Studies in Ancient Astronomy. VIII. The Water Clock in Babylonian Astronomy

  • O. Neugebauer


Two clear-cut types of Babylonian astronomy can be distinguished: one, a highly developed mathematical astronomy which flourished the last three centuries before our era; the other, a rather primitive and crude astronomy which we find in texts of which the archetypes, though there is no direct evidence, possibly go back as far as Old-Babylonian times (i.e., about 1600 B.C.). The first-mentioned mathematical astronomy has as its goal the computation of ephemerides for the moon and the planets; this is accomplished by means of the ingeniously devised use of periodic arithmetic progressions of various orders and related interpolatory methods. The high accuracy of these ephemerides, however, is not based on very precise observations but merely on an extensive use of relations between the periods of the phenomena in question.1 The reason for this tendency is obvious: ancient observational instruments are so inaccurate that they cannot compete with the accuracy obtainable by mathematical means from the comparison of few but sufficiently distant observations. This not only holds for Babylonian astronomy but is also the admitted principle on which Greek mathematical astronomy is based, e.g., in the Almagest.


British Museum Summer Solstice Night Watch Lunar Calendar Conical Vessel 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1983

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  • O. Neugebauer

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