Babylonian Astronomy
Bob Joseph



The civilization that developed in Mesopotamia over the three millennia before the common era produced a remarkably sophisticated system of mathematical astronomy. They archived continuous records of astronomical observations over several centuries. Analyzing these using a variety of arithmetical methods, the Babylonians could forecast planetary, lunar and solar positions and produce a calendar of high accuracy. Claudius Ptolemy relied on their results in writing his Almagest (ca. 150 CE), which became the standard manual of astronomy for the next 1,500 years. But despite the predictive success of Babylonian astronomy they apparently did not develop a theory of why the heavens behave as they do. I will review the highlights of the Babylonian accomplishments in astronomy and suggest why they failed to produce a scientific theory to account for the celestial objects and events whose positions and timings they could forecast so well.