The Greco-Roman World

Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 4)


In 331 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian army and brought Egypt under Greek rule. Throughout the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, Alexandria acted as a focal point for scholarly research in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean. Until recently, modern authors have commonly portrayed this scene as an idealistic sanctum, where the ancients amused themselves with scientific theories bearing no relation to their application. However, with the discovery of a large number of papyri from other parts of Egypt, this view has had to be altered. For these new texts have shown that, in addition to the theorizing and philosophizing taking place among the elite in Alexandria, practical astronomy was being undertaken elsewhere.1


Solar Eclipse Lunar Eclipse Eclipse Observation Eclipse Time Zodiacal Sign 
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  1. 1.
    Jones (1994).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For discussions of these eclipse records, often conducted with reference to determining the changes in the Earth’s rate of rotation, see, for example, Newcomb (1878), Ginzel (1899), Fotheringham (1920a, 1920b), Newton (1970), and Stephenson (1997b). The latter also gives an overview of earlier works.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    P. Berlin 13147 + 13146 has been published by Neugebauer, Parker, & Zauzich (1981) (recto) and Parker & Zauzich (1981) (verso).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For example, LBAT *1414, etc. See Section 2.5 above.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For details of Neugebauer’s dating, see Neugebauer, Parker, & Zauzich (1981: 320–323).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jones (2000).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Section 2.8 above.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Almagest (IV, 2); trans. Toomer (1984: 175).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See, for example, the anonymous commentary found in Par. gr. 2841 and Par. gr. 2415, edited by Jones (1990).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Parker (1959).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Thus, 8–7–8–7–8, 7–8–7–8–8, 8–7–8–8–7, etc. See Section 2.8 above.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See Steele (1999a) for this arrangement. The Babylonian scheme would result in predictions on 13 June 83 BC and 24 July 76 BC, both one month later than found in our Egyptian text.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    This period was certainly known in the Roman period. The Demotic text P. Carls. 31, published by Neugebauer & Parker (1969: 241–243) where they tentatively date it on paleographical grounds to the second century AD, has been shown by Aaboe (1972) to contain a theoretical function based upon the 135 month eclipse period.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Neugebauer, Parker, & Zauzich (1981: 322) count 24, but they assume that the traces at the beginning of the first line are part of an earlier entry. However, this seems unlikely as there are no other cases of these preserved words ending an account in this text.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    P Oxy. 4137 has been translated and discussed by Jones (1999: v.1 87–94, v.2 16–17).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    P Carls. 9 has been translated and discussed by Neugebauer & Parker (1969: 220–225).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Jones (1997). The Standard Lunar Scheme is in any case only attested in the Roman period.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    I am here assuming that the text was written in Abusir al–Malak (latitude 29.25 °, longitude — 31.08 °), and that any observations were made from there. This seems to be a reasonable assumption, but even if the “observer” was based elsewhere in Egypt — say in Alexandria — this would make little difference to the visibility and time of the computed eclipses as most potential sites are located within a thin strip of land running more or less north–south along the course of the Nile. 19 Cf. Neugebauer, Parker, & Zauzich’s (1981: 312) comment that “as befits the nature of (the scribe’s) text his style is often elliptical.”Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    For example, the early Alexandrian eclipses reported by Ptolemy in the Almagest are timed in seasonal hours. See Section 3.3.2 below.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    Toomer (1984: 1) suggests it was written sometime between AD 150 and AD 161.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Pedersen (1974: 391–407) gives a brief overview of Ptolemy’s other works.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    For details of Ptolemy’s theories, see Pedersen (1974) and Neugebauer(1975: 21–261). A list of the observations in the Almagest is given by Pedersen (1974: 408–422).Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    See Britton (1992: ix—x) for an historical overview.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Newton (1977: 379).Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    Two further eclipse observations by Hipparchus on 21 April 146 BC and 21 March 135 BC are mentioned at Almagest iii, 1. However, no details of these observations are given.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    Almagest, III, 7; trans. Toomer (1984: 166)Google Scholar
  27. 28.
    For a recent discussion of Ptolemy’s dating system, and the royal canon on which it is based, see Depuydt (1995).Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    This seems to have been standard practice among Greco–Roman astronomers and astrologers. See Toomer (1984: 12).Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    See Schnabel (1930: 218–219).Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    Toomer (1988: 359) and Walker (1997: 21) have both hinted that the Eclipse Texts could have been Hipparchus’ source.Google Scholar
  31. 32.
    In modern times, Parker & Dubberstein (1956) made extensive use of the Eclipse Texts in establishing Babylonian chronology.Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    See, for example, Toomer (1988: 356), Depuydt (1995: 103), and Steele (1999b).Google Scholar
  33. 34.
    Fotheringham’s reconstruction of the Ivory Prism has been published by Langdon (1935) and discussed by Smith (1969).Google Scholar
  34. 35.
    This is not strictly true as the tablet BM 37088 + 37652 contains records of three further eclipses reported by Ptolemy: 23 December 383 BC, 18 June 382 BC, and 12 December 382 BC. However, the portion of the tablet containing these three records is so badly damaged as to render it virtually useless.Google Scholar
  35. 36.
    BM 33066 was first published, although not fully understood, by Pinches (1888). Working from a copy by Strassmaier (1890: no. 400), Epping (1890) and Kugler (1903) then deciphered the text, and a transliteration and translation was published by Kugler (1907: 64–71). An improved version is given by Sachs & Hunger (1999).Google Scholar
  36. 37.
    This was first recognized by Oppert (1891).Google Scholar
  37. 38.
    However, Fotheringham should not be criticised for this. BM 33066 was one of only a handful of tablets he had available to him. It is pure chance that it has turned out to be a very unusual text.Google Scholar
  38. 39.
    The probable method by which the lunar six were calculated has recently been uncovered by BrackBernsen (1997: 90–129; 1999).Google Scholar
  39. 40.
    For example, Ptolemy assumes that the eclipse on 19 May 721 BC, which is described as beginning “well over an hour after moonrise,” started at 1½ hours after moonrise.Google Scholar
  40. 41.
    This strongly implies that the inaccurate Ivory Prism could not have been used to make these conversions.Google Scholar
  41. 42.
    See Section 2.7 above.Google Scholar
  42. 43.
    Almagest, iv, 6; trans. Toomer (1984: 198).Google Scholar
  43. 44.
    For further biographical details, see Toomer (1977).Google Scholar
  44. 45.
    Jones (1996).Google Scholar
  45. 46.
    The cause of this systematic error is not known. The simplest explanation is that Theon used a poorly calibrated clock to time the eclipse.Google Scholar
  46. 47.
    Only the errors in three of the Demotic timings are shown here. I have omitted the two large errors which I have attributed to scribal mistakes in Section 3.2 above.Google Scholar
  47. 48.
    Britton (1992: 151).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DurhamUK

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