There is little doubt that the great Egyptian buildings were based upon the stars; the Great Pyramid is aligned with the cardinal points, and many temples are aligned along the axis of the rising midwinter sun, signifying to Egyptians that they should begin to prepare for planting in the spring. The Great Pyramid of Giza is filled with astronomical significance, based largely upon religious beliefs but with its roots in astrological phenomena.
Within the Great Pyramids are southern facing airshafts that point to the star Sirius, with its significance in marking the start of the Egyptian year, and to Orion, associated with death and rebirth, another recurring theme in Egyptian mythology. There are other theories concerning the pyramids, namely that they were located to reflect the constellation Orion, with the three pyramids at Giza representing the belt of Orion.
Uses of Ancient Egyptian Astronomy
As with the Neolithic astronomy, this is largely conjectural and all that we can safely say is that the Egyptians built their monuments to reflect the cardinal directions and important times of year. This trend continued in the Valley of the Kings, where Rameses II built his huge Temple of Abu Simbel to ensure that sunlight only penetrated the inner sanctum on the 20th of October and the 20th of February, with one of these days believed to be the anniversary of his coronation.
Of course, when looking at history, ancient techniques do not begin and end at certain points and there is always a degree of overlap. Whilst Egyptian civilization declined, it became absorbed by the Greek and Roman cultures and the city of Alexandria became one of the most important centers of astronomy, the birthplace of the great Ptolemy. As with many ancient cultures, the Egyptian astronomy began with recording the time of year for agricultural periods, and may well have served a navigational purpose, a common practice in the desert.
These observations became imbued with religious significance and became incorporated into their architecture. The Egyptians built their monuments pointing in the cardinal directions and used them to reflect important celestial occurrences revealing the time of year. They also developed a sophisticated calendar, albeit with a lot of complexity and the need to run three separate calendars.
This may seem strange to us, but the idea of multiple calendars is a solution that the Mayans arrived at independently. In fact, we use multiple calendars, with the Islamic world maintaining a lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar of the Western world, and Orthodox Christian Churches use the Julian calendar to decide ceremonial dates.
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Of course, the astronomy and architecture of the Egyptians has attracted many wild theories about how the Egyptians incorporated the weight and the circumference of the Earth into the Great Pyramid, or that they are the descendents of fugitives from Atlantis. These are conjectural and cannot be taken seriously without a little proof. Despite this, we can say that Egyptian astronomy was extremely sophisticated and many of their ideas became the foundation of our own stargazing and cosmology.
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Egyptian Astronomy The Flooding of the Nile. Skip to main content. Martyn Shuttleworth The Flooding of the Nile The Ancient Egyptians made many great advances in science and contributions to the store of human knowledge, especially in medicine and alchemy. Discover 44 more articles on this topic. Don't miss these related articles:.
He purified himself when Venus rose in its exaltation in order to please the gods who foretell the future. That he did not disclose anything concerning his reports after judgment, while contenting the lands with his utterances, implies that he gave private readings as well as making public prophecies at New Year. So why deny him the title of astrologer? Neugebauer imagined that the Egyptian decans consisted of a belt of stars that does not exist.
His theory would not work with ecliptic stars, so he had to imagine a separate set of decans being created just for astrology by the Greeks. Never mind that the earliest lists of astrological decans take names from Egyptian lists attested two millennia earlier; never mind all the ancient authors who attribute the astrological decans to the Egyptians. Neugebauer was out to protect his theory, no matter how many facts refute it.
The Egyptian title [see image above] is well attested by the 18 th Dynasty, c. Hieroglyphs can represent sounds or they can represent concepts. The same glyph can have two functions. However, there is still some ambiguity, as each of these determinatives has more than one meaning. The star glyph is used to mean a star or a planet but it is also used to determine a segment of time marked by a star, such as the 36 ten-day Egyptian weeks, the decans.
Egyptologists also consider the decan stars to be hour markers, which is probably not correct since it is based on misunderstood texts, although the decan stars were definitely used to mark shorter periods of time at night. In this case, for the Egyptians, the double entendre was entirely appropriate. The Babylonians watched planets as if they were living creatures traveling through the night sky. Many of their omens concerning planetary activity are quite similar to their omens involving animal behavior. If a planet behaved in a certain way, it foretold famine, war, prosperity, or peace for the land or for the king.
The Babylonian constellations were used as a backdrop, scenery against which the planets and moon moved, and, comparable to landscapes rather than to beings, those constellations do not appear to have had any intrinsic characteristics that were transmissible to planets.
For the Babylonians, the planets were under the jurisdiction of specific deities who could use them to communicate messages to people. A fundamental tenet in astrology is that a star, a section of the sky, or a zodiac sign has its own spirit or deity that can influence events on earth or impart its traits at a certain time determined by its position in relation to the sun and its position in the sky. This closely resembles the Egyptian belief found in numerous texts that deities manifest at certain times only or in certain forms only at specific times.
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In the Egyptian language, the word At means a moment or instant of maximum force or power. The word refers to a point in time when a person or deity reaches his greatest effectiveness. Egyptians understood gods and the king to have moments when they manifested in a state of being in which they could produce or develop an activity. The annual inundation by the Nile was associated with the heliacal rise of the star Sirius, attested in the oldest known texts from Egypt.
Sepdet, the deity associated with Sirius, had a fierce male aspect, a warrior god, but she revealed herself as a beautiful young woman when she brought the annual flood at New Year. Prayers circa BCE tell of us her causing the inundation and thereby creating food. One goal of advanced religious knowledge in Egypt was to know the various forms of the gods.
Part of the instruction in the Afterlife books specified how to recognize the different forms, all of which were governed by time. This is identical to the knowledge sought by astrologers to discern the forms of the planets through the twelve signs and twelve houses. That time itself governed the various forms of the decan star deities is again consistent with what is found in later astrology, paralleling the changes in the nature of a sign depending on the house in which it appears, as well as qualities planets manifest in different signs or in different houses.
Astrologically, the conditions in which planets are found influences the planets' powers, strengthening or weakening them. The strength or weakness of planets in signs and the strength or weakness of signs in houses is not explained by what the Babylonians were doing with their omens; however, it is absolutely consistent with Egyptian ideas concerning the nature of time as they understood it to be revealed by the stars. A planet in exaltation or in rulership, in its moment of At , is different from the planet at other times.
The notion that the opposite place its fall or its detriment weakens the planet does seem to be a much later Greek invention. Places in the sky houses imparting a strength or weakness is again consistent with Egyptian ideas and different from the Babylonian divisions of the sky.
Egyptian Astrology and Egyptian Zodiac Signs
The Babylonians saw locations in the sky as corresponding to locations on earth. The decan stars played different roles, exerting different influences and changing gender, according to the time of year when they appeared. The Babylonians did not envision the sort of life cycle for stars that is described in Egyptian texts; still, something very much like that life cycle survives in later astrology. The notion that when stars precede the sun, they are masculine; when they follow the sun, they are feminine, as found in the writings of the Egyptian author Claudius Ptolemy is consistent with New Kingdom decan lists, c.
The decan rising heliacally is masculine; the decan rising acronychally is feminine. Later astrological ideas regarding day and night chart differences may be an expansion of this belief. Babylonian astrological prognostications take the form of modern mundane astrology. But are the roots of genethlialogy in Babylon as well? From the earliest Egyptian texts we have that concern the stars, there is good evidence that individuals had differing connections with the sky and what is in it. There are tantalizing clues to natal astrology originating in Egypt.
Even today, such naming traditions continue among many cultures in East Africa. Finally, from the Late New Kingdom, we have a number of amuletic papyri. These were inscriptions on narrow roles of papyrus that were kept in special containers meant to be worn around the neck.