In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Astrology and Astronomy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Astronomy and Astrology
  • Astronomy and the Calendar
  • The Transmission of Astronomical and Astrological Knowledge Between Cultures

Biblical Studies Astrology and Astronomy
John M. Steele
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0061


The interconnected sciences of astronomy and astrology were widely practiced across the ancient cultures of the Near East and the Mediterranean. Astronomy—the observation, analysis, and production of theoretical models for the prediction of future astronomical phenomena—had many applications, including providing the data for making astrological interpretations and for determining the calendar, as well as being of intellectual interest. Historians of ancient astronomy often divide the field into two parts: mathematical astronomy, which refers to theoretical models that allow the calculation of astronomical phenomena using mathematical methods; and non-mathematical astronomy, which refers to observational astronomy and empirical predictions of future astronomical events, using observed cycles of repeating phenomena.

General Overviews

Most general overviews of the history of astronomy are weak on ancient astronomy outside of Greek mathematical astronomy. More balanced introductions to ancient astronomy may be found in Aaboe 2001, Evans 1998, Neugebauer 1969, Steele 2008, and Walker 1996, although only the last two works place equal emphasis on non-mathematical (i.e., observational and predictive) and mathematical (i.e., theoretical) astronomy. Neugebauer 1975 is an extremely detailed analysis of Babylonian and Greco-Roman mathematical astronomy.

  • Aaboe, Asger. Episodes from the Early History of Astronomy. New York: Springer, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4613-0109-7

    An accessible introduction to important topics in the history of Babylonian and Greek mathematical astronomy. The introductory “Chapter 0” provides a clear exposition of naked-eye astronomy and the astronomical phenomena of interest to ancient astronomers.

  • Evans, James. The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    Thorough textbook for a course in ancient western astronomy, complete with student exercises. Rather than treating ancient astronomy as a purely historical subject, the book also teaches students how to observe and calculate astronomical phenomena using ancient Greek and Babylonian methods.

  • Neugebauer, O. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. New York: Dover, 1969.

    The classic, and in many respects still the best, introduction to astronomy and mathematics in Egypt, Babylonia, and Greece. The exposition of Greek and Babylonian mathematical astronomy is clear and mostly still accurate today. Note, however, that Neugebauer does not discuss observational astronomy.

  • Neugebauer, O. A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy. New York: Springer, 1975.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-61910-6

    A detailed and highly technical study of Babylonian and Greek mathematical astronomy intended for advanced researchers.

  • Steele, John M. A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East. London: Saqi, 2008.

    A short, accessible introduction to astronomy in Mesopotamia, Greece, and the Islamic World, covering astronomical observation, theory, instruments, and astrology. Intended for undergraduate students and general readers.

  • Walker, Christopher, ed. Astronomy Before the Telescope. London: British Museum, 1996.

    A collection of essays by leading scholars on astronomy from all parts of the ancient and medieval world. Many of the essays serve as good introductions to the topic.

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