Did you know?: The Perception of Astrology

We invite you to join us each week for Did you know? articles which adhere to preselected themes. Knowledge and appreciation of these subjects help to preserve, diffuse and promote elements of our common heritage of the Silk Roads.

The Silk Roads are behind major cultural and trade exchanges between different parts of the world. Throughout their long history, all of this blending between different civilizations and people resulted in the sharing of various knowledge. These knowledge included philosophy, mathematics, geography, cartography, astronomy, and astrology. Different perceptions of astrology existed along the Silk Roads, where this subject was largely discussed and studied, notably in Central Asia and in the Muslim world.

In Central Asia during Medieval times astrology had two interpretations. The first interpretation was established on mathematical and astronomical theories and measurements. Whereas the second interpretation was based on magical elements, was not rational and or followed by mathematical facts. In the Muslim world, astrology was considerably criticized, because it was most of the time interpreted as a magical theory and not as a scientific one.

Al-Biruni was one of the first scholar to make a distinction between these fields during the tenth-eleventh century. Indeed, he highlighted the scientific essence of astronomy by describing it like the science of the stars. He differentiated astrology from astronomy by considering it more like a form of art or a practice. As an erudite scientist, he criticized astrology stressing the fact that astrology had “weak foundations”. Moreover, he emphasized his theory that astrology is not a science by analysing deeply the astrological doctrines of Ancient Greece, the Indian subcontinent, the Iranian and Central Asian regions. Al-Biruni stated that astrological questions and the significance of the Zodiac signs were treated in different ways depending on regions.

However, regardless of these criticisms, astrology was quite popular in the Muslim world. Astrology was considered as a science alongside astronomy by other scholars such as al-Khwarizmi or Ulugh Beg. In their works on astronomy, these scholars dedicated chapters to astrology. For them astrology had the same concepts as astronomy, but these concepts were examined with additional astrological elements. For example, the word “horoscope” (from the Greek horos ‘time’ and skopein ‘determine’), was initially defined as “the ascent or ascending degree of the ecliptic”. Astrology was then used to establish the time of an event through the coordination of the planets.

Astrology had a great importance in Central Asia and in the Muslim world. It benefited significant interest from the people; the rulers were also governing and making decisions by taking into account astrological elements.

Even though there were different perceptions, astrology was deeply linked with astronomy. These both subjects were developed thanks to the scholars researches which were led beyond their regions, along the Silk Roads. Therefore, astrology and astronomy remain important elements of our common heritage.


See also:

Astronomy along the Silk Roads

Mapping and Compilation of the World Maps along the Silk Roads

Muslim presence in the Korean Peninsula

Muslim Monopoly along the Silk Roads

The Interconnections between Portuguese and Malay languages

Oman region, a Hub on the Maritime Trade Routes

Interactions between Indian Subcontinent and Western Land during Roman Empire

Trade Routes in Himalayan India

Pakistan and the Silk Roads

The Anatolian Silk Roads

The Silk Routes of the Mongols

The Southern Silk Roads

The Great Silk Roads

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