greeks and Romans searched for meaning and significance in the phenomena of the visible heavens. I do not deny that the significance sought in the astrological domain was entirely non-scientific. But within my frame of reference, that is not a very interesting fact: astrological predictions don’t work; quid novi, so what else is new?


  • Introduction. What Was Astrology in Ancient Greece and Rome?
  • Origins and Types of Astrology. The Transfer of Astrology from Babylon. The Pseudo-History of Astrology: ‘‘Alien Wisdom’’
  • The Product: How to Construct a Simple Horoscope, Ancient Style
  • Structure and Meaning in the Horoscope, 1:The Aspects and the ‘‘Places’’
  • Structure and Meaning in the Horoscope, 2:The Zodiac and its Signs
  • Structure and Meaning in the Horoscope, 3:The Planets
  • Horoscopes and Their Interpretation
  • A Matter of Life and Death: ‘‘Starters,’’ ‘‘Destroyers,’’ and ‘‘Length of Life.’’ Some Sociopolitical Implications of Astrology
  • Conclusion: Why Bother with Ancient Astrology in the Twenty-First Century?