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The Eagle

Aquila is a small constellation, but it contains one of the brightest stars (Altair) in the night sky.

Located on the celestial equator, the constellation is visible throughout the world.

For a brief overview of the main stars of the constellation, click the Astronomy icon.

For an alphabetic listing of the constellation's main object in different cultures, click the Index icon.

Ancient Mesopotamia

In the Three Stars Each tables, the constellation was listed as A-mushen, the Eagle.

The association of the constellation with the eagle refers mainly to its brightest star, Altair.

Ian Ridpath writes that "...the German scholar Paul Kunitzsch notes that the Babylonians and Sumerians referred to Altair as the eagle star, testimony to an even more ancient origin of the name.

R.H. Allen lists the "Euphratean" names Idχu, the Eagle and Erigu, the Powerful Bird. Allen also lists the Persian name buru (the bird) and two names in ancient Persian languages, Shad Mashir (Sogdian) and Sadmasjij (Khorasmian), both meaning "Noble Falcon".

In Zoroastrian mythology, Altair, called Vanant, ruled the Western Quarter of the heavens.

Sources:Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath, R.H. Allen, J.H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations

Eagle-Headed Genie, 883 BC
Brooklyn Museum - Brooklyn, NY
Source: Wikimedia

Ancient Egypt

Egyptian constellations are still highly disputed and open to interpretation.

According to Alessandro Berio, the Daressy Zodiac suggests that Aquila had its place as an Egyptian constellation, and not merely a Graeco-Babylonian one. Possibly, Aquilla was seen as the Falcon of Horus.

Horus was one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities, most notably the god of kingship and the god of the sky.

Sources:Wikipedia and Alessandro Berio: The Celestial River

Falcon-headed Horus, 1290 BC
Temple of Seti I
Source: Wikipedia

Greek Mythology

In Greek, The constellation’s name was Ἀετός (Aetos), meaning eagle.

Aquila is often held to represent the eagle which held Zeus's thunderbolts in Greek mythology. In addition, Ian Ridpath tells two stories related to the Eagle:

"According to one story, Aquila is the eagle that snatched up the beautiful Trojan boy Ganymede, son of King Tros, to become the cup-bearer of the gods on Olympus. Authorities such as the Roman poet Ovid say that Zeus turned himself into an eagle, whereas others say that the eagle was simply sent by Zeus. Ganymede himself is represented by the neighboring constellation of Aquarius, and star charts show Aquila swooping down towards Aquarius. Germanicus Caesar says that the eagle is guarding the arrow of Eros (neighboring Sagitta) which made Zeus love struck."

Source:Ian Ridpath

Aquila and Sagitta
"Leiden Aratea," 816
Source: Wikimedia

In another Greek story, ... "Zeus fell in love with the goddess Nemesis but, when she resisted his advances, he turned himself into a swan and had Aphrodite pretend to pursue him in the form of an eagle. Nemesis gave refuge to the escaping swan, only to find herself in the embrace of Zeus. To commemorate this successful trick, Zeus placed the images of swan and eagle in the sky as the constellations Cygnus and Aquila."

Source:Ian Ridpath


In 132, Roman Emperor Hadrian created a separate constellation out of the southern stars of Aquila. He named it Antinous after a beautiful youth loved by Hadrian, who became his erotic lover.

A depiction of Antinous as a young man first appeared on a celestial globe manufactured by Caspar Vopel in 1536. Later, on some maps, the constellation was visualized as a young man being held in the eagle’s claws.

With the IAU's definition of 88 constellations, Aquila and Antinous re-merged.

Sources: Ian Ridpath, Wikipedia

Aquila and Antinous
in Urania's Mirror

The Roman Republic adopted the Greek concept of the eagle holding Jupiter's thunderbolts and made the image its coat of arms.

However, the Romans didn't call the constellation Eagle, but Vultur volans (the flying vulture).

Sources:Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath
Senātus Populusque Rōmānus
Source: youtube

Sanctæ Catarinæ Virginis

In 1627, German lawyer and astronomer Julius Schiller published a star map called Coelum Stellatum Christianum (The Christian Starry Heaven). It was an (unsuccessful) attempt to replace the "pagan" constellations with Biblical names and themes.

The constellations of the northern hemisphere were replaced by characters and themes from the New Testament.

Aquila became Sanctæ Catarinæ Virginis, depicting Saint Catherine of Alexandria, an Egyptian princess who was martyred in the early 4th century at the age of 18.

Sanctæ Catarinæ Virginis; Wikipedia

The constellations Aquila and Sagitta are often depicted together. In Schiller's work, Sagitta represents the Holy Lance.

Sources: Wikipedia, SkyEye

Arabian Peninsula: an-nasran - The Two Vultures

The Two Vultures are one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

According to Danielle Adams, on the Arabian Peninsula, the term nasr "... designated a class of large birds known for plucking flesh with the curved ends of their otherwise flat beaks. The Egyptians revered the vulture for its utility in eliminating decaying animals, and the Arabs similarly regarded them favorably."

The Two Vultures; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars
an-nasr al-ta’ir (النسر الطائر), the Flying Vulture consists of the bright stars α, β and γ Aquilae.

The other vulture, the Alighting Vulture is located in what is now the constellation Lyra.

For more information on this ancient Arab constellation, see Danielle Adams' essay Auspicious Vultures in the Dark Sky: The autumnal rains return.

Source: Arab Star Calendars
In the ancient, tragic Arab legend of Jawza’ and Suhayl, the bright star Canopus (α Car) represents Suhayl, who had to flee to the south after the death of his wife Jawza’ (presented by Orion's Belt).

Source: Arab Star Calendars

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

In his Book of Fixed Stars, Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi relate Greek star names and constellations with traditional Arabic ones.

The name Altair (α Aqi) comes directly from the classical Flying Vulture, which today is seen as a flying eagle. Danielle Adams explains that in modern-day Arabic, the term nasr indicates an eagle, but at the time the constellation was first observed it was more commonly used for vultures.

Sources: Wikipedia, Arab Star Calendars

The name Alsahin (β Aqi) is derived from the Persian term šāhin tarāzu (شاهين ترازو), meaning the Beam of the Scale, which was an asterism consisting of α, β and γ Aquilae.

15th century copy copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Pergamenthandschrift M II 141,

Aside from meaning "beam" or "pointer," the Persian word al-šāhin can also mean "royal falcon."

Source: Wikipedia

The second word of the šāhin tarāzu asterism is the root of the name Tarazed (γ Aqi).

Source: Wikipedia

Another traditional Arabic formation going with the "scale" theme is al mizān (ألميزان), the Balance. This asterism consists of δ, η and θ Aquilae, which are unofficially still named Al Mizān I, II and III, respectively.

Source: Wikipedia

ε and ζ Aquilae bore the traditional Arabic name Deneb el Okab, derived from the Arabic ðanab al-ʽuqāb (ذنب العقاب), the tail of the eagle. Later, the stars received the additional Latin extension Borealalis (ε Aqi) and Australis (ζ Aqi), meaning northern and southern.

In 2016, the IAU officially assigned the name Okab to ζ Aquilae A.

Source: Wikipedia

λ and ι Aquilae share the traditional Arabic name Al Thalimain, derived from al-ẓalīmayn (الظلیمين), the two ostriches.

Source: Wikipedia

Colored reproduction of al-Sufi's illustration, Bologna 1250-1275

In his Pearls of Brilliance, 17th century Egyptian astronomer al-Muwaqqit used a number of unique Arabic names for some of the stars of Aquila.

δ Aquilae was named djenubi menkib al nesr (منكب ألنسر ألخنوبي), the southern shoulder of the eagle, θ Aquilae was named Thanih Ras al Akab (تاني ألرأس ألعقاب), the second (star) of eagle's head and ζ Aquilae was named Dzeneb al Tair (ذنب الطائر), the eagle's tail.

Viking Lore

In Norse mythology, Veðrfölnir, meaning "storm pale" or "wind bleached" is a hawk sitting between the eyes of an unnamed eagle that is perched on top of the world tree Yggdrasil.

In Star Myths of the Vikings, Bjorn Jónsson suggests, that the eagle could be seen in the constellation Aquila, while the hawk Veðrfölnir is Altair (α Aql).


Bjorn Jónsson's Viking starmap

Ancient China

In Chinese, Aquila is written 天 鷹 座

In Chinese astronomy, almost the entire constellation is located in the quadrant of the Black Tortoise of the North.

Here, it stretches across three Lunar mansions, covering six asterisms.

The very northern part is part of the Heavenly Market Enclosure. Here, ζ and ε Aquilae, together with a number of fainter stars form a part of Tiānshìzuǒyuán, the Left Wall of the Market Enclosure.

Individually, ε and ζ Aquilae are named Woo and Yuë, respectively, representing the old Chinese states and Yuè

Source: Wikipedia

In the 8th Lunar Mansion, called Dǒu, the Dipper, λ Aquilae and a number of fainter stars are seen as Market Officers, called Tiānbiàn, just outside the Wall.

Chinese constellations in Aquila
Map based on

The 9th Lunar Mansion is called Niú, the Ox. Here, Altair and its two flanking stars, β and γ Aquilae form the asterism Hegu, the Drum at the River. Ian Ridpath calls it "a large battle drum."

South of the drum, θ and η Aquilae, together with a number of fainter stars form Tiānfú, the Celestial Drumstick.

δ and ι Aquilae, together with fainter stars form Yòuqí, a banner flying on the right side of the drum; ρ Aquilae and a group of stars from Sagitta are Zuǒqí, the banner flying on the left side.
Chinese Battle Drums
Source: youtube

The 10th Lunar Mansion is , the Girl. Four very faint stars, 69, 70 and 71 and 1 Aquarii form an asterism called Lízhū, representing four pearls worn by the girl.

Ian Ridpath also tells us, that "Altair and its attendant stars were also known as the Three Generals, the commanding officer in the center flanked by two subordinates." In this capacity, α Aql is called Dàjiāngjūn, the Great General, while β and γ Aql are called Zuǒjiāngjūn (Left-Side General) and Yòujiāngjūn (Right-Side General), respectively.

Sources:Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath
Chinese Pearls
Source: GemWise Blog

In a popular Chinese folk tale, Altair is called Niú Láng Xīng (meaning Star of the Cowherd) or Qiān Niú Xīng (Star of cows).

Niú Láng is the husband of Zhīnǚ, the "Weaving Girl", represented by an asterism in the constellation Lyra, containing Vega (α Lyr), the fifth-brightest star in the night sky.

Weaving Girl was also called Celestial Granddaughter, as in Chinese legends, she was the granddaughter of the celestial emperor.

Hong Kong Space Museum tells the story of Weaving Girl and Cowherd:

"Weaving Girl worked hard year in year out, weaving colorful brocade for the gods and goddesses. However, she stopped weaving after she married Niulang. Outraged, the celestial emperor ordered the couple to be separated by the celestial river (the Milky Way) and only allowed them to meet once a year. On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, the magpies would spread their wings together to form a bridge, enabling the tragic lovers in heaven to meet that night."

Source:Hong Kong Space Museum, Wikipedia
Cowherd and Weaving Girl
Source: Hong Kong Space Museum
All Things Chinese provides an extensive, illustrated version of the tale.

The tale of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is considered one of China's greatest folk tales. The Qixi Festival, commemorating the two lovers has been celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month for the last 2,000 years, dating back to the Hab Dynasty.

Source: Wikipedia

Cowherd and Weaving Girl
Source: All Things Chinese
Similar festivals take place in Japan (Tanabata Festival) and Korea (Chilseok Festival).

Source: Wikipedia,

Ancient India

In Hindu Astronomy, Altair and its two flanking stars, β and γ Aquilae form Shrāvaṇa, the 23rd Lunar Mansion or Nakshatra.

Source: Chander Mohan, Chapter 3

In Sanskrit, Shravana is written श्रावण.

In Hindu mythology, the constellation Aquila is identified with the half-eagle half-human deity Garuda.


Garuda statue in Belur, India
Source: Wikipedia

Boorong / Australia

The Boorong in north-western Victoria, Australia called Altair (α Aquilae) Totyarguil. The name is derived from the word for star tot and the name for the Purple-crowned Lorikeet.

The constellation Aquila has a number of stars which reflect the coloration of this bird; yellow, white, blue and purple. The constellation is at its highest point in the northern sky at evening in late August, which is the beginning of the breeding season for the Purple Crowned Lorikeet. The season lasts until the end of December, which is when Totyarguil leaves the sky.

The two stars flanking Altair, Alshain (β Aqu) and Tarazed (γ Aqu) are Totyarguil's wifes.

Sources: Johnson p. 164, Morieson p. 15, Stars over Tyrrell

Purple-crowned Lorikeet
Source: Wikimedia

Totyarguil is a legendary creator hero in Boorong mythology. He is the son of Neilloan, which is represented by Vega (α Lyr) and the Son-in-Law of Yerredetkurrk, which is Achernar (α Eri).
One legend tells us how Totyarguil, once spotted a monstrous cod fish in a water hole. He threw all of his spears at the fish, but the fish got away, digging up a new waterway, which became the Murray River. the spines now found projecting from the back of the cod fish represent the spears thrown by Totyarguil in his vain attempt to capture it.

The fish is immortalized in the Boorong sky as the constellation Delphinus, which in Boorong is called Otchocut, meaning Great Fish.

Source: Morieson p.97
© Francis Firebrace
The most popular legend around Totyarguil tell us about a feud with his Mother-in-Law Yerredetkurrk:

One time, Totyarguil's family was stuck on a mountain top that was too steep to climb down. Totyarguil called out to his wife and children to jump down, one by one, and he would catch them in his arms. He caught all of them safely, but when Yerredetkurrk jumped, he pretended he could not catch her, and she fell heavily on the ground. She recovered, but surely held a grouch.

Some time late, Yerredetkurrk spotted a vicious creature in a water hole. She covered the hole over with leaves and grass to resemble a huge bandicoot's nest. She then tricked Totyarguil to enter the nest to retrieve the animals. Totyarguil fell into the water hole and the monster at the bottom caught hold of his feet and drowned him. Luckily for Totyarguil, his uncle Collenbitchick came to his rescue and managed to revive him.

Source: John Morieson B.A: The Night Sky of the Boorong
Source: Stars over Tyrrell
The placement of Totyarguil and his mother-in-law Yerredetkurrk provides insight into Aboriginal culture: To avoid incest, Aboriginal tradition prohibits any contact between a man and his mother-in-law. This tradition is well represented in the way the two respective stars appear and disappear in the sky:

Achernar is highest in the sky between September to December - the breeding season of the owlet nightjar, the bird Yerredetkurrk is associated with. At that time, Altair cannot be seen. Altair returns to the sky in late summer, when Achernar is only very dim above the southern horizon.

Source: John Morieson B.A: The Night Sky of the Boorong


On the Hawaiian Islands, Altair was the guiding star for canoes sailing a northwesterly course from the Big Island to Kaua‘i.

In "A Catalogue of Hawaiian and Pacific Star Names", R. K. Johnson and J. K. Mahelona tell a story of the Hawaiian navigator Humu and his sons sailing in a fleet of canoes to Kaua‘i:

Humu’s two sons sailed with the first canoes; the older son, who knew star lore, gave his advice on which direction to sail, which angered the steersman. The steersman threw Humu’s two sons overboard; they swam, following Altir and its companions Alshain (β Aqu) and Tarazed (γ Aqu) and were eventually rescued by their father, who sailed in the last canoe with the King. Humu and his two sons reached Kaua‘i, while the rest of the canoes was lost at sea.

Humu's name was given to Altair;
Alshain and Tarazed were collectively named Humu-ma.

Source: Polynesian Navigation

Canoe at Kauai

Other Pacific Islands
The Bugis Sailors called Altair bintoéng timoro, meaning "eastern star."
In Micronesia, Altair was called Mai-lapa, meaning "big/old breadfruit".

Source for Bugis and Micronesia: Wikipedia/Altair
On the Marquesas Islands, the entire constellation Aquila was known as Pao-toa, meaning "Fatigued Warrior."
On the Tuamotu Islands, Altair was called Tukituki, meaning "Pound with a hammer" and Alshain (β Aqu) was named Nga Tangata, "the Men."
On the island Puka Puka, Altair and its companions Alshain (β Aqu) and Tarazed (γ Aqu) were called Tolu, meaning "three"; Altair itself was named Turu, meaning the Pole.
The Māori called Altair Poutu-te-rang, meaning "pillar of heaven."

Altair was used differently in different Māori calendars, being the star of February and March in one version and March and April in the other. It was also the star that ruled the annual sweet potato harvest.

Source for Marquesas, Tuamotu, Puka Puka and Māori: Wikipedia/Aquila


For the Canadian Inuit, the new year started with the heliacal rising of two stars called Aagjuuk - Altair (α Aqu) and Tarazed (γ Aqu), followed by the rising of the Sivulliik stars - Arcturus (α Boo) and Muphrid (η Boo).

Tatilgak from Western Arctic Canada shared a prayer referring to those two pairs of stars:

By which way, I wonder the mornings-
You dear morning, get up!
See I am up!
By which way I wonder,
the constellation Aagjuuk rises up in the sky?
By this way-perhaps-by the morning
It rises up!
By which way, I wonder the mornings-
You dear morning, get up!
See I am up!
By which way I wonder,
the constellation Sivulliit rises up in the sky?
By this way-perhaps-by the morning
It rises up!

Sources: Inukarama, Inuit Star Lore Cylinder

Maya / Central America

The Quiche saw Aquila as a hawk. They linked the southward migration of the Swanison's hawk with the movement of Aquila.

Source:Star Gods of the Maya

Swainson's hawk
Source: Wikipedia


In the 2015 Name Exoworlds project, one stars and one planet in the constellation Aquila received official names.

The Libertyer Student Club at the Hosei University in Tokyo, Japan suggested the name Libertas, Latin for liberty for the star ξ Aquilae. In the club's suggestion, The constellation Aquila represents an eagle - a popular symbol of liberty. Libertas refers to social and political freedoms, and a reminder that there are people derived of liberty in the world even today.

ξ Aquilae b, a planet orbiting the star was namedFortitudo, Latin for fortitude, representing emotional and mental strength in the face of adversity, as embodied by the eagle.


The 2019 NameExoWorld project, in which each country on earth could name one star and one exoplanet, added three more names for stars and planets in the Aquila constellation.
Jordan choose two UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its contributions.

Star WASP-80 was named Petra after the famous historic and archaeological city Petra in the south of the country.

Planet WASP-80 b was named Wadirum. Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon is the largest sandstone valley in Jordan and has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times.

Source: IAU100 Name ExoWorlds: Approved Names
Great Temple in Petra
Source: National Geographic
Petroglyphs in Wadi Rum
Source: Wikipedia

Lebanon named star HD 192263 Phoenicia after the ancient Mediterranean seafaring civilization.

The ancient Phoenician city of Beirut became the namesake for planet HD 192263 b.

Source: IAU100 Name ExoWorlds: Approved Names

Phoenician ship in Beirut

Tunisia selected two pieces of traditional culture.

Chéchia, a flat-surfaced, red wool hat is the traditional Tunisian headdress for men and women. The name was chosen as the name for star HD 192699

Planet HD 192699 b was named Khomsa. Khomsa, also called Khamsa or Hamsa is a popular palm-shaped amulet, used in jewelry and decorations. It depicts an open right hand and is often found in modern designs.

Source: IAU100 Name ExoWorlds: Approved Names
Chéchia; Wikipedia Khomsa;

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