Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: The Sky over Ancient Iraq: Babylonian Astronomy in Context

Lecture I: Babylonian Astronomy: Interpreting an Ancient Science

Mathieu Ossendrijver

Humboldt University Berlin

PLEASE NOTE: We are now fully booked for this event and are only accepting names for the wait-list. 

ALSO: Due to inclement weather on March 21st, the first lecture of the Rostovtzeff series has been rescheduled for March 28th, and the second lecture of the series has been rescheduled for April 3rd.

Mathieu Ossendrijver is Professor for the History of Ancient Science in the Department of Philosophy at the Humboldt University Berlin. He holds a PhD in Assyriology from the University of Tübingen and a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Utrecht. His primary

research interests are Babylonian astral science and mathematics, Mesopotamian science in general, and contextual aspects of Babylonian scholarship.

Clay tablets from ancient Iraq continue to reveal surprising new insights about Babylonian
astronomical and astrological practices during the first millennium BCE. Ever since the first astronomical tablets from Iraq reached the British Museum and other collections at the end of the nineteenth century, Babylonian astral science has attracted the attention of modern specialists. By now, research on this topic has reached a stage where the technical aspects of Babylonian astronomy are relatively well understood, but even here surprises are still possible. The focus of much other research has shifted to various contextual aspects of the Babylonian astral sciences.

In four lectures Mathieu Ossendrijver will explore the textual evidence for Babylonian astronomy during the first millennium BCE, with an emphasis on new textual finds, insights from recent investigations of various corpora of astral science and their interconnections, and questions inspired by new approaches informed by the wider historiography and sociology of science.

In the first lecture the geographical and historical contours of Babylonian astronomy are sketched, the cuneiform sources are introduced, and the methodological framework for interpreting Babylonian astronomy as an ancient science is discussed. Babylonian astronomy takes us to ancient Iraq, where thousands of cuneiform tablets with an astronomical content have come to light since the end of the nineteenth century. What can we learn by studying these tablets? While early interpretations were strongly shaped by modern mathematics and astronomy, the focus of much current research has shifted to uncovering the conceptual framework of Babylonian astronomy and exploring its practical, institutional, political, religious, and social context. In order to achieve this, methodological considerations from the wider historiography and sociology of science are increasingly applied.

Registration is required at

The Rostovtzeff Lectures are supported in part by a generous endowment fund given by Roger and Whitney Bagnall.

Admission to lecture closes 10 minutes after scheduled start time.

Please check for event updates.

On a limited, first-come, first-served basis, ISAW is able to provide assistive listening devices at public events in our Lecture Hall. To ensure an optimal listening experience, we recommend that guests bring their own headphones (with a standard 1/8-inch audio jack) to connect to our devices. Please direct questions, comments, or suggestions to .