is a tradition of horoscopic astrology
that was developed and practiced in Hellenistic Egypt
and the Mediterranean
, whose texts were written in Greek
(or sometimes Latin
), sometime around the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE. Although the Hellenistic period properly ended in the early part of the Common Era
, this type of astrology that was developed sometime during the early Hellenistic period was practiced in essentially its original form until the 6th or 7th century CE and thus it is still commonly referred to as 'Hellenistic astrology'.
The origins of much of the astrology that would later develop in Asia, Europe and the Middle East are found among the ancient Babylonians
and their system of celestial omens that began to be compiled around the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. This system later spread either directly or indirectly through the Babylonians to other areas such as India
where it merged with preexisting indigenous forms of astrology. It came to Greece initially as early as the middle of the 4th century BCE, and then around the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE after the Alexandrian conquests this Babylonian astrology
was mixed with the Egyptian tradition of Decanic astrology
to create horoscopic astrology. This system is labeled as "horoscopic astrology" because, unlike the previous traditions, it employed the use of the ascendant
, otherwise known as the horoskopos
("hour marker") in Greek, and the twelve celestial houses
which are derived from it. The focus on the natal chart
of the individual, as derived from the position of the planets and stars at the time of birth, represents the most significant contribution and shift of emphasis that was made during the Hellenistic tradition of astrology. This new form of astrology, which appears to have originated in Alexandrian Egypt, quickly spread across the ancient world into Europe
, the Middle East
This complex system of astrology was developed to such an extent that later traditions made few fundamental changes to the core of the system, and many of the same components of horoscopic astrology that were developed during the Hellenistic period are still in use by astrologers in modern times.
Several Hellenistic astrologers ascribe its creation to a mythical sage named Hermes Trismegistus
. Hermes is said to have written several major texts which formed the basis of the art or its evolution from the system of astrology that was inherited from the Babylonians and the Egyptians
. Several authors cite Hermes as being the first to outline the houses and their meaning, and thus the houses are usually thought to date back to the very beginning of the Hellenistic tradition and indeed they are one of the major defining factors which separate Hellenistic astrology and other forms of horoscopic astrology from Babylonian astrology and other traditions in different parts of the world. This system of horoscopic astrology was then passed to another mythical figure named Asclepius to who some of the Hermetic writings are addressed.
According to Firmicus Maternus, the system was subsequently handed down to an Egyptian pharaoh named Nechepso and his priest Petosiris. They are said to have written several major textbooks which explicated the system and it is from this text that many of the later Hellenistic astrologers draw from and cite directly. This system formed the basis of all later forms of horoscopic astrology.
Astrology in Rome
Like so much else, astrology came to Rome due to Greek influence. Among the Greeks and Romans
, Babylonia or Chaldea was so identified with astrology that "Chaldaean
wisdom" became the synonym of divination
through the planets and stars
. Astrologers became very much in vogue in Imperial Rome. Indeed the emperor Tiberius
had had his destiny predicted for him at birth, and so surrounded himself with astrologers such as Thrasyllus of Mendes
. According to Juvenal
'there are people who cannot appear in public, dine or bathe, without having first consulted an ephemeris
'. Claudius, on the other hand favoured augury and banned astrologers from Rome altogether. It is perhaps not surprising, that in the course of time, to be known as a "Chaldaean" carried with it frequently the suspicion of charlatanry and of more or less willful deception.
The Satyricon of Petronius details one view of the zodiac: "This heaven in which dwell the twelve gods resolves itself into twelve different configurations, and presently becomes the Ram. So whosoever is born under this sign has many flocks and herds and much wool, a hard head into the bargain, a shameless brow and a sharp horn. Most of your schoolmen and pettifoggers are born under this sign... Next the whole sky becomes Bull; then are born obstinate fellows and neatherds and such as think of nothing but filling their own bellies. Under the Twins are born horses in a pair, oxen in a yoke, men blessed with a sturdy brace of testicles, all who manage to keep in with both sides. I was born under the Crab myself. Wherefore I stand on many feet, and have many possessions both by sea and land; for the Crab is equally adapted to either element. And this is why I never put anything on that sign, so as not to eclipse my horoscope. Under the Lion are born great eaters and wasters, and all who love to domineer; under the Virgin, women and runaways and jailbirds; under the Scales, butchers and perfumers and all retail traders; under the Scorpion, poisoners and cutthroats; under the Archer, squint-eyed folks, who look at the greens and whip off with the bacon; under Capricorn, the 'horny-handed sons of toil'; under Aquarius or the Waterman, innkeepers and pumpkin-heads; under Pisces, or the Fishes, fine cooks and fine talkers. Thus the world goes round like a mill, and is for ever at some mischief, whether making men or marring them...
This system of Hellenistic astrology was passed to India sometime around the 1st century CE where it was merged with the preexisting tradition of Babylonian astrology
and the indigenous lunar astrology of the Nakshatras
and this founded the vast tradition of Indian astrology
. Hellenistic astrology was practiced from the 2nd century BCE until sometime around the 7th century CE when Europe entered the Middle Ages
. Astrology was then passed to and further developed by individuals working within the Islamic Empire
from the 7th to the 13th century.
Differences between Western and Hellenistic Astrology
- Hellenistic astrology - Website dedicated to the study and proliferation of Hellenistic astrology. Contains original texts and a translation project.