IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Understanding Mardukâ€™s Cosmos: the development of astronomy in Ancient Babylonia
The fifth tablet of the Babylonian epic of creation, EnÅ«ma Eliš, written in the late second millennium BC, describes the god Marduk’s creation of the sun, moon and stars, setting the stars in patterns which make up the constellations and giving the moon and sun a regular order of motion to define the month and the year. This idea of regularity and order in the motion of the heavenly bodies lay at the heart of Babylonian attempts to understand the motion and phenomena of the sun, moon and planets.
By the mid-first millennium BC, Babylonian astronomy had become a multi-faceted activity which included observation, prediction, the creation of mathematical methods for modeling and computing the astronomical phenomena, and the astrological interpretation of astronomical data. In this talk Professor Steele traces this development, outlining the observations, mathematical techniques, and methods of analysis and reasoning which were employed, and place this achievement within wider scholarly activity in Babylonia. The result of this development was the creation of the world’s first predictive science, a science which not only sought to model the motion of the sun, moon and planets, but also to use these methods of predict future astronomical phenomena. Many aspects of Babylonian astronomy, including the very idea of predictive science itself, were later transmitted to and adopted by Greek astronomers and would form the foundation of the western scientific tradition.
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