Hellenistic Astrology

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Ptolemy had a major impact on the development of astrology[1]

This term means both the type of astrology practiced in the Greek and Roman empires between roughly 300 BCE and 600 CE, as well its revival today by some Traditional Astrology practitioners. Of the ancient astrologers whose names survived Antiquity, many lived in Alexandria, Egypt and nearby provinces. They wrote in both Greek and Latin, but because Roman astrologers were deeply influenced by Greek culture, the term Hellenistic is appropriate.


The Babylonians invented horoscopic astrology, probably around 700 BC, as the outgrowth of centuries of looking to the heavens for celestial omens foretelling the future of king and country. The Babylonians named the seven planets visible to the naked eye; developed the concept of Sign as 30-degree segments of the heavens that roughly correlated to the Constellation for which they were named; marked Conjunctions, Oppositions, and Eclipses; and understood planetary Exaltation. They invented the Ephemeris as a means of predicting planetary positions at times when they were invisible.

Around 280 BC a Babylonian astrologer named Berossus moved to the Greek Island of Kos and began to teach astrology. The Greeks, like many ancient societies, previously developed an elaborate body of star lore and used the rising and setting of constellations to predict weather changes. The Greeks also invented the mathematics and astronomy necessary to refine the timing of horoscope points, together with philosophies in which individuals could understand the events in their lives in relation to the cosmos.

There were probably separate movements of astrological lore from Babylon through Persia to Egypt, which became a Greek colony in 332 under Alexander the Great. The Egyptians, previously developed a detailed system of interpreting the stars, as they seemingly rotated in the heavens, as a calendar that could be used to time religious festivals and agricultural activities. They believed that the stars rising at the moment of a person's birth significantly influenced the outcome of his life. Their religious beliefs about the sun as a god who rotated through the sky in a series of stages may be the origin of the astrological Houses.

Probably as a fusion of these different influences, a new horoscopic astrology emerged around 150 BCE, with a dazzling new array of techniques. The details of its historical development are few, but within the space of a few centuries, Hellenistic astrologers mapped houses; examined aspects; calculated "lots" (Arabian Parts); checked fixed stars; and applied various calculations to determine planets' relative strength and influence over various areas of life.

Most of the Hellenistic astrologers' works have been lost, but are known through what others said about them. Claudius Ptolemy (Tetrabiblos), 2nd century CE) became the best known to subsequent traditional astrologers because Arab astrologers picked up his work directly after the demise of the Roman Empire. Manilius, Dorotheus of Sidon, Vettius Valens, Firmicus Maternus, and Rhetorius the Egyptian also wrote extensive astrological treatises available in English translation.

See also


See also: Zodiacal Releasing (Aphesis) and Planetary Period Chronocrators (astrology-x-files; 1997, 2005, 2009, 2017 Curtis Manwaring), Annual Profections & Continuous Profections (Astrology Online Calculator, Hellenistic or Medieval method; Astroseek.com), http://www.astrology-x-files.com/hellenistic/ Hellenistic Astrology Q&A] (x-files)The Planetary Joys and the Origins of the Significations of the Houses and Triplicities (Brennan, 2013; PDF)
Planetary Domiciles


  • Neugebauer, Otto; Hoesen, Henry-Bartlett van: Greek Horoscopes. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia 1959
  • Robert Hand: Whole Sign Houses: The Oldest House System, Arhat Publications, 2000
  • James Herschel Holden: A History of Horoscopic Astrology. Tempe/ USA 2006. Excerpt: "Arabian Astrology"
  • Tamsyn Barton, 1994, Ancient Astrology, Routledge
  • Nicholas Campion, 2008, The Dawn of Astrology, A Cultural History of Western Astrology, vol. lI: The Ancient and Classical Worlds, Continuum.
  • Joseph Crane, 2007, Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy, The Wessex Astrologer Ltd
  • Francesca Rochberg, 2004, The Heavenly Writing: Dviniation, Hosorscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Cambridge University Press
  • Dorotheus of Sidon, first century AD, Carmen Astrologicum, translated by David Pingree 1976; 2005, Astrology Classics Book I online (PDF) Book II online (PDF) Book III online (PDF) Content of Book III (PDF) Notes on Dorotheus III: the haylāj, kadhkhudāh, and terms of life (PDF) (Deborah Houlding, Skyscript 2014)
  • Firmicus Maternus, ca. 335, Matheseos Libri VIII, Jean Rhys Bram, transl. 2005, Astrology Classics
  • Manilius, first century CE, Astronomica, G. P. Goold transl., 1977, Loeb Classical Library
  • Ptolemy, ca. 150, Tetrabiblos, F.E. Robbins transl., 1940, Loeb Classical Library
  • Rhetorius the Egyptian, sixth century CE, Astrological Compendium, Containing His Explanation and Narration of The Whole Art of Astrology, James Holden, transl., 2009, American Federation of Astrologers
  • Chris Brennan: Hellenistic Astrology. The Study of Fate and Fortune. 696 pages. Amor Fati Publications, 2017 ISBN-10: 0998588903 ISBN-13: 978-0998588902 Details & Reviews

Notes and References

  1. This 1508 woodcut (Gregor Reisch) portrays him as a king guided by a muse (= personified Astronomia herself)