Introductory foreword and welcome.
Astronomy and history have an equal primacy in the author's perspective of this topic, which I hope to be educational for my audience. I am in support of a strive towards seeing the unity and patterns between the twelve signs; to not push everyone apart, but to imagine how we are all part of a cycle of the sky. Furthermore, my personal practice is inclusive of other constellations and stars. My interest is not only on the relationship between the astrologer and the stars, or the astrologer and their client, but on what occurs in the space between them, and the infinite ways in which this is expressed.
Mythology amplifies the background meaning of the signs' archetypes. Ancient and academic sources are available on this site because I think that approaching things with an understanding of their literary and cultural environments helps to contextualize the fundamental rationales underlying different parts of astrology. In other words, we can seek to understand things like: where are the origins of horoscopic astrology? How did beliefs spread, which ancient people evidently contributed and what did they believe?
I. Paleolithic art and astronomy
II. Mesopotamian star myths
III. Egyptian practice and tradition
IV. Inventions of the Greek world
V. Between the Republic and the Empire
VI. Ancient Indian developments
VII. Loss in the Dark Ages
VIII. The Middle Ages and Catholicism
All about Birth Charts
I. Paleolithic art and astronomy.
Within the venn diagram made by the general academic landscapes of astronomy and archaeology comes archaeoastronomy— and academics from both disciplines have made efforts for decades to investigate evidence that humans of this time period practiced observational astronomy. Claims have been made that circular engravings on certain Scandanavian or Baltic artifacts such as fossils and decorative bones were meant to portray astronomical bodies or star maps. But at the end of the day, we have no way to definitively prove that any form of such early art actually represents any astronomical phenomena in the realm of constellations and celestial bodies; nor can we conclusively confirm that such early people held spiritual beliefs involving the cosmos.
Located above is a diagram indicating the two clusters of small round marks on bull #18. This particular painting became a major attraction of such claims and has generated a fair amount of discourse regarding the potential existence of Paleolithic astronomy. At this point we turn to the saying, "Seek and ye shall find." It is simply the truth that we are too distant from this period in time and space, and thus "limited to the vagaries of archaeological discovery." It would be hubris to decisively assert that we can derive the true meaning of prehistoric people's art, especially when only citing a single instance. Furthermore, the Pleiades are all but absent from the Pyramid Texts— one of the most ancient bodies of religious texts in the world, renowned for their astronomical content. Based on this it is not likely that people 10000 years prior were already recognizing and making art of these stars. In fact it is doubtful whether there exists one unequivocal depiction of this asterism anywhere prior to 2000 BC. Dots on a cave face do not readily indicate the impression of stars; these could be anything. Now, in Neolithic rock art, it seems certain that we have depictions of stars and shapes resembling the sun (e.g. Dowth, Ireland). But there are no evident Paleolithic representations of the sun. If there is not even any evidence that Paleolithic people were making representations of the sun, how can we assume they were depicting our constellations?
II. Mesopotamian star myths.
It is reasonable to question that perhaps certain constellations originated in Sumer. The Sumerian term UDU.IDIM.MES (Akkadian bibbu) "wild sheep" gained the meaning of "planets." In the religious text Nanna-Suen Hymn 1 (Sumerian period, 3rd-millennium BC), the mention of cows is an allusion to the stars and the sky is a cattle pen. In the later religious text the Exaltation of Istar (Middle Babylonian period, circa 1150-1000 BC), the sun and moon are herdsmen keeping the stars as cattle in their order. Beyond this analogy, some Sumerian texts circa 2500 BC contain references to apparent stations of the moon called "houses." In the Post Sargonic/Ur III Period the Sumerian term for "house" is apparently used to denote the position of the moon. Circa 2100 BC Šulgi, king of Ur, recorded that he had learned how to calculate the appearance of the new moon. In my opinion this is worth its investigation, though the evidence is ambiguous; exclusively at face value this is somewhat reminiscent with the nakshatras of Indian tradition; however, this comment is rather elucidating:
"I find it misleading to mention the zodiac, which was invented around 400 BC, in connection with the term "house" of the moon, since the meaning in the older texts is clearly not the same as in the younger. Even if the passages quoted refer to places in the sky, they could not be defined by fixed stars, because the moon is not in the same place on the same calendar date each year. Also, e-[u.sub.4]-7 seems to me to mean "house of day seven" and not "seventh house." And that could be a building on earth, as are the other "houses of the moon" mentioned."
During the Old Babylonian period the sky was divided into three concentric zones of influence running parallel to the celestial equator, with the ecliptic passing through all three zones. Each of these zones were controlled by a chief god: they were known as the ways of Anu, Enlil and Ea, and they were used for locating the position of the 17-18 constellations recognized from about the first millennium BC. It is now believed that the MUL.APIN series, which evidences this significant change, is dated to 1000 BC, although its earliest surviving copy dates to 686 BC. This compendium established the preconditions for the traditional zodiac. The first tablet describes the Path of Sin which crossed the boundaries between the three divine zones. This referred to 17-18 constellations as "gods standing on the path of the moon." The dual purpose of the scheme was both calendrical and also to serve as sky markers. By 600-500 BC these were systematized in such a way that they were distributed among the twelve months; for instance, the second month of the Babylonian year (mid-April to mid-May) had both Taurus and the Pleiades; the third month Gemini and Orion; and the twelfth month Pisces and Pegasus. By 400 BC the zodiac was reduced to the twelve signs that we are familiar with, each covering 30 degrees of the sky, and beginning with Aries. So, the formulation of what were to become the zodiacal constellations occurred over some 500-600 years. Circa the 5th-century BC the Babylonian skywatchers needed a suitable frame of reference to indicate the positions of the moon and the planets between the stars along the path of the ecliptic. With the demands of their developing astronomy it was no longer sufficient to continue with a scheme that simply noted that the moon or a planet was close to this or that star. There were personal Babylonian horoscopes in which astrologers calculated the degrees of placements, but the few personal predictions found were given in the form of omen apodoses. The subjects are generally concerned with family and fortune, "he will be lacking in wealth," "his days will be long," "he will have sons," or, "he will have sons and daughters."
Aries has fascinating origins in Mesopotamia. As a whole the pictorial evidence shows that the ram and by extension, ram-headed staff (for example carried by Ea), were regarded as highranking symbols from 1600 BC (take note that this is roughly the date which kudurrus first appear in the archaeological record). Actually; however, this sign was not originally a ram, but a hired man, an agricultural worker. Since the LU and HUN-GA signs have several associations in the late Babylonian ductus and because the hired man was equated with Dumuzi, the shepherd par excellence of Sumerian literature, punning likely led to the metamorphosis of this sign from the hired man to the ram we know today. A majority of newborn lambs appear in the springtime. On the other hand, the name of the hired man refers to the hired labour used to bring in the spring harvest. Over time, the lore was purposefully contrived to reflect the concerns of both barley farmers and herders. So Aries assumed its role as herald of spring. Even though Dumuzi represents the spirit of life, it is his fate to die. As summer grips the land, the rains cease, vegetation dies back and the abundance of springtime wanes. At the height of summer the demons of the underworld search him out, bind him and carry him off to the land of the dead. But the spirit of life is irrepressible and always triumphs over death; in the form of Damu, "Child," he escapes and the cycle begins again.
Taurus was identified with the Bull of Heaven, slain by the hero Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu. In the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the heroes tears off a leg of this heavenly bull, throwing it to Ishtar who wails over it. It would be apt to note that Ishtar equates to Venus, who in Greek tradition became the ruler of this sign. As a sidenote: one Egyptian constellation represents the foreleg of Seth which had been tethered to a mooring post by Taweret. This is reminiscent of the Babylonian epic of creation, in which Marduk fashioned the earth and heaven by dividing the body of Tiamat. He used her thigh to prop up the two realms, and, to keep them together, he bound them with a rope made from her tail. The consecutive similarities are obvious in the tearing of Taurus' leg.
Gemini was represented as the duo Meslamta'ea and Lugal'irra. The identical duo each held an axe and a mace, were worshipped at Kisiga, and were portrayed with Lugal'irra on the left and Meslamta'ea on the right. The name Lugal'irra (Lugalgirra) probably meant "mighty lord" and Meslamta'ea may have meant "he who comes out of Meslam." During the Neo-Assyrian period, small images of the gods were buried at entrances— they were clearly regarded as effectual in guarding doorways. It is possible that they were originally thought to stand at the gates of the netherworld ready to dismember the dead who entered.
Cancer may have been originally identified with the Tigris and Euphrates, the primary sources of life for the region: "The stars which stand in front of the Cancer (are) the Tigris, the stars which stand behind the Cancer (are) the Euphrates, the Cancer (is) the Euphrates" (Enuma Anu Enlil). This association remained in late Babylonian tradition where Cancer is represented as two streams. When and how this imagery was eclipsed by the symbol of the crayﬁsh or crab is difficult to precisely argue, though there is an obvious relation in the later symbol being a freshwater animal. There is also some obscurity in whether the terminology attributed to Cancer was referencing the constellation we recognize or rather Praesepe, a cluster of stars within Cancer.
Leo's earliest textual evidence as a lion constellation in Mesopotamia is found in Hilprecht's Nippur Text (HS 245 (= HS 229)), dated to the Cassite Period circa 1530-1160 BC. It continued its representation as a lion in the MUL.APIN, and was also identified with Latarak, a lion-headed protector god.
Libra was seen as the Scales, and identified as "the horn of the scorpion."
Scorpio was indeed a scorpion, but also directly representative of Išḫara, a love goddess whose worship spread from Syria to Mesopotamia. This was one symbol among her various other associations including cannabis (qunnabu called the "aromatic of Ishara"), oath or marriage, prophecy or oracle, the snake (Old Babylonian period- the scorpion was Middle Babylonian) and the bashmu. In some texts she is clearly identified as an underworld deity. Ishara's scorpion was depicted under the bed of copulating couples in the art of 3rd millennium seals, which also depicted beer. The association between drinking and sex was highly apparent in the Old Babylonian period.
Sagittarius was imagined as the salient tuletary deity by the name of Pabilsaĝ, son of Enlil. Though its meaning is unconfirmed, with attempts like "arrow shooter" or "the elder is the leader" discounted, this name was sometimes shortened to Pabil or Pa. He belonged to the local pantheon of Larak, and many functions are suggested for him: a healer god (possibly analogous with his wife's functions), a divine judge, a god of war and hunting, and possibly a netherworld god due to his syncretism with Nergal. Because he was so frequently portrayed as the beloved spouse of the healing goddess Ninisina, Gula or Ninkarrak, he remains quite nondescript next to her (what a historical reversal... if you ask me). From the Early Dynastic period he was syncretized with the god Ninurta.1 As depicted in Babylonian2 art, he was half man and half winged horse, with the tail of a scorpion. Alternatively he was shown to be a scorpionman shooting a bow, with the hind part of the body being that of a scorpion3 instead of a horse. We know that from the Early Dynastic period onwards he had cult centres at Isin and Nippur.4 It's a shame there remains so little information on his personality— he wasn't given an entire constellation for no reason!
The symbol of Capricorn may also have Egyptian origins, appearing on coffin lids in the Middle Kingdom from roughly 2000 BC. But in Sumerian literature, Capricorn is described among Ea's attendants. In Akkadian magic this creature, the Suhurmasu (carp-goat) may have been invoked in bathing rituals, cleansing the self of troubles and seeking clear direction from one's personal god. The lower half of this creature's body is a carp of the Tigris:
"This ﬁsh, which can normally reach up to 1 meter in length, nowadays is among the Iraqi national dishes, the masgouf. If walking along the Tigris bank, in Baghdad, an event which sadly you will hardly experience in the next future, you stop in one of the small restaurants in the promenade, the owner will take you to a pool where carps swim. Once you have chosen your victim, the owner takes the ﬁsh and splits it in two halves with an hatchet. This is the sort allotted to Tiamat. Marduk splits her body like a masgouf or like a ﬁsh to be dried, and proceeds to the creation. The two halves of the body tied together will constitute the sky and the earth, while from her two eyes Marduk makes ﬂow the rivers Tigris and Euphrates."
Aquarius was the constellation of the “Great One,” a reference to Ea, patron deity of Eridu, often represented sitting on a throne pouring water from a vase. In the Akkadian Atrahasis epic, he saves humanity by warning the hero of the deluge; at the beginning, Ea lives in the Abzu spending most of his time sleeping. The typical representation is that of a seated or standing god, with an aryballos between the hands from which two streams of water ﬂow.
Pisces only consisted of the stars which, today, make up one of the two fish. This western fish of Pisces with the star ε Peg was not an aquatic animal at all; rather it was the swallow. The northern fish of Pisces was a separate constellation with part of Andromeda: instead of a fish, this was the goddess of childbirth Anunitu, correlated with Ishtar. It is interesting that Venus was originally seen to constitute what would become part of Pisces (and that the lover of Venus continued to be associated with Aries). The first clear reference in Mesopotamian literature to the fish is found in late Babylonian sources where DU.NU.NU or Rikis-nu.mi is written, meaning "fish cord."
1. A Lagaš inscription refers to Pabilsag as the "warrior of Enlil", an epithet commonly used for Ningirsu (Ninurta).
2. Depicted on a seal; for an Egyptian example, see the Dendera zodiac.
3. Like the snake, the scorpion was a symbol of healing, fecundity, and prosperity; and a widespread apotropy throughout ancient Mesopotamia, and later throughout Greece and Rome. This symbolism makes sense with Pabilsag's role of husband to multiple healing goddesses.
4. One Sumerian tale which survives in fragments is given the name of "Pabilsag's Journey to Nibru" (Nippur). It narrates his marriage with Ninisina.
III. Egyptian practice and tradition.
Judicial astrology, derived from Babylonian omen literature, had its introduction during the 27th dynasty of Egypt. In general, the heliacal rising of the star Sopdet (Sirius) took place in Cancer and was perceived as the principle of generation to the world. More fascinating is the idea that perhaps a new meaning might be gleaned from the purported words of Hermes Trismegistus in The Perfect Discourse, where it is stated, "Egypt is an image of heaven." There is argument that the Egyptians etched their constellations onto the very map of Egypt.1 Each nome was identified with a constellation, making the Nile an earthly reflection of the Milky Way; a celestial river upon which the star gods and the souls of the deceased sailed.
The Egyptian Dodekaoros2 is known to us from the late Hellenistic period. Depicted in art (see the Daressy zodiac) and evidenced by Teucer3 of Babylon, this system visualized twelve animal metamorphoses of the sun god in twelve double hours of the day (i.e. 120 min). This was exactly the same in Babylonian time reckoning: mathematically the whole day was reckoned as 12 hours of 120 minutes each. According to Iamblichus: "It indicates his immutable, stable, never failing, unique, collective largesse to the whole cosmos. The changes of form and configuration reside in the recipients. For this reason they say that the Sun is changing according to the zodiac sign and the hour." And as related by Chaeremon, a 1st-century AD priest of Serapis, "These prayers report a myth and say that he appears from the mud, is seated on the lotus flower, is travelling οn a ship, and changes his shape every hour by taking a form according to each zodiac sign."
The most widespread mythological system recognized the sun's forms of a lotus4 in the morning, a lion at midday, and a ram in the evening. According to the Dodekaoros, though, the forms were as follows: cat, dog, serpent, scarab, donkey, lion, goat, bull, falcon, baboon, ibis, and crocodile. Evidently, the Greeks also adapted this system into their syncretic magic; there are papyri (PGM IV.1596-1715) which preserve these forms as manifestations of Helios.
There was a reason for each of these symbols: they were derived from paranatellonta, constellations which co-rise with the signs. Cancer was associated with the scarab, represented by Khepri5 and widely metaphoric of Ra. As representative of his head in the Late Period, the donkey was sacred to Set. The bull in the eighth slot was representative of the constellation Taurus setting as Scorpio rises. The falcon was assigned to the ninth slot in the Dodekaoros because the constellation Aquila, seen as a falcon6 to the Egyptians, would have been rising with Sagittarius while Gemini sets. Apart from this system, Gemini was represented in hieroglyphs as a pair of falcons.
1. Berio, A. "The Celestial River: Identifying the Ancient Egyptian Constellations." Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 253, University of Pennsylvania, 2014. Link.
2. ἡ δωδεκάωρος, lit. "of twelve-hours" substantive.
3. Teukros. His work only survives through excerpts in the works of other authors. He was called "The Babylonian" by Porphyry. There exists a hypothesis by Wilhelm Gundel that this refers to the Egyptian Babylon Fortress near Cairo, and not the Babylon of Mesopotamia, but according to Neugebauer there is hardly any evidence which supports this claim.
4. Due to its physical quality of opening daily at sunrise, the lotus was a symbol of rejuvination and rebirth in relation to figures of status; deities, royals, and the elite. This particular lotus lion ram grouping of symbols is found on several hypocephali and referenced in magical incantations.
5. The word for scarab was kheperer from the verb kheper meaning "to become" or "to be born."
6. Falcon of Horus or Nemty (see section on the 18th nome of Egypt in the Berio paper).
IV. Inventions of the Greek world.
After the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, astrology became radically changed with its spread. It passed into the Greek world just as Pythagoras was putting the supernatural back into rational Greek astronomy. It is evident that the zodiac was formalized by the latter half of the 5th-century BC (perhaps circa 420 BC). While we are unable to pinpoint an exact route of the diffusion of astronomical knowledge from Mesopotamia to Greece, the Babylonians and Ionian Greeks were subjects of a unified Persian Empire in the 6th-century BC. As time moved forward, given the dynamic tension resulting from Greek philosophy meeting Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian and Jewish religions and ideologies, the Hellenistic era provided fruitful soil for the further cultivation of what began in Mesopotamia.
Homer, in the epic poems the Iliad and Odyssey, mentions six constellations and the star Sirius circa 750 BC. Hesiod's later poem Works and Days names almost the same constellations and shows that by 700 BC the Greeks had established a cyclical calendar and made observations of the rising and setting points of stars. The two Greek astronomers Meton and Euctemon both included the zodiac in their parapegmata. Other tidbits: The symbolic meaning of Aries is best preserved in Greek tradition where it appears as the ram with a golden fleece, possession of which conferred kingship. Notably, Libra was included in the Babylonian zodiac but was later described by Hellenistic astronomers such as Ptolemy, as "the Claws [χηλαί] of the great Scorpio" and was included with Scorpio. So in these cases the archaic Greek zodiac was actually comprised of 11 figures. We don't officially see the 12 constellation zodiac of the Greek-Roman world until the 1st-century AD with the introduction of Libra in place of the Claws. Though there is extensive artistic evidence of centaur imagery, Eratosthenes allegedly described Sagittarius as the satyr Krotos, son of Pan, in the Catasterismi.
The Greeks calculated with an entirely different system, which we still use today, to locate the starting points of the zodiac signs. Unlike this new system, the Babylonians did not correlate the beginning with the vernal equinox. As shown by Franz Kugler, Bartel van der Waerden, and Otto Neugebauer, they linked them with fixed stars: bright reference stars. Because the Greeks instead fixed the zodiac to the tropical points, precessional movement would unknowingly, gradually displace the signs. Hence we know have two measurements of astrology; the tropical or moving zodiac, which is measured from the 4 tropical points, and the sidereal zodiac of fixed stars. The resulting constellational (sidereal) zodiac and schematic sign (tropical) zodiac are the legacy of a slow and unplanned development that extended across cultural borders.
Astrology found a stage of fruitful development in Greece during the 1st and 2nd-centuries AD. Across the Mediterranean, Alexandria was also a location for major intellectual developments of this subject. Though subject to skepticism1 it was acceptable not only at the popular level, but also at an intellectual and philosophical level, incorporating ideas of Plato and the Academy, the Pythagoreans, the Stoics, the Aristotelians and the Hermetists. This period concurs with the widening interest in daimonology and divine fortune (Plutarch's Moralia, Pseudo-Plutarch on De fato). Valens' nine-book Anthologiae, gives both a comprehensive view of his contemporary astrology and his own philosophical and religious inclinations. Thus we can see that practical astrology really did not conform to one particular philosophical model offered by anyone in particular. However, the Neopythagoreans, Platonists and Stoics all provided foundational influences on the development of the art.
With the collapse of Olympian religion and popularity in the belief of Fortune and Fate, astrology, as part of divination, grew dominant and degenerated into heavy superstition. For pre-Socratic philosophers, personified powers like Moira (Fate), Ananke (Necessity), Nemesis (Revenge), Heimarmene (Fate), Sumphora (Chance) and Tukhe (Fortune) took on metaphysical significances that obscured distinction between the theological and ontological. To thinkers such as Anaximander, Moira and Tukhe play a part in cosmology that exceeds— and is possibly even prior— to the gods. While the Olympians may be given foresight into the workings of Moira, both they and nature itself were often left without the power to transgress her. At this time in Greek thought, Fate and Fortune, with Zeus as their capricious dispenser, fell outside human understanding. Leading a virtuous life was no insurance from material ruin. Thus we get pessimism, in the attitudes of Ionian thinkers such as Mimnermus and Semonides, and Archilochus, to whom Moira and Tukhe were the sole dispensers of good and evil, with no possibility of mediation. Hellenistic astrologers attempted to provide astral logic to explain the apparent injustices of Fate, turning it into a predictable science.
It was the Greeks who adopted the notion that all celestial bodies operate as a single influential system. To read this mechanism, they assigned the attributes of the old Olympian gods and other mythical personages to the stars and planets, and also to the constellations bearing their names. It was then inferred that, as the stars and planets have predictable motions; when we enter the world, we fall into step with the predestined movements of the celestial sphere. The laws of nature were therefore believed to transcend even the will of the gods. So, in such a universe of ordered movement, it was appropriate to forecast the fate of an individual. Astrology was now the science of casting a horoscope. Those who consulted astrologers were seeking to know the future— not to change it. By the attractiveness of such emphasis on destiny, astrological practice would soon conquer the Roman world and eventually maintain its sway side by side with astronomy into the Middle Ages. Astrology was systematized into its most influential form by the noted 2nd-century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, who wrote the bible of astrology, Tetrabiblos. All things considered, since his time there have been relatively minor changes, in spite of the tremendous advances in astronomy and the redeveloped views of the universe that have taken place since.
Surviving Greek astrological writings were catalogued over a period of fifty years in the Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (CCAG). These codices reveal that for the sake of credibility, many early works were attributed to mythologized figures such as the pharaoh Nechepso, an Egyptian priest associated with Petosiris, or Hermes who was credited with astrology's invention, or with historical figures such as Orpheus, Asclepius, Anubio, Zoroaster, Abraham, and Pythagoras. In turn, these practices informed Greek medical theory with 1) zodiacal melothesia, iatromathematics of auspicious and inauspicious times, and prognostication of an illness, life expectancy, or recovery, based on the moment a person fell ill. The former two principles are found in the works of Manilius, Teucer, Ptolemy, and Firmicus Maternus, as well as a variety of anonymous and pseudepigraphal texts. The notion that your sign dictates your physical appearance (today more often it is said the rising) is classified as melothesia. This idea continued to appear in Roman works, "Those who belong to the sign of Taurus are recognized by their round head, abundant hair, their square-shaped, dark eyes and bushy, black eyebrows, and their broad face..." (Hippolytus2 Refutatio 4.15.1).
The end of Hellenistic astrological tradition was essentially marked by the Muslim conquest of Egypt, beginning in AD 639.
1. Thinkers in the skeptical Academy and Pyrrhonic schools sought to attack the theoretical underpinnings of the practice of astrology, using a variety of arguments centering around freedom, the ontological status of celestial bodies, and the logical limitations of astrological claims. For Plotinus, horoscopic astrology was absurd: the planets could never bear ill will toward human beings whose souls were exalted above the cosmos. Though he is considered the founder of Neoplatonism, other Neoplatonists such as Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus found some aspects of astrology compatible with their philosophy.
2. Hippolytus of Rome. Book 4 of this compendium sought to refute astrological practices among other forms of magic, as the author was Christian. Regardless, it provides further evidence of these practices to us today.
V. Between the Republic and the Empire.
Personal horoscopal astrology rose in popularity during the late Republic, reaching a peak with the reign of Hadrian who himself had trained in it. In 139 BC, the first recorded expulsion of astrologers from Rome occurred. Astrology remained firmly integrated throughout the Roman population even during the period of Augustus' decree of AD 11 which prohibited both private consultation with astrologers and the prediction of anyone's death. An Egyptian by the name of Apollonius foretold in Egypt the fate of Caligula and was arrested for violation of this edict, sent to Rome to receive the death penalty on the day of Caligula's assassination, and thus survived because Caligula did not. Aside from this decree, other Roman bans on the practice, or orders for the expulsion of unrepentants, were not intended to be permanent or include astrologers from outside Rome itself. We know from Suetonius and ample numismatic evidence that Augustus had not only minted coins bearing his image with the sign of Capricorn, but also, as recorded by Dio Cassius, published in a risky move his own placements including the ascendant.
Even in the time of Johannes Kepler, there has been modern debate over which astrological placement(s) of Augustus had been in Capricorn in order for him to publicly identify with the sign. One leading theory accepted today is that Augustus was a Capricorn moon; the moon was revered with incredible importance during this time, as evidenced by Cicero who claimed Rome's own moon sign was Libra, leading Manilius to call it Rome's birth sign in his Astronomica, a work which showed much deference to the emperor.1 Another popular accepted theory infers that Augustus' sign was Capricorn because it was not based on the moment of his birth, but on the moment of his parents conceiving him.2 At this time, not only the sun would have been in Capricorn, but also the moon, ascendant and Mercury.
Tiberius was the second Roman emperor, stepson and successor to Augustus. Taught in astrology by his Greek Alexandrian advisor Thrasyllus (head of the Platonic Academy), he executed prominent citizens whose horoscopes predicted imperial futures, ruthlessly enforcing Augustus' decree during the spread of rumors regarding his own demise, and yet issued Augustan coins in his twentieth year. Thrasyllus chose his son Balbillus to serve Tiberius' successors as court astrologer. In AD 52 Claudius evidently exempted him from the renewed banishment of astrologers not just from Rome, but from Italy as a whole. Nero appointed Balbillus praefect of Egypt from 55 to 59. Domitian purposefully began his rule with the sun in Capricorn; this symbol continued to recur in imperial art until at least the 3rd-century AD among themes such as the aurea aetas and Aeternitas Augusti. Ironically, Pescennius Niger using those themes in rebellion against Septimius Severus hardly lasted a year in the wars of succession. While visiting Egypt as emperor, the aforementioned Severus enclosed seized magical writings in the tomb of Alexander the Great to ensure that they could not be used against him. He also put to death men who inquired about his fate and condemned the governor of Asia as a result of a dream by the governor's nurse which foretold that he would rise to the throne instead. The corresponding reign of Caracalla saw the end of Roman astrological influence.
The most familiar Roman forms of divination were haruspicy and augury, and both long-held customs were societal rather than personal. With the influx of foreign ideas, the Roman senate grew weary of new practices overtaking the old (cf. mos maiorum). Privately consulting an astrologer to obtain an imperial horoscope for oneself could be employed, in the Roman view, to seed a plot for seizing imperial power. There was fear over the belief that determining the time of an emperor's death from his astrological placements might encourage a coup d'état for that moment, or even inspire enemies to plot for this time of demise. On the other hand, an emperor promoting his own astrology exhibited his divinely ordained destiny to reign in power. It is ultimately the case that astrologers competed with each other when asked to provide an astrological identity for an emperor— whether assuming links with Rome's founding or the beginning of the world, the most appropriate symbols were adjusted for their leader. If Capricorn was a logo, it was devised to sell the product that was monarchy. The prominence of astrology during this era was no coincidence; for it reflected the contemporary political shifts, emerging in the Roman world as individual generals began to dominate unchecked by the Republican system. State diviners under control of the senate gave way to the privately acquired astrologers of such generals, then would-be emperors, and finally, emperors, as the Republic collapsed into Empire. Astrology became a significant component of imperial rhetoric and a source of persuasive power.
We also find that the moon's position is considered auspicious or inauspicious for engaging in a specific activity during the month. These moments have been collected in Latin handbooks called Lunaria, preserved from the 2nd-century AD onward, to which Babylonian texts represent some close parallels. The Lunaria not only indicate the auspicious moments but also the times to be avoided when engaging a specific activity.
The Mainz celestial globe. This may be a photograph of a replica of the original. Roman celestial globe, dated 2nd-century AD.
The Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes constructed the first celestial globe on record, but it is believed other celestial globes had existed prior. We later see these globes in Roman tradition. Cicero's De re Publica quotes (from 166 BC) Gaius Gallus, a Roman consul and astronomical writer, as stating that the philosopher Thales of Miletus (6th-century BC) constructed a celestial globe. However, this seems improbable. Though there is really no positive statement for such in ancient literature it is thought that Eudoxus likely constructed a celestial globe. The Kugel Globe (suggested to be part of an armillary sphere), dated 2nd-century BC, may be the earliest celestial globe to survive from Classical antiquity.
1. Likely either Augustus or Tiberius. Imperial praise through a poetic medium was certainly not uncommon. Several famous Roman works were either dedicated to Augustus, written in praise of him (e.g. certain Odes of Horace), or were comissioned for publication by him, such as Vergil's Aeneid.
2. Determining someone's placements by the moment of conception was an accepted astrological practice; a common method was to calculate this 273 days before the birth. This amount equaled ten sidereal revolutions of the moon.
VI. Ancient Indian developments.
Mithuna, the name for Gemini, was the word for a "loving couple." Texts from the 5th to 9th centuries called for the display of mithunas at temple doorways as auspicious symbols.
VII. Loss in the Dark Ages.
VIII. The Middle Ages and Catholicism.
Medieval astrological tradition began in the latter part of the 8th-century AD and flourished in Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate.
About astrological calculations.
If you are interested in an "up to date" system, sidereal charts such as those calculated in Indian astrology do account for precession by the use of corrective ayanamśa. The difference may seem dramatic to some. Your Aries friend would now be a Pisces through this calculation. A Virgo becomes a Leo. The sidereal formula must be done separately and specifically, but websites for it are also freely available online.
1. This has and will still remain true, here is a recent visualization of the ecliptic dates: Link
Mapping a birth chart from the planets and the stars.
Your sign is only a fraction of astrology.
As for what I think about the sun: it's your point of human vulnerability. It's what the stars have guided you to be, how you want to be, but not necessarily how you are underneath. It represents our success and failure in self-sufficiency, and the strength and weakness of our true will to be.
About the ascendant.
You may find it very revealing to see how this polarity point applies to you personally. However, you need your exact time of birth to get it. Once established, it is possible to "map out" the planets into houses by using the rising as a starting point.
My opinion is that the sign on the ascendant correlates with the desires that the person has on a subjective level: those which support their own sense of self-discovery as an independent being distinct from everyone else. So this placement operates instinctively, without forethought or preconception, whereas the persona is a constructed phenomena which more naturally corresponds with the descendant. The descendant side of the polarity represents how we consciously construct a way of interacting with others.
If you are born at sunrise (or around 06:00 local time), your rising generally will be the same as your sun sign. However, this is only a general rule because latitude and longitude as well as whether or not your local area uses any time changes, also play a part in the calculation.
How to actually read a chart.
Here's an example of a circular chart wheel with Gemini sun, Sagittarius moon, and Scorpio rising. The rising is the starting point. Look to the left where you see the blue symbol for Scorpio and "AC" written on the degree where the Ascendant is. All western chart wheels will appear rotated like this.
Notice the numbers in the middle of the circle? Those are there to easily help you with what sections of this wheel make up which houses. Not all calculators include those numbers, but the Rising is naturally always the 1st house, so you'll be able to count them yourself. This chart's Sagittarius moon is in the 2nd house.