A study of Babylonian records of planetary stations

Abstract

Late Babylonian astronomical texts contain records of the stationary points of the outer planets using three different notational formats: Type S where the position is given relative to a Normal Star and whether it is an eastern or western station is noted, Type I which is similar to Type S except that the Normal Star is replaced by a reference to a zodiacal sign, and Type Z the position is given by reference to a zodiacal sign, but no indication of whether the station is an eastern or western station is included. In these records, the date of the station is sometimes preceded by the terms in and/or EN. We have created a database of station records in order to determine whether there was any pattern in the use of these notation types over time or an association with any bias in the station date or the type of text the station was recorded in. Predictive texts, which include Almanacs and Normal Star Almanacs, almost always use Type Z notation, while the Diaries, compilations, and Goal-Year Texts use all three types. Type Z records almost never include in or EN, while other types seem to include these interchangeably. When compared with modern computed station dates, the records show bias toward earlier dates, suggesting that the Babylonians were observing dates when the planets appeared to stop moving rather than the true station. Overlapping reports, where a station on the same date was recorded in two or more texts, suggest that predicted station dates were used to guide observations, and that the planet’s position on the predicted stationary date was the true point of the observation rather than the specific date of the stationary point.

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Data availability

The database of planetary stations compiled during this research may be downloaded from https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:1155513/

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Acknowledgements

We thank Hermann Hunger for generously sharing with us his editions of additional dated Astronomical Diaries in advance of their publication in Hunger (forthcoming), and the late Norbert Roughton for providing a copy of his tables of computed planetary phenomena.

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Correspondence to E. L. Meszaros.

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Communicated by Alexander Jones.

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Steele, J.M., Meszaros, E.L. A study of Babylonian records of planetary stations. Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00407-021-00272-5

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