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Boötes is a large constellation in the Northern celestial hemisphere and one of the 48 original Ptolemaic Constellations.

It is commonly referred to as the Herdsman, other interpretations are Plowman and Bear Watcher.

Ancient Babylon

In Babylonian star catalogues, the constellation later known as Boötes was listed as MUL.SHU.PA.

The stars were depicted as the god Enlil, the chief deity of the Sumerian pantheon.

In Sumerian and Babylonian Mythology, Enlil was the patron of farmers and associated with wind, air, earth, and storms.

Sources: Wikipedia and J.H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations

Statuette of Enlil, 1800 – 1600 BC
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Greece

According to Ian Ridpath, the name Boötes (Greek: Βοώτης)
"... probably comes from a Greek word meaning ‘noisy’ or ‘clamorous’, referring to the herdsman’s shouts to his animals."

R.H. Allen identifies that Greek word as Boetes (Βοητής), meaning clamorous.

Boötes is one of the oldest Greek constellation names, already mentioned as a navigational aid in the Odyssey. Because of Boötes' proximity to Ursa Major, the Greek legends of both constellations are closely related.

One legend identifies Boötes as the hunter Arcas:

The nymph Callisto was once seduced by Zeus and gave birth to a son named Arcas.

Zeus' wife Hera punished Callisto by transforming her into a bear. Ian Ridpath tells us that "... for 15 years, Callisto roamed the woods in the shape of a bear, but still with a human mind. Once a huntress herself, she was now pursued by hunters. One day she came face to face with her son Arcas. Callisto recognized Arcas and tried to approach him, but he backed off in fear. He would have speared the bear, not knowing it was really his mother, had not Zeus intervened by sending a whirlwind that carried them up into heaven, where Zeus transformed Callisto into the constellation Ursa Major and Arcas into Boötes".

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Boötes in a colored version of Uranometria

Arcas Preparing to Kill his Mother, Changed into a Bear; François Boucher, 1590
Source: Wikimedia

Another early Greek myth, later retold by Hyginus in his Poeticon Astronomicon, identifies the constellation as Icarius of Athens.

In this tale, Dionysus had taught Icarius how to make wine. Icarius gave his wine to some shepherds, who rapidly became drunk. Not knowing what had happened to them, the suspected Icarius of poisoning them and killed him.

When Icarius' daughter Erigone and his dog Maera (see Canis Minor) discovered the slain Icarius, they both took their own lives where Icarius lay. Zeus places Icarius, Maera and Erigone in the stars as the constellations Boötes, Canis Minor and Virgo.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

In a different version of the story, Icarius' was not accompanied by Canis Minor's dog Maera, but instead by Asterion and Chara, the dogs that later became Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs.

Julius D. W. Staal: The New Patterns in the Sky

Boötes in the Poeticon Astronomicon
Greek poet Aratus, in his poem Phenomena called the constellation Ἀρκτοφύλαξ (Arctophylax) and described it as a man driving the bear around the pole.

Arctophylax translates to Bear Watcher, Bear Keeper, or Bear Guard, a name that was later adopted for the constellation's main star Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere.

Other interpretations of the word Boötes are the ancient Greek meanings Ox-driver, referring to Ursa Major being sometimes visualized as a cart pulled by oxen or cows - Greek boûs (βοῦς) and Plowman, referring to Ursa Major being seen as a plow.

The website The Manuchihr Globe translates the Greek word Βοώτης (see above) simply as "The Plowman."

Julius D.W. Staal writes that it was said that Boötes actually invented the plough and as such enabled nomadic humans to settle down as farmers, which pleased Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture, so much that she asked Zeus to honor Boötes by placing him amongst the stars.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath, Constellation of Words, The Manuchihr Globe
Boötes in the Leiden Aratea
Greek Star Names

Arcturus (α Boo) took its name from Ἀρκτοφύλαξ (Arctophylax), the name given by Aratus to the entire constellation.

Source: Wikipedia

The name Alkalurops for μ1 Boötis is derived from the Greek καλαύροψ (kalaurops), meaning a herdsman's crook or staff, with the Arabic prefix attached.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Latin Star Names

Segnius, the official name of γ Boötis is the result of a Latin mistranscriptions of an Arabic rendering of Boötes.

See Wikipedia for details.

θ, ι and κ Boötis are commonly known as the Herdsman's upraised fingers. However, they were given the Latin name Asellus, meaning donkeys. The names Asellus Primus, Asellus Secondus and Asellus Tertius, the first, second and third donkey are not officially approved by the IAU.

Source: University of Illinois Star Catalog

Quadrans Muralis

Between 1791 and 1801, French astronomer Jérôme Lalande put together a star catalogue containing 47,390 stars. As part of it, he designed four new constellaions. One of them, introduced in 1795, was the mural quadrant, so named in honor of the instrument he used for his observations. It included the stars between β Boötis and η Ursae Majoris and was originally called Le Mural.

In 1801 Johann Elert Bode called it Quadrans Muralis in his Uranographia.

Source: Wikipedia

Quadrans Muralis and Mons Maenalus in Uranographia

While Quadrans Muralis (as well as Lalande's other creations) are no longer in use, the name still remains: In 1825, an annual meteor shower whose apparent radiant lies in this constellation was named Quadrantids.
Mons Maenalus

In 1690, Elisabeth Hevelius published Catalogus Stellarum Fixarum, a star catalogue she and her late husband Johannes Hevelius had put together. It contained 1,564 stars - the largest number ever observed with the naked eye - and ten new constellations, seven of which are still used today.

One of the constellations no longer in use is Mons Maenalus, made of a small number of stars between 31 Boötis and 71 Virginis.

Mons Maenalus refers to the mountain Mainalo (Latinized Maenalus) at the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. It is named after Callisto's (see above) brother Maenalus.

In Bode's Uranographia and in Urania's Mirror, Mons Maenalus is depicted as a mountain range at Boötes' feet.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Germanic Mythology

In his interpretation of the Völundarkviða, a mythological poems of the Poetic Edda, Peter Krüger identifies the constellation Boötes as Níðuðr (or Niðhad), a cruel king in Germanic legend.

In this theory, Níðuðr holds a sword forged by legendary smith Wayland. The sword is represented by Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere.

Source: Germanic Astronomy: Völund Star-Smith: The Kneeling man and the Virgin with the Golden Ring

Arabian Peninsula: as-simakan - The Sky Raisers

as-simakan (السماكان), The Sky Raisers is one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The two main stars of this complex are Arcturus (α Boötis) and Spica (α Virginis).

According to Danielle Adams, on the Arabian Peninsula, the term simak "... indicated something that was used to raise something else high up." When the Two Sky-Raisers reached the midpoint of their travels across the night sky, Arcturus was almost at the zenith while Spica was almost directly below it, about halfway up the sky.

The Sky Raisers; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

The Two Sky-Raisers, the brightest and tenth brightes stars visible in the night sky of the northern hemisphere were "... the pillars that held up the canopy of the heavens."

The complex was divided into two parts. The Spear-Bearing Sky-Raiser and the Unarmed Sky-Raiser.

as-simak ar-ramih (السماك الرامح), The Spear-Bearing Sky-Raiser was represented by Arcturus (α Boötis). It is the higher one of the Two Sky-Raisers and for this reason it was sometimes called ar-raqib (الرقيب), the Watcher.

η Boötis, the bright star next to Arcturus was seen as ar-rumh (الرمح), the Spear.

While α Boötis now goes by the Latin name Arcturus, the modern name of η Boötis remained Arabic. The name Muphid, derived from mufrid ar-rāmiħ (مفرد الرامح), meaning "the (single) one of the lancer" is directly related to its ancient name.

Within the Sky Raiser complex, another name for η Boötis was rayat as-simak (راية السماك), The Banner of the Sky-Raiser - according to Danielle Adams, the name recalled the military standard used in battle.
Source: Arab Star Calendars

For the Unarmed Sky-Raiser and its Throne, see the detailed descriptions of the constellations Virgo and Corvus.

For more information on this ancient Sky Raiser complex, see Danielle Adams' essay The Setting of the Arabian Sky-Raisers: Widespread rains of summer.

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

In Islamic astronomy, for example on the Manuchihr Globe, the constellation is called kawākib al-‘awwā’, the constellation of the Howler, in reference to the Greek word βοητης (see above).

There is also an asterism within the neighboring constellation Virgo named al-‘awwā’ by Egyptian astronomer Al-Muwaqqit.

Sources: Manuchihr Globe, R.H. Allen

German arabist Paul Kunitzsch mentioned another Arabic name for the constellation, Al-Haris al-Sama meaning, the Guard of the North.

Sources: Wikipedia, Kunitzsch, Smart: A Dictionary of Modern Star Names

β Boötis bore the Arabic name Al Baḳḳār (البحر), the Herdsman. An erroneous transliteration turned that name into Nakkar, which became the root of the now official name Nekkar.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Boötes on the Manuchihr Globe

γ Boötis, now known by its latinized name Seginus was named Menkib al Aoua al Aisr (منكب العواء الأيسر), the left shoulder of the barker (or howler) by Al-Muwaqqit.

Source: Wikipedia

R.H. Allen reports that the trapezoid formed by β, γ, δ and μ Boötis was called al-dhiʼbayn (الذئبين), which is the plural form of female wolves. The wolf pack, "...lying in wait for the occupants of the ancient Fold around the pole...." was completed by the stars ζ and η Draconis.

See Draco for more information on the wolf pack and its prey.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia, H.B. Rumrill:, Star Name Pronunciation

al-dhiʼbayn drawn by the author
map based on
ε Boötis bore the traditional Arabic names Izar, Mirak and Mizar.

ʾizār (إزار) is Arabic for veil while Mirak derives from al-maraqq' (المراق‎), the loins.

Izar was the name chosen by the IAU's Working Group on Star Names.

Al-Muwaqqit called the star minṭáqa al awwa (منطقة العوّاء‎), the belt of barker (or howler).

Source: Wikipedia

R.H. Allen reports that ψ and ε Boötis collectively were called al aulād al nadhlāt, the Low, or Mean, Little Ones, resulting in the unofficial use of the name Nadlat for ψ Boötis.

Source: R.H. Allen

Merga is the official name of the faint star 38 Boötis.

R.H. Allen relates the name to the word marra, describing the reaping hook in Boötes' hand. This could be the Syriac marrā (ܡܪܐ‎) or the Arabic marr (مَرّ‎), both meaning hoe or shovel.

Another source for the name could be the Arabic al-mar’ah al-musalsalah (المرأة المسلسلة), the chained woman.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia
Boötes with reaping hook
Constellation Cycle
15th century

Ancient China

In Chinese, Boötes is written 牧 夫 座.

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation forms twelve asterisms, belonging to the Three Enclosures and to two Lunar Mansions.

Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere was known as Dàjiǎo, the Great Horn in ancient China. It was seen as the horn of the Azure Dragon of the East, one of the four directions in ancient Chinese Astronomy.

In ancient times, Dàjiǎo corresponded to the First Chinese Lunar Mansion, where the first full Moon of spring marked the start of the year.

Due to the Precession of the equinoxes, the star centered in the First Lunar Mansion is now Spica (α Vir), which goes by another Chinese word for horn; Jiǎo.

Dàjiǎo is now part of the Second Lunar Mansion, called Kàng, the Neck (of the dragon).

Another important feature of Dàjiǎo (Arcturus) was the determination of the seasons. It is in line with the handle of Beidou, known in the West as the Big Dipper, and as such, it was used as a seasonal clock-hand in the sky. Ian Ridpath calls this position "...a powerful symbol of cosmic harmony."

Dàjiǎo had the help of two assitants, determining the seasons: ο, π, ζ, ξ and some fainter stars formed Zuǒnièdī, the Left Conductor; η, τ and υ, together with some fainter stars were Yòunièdī, the Right Conductor.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Asterisms in Boötes; Map based on

Azure Dragon of the East;

The Third Lunar Mansion is called , which means Root, describing the chest and the front foot of the Azure Dragon of the East. It stretches across Boötes, Libra, Serpens, Centaurus and Lupus.

Three faint stars north of Dàjiǎo form Dìxí, according to Ian Ridpath "... a mattress for the Emperor to use during banquets and receptions."

Another group of faint stars south of Dàjiǎo is seen as Kàngchí, a lake with a boat.

According to Ian Ridpath, the bright star Dàjiǎo was also seen as "... the throne of the celestial king, Tian Wang, who was visualized as holding court in this area."

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath
Several asterisms north of Dàjiǎo were designed to protect and defend the celestial king.

Zhāoyáo (γ Boötis), translated as the Twinkling Indicator, was described by Ian Ridpath as a a sword or spear.

ψ, ε, σ and ρ Boötis were Gěnghé, a Celestial Lance. Both Zhāoyáo and Gěnghé were part of the Third Lunar Mansion.

The weaponry continued further north in Zǐ Wēi Yuán, the Purple Forbidden Enclosure, where κ, ι and θ Boötis formed Tiānqiāng, a Celestial Spear, while λ Boötis was seen as Xuángē, a Halberd or a Sombre Lance.
Chinese soldier with halberd;
β, δ, μ, ν1, ν2, φ and 40 Boötis (according to Wikipedia) formed an asterism called Qīgōng, the Seven Excellencies, located in the Heavenly Market Enclosure .

As with most Chinese constellations, there are several different interpretations, some of them extending the Seven Excellencies into to Western constellation Hercules.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath


The Yup'ik in Western Alaska see the funnel shaped central part of Boötes as a fish trap called Ilulirat.

Source: Wikipedia

Canadian Inuit call Arcturus (α Boo) and Muphrid (η Boo) Sivulliik, the "First Ones", as they rise first in the north northeast, followed by Kingulliq, the "One Behind", which is bright blue Vega.

Source: Inuit Star Lore Cylinder

In a widespread Inuit legend, lliarjugaarjuk, the little orphan boy (Muphrid) is chased by Uttuqalualuk, the old man (Arcturus) who is followed by Ningiuraaluk, the old woman (Vega).

As they are placed in the stars, they loose their human names (lliarjugaarjuk, Uttuqalualuk and Ningiuraaluk) and become Sivulliik and Kingulliq.

You can read two versions of the complete story here, told by Paul Monroe and by Herve Paniaq.

The Sivulliik;
The Inuit 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.

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

On the Marshall_Islands, the stars β, μ and ν Boötis, together with μ Coronae Borealis form a constellation called Ok-an-adik, meaning net of the first quarter, derived from the Marshallese words ok (fish net) and adik (first quarter of the moon).

When the moon and Ok-an-adik are in the west, large schools of fish would be lingering in the outer sea and could easily be caught.

Sources: Ingrid A. Ahlgren: The meaning of Mo: Place, Power and Taboo in the Marshall Islands, p. 50, Marshallese-English Dictionary


The 2019 NameExoWorld project, in which each country on earth could name one star and one exoplanet, added two new names for stars and planets in the constellation Boötes.

Andorra named the star HD 131496 after Arcalís, a mountain peak in the north of the country. Twice a year at fixed dates, the Sun shines through a gap at the mountain, which led to its use as a primitive Solar calendar.

Planet HD 131496 b was named Madriu after a glacial valley and river in the southeastern part of the country. The Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Source: Nameexoworlds - Final Results

Canada choose the names Nikawiy and Awasis for the star HD 136118 and its planet HD 136118 b.

The words mean Mother and Child in the language of the Cree.

The Cree are one of the largest First Nations in what is now Canada and have a colorful and comprehensive Star Lore, which can be seen here.

Source: Nameexoworlds - Final Results

The picture to the right shows a Cree Indian mother and child, near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, circa 1930. © Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images

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