13 Jul 2024

How Did the Names of the Zodiac Signs Appear

When we meet a new person, the question of the Zodiac sign will probably be the next in a queue after the name and place of work, of course. We also know what character traits astrology attributes to one or another Zodiac sign. But not many of us know where did the signs come from. So let’s find out some interesting facts about how did Zodiac signs actually appear.

Astronomy and astrology have different about Zodiac. Astronomy suggests presenting the Zodiac circle in the form of celestial belt that stretches along the sun path — the ecliptic. This belt is divided into twelve 30 degrees sectors — each of them named by the Zodiac constellation, located in it. The Zodiac circle begins at the vernal equinox — the moment when the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator. About 2000 years ago, when a well-known Zodiac circle was formed, this point was in the Aries constellation. However, the constant celestial bodies' displacement has changed the ecliptic point and moved it to the Zodiac Pisces constellation.

Astrology additionally groups signs by four triples (trigons), according to the elements:

  • Fiery (hot and dry), represented by male signs - Aries, Leo, Sagittarius. Trigon is predominantly northern, and its day ruler is the Sun, the night ruler is Jupiter.
  • Earthly (cold and dry), represented by female signs - Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn. Trigon is mainly southern, its day ruler is Venus, and the night is the Moon.
  • Airy (hot and humid), represented by male signs - Gemini, Libra, Aquarius. Trigon is mainly eastern, its day ruler is Saturn, and the night ruler is Mercury.
  • Water (cold and wet), represented by female signs - Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces. Trigon is predominantly western, its ruler is Mars, and there are also a day ruler Venus and a night ruler Moon.

Zodiac of Ancient Greece

The word 'Zodiac' in translation from ancient Greek means ‘circle of animals’, therefore, the main constellations are named after animals and mythological creatures. Thus, in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, Greeks formed the concepts and names of the Zodiac signs, which are still in use today.

The Greeks also created their mythology for each of the constellations, explaining its origin:

  • Aries (March 21 - April 19). According to the ancient Greeks, Aries was a flying golden ram Kriya. He was sent to the earth by the goddess of clouds to save her children - Phryx and Gella. But later, Kriya was sacrificed by saved Prhyx to keep people from drought and crop failure. Then, his Golden Fleece became one of those attribute that the Argonauts hunted for.
  • Taurus (April 20 - May 20). This sign was associated with Zeus, who turned into a snow-white bull to kidnap Europe and take her to the Crete island. Also, in the Taurus constellation, there is a bright star Aldebaran, which the ancient Arabs called the cow's eye.
  • Gemini (May 21 - June 20). In ancient Greece, Gemini sign was considered with Dioscuri twins - Castor and Pollux. Many feats were attributed to them: they rescued their sister Elena from captivity, were searching for Golden Fleece with the Argonauts. After Castor's death, his brother prayed desperately for his union with his brother. For such sincere brotherly love, Zeus placed the brothers in the sky as a Zodiac Gemini constellation.
  • Cancer (June 21 - July 22). This is one of the most obscure constellations, and it is visible only on a clear night. The Arabic name for the constellation sounds like Akubens - ‘claw’. But Greeks believed that Cancer became a constellation with the help of goddess Hera. She hated Hercules, and only Cancer, during the battle of Hercules with Hydra, was not afraid to jump out of the swamp and bite Hercules by the leg. Of course, after that, he was crushed. But, for his act, Hera gave him eternal life in the star sky.
  • Leo (July 23 - August 22). The constellation got its name in honor of the Nemean lion - a formidable massive predator, which became the hero of the first Hercules feat. The lion's skin was so thick that no gun could penetrate it. Hercules, seeing that the arrows did not take the beast, first stunned him with a club, and then strangled him with his bare hands. Later, the skin of the Nemean lion became a mandatory attribute of Hercules, and the battle scene was depicted on a large number of frescoes, vases, and utensils.
  • Virgo (August 23 - September 22). The ancient Greeks personified Virgo with several beautiful girls at once. However, the most popular myth says this is Demetra, the goddess of fertility, the patroness of agriculture and all life on earth. She was the sister and lover of Zeus. She is also one of the goddesses whom her father Kronos ate and from whose womb she was later saved.
  • Libra (September 23 - October 22). It is the only inanimate Zodiac sign that was initially part of the Scorpio. It was described as a constellation of 'claws.' At first, it depicted as an altar or a lamp, and only later Libra became Libra. Although, the two main stars of the constellation are still called claws. In ancient mythology, Libra is an attribute of the goddess Themis, Nemesis, or Demetra ascended to star sky.
  • Scorpio (October 23 - November 21). According to myths, Artemis, the goddess of hunting and fertility, the eternally young and virgin beauty, had a fight with the hunter Orion. Later, the angry goddess sent Scorpio to kill Orion. And in gratitude for his faithful service, Artemis placed Scorpio in the sky.
  • Sagittarius (November 22 - December 21). Greek myth connects Sagittarius with the wise centaur Chiron - a creature with human torso and horse body. It was he who created the celestial globe to help the Argonauts in their campaign for the Golden Fleece. But another story says that Chiron left a place for himself on the star sky, but evil centaur Chrotos occupied his position. Sagittarius is also the most beautiful Zodiac constellation from the astrological point of view, because it concentrates the most elegant part of the Milky Way.
  • Capricorn (December 22 - January 19) or Goat-Fish, in antiquity this constellation represented fields, forests, and Pan – the shepherd god with goat horns, legs, and a cheerful character. During the compilation of the astronomical map, the constellation included a point of the winter solstice, which also associated Capricorn with new beginnings.
  • Aquarius (January 20 - February 18) is one of the biggest Zodiac constellations, and is one of the oldest ones, which has been described by humanity. According to various myths, Aquarius represents several characters at once: the ancient king Attica Kekrop, the hero of the Worlds Flood Deucalion, and the young man Ganymede from Troy, who later became a cupbearer on Olympus.
  • Pisces (February 19 - March 20). According to the myth, Pisces personifies the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros. They were so frightened by the monster Typhon, that turned into fish and fled from Olympus to Egypt as the other Olympic gods did.

But Greek culture is not the first to mention the Zodiac in its history. There is evidence that the Greeks borrowed the symbolism and characteristics of constellations from more ancient civilizations.

From the Babylonians to the Sumerians

The star sky division into 12 sectors was also found in the culture of ancient Sumeria. The symbol of each segment was described on 32 fortune-telling tablets dated by 1875 BC. The ancient Sumerians called the Zodiac the 'Shiny flock' and interpreted the signs as follows: 

  • Heavenly Bull (Taurus)
  • Twins (Gemini)
  • Pincers or Tongs (Cancer)
  • Lion (Leo)
  • Her father was Sin (Virgo)
  • Heavenly Fate (Libra)
  • Which has claws and cuts (Scorpio)
  • Defender (Sagittarius)
  • Goatfish (Capricorn)
  • Lord of the waters (Aquarius)
  • Fishes (Pisces)
  • Field dweller (Aries)

However, even later descriptions of some Zodiac signs were found in the Babylonian collection of 1370 BC. The Babylonian Zodiac consisted of the date description, when a constellation appeared in the sky at dawn, and it copied many familiar names: Leo, Bull, Ram, and Scorpio. It is believed that these descriptions formed the basis of the Sumerian, and later the Greek Zodiac.

Alternative Theories: Armenian Metsamor

However, the classical point of view that the first Zodiac signs circle arose in Ancient Babylon casts doubt. Especially after the opening of an enormous astronomical observatory in the ancient Metsamor complex on the territory of modern Armenia. 

Metsamor, also known as Medzamor (literally, 'Black Swamp'), is a fantastic urban complex, the beginning of which was laid back in the Neolithic period, in 5000-7000 BC. According to archaeologists, the entire city occupied up to 200 hectares and had a population of about 50,000 inhabitants. On its territory, huge metallurgical complexes with two types of furnaces for smelting high-quality gold, copper, bronze, manganese were found. These findings served as an assumption that Metsamor was one of the trading capitals of the ancient world. The trade was conducted with Egypt, ancient China, and the states of the Middle East. This extensive market dictated the need for trade communications with other societies. Eventually, trading triggered astronomy development and star chart navigation.

Therefore, the city citadel and the observatory plateau were carved on the tops of the mountains between 2300-2500 BC. They occupied about 10 hectares. Engravings and writings, which are 2000 years older than the Babylonian collection, were also found there. Based on findings, a theory appeared that the year was firstly divided into 12 sections with the assignment of each constellation at the Metsamor Observatory. The use of an early form of geometry also made it possible for the Medzamor inhabitants to create a calendar adjusted for a leap year, and to present the Earth curve. 

Lascaux Cave Planetarium

Lascaux is one of the 25 caves in the French Valley and one of the most richly decorated caves from the Early Paleolithic. About 1,500 engravings and 600 drawings were found there. There is an assumption that they are about 17300 years old. These are primitive drawings of hunting scenes or animals, the existence of which was later confirmed by the remains found during excavations. However, there are color prints on the upper parts of boulders in distant caves. They made researchers doubt that the drawings were made only to describe everyday life.

Recently, there has been an assumption that Lascaux's drawings may include prehistoric star maps. For example, there is a stunning drawing of a Bull at the cave entrance. Behind its shoulders hangs an alleged image of the star cluster - Pleiades map -  called the Seven Sisters. There are also signs of spots in the bull picture that could depict stars found in the sky of this area about 17,000 years ago. Today, the part of the sky supposedly projected on the Lascaux cave painting, corresponds to the part of the Zodiac Taurus constellation. This suggests that conscious observations of celestial bodies were carried out as far back as 17,000–15,000 years ago.

This bold theory also finds conformation in the cave entrance location: it focuses on sunset during summer solstice. This arrangement requires fundamental knowledge about the uneven movement of the sun during the annual cycle. In 1990, the Lascaux’s curator experimentally confirmed that the entrance direction makes it possible to work in remote parts of the cave without the use of artificial lighting. But only for an hour, a few days a year.

Today, it is difficult to determine precisely where the Zodiac came from. Equal interpretations of the classical Zodiac signs were found in Chinese and Indian horoscopes. The idea of an allegory about the astronomical Zodiac signs in the Bible is also not excluded. Of course, the Babylonian and Sumerian tablets only confirm significant development of astronomy in ancient countries. However, findings in Armenia or images of constellations in cave paintings cannot be discounted either. Of course, all these findings require long and thorough study. But all this makes the Zodiac even more attractive.

Select Zodiac
  • Aries
  • Taurus
  • Gemini
  • Cancer
  • Leo
  • Virgo
  • Libra
  • Scorpio
  • Sagittarius
  • Capricorn
  • Aquarius
  • Pisces
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