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.
- Aries March 21 - April 19
- Taurus April 20 - May 20
- Gemini May 21 - June 20
- Cancer June 21 - July 22
- Leo July 23 - August 22
- Virgo August 23 - September 22
- Libra September 23 - October 22
- Scorpio October 23 - November 21
- Sagittarius November 22 - December 21
- Capricorn December 22 - January 19
- Aquarius January 20 - February 18
- Pisces February 19 - March 20
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 GreeceThe complex history spans multiple civilizations and millennia having evolved from early astronomical observations.
- Mesopotamia: The earliest known astrological records originate from the ancient civilization of Babylon.
- Twelve Constellations: The Babylonians identified twelve constellations along the ecliptic, each corresponding to a month in their lunar calendar.
- Tropical Zodiac: Introduced by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea, it fixes the start of the zodiac at the point of the vernal equinox.
- Greek Influence: The Greeks modified some of the Babylonian constellations to fit their own mythology, and introduced elemental qualities and modalities to the zodiac signs.