Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login


Ask a question about 'MUL.APIN'
Start a new discussion about 'MUL.APIN'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
MUL.APIN is the conventional title given to a Babylonian
Babylonian literature
Akkadian literature is the ancient literature written in the Akkadian language written in Mesopotamia  during the period spanning the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age .Drawing on the traditions of Sumerian literature, the Babylonians compiled a substantial textual tradition of mythological...

 compendium that deals with many diverse aspects of Babylonian astronomy and astrology
Babylonian astrology
In Babylon as well as in Assyria as a direct offshoot of Babylonian culture, astrology takes its place in theofficial cult as one of the two chief means at the disposal of the priests for ascertaining the will and intention of the gods, the other being through the inspection of the liver of the...


It is in the tradition of earlier star catalogues
Babylonian star catalogues
Babylonian astronomy collated earlier observations and divinations into sets of Babylonian star catalogues, during and after the Kassite rule over Babylonia. These star catalogues, written in cuneiform script, contained lists of constellations, individual stars, and planets...

, the so-called Three Stars Each lists, but represents an expanded version based on more accurate observation, likely compiled around 1000 BC.
The text lists the names of 66 stars and constellations and further gives a number of indications, such as rising, setting and culmination dates, that help to map out the basic structure of the Babylonian star map.

The text is preserved in a 7th century BC copy on a pair of tablets, named for their incipit
Incipit is a Latin word meaning "it begins". The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is the first few words of its opening line. In music, it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits...

, corresponding to the first constellation of the year, "The Plough", identified with Triangulum
Triangulum is a small constellation in the northern sky. Its name is Latin for triangle, and it should not be confused with Triangulum Australe in the southern sky. Its name derives from its three brightest stars, of third and fourth magnitude, which form a nearly isosceles long and narrow triangle...

 plus Gamma Andromedae
Gamma Andromedae
Gamma Andromedae is the third brightest star in the constellation of Andromeda. It is also known by the traditional name Almach , from the Arabic العناق الأرض al-‘anāq al-’arđ̧ "the caracal" .Another term for this star used by medieval astronomers...



The earliest copy of the text so far discovered was made in 686 BC, however the majority of scholars now believe that the text was originally compiled around 1000 BC. The latest copies of Mul-Apin are currently dated to around 300 BC.

Astrophysicist Bradley Schaefer
Bradley E. Schaefer
Dr. Bradley E. Schaefer is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Louisiana State University. He received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983....

 claims that the observations reported in these tablets were made in the region of Assur
Assur , was one of the capitals of ancient Assyria. The remains of the city are situated on the western bank of river Tigris, north of the confluence with the tributary Little Zab river, in modern day Iraq, more precisely in the Al-Shirqat District .Assur is also...

 at around the year 1370 BC.


The text runs to two tablets and possibly a third auxiliary tablet, and is organised as follows:

Tablet 1

The first tablet is the most important resource for any potential reconstruction of the Babylonian star map as its various sections locate the constellations in relation to each other and to the calendar.
Tablet 1 has six main sections:
  • All the major stars and constellations are listed and organised into three broad divisions according to celestial latitude allocating each star to three paths:
    • the northern path of Enlil
      Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

       containing 33 stars or constellations
    • the presumably equatorial path of Anu
      In Sumerian mythology, Anu was a sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, Consort of Antu, spirits and demons, and dwelt in the highest heavenly regions. It was believed that he had the power to judge those who had committed crimes, and that he had created the stars as...

       containing 23 stars or constellations, and
    • the southern path of Ea containing 15 stars or constellations,
Most of these stars and constellations are further attributed to a variety of Near Eastern deities.
  • The heliacal rising dates of 34 stars and constellations are given according to the 360-day ‘ideal’ calendar year.
  • Lists of stars and constellations that rise and set at the same time.
  • The number of days between the risings of various stars and constellations.
  • The stars and constellations that rise and culminate at the same time.
  • The stars on the path of the moon, being the major constellations close to the ecliptic, which includes all the Babylonian forerunners to the zodiac constellations.

Even though the Babylonians used a luni-solar calendar, which added an occasional thirteenth month to the calendar, Mul-Apin, like most texts of Babylonian astrology, uses an ‘ideal’ year composed of 12 ‘ideal’ months each of which was composed of an ‘ideal’ 30 days. In this scheme the equinoxes were set on the 15th day of the first and seventh month, and the solstices on the 15th day of the fourth and tenth month.

Tablet 2

The second tablet is of greater interest to historians of science as it furnishes us with many of the methods and procedures used by Babylonian astrologers to predict the movements of the sun, moon and planets as well as the various methods used to regulate the calendar.
The contents of tablet 2 can be summarised under ten headings as follows:
  • The names of the sun and the planets and the assertion that they all travel the same path as the moon.
  • Which stars are rising and which contain the full moon on the solstices and equinoxes in order to judge the disparity of the lunar and solar cycles.
  • Recommendations for observing the appearances of certain stars and the direction of the wind at the time of their first appearance.
  • Very approximate values for the number of days that each planet is visible and invisible during the course of its observational cycle.
  • The four stars associated with the four directional winds.
  • The dates when the sun is present in each of the three stellar paths.
  • Two types of intercalation scheme. One uses the rising dates of certain stars while the other uses position of the moon in relation to the stars and constellations.
  • The relative duration of day and night at the solstices and equinoxes, and the lengths of shadow cast by a gnomon at various times of the day at the solstices and equinoxes.
  • A basic mathematical scheme giving the rising and setting times of the moon in each month.
  • A selection of astrological omens.

There is some evidence that a third, and so far unrecovered, tablet was sometimes appended to the series. To judge from its opening line it started with a section of scholarly explanations of celestial omens.

External links