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Libra is faint Zodiac constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere. Its name is Latin for scales.

Ancient Babylon

In Babylonian star catalogues, the constellation later known as Libra was listed as MUL.ZIB.BA.AN.NA, meaning "The Balance of Heaven." The scales were held sacred to the sun god Šamaš, who was also the patron of truth and justice.

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

Gavin White explains: "The constellation of the Scales, which was formed from the Scorpion’s Claws long ago, is held to be particularly sacred to the sun god Šamaš. In the first place, the Scales symbolize the autumn equinox, when the watches of day and night are held to be of equal duration and the sun rises due east and sets due west. And secondly, the Scales symbolize the idea of judicial prudence, as in the phrase "weighing up the evidence", which is particularly appropriate to the sun god as his principle role within the Babylonian pantheon was to act as the arbitrator of truth and justice. For these reasons the Scales are thought to be the special station of the sun in Babylonian astrology, where they are purposefully set opposite to the moon’s station in the Star Cluster (the Pleiades)."

Source: Gavin White: Babylonian Star-Lore

Šamaš dispensing justice
Tablet of Shamash, ca. 888 – 855 BC Source: Wikipedia

Over 4,000 yars, the star δ Librae, now mostly known by its Arabic name Zuben Elakribi (Claws of the Scorpion), has also preserved the name Mululizu. The name is derived from the Akkadian Mulu-izi, which was a Lunar Mansion called "Man of Fire."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Ancient Egypt

Egyptian constellations are still very controversially discussed. Gyula Priskin suggests that in the decanal procession of strip B on the astronomical ceiling of Esna, the brightest stars of Libra, α, β and γ Librae were seen as a boat.

Source: Gyula Priskin: The Astral Myth of Osiris: the Decans of Taurus and Libra

Libra in the
astronomical ceiling of Esna
Source: Gyula Priskin

Ancient Greece

At the end of the Babylonian era, the stars of Libra became the claws of neighboring Scorpius. One reason for the transition can be the similarity of the Babylonian with the word zubānā, which in Arabic and other Semitic languages means "scorpion's claws."

Ian Ridpath tells us that " ancient Greek times, the area of sky we know as Libra was occupied by the claws of the scorpion, Scorpius. The Greeks called this area Χηλαί (Chelae), literally meaning ‘claws’,

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Scorpius and Libra
Source: Gavin White

Ancient Rome

Libra is perhaps Rome's biggest contribution to the otherwise Mesopotamian and Greek Zodiac constellations. In ancient Greece, the stars of Libra were seen as the claws of Scorpius. In the Almagest, written about 150 AD, Ptolemy still referred to this constellation as "The Claws".

Ian Ridpath writes "... To the Romans, Libra was a favored constellation. The Moon was said to have been in Libra when Rome was founded. "Italy belongs to the Balance, her rightful sign. Beneath it Rome and her sovereignty of the world were founded", said the Roman writer Manilius. He described Libra as "the sign in which the seasons are balanced, and the hours of night and day match each other".

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Libra in Urania's Mirror

When the perception of the constellation switches from "Claws" to "Scales", it was no longer associated with Scorpius, but rather with Virgo, which in Greek mythology was depicted as Astraea, the goddess of justice. Astrea was an epitaph of the actual Greek goddess of justice, Dike.

In Roman mythology, Dike became Justitia, an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems, which was always depicted with a blindfold and sword and a beam balance (the Scales).

Source: Wikipedia
Justitia holding the scales
Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong
Source: Wikipedia

Arab Astronomy

Although al-Sufi portrayed the constellation as a scale, the most common Arabic names of its main stars are all related to the constellation being seen as the scorpion's claws.

Zuben Elgenubi (α Lib) derives from the Arabic ّالزُبَانَى الجَنُوبِي
al-zubānā al-janūbiyy, meaning "the southern claw" (of the scorpion). An alternative Arabic name, referring to the scale was الكفة الجنوبية
al-kiffah al-janubiyyah, meaning "the southern pan" (of the scales).

Zuben Elschemali (β Lib) derived from the Arabic ّالزُبَانَى الشَمَالِي
al-zubānā al-šamāliyy, meaning "The northern claw" (of the scorpion). Alternatively, it was called الكفاح الشمالية al-kiffah aš-šamāliyy, "the northern pan" (of the scales).

Zuben Elhakrabi (γ Lib) comes from the Arabic زبانى العقرب
Zubān al-ʿAqrab, "the claws of the scorpion."

Zuben Elakribi (δ Lib) (زبن العقريبي in Arabic) means "Claws of the Scorpion."

Sources: Wikipedia, Sea-Sky

15th Cent. reproduction of al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars

Ancient India

In Hindu astronomy, the stars of Libra are part of the 16th Nakashtra, called Visakha, meaning "forked, having branches."

In Hindu mythology, Visakha was the chief female lay disciple of Gautama Buddha. She was also popularly known as Migaramata, literally Migara's mother. Visakha had built a monastery for the Buddha which is known as Migaramatupasada near Savatthi.


Visakha statue

Ancient China

In Chinese, Libra is written 天秤座.

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation forms a total of nine asterisms, belonging to three Lunar Mansions, all located in the direction of the Azure Dragon of the East.

Ian Ridpath gives a good description of the main parts of these Chinese constellations. Except for a few coments [in brackets], the following is directly quoted from Ian Ridpath:

In the Chinese sky, the square formed by α, ι, γ and β Librae was , a palace for the Emperor to stay the night with his wife and two concubines.

was also the name given to the Third Chinese lunar mansion. In this context the name is usually translated as ‘root’, which is said to stem from the constellation’s appearance in the morning sky in early October when the ground dried up and roots became visible.

Asterisms in Libra
Map based on

Di is also visualized as either the paw or the chest of the Blue Dragon.

θ and 48 Librae were part of a line of four stars leading into northern Scorpius that formed Xīxián, one wall of an area used for investigating and penalizing dishonest traders in the celestial market nearby; the other wall, Dōngxián, was in Ophiuchus.

[Wikipedia refers to Xīxián and Dōngxián as the "Western Door" and "Eastern Door", respectively. Xīxián is located in Fáng (meaning Room), the Fourth Lunar Mansion. The Lunar Mansion got its name from an asterism named Fáng, which according to Wikipedia consists of stars around λ Librae].

In southern Libra were a couple of Chinese constellations forming part of a cavalry camp spread over a large area south of the ecliptic. Zhènchē, consisting of a triangle of stars (probably σ Librae and two to the south in Lupus), was a formation of battle chariots, while Tiānfú (probably υ and τ Librae) was a convenient pile of spare spokes for mending broken wheels.
Azure Dragon of the East

[Wikipedia puts σ Librae into an asterim called Shéwēi, meaning "Execution." While Zhènchē and Tiānfú are both part of , the Third Lunar Mansion, Shéwēi is part of the Second Lunar Mansion, called Kàng, the Neck of the Blue Dragon].

A star in Libra on or close to the ecliptic, near the border with Scorpius, was known as Ri, the Sun star; it lies on the opposite side of the sky from the Moon star, Yue, in Taurus, in recognition that the Sun lies opposite the full Moon in the sky. The identification of Ri is uncertain; κ Librae seems most likely, although some sources identify it as either 1 or 2 Scorpii.

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

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