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Signs of the Zodiac

The signs of the zodiac are a fundamental aspect of astrology, representing twelve equal divisions of the celestial sphere. Each sign is named after the constellation that originally appeared in its segment, although due to the precession of the equinoxes, these signs no longer align with their namesake constellations. The history of these signs is deeply rooted in ancient civilizations, particularly those of Mesopotamia and Greece.

The oldest known astrological records date back to the ancient civilization of Babylon, in Mesopotamia, around the second millennium BCE. The Babylonians were keen astronomers and developed an early form of horoscopic astrology. They identified constellations, some of which correspond to the zodiac signs known today, and they ascribed certain qualities and meanings to these constellations.

The Babylonians initially recognised eighteen constellations along the ecliptic, the apparent path that the sun takes across the celestial sphere over the course of a year. However, to create a more practical and systematic calendar, the Babylonians refined this to twelve constellations, each representing one twelfth of the ecliptic and thus corresponding to a month in their lunar calendar.

Twelve Signs of the Zodiac

The twelve zodiac signs as we know them today were further developed by the Greeks. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea is credited with the introduction of the tropical zodiac, which fixes the start of the zodiac at the point of the vernal equinox, around 130 BCE.

The Greeks inherited the Babylonian constellations but modified some to fit their own mythology. For instance, Libra, the scales, was originally considered part of Scorpio by the Babylonians. The Greeks separated it and attributed it to Themis, the goddess of divine law and order. Similarly, the Greeks evolved the interpretation of the signs, attributing to them not only Elemental qualities, Fire, Water, Earth, and Air but also modalities (Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable), which further influenced their astrological significance.

Signs of the Zodiac from Babylon to Greece

The complex history spans multiple civilizations and millennia having evolved from early astronomical observations.

Further Reading