11 Jul 2020

Where Did the Zodiac Signs Come from?

Nowadays, probably there are no people who have never heard about zodiac signs. A lot of them know which one they belong to but do not pay close attention to this. At the same time, many people strongly believe that a zodiac sign can influence some character features, behavior, relationships and life in general.

Planets and stars have attracted people from the earliest times. They looked at the sky and tried to realize the connection between the Sun, Moon, stars, and people. Therefore, zodiac signs have overcome a long way from usual people’s dreams and beliefs to objects of scientific research. However, a modern vision of astrological signs is a little distorted and, for usual people, associated only with horoscopes. Therefore, it is necessary to learn more about astrology in general as well as the history and origin of all zodiac signs in particular.

General Facts about a Zodiac Notion

The word “zodiac” comes from Ancient Greek where it meant an animal cycle or circle. It clarifies the fact that all the signs are named after certain animals or mythological creatures.

From a scientific point of view, the Zodiac can be referred to as a sky part that covers approximately 8 degrees of astronomical latitude to the south or north from the Sun path at a certain moment during a year. It also covers the Moon and some large planets. Taking this definition into account, the Zodiac is directly connected with astronomy. However, its relation to astrology may be observed with the naked eye. People often confuse these two sciences and do not understand how the signs are connected with both of them.

This confusion is not an accident. The reason can be easily traced back to many centuries ago when astrology and astronomy were not differentiated. Astrologers and astronomers were the same people. However, in the process of scientific research, everything was put into places:

  • Astronomers are people who observe the Sun and Moon, planets and stars, constellations and a solar system in general, do scientific research, work over the physical properties of such objects, etc.
  • Astrologers in turn deal with all celestial bodies from another side. They look at their positions and movements in order to trace their connection with people. Their observations can even be used to predict what will happen in the future. So it is more related to modern horoscope.

It is widely known that astrology cannot be considered a science if compared with astronomy. For the purpose of better understanding the notion of the zodiac, it is important to look at its history in more detail – from the very beginning to modern time.

The Early Vision of an Astrological Sign

Actually, no one knows when the first ideas concerning the Zodiac appeared in the world. It is generally believed that the early features of astrology were observed in Babylon approximately during the first millennium BC. Special catalogues with probable zodiac constellations were created as early as in 1000 BC. Then they became a base for further researches. However, scientists managed to clarify that data about some signs such as Gemini and Cancer had appeared even earlier during the Bronze Age.

According to history, the ecliptic was divided by Babylonians into twelve signs which were equal to each other. This division was made in the fifth century BC. Every sign covered 30 degrees of astronomical latitude. The main problem of Babylonian astrological researches was that this division did not coincide with the initial and final locations of constellations in the sky. With regard to the movement of the Sun, signs should be divided into 13 groups since it goes near 13 constellations. However, it does not correspond with the number of months. Therefore, Ophiuchus was omitted in this system. Due to the rotation of the planet on the Earth’s axis, the Sun location with respect to the constellations at a certain period of the year is now different if compared with Babylonian time.

The Zodiac was fixed according to the stars. Furthermore, all measurements in that period were rather primitive and far from accuracy. Therefore, for Babylonians, on the vernal equinox, the Cancer sign began where Gemini should be located, Aquarius was placed instead of Capricornus while Aries had the actual place of the Sun.

Zodiac for Ancient Greek and Romans

The further development and researches in the spheres of astronomy and astrology are directly connected with the activity of Alexander the Great. After his massive conquest of the Asian continent, all Babylonian groundwork including the zodiac catalogues became a worthy legacy for Greek science. It means that all Greek and, as a result, Roman astronomic research was based on the Babylonian observations.

At that time people began creating so-called serious research papers concerning the zodiac divisions, cancellations’ position and the movement of celestial bodies. One of the first scientists who left his mark in the history of astronomy was Ptolemy. He wrote a specific work called “Tetrabiblos” that made a huge impact on the further researches in this sphere, especially in Western astrological approaches.

The functions and positions of every star sign were identified as precise as possible using measurement methods and equipment of those days. It should be mentioned that modern research does not show a dramatic difference. Ptolemy managed to describe the tropical zodiac system according to which the Zodiac has a direct connection with a solstice and equinox. He believed that it does not correspond with the constellations that have the same names as the signs. By this system, the equator changes its position in accordance with fixed stars every 72 years approximately by 1 degree.

The Greek works then were expanded and developed by Romans. From that time astronomy can be actually treated as a science. Their contribution to the researches is rather significant. For instance, all names of the signs which we use nowadays were created by Romans.

Astrology and Astronomy in the Islamic World

Throughout history, all main scientific researches were conducted in the leading countries for that period. As the epoch of Greek and Roman civilizations was finished because of the Arabic conquest, the center of science, in particular astronomy and astrology, was transferred to the Abbasid Empire. A lot of schools, libraries, translation centers were founded in Baghdad back at the time. So, all previous astronomic works could be thoroughly examined.

Many Arabic astrologers and astronomers left their marks in history. The list includes Albumasur with his treatise about basic notions of astronomy; Al Khwarizmi with significant papers on astronomy, astrology, mathematics, and geography, etc. Their researches on the zodiac system did not detect a large difference if compared with Greek and Roman ideas. However, Arabs gave a lot of names to stars which exist till modern time.

Nevertheless, a lot of foundations were criticized by Arabs. It was determined by their religion and other vision of the world. For instance, Avicenna was against practical examinations of astrological objects. He refused an impact of stars on vital activities on the earth but believed that the planets’ movement around the Sun can change some processes.

Zodiac in the Medieval Ages

Scientific researches of the zodiac, as well as astronomy development in general, were not so significant in Medieval Europe. While it was one of the main scientific issues in Asia, in Europe astronomy had far not the best period. The Medieval Ages in Europe in this sphere can be characterized as returning to Greek and Roman magic. Close attention was paid to the magical functions of the zodiac. Many people tried to learn more about astrology because they believed that it would be possible to predict the future.

From a scientific point of view, a lot of Arabic works were translated and analyzed by European researchers of those days. Then the Zodiac started to be applied as a so-called décor. For instance, it could be noticed in Angers Cathedral. Another significant cultural asset is a set of silver and gold coins on which twelve zodiacal signs were featured. It was created by the king of Mughal Jahangir. Other names of astronomers and astrologers include Italian scientist Guido Bonatti and a monk from Britain Johannes de Sacrobosco.

Indian Development of Astrology and Astronomy

There is its own astrological system in India known as Jyotisha. Sometimes it can be also called Vedic Astrology. Actually, the Vedas were compiled by people who researched astrological notions. In particular, their “Vedanga Jyotisha” is considered one of the earliest works in this field. From a modern point of view, Jyotisha was directly connected with horoscopic astrology.

But if we trace history back, the influence of Greeks on the Indian development in this sphere cannot be unnoticed. After the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek astronomical and astrological works penetrated into the Indian vision of the world and elements of the solar system. Indians translated the Greek researches and astrological treatises on the base of which they developed their own works.

Astronomy and astrology in India were closely connected with each other. There are a lot of early works concerning the creation of our planet, the Zodiac and the universe in general. For instance, it was described in detail in the sagas of the Bhrigu Samhita. At the same time, Samhita created approximately five million horoscopes which told people about some past events and predicted what the future would bring. More profound astronomical researches appeared in India in the fifth century AD. Among the famous astronomers of that time, Aryabhata and Varahamihira can be mentioned.

Zodiac in the Chinese Researches

Zodiac in China has a dramatically different view. The reason is that the Chinese have imagined our universe from another perspective. They created their own calendar and made a new division of the zodiac. In the traditions of Chinese astrology, the signs are named after different animals and creatures. It can be explained by the fact that science in China developed independently from Western researches.

Another reason is that astrology in China always was in close connection with their philosophy which also has nothing in common with the European one. All famous Chinese principles such as yin and yang, the harmony of three environments – water, heaven, and earth – left a huge mark on the astrology and astronomy development.

The Chinese believed that zodiacal signs can influence people’s life and behavior. According to Confucius, heaven always sends people some hints and symbols. It is highly important to understand and implement them in life. During the rule of Shang dynasty, a zodiac cycle was developed. It consisted of 60 years, had five main components and twelve signs. All stars were classified according to their own system and divided into 28 mansions.

Division into Twelve Signs

As it was mentioned above, every population has divided all the zodiac stars into twelve groups because the Sun needs twelve months to come back to its initial position. The names of the signs were selected not by accident. Each of them had its own association and meaning. For instance, Babylonian Aquarius means the one who carries water. According to Babylonian observations, when the Sun was in Aquarius, they always had a season of long-lasting rains.

In general, people divided all existing zodiacal signs into the following parts:

  • Air environment;
  • Water environment;
  • Relation to the earth;
  • Connection with fire.

Furthermore, every planet has a close relation to two zodiacal signs and at the same time, it is responsible for certain skills and knowledge. For example, Mercury makes an impact on writing and speech skills. The Moon and the Sun also have a connection with one of the zodiacal signs. Every horoscope is believed to be composed in accordance with the place of the Sun, Moon, constellations, and planets at a certain period of time. Every Zodiac has its own astronomical longitude, timeframe, and solar stay.

Zodiac Division

Sign Generally accepted date Longitude Solar stay (in days)
Aries 19.04-13.05 25
Taurus 14.05-19.06 30° 37
Gemini 20.06-20.07 60° 31
Cancer 21.07-09.08 90° 20
Leo 10.08-15.09 120° 37
Virgo 16.09-30.10 150° 45
Libra 31.10-22.11 180° 23
Scorpio 23.11-29.11 210° 7
Sagittarius 18.12-18.01 240° 32
19.01-15.02 270° 28

 As you can see there is a gap of 18 days between Scorpio and Sagittarius. The reason is that the thirteenth constellation can be observed – Ophiuchus.

If you know the history of the zodiac system, you can read and understand your horoscope more profoundly since nowadays, as well as many years ago, we are dependent on all the objects in the sky.

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