in Sumer and Babylon

Mesopotamian myths and legends around stars, planets and constellations are as old as Mesopotamian astronomy, which dates back to the third millennium BC, the Early Bronze Age.

The primary focus of this site is not astronomy, but Star Lore, which is folklore based upon stars and star patterns. We try to create a collection of mythical stories about stars and constellations from all over the world. However, to better understand and interpret the stories, a brief history of the astronomy of different cultures might be helpful.

This is by no means a scientific paper on the history of Mesopotamian astronomy, but merely an illustrated collection of highlights of that history, along with some links to what we think are reliable sources on the subject.

Click here to discover the world of astronomical mythology from Sumer, Babylon and other Mesopotamian locations.

This portion of our site is about the history of Mesopotamian astronomy.

Click here to discover the world of Mesopotamian Star Lore.

Bits of History of Mesopotamian Astronomy

Ancient Legends

The first forms of writing emerged in Sumer in the late fourth millennium BC, but artwork depicting mythical creatures dates back far longer.

Aurochs and Lion at Babylon's Ishtar Gate (our own pictures)
Much of Mesopotamian artwork depicts bulls and lions (see pictures above), thus, not surprisingly, those animals were among the first astronomical figures.

Source: J. H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations: I. The Mesopotamian traditions

Early Pictographs (ca. 3200 BC)

Around 3200 BC, three early zodiac constellations, lion, bull and scorpion had been defined. At that time, these constellations marked three of the four cardinal points (both solstices and the spring equinox).

By 2600 BC, artwork started showing symbols clearly associated with heavenly bodies such as the Sun, the Moon and Venus.

Source: J. H. Rogers

Cylindrical seal from the Elamite capital Susa,
ca. 2500 BC; click image for description
Source: J. H. Rogers

Enuma Anu Enlil (ca. 1650 BC)

Enuma Anu Enlil, named after Anu, the divine personification of the sky and Enlil, the god of wind, storm and earth, was a series of tablets on astrology and omens in Babylon.

One of the charts, the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa contains observations of Movements of the Planet Venus. The origin and the interpretation of the data is still debated, but it is commonly dated to around the mid-seventeenth century BC, making it the oldest written record of astronomical observations.

Source: Wikipedia

Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa
Source: Wikipedia

Boundary Stones (ca. 1350 BC)

Boundary stones were records of land grands, calling onto the Gods to witness and protect the ownership of land. They were introduced around 1350 BC during the Kassite dynasty.

By this time, a large number of divine icons existed, among them many, that later became zodiac symbols, such as Taurus, Leo, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus and Aquarius. The three leading deities, Shamash, Sin and Ishtar were symbolized as Sun, Moon and Venus on top of the stones.

Source: J. H. Rogers

Top of a boundary stone, showing the trinity
of Moon, Sun and Venus and underneath (middle)
the goatfish Capricornus

Enűma Eliš

In the Babylonian Epic of Creation, Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon, fights the Chaos Monster Tiamat, the goddess of the salt sea. Marduk rips her in two parts. One part he makes into the land. Out of the other part, he forms the heavens, which are set in three ways: The way of Enlil (the northern hemisphere), the way of Anu (the celestial equator) and the way of Ea (the southern hemisphere).

The legend, which dates back to the 17th century BC, formed the base for the Three Stars Each star system.

Sources: J. H. Rogers and Wikipedia

Chaos Monster and Sun God on a base relief at Nimrud
Source: Wikipedia

Three Stars Each (ca. 1200 BC)

At around 1200 BC, Babylonian astronomers developed a farming calendar and catalogue of 36 "stars" - one for each of the Three Ways and for each month.

They were written out on disks or on tablets. Not all of the "stars" were actually stars, some were planets like Venus or star clusters like the Pleijades.

One of the oldest records is Tabular Astrolabe B, dating back to 1200 BC. J. H. Rogers and Gary D. Thompson provide detailed listings and interpretations of Three Stars Each tables.

Sources: J. H. Rogers and Gary D. Thompson

Tabular Astrolabe B
Source: Gary D. Thompson


The MUL.APIN star catalog expanded the Three Stars Each list to 66 stars and constellations and five planets. The table is named after the first word on it - mul.APIN (The Plough) stands for today's constellation Triangulum.

The oldest copy of the MUL.APIN table discovered so far has been dated to 686 BC. It is widely believed, that the original table was developed around 1000 BC.

While the main purpose of the table was calendric, it contains detailed astronomical observations like the rising and setting times of stars and planets.

J. H. Rogers and Gary D. Thompson provide detailed listings and interpretations of the MUL.APIN tables.

Sources: Wikipedia, J. H. Rogers and Gary D. Thompson

MUL.APIN tablet
Source: Wikipedia

Babylonian Astronomical Diaries

By 750 BC, Babylonians had perfected their measurements and produced precise astrometric diaries.

Around 600 BC, Astrology developed the system of the twelve Zodiac constellations. Astrology also associated Mesopotamian gods with the five known planets.

Sources: Wikipedia and J. H. Rogers

By 550 BC, Greek astrologers had adopted the system, calling it the zodiakos kyklos or circle of animals.

Source: Oxford Reference

Mesopotamian tablet showing one of the earliest known descriptions of constellations Orion and Gemini.
Source: Russian Space Web

The picture to the right shows the Babylonian Gods (from left to right) Ishtar of Arbela, Adad, Shamash, En-lil, Sin, Ishtar, and Asshur.

The table below shows the Babylonian names of the Zodiac constellations, the sun, the moon and the known planets.

Sources: Wikipedia

Rock relief at Malatia
Source: Lewis Spence: Myths and legends of Babylonia & Assyria

























Agrarian Worker

Divine Bull of Heaven

Great Twins



The Furrow





Great One

Tail of the Swallow or














Ninurta (Ninib)

Nabu (Nebo)


Alexander's Empire (331 BC)

In October of 331 BC, the Persian Empire was defeated by the forces of Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great.

Under Alexander's rule, Babylon again flourished as a center of learning and commerce. From that time on, Babylonian astronomy merged with that of ancient Greece and Egypt.

Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC.

Click here for bits of the history of ancient Greek astronomy.

Click here for bits of the history of ancient Egyptian astronomy.

Astronomical diary recording the death of Alexander the Great
Source: Wikipedia

Halley's Comet (164 BC)

One of the last astronomical records in Cuneiform was a Babylonean clay tablet, recording the appearance of a comet in September 164 BC.

It later turned out to be one of the first records of a sighting of Halley's Comet.

Source: Wikipedia

Babylonian record of 164 BC
British Museum in London
Source: Wikipedia

Mesopotamian astronomy highly influenced the astronomy of Egypt, Greece and India
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