ZODIAC, a circle, oblique with respect to the equator, represented on the celestial sphere and divided into twelve equal parts, conventionally of 30° each (Pahlavi dwʾcdhʾn dwāzdahān “the twelve ones;” Sogd. Man. ʾ(n)xrwzn/Buddh. ʾnγrwzn; Mod. Pers. menṭaqato’l-boruj, lit. “the region of the Zodiacal signs,”; Gk. Dōdekatēmória, etc. [see below]). These more or less correspond to the twelve “zodiacal” constellations, called in Greek Zōdia, from which comes the name “Zodiac” (see also zōdiakós kúklos “the zodiacal circle”). We can distinguish (van der Waerden, 1952-53, p. 216) between a zodiacal belt some 12° in width, where the sun, the moon, and the five planets known in antiquity move, and the ecliptic, i.e., a line in the middle of the zodiacal belt (the place where lunar and solar eclipses occur) corresponding to the sun’s orbit.

The origin and development of the idea of a zodiacal circle have been much debated, but now there is a general consensus that a kind of zodiacal belt must have been defined by Babylonian astronomers as early as 700 BCE. In this period the “path” supposed to have been followed by the planets, the sun, and the moon was divided into 15 constellations. An earlier proto-zodiac with 18 or 17 ecliptical constellations, named “the path of the Moon,” was also known (Florisoone, 1950, pp. 257-59; 1951, pp. 168-69; van der Waerden, 1968, pp. 77-78; Rochberg-Halton, 1984, pp. 121-25; Hunger and Pingree, 1989, pp. 144-45; 1999, p. 71). The standard scheme of the 12 constellations was clearly introduced in about the 5th century and developed during the Seleucid period. The Greek elaboration of the Zodiac no doubt followed, with small changes in the mythological representation of a few constellations, the Babylonian pattern (see Cumont, 1969; van der Waerden, 1952-53; Florisone, 1950; 1951; Pettinato, 1998, pp. 96-99, 123-26). Although no Old Persian or Avestan source directly refers to the concept of the Zodiac, it is not farfetched to suppose that, at least in western Iran, where the Babylonian schools of astronomy were very active and progressing in their own mathematical techniques during the Achaemenid domination, the idea of the Zodiac was already developed in its basic model, probably in connection with some calendrical problems (such as intercalations of a month and eventual modifications and/or reforms of the calendar; see CALENDARS; see also Panaino, 2002). It is in fact highly improbable that only the Greeks and the Indians should have been able to take advantage of the results of the Mesopotamian astronomical notions, while the Iranians remained completely inactive in this field; the introduction of at least two calendrical reforms under the Achaemenids confirms direct knowledge of astronomical data which must have been mastered also by the Persian rulers. (Likewise, the attribution of divine names to the planets, based on an earlier Babylonian pattern, surely happened before the demonization of those entities occurred) Thus, the history of the Iranian calendars, as well as the pattern lying behind the basic Mazdean scheme of the great cosmic (and mythological) period of 12,000 years (see COSMOGONY AND COSMOLOGY), presuppose a certain crude (but early, because it is indirectly assumed also by Xanthos of Miletus; cf. Gnoli, 2000, pp. 43-94) acquaintance with the simple scheme of the 12 Zodiacal constellations, which were originally linked with the 12 months of the year (Panaino, 1998a, pp. 163-65); the astrological power (chronochratoria) exerted by the 12 signs over the 12 millennia of the cosmic year was probably introduced later with the basic corpus of the Hellenistic astrology.

According to the spherical model assumed in Sasanian Iran under the impact of Greek and Indian astral sciences, the inferior sphere was called the spihr ī gumēzišnīg “sphere of mixture;” it comprised the twelve constellations (Pahl. 12-axtarān) which were subjected to the “mixture” with the demoniac and evil forces (planets, falling stars, comets, etc.); this sphere, of course, included the Zodiacal belt (see Ir. Bd., II, 8-9; cf. Henning, 1942, pp. 232-33, 240; Belardi, 1977, pp. 125-26) with its 12 constellations (Gignoux, 1988); here a most important battle between astral demons and divine star beings takes place, according to the Pahlavi sources. In the framework of the fight between stars and planetary demons, the Zodiacal constellation were considered as bayān, in its early meaning of “givers” of a good lot in opposition to the planets, who are “bandits” (gēg) and robbers of the human fortune (cf. also New Pers. dahandagān “the [12 constellations] as givers”; Zaehner, 1972, pp. 417, n. r, 477; Panaino, 2005). According to the Mazdakite tradition, as reported by Šahrastāni (1986, pp. 663-66), the seven ministers of the heavens turn and move among the twelve spiritual beings, which can be nothing but the 12 zodiacal signs (cf. Sundermann, 1993, p. 316). This tradition is distinctive in that the planets do not belong to the demoniac army, as is the case in the Zoroastrian orthodox pattern.

The standard name of the Zodiac in Pahlavi was dwazdahān (dw’cdh’n) “the twelve ones” (Nyberg, 1974, p. 69; MacKenzie, 1971, p. 29), but there is also the denomination 12-axtarān (see Nyberg, 1974, p. 39); in Modern Persian the standard denomination is menṭaqato’l-boruj “the region of the Zodiacal signs” (“Zodiacal sign” being the Arabic loanword borj, pl. boruj, meaning also “tower” and “month of the solar calendar”), but also borj-e āsmān “the Zodiac,” borjhā-ye (or boruj-e) davāzdahgāna “the twelve signs” (Tajik burj-iduvozdah), davāzdah borj-e falak “the twelve signs of the heaven” (Tajik duvozdah burj-i falak); in Kurdish we find birc and birce feleke.

As far as we know, a well-developed knowledge of mathematical and spherical astronomy was mastered in Iran only in the Sasanian period (224-651 CE), although we may imagine a certain astronomical activity earlier, in the Arsacid period, but mostly mastered in non-Iranian languages. During the Sasanian period the traditional astral lore (mostly of Avestan origin) and the local background culture were greatly enhanced, thanks to Greek, Egyptian, and also Indian astronomical and astrological doctrines (see Pingree, 1963a; 1973; 1987; 1993; 1997, pp. 39-50; Henning, 1942; MacKenzie, 1964; Brunner, 1987; Panaino, 1998a with additional bibliography; Raffaelli, 2001). The Zodiac is well attested in the Pahlavi texts and the names of the Zodiacal constellations listed, e.g., in Ir.Bd., II, 1-2 (Henning, 1943, pp. 230-31), basically follow the Greek forms (see TABLE 1)

The initial point of the Zodiac (and then of the year) was already fixed at 0° Aries (see Brunner, 1987, p. 866). The essential importance of the Zodiac was fully recognized in Sasanian astrology, as patently shown from the “world horoscope” (zāyč ī gēhān) of Ir. Bd. V and in the birth horoscope of Gayōmart in Ir. Bd. VI F, which was very similar to the Indian horoscope of the mahāpuruṣa (attested in the Yavanajātaka of Spujidhvaja; see Pingree, 1973, p. 123; cf. MacKenzie, 1964 and Raffaelli, 2001). In this very thema mundi the planets and the luminaries (sun and moon) are placed in their own exaltations with the exception of Mercury. This text also confirms a remarkable knowledge of the Greek astrological system of the 12 “houses” (or “places”; cf. Pahl. gyāg and Gr. dōdekátopos). Probably we can also see in Šahristānīhā ī Ērān 24 (Markwart, 1931, p. 14) a reference to the so-called oktō´topos (i.e., the “eight place” of the genitura—the thema or birth horoscope—as in Manilius and Firmicus): mārīg ī... haštom bahrag “the decrees (lit. “words”) of the... eighth part” (MacKenzie, 1964, p. 524; cf. Bouché-Leclercq, 1899, p. 276-80).

The astral diagram was arranged with a subdivision of the Zodiac into 12 houses, starting from the rising point (i.e., the “true” horoscope), corresponding to the first house, while the second house was placed 30 degrees under the horizon, and so on. These 12 houses are mentioned in Ir. Bd. V and VI F (see MacKenzie, 1964, p. 526; for the interpretation of IV, pidištān or, perhaps better, its emendation to +pidarān, see Raffaelli, 2001, p. 89); their sequence is presented in TABLE 2.

The most important of these places were the four called Gk. kéntra (Pahl. mēx), Lat. cardines: (1) the “horoscope” (in the strict sense) or ascendant, in the first house; (2) the Imum caeli or nadir, in the fourth house; (3) the Occidens or descendant in the seventh house; and (4) the Medium caeli or zenith in the tenth house. Four other places were considered “favorable,” because they were in trigone aspect (places V and IX) and sextile aspect (III and IX) with the horoscope. The remaining four were “negative” (places II, VI, VIII, XII; see Bouché-Leclerq, 1899, p. 281).

In general, the system of the 12 houses does not correspond to the 12 Zodiacal signs, because the first place (Lat. cuspis) starts from the actual horoscope. However, in the (two) “World horoscopes” of the Bundahišn (see FIGURE 1, FIGURE 2, FIGURE 3; Raffaelli, 2001, pp. 84, 137-39) there are some attempts to identify signs and houses by overlapping them (see also Zādspram, 2.21; Gignoux and Tafazzoli, 1993, pp. 38-39). In these texts the houses correspond to 12 sections of the ecliptic; each of them passes through the meridian (cf. Bouché-Leclerq, 1899, pp. 280-88; Henning, 1946, p. 727). A number of Arabic astrological works translated from Pahlavi originals confirm the existence of various other subdivision of the Zodiacal circle, such as that of the “lots”: dwāzdah bahr (= Gk. dōdekatēmórion) > Ar. dwāzdah bahrī (cf. Dorotheus, Carmen Astrologicum, V 5, 5; V 35, 6; V 41, 1.2; Pingree, 1976, p. XVI; Bouché-Leclercq, 1899, pp. 299-303; cf. also the Ketāb al-melal wa’l-dowal “The Book of Religions and Dynasties” by Abu Maʿšar, ed. Yamamoto and Burnett with the Latin version).

Other astrological phenomena in the horoscope were strictly connected with the Zodiac. In particular we mention the aphétēs “he who throws (the vital movement)” or “prorogator,” Pahl. hilāg, Ar. haylāj, and Lat. alhileg (Panaino, 1993, p. 426; Pingree, 1997, p. 49, Burnett and Pingree, 1997, p. 126), and the oikodespótēs Pahl. kadag-xwadāy, Pers. kad-xodā lit. “lord of the house” (MacKenzie, 1964, p. 528, n. 76; Burnett and Pingree, 1997, p. 126); in astrological terminology, the latter is “lord of the domicile,” the place where the planet becomes more powerful. Any planet had two domicilia, a diurnal one and a nocturnal one. The word kadag (ī axtarān) “the house (of the stars)” occurring in Ir.Bd. V A, 9 and corresponding to Gr. oikos confirms the existence of this pattern (Raffaelli, 2001, pp. 111-13). About the existence of the 12 “great” houses of the astrological cycle of night and day (nuchthē´meron) among Iranian Buddhists in Sogdiana, see below.

In addition to the 12 Zodiacal constellations Sasanian astrologers also used the originally Egyptian series of the decans; each Zodiacal constellation (= 30°) was divided into 3 decans, each of 10°, for a total number of 36. The Pahlavi name for “decan,” dahīg, directly renders Gr. dekanós, while the New Persian and Arabic forms (darēgān > darījān) are based on Sanskrit drīkāna-, drekkānīa- (MacKenzie, 1964, p. 516, n. 33; Panaino, 1987, p. 131). That there was knowledge of division of the decans into two hemidecans is documented through a peculiar representation on a coin of the Turkish khagan Jēb Šāhānšāh (about 625 CE; see Harmatta, 1982). The sphaera barbarica (i.e., non-Greek mappings of the heavens)—in particular representations of the decans, whose iconography was transformed through Indian mediation—was transferred to Sasanian Iran; thence it entered Arabic astrological texts. Greek descriptions of the paranàtellonta toîs dekanoîs, that is, the constellations rising on the horizon together with a particular decan, were made by Teucer the Babylonian, an astrologer to be placed between the 1st century BCE and the first century CE. (There are later attributions to a Pseudo-Teucer: fragments apud Boll, 1903, pp. 16-21, 41-52; Boll, 1904, in CCAG V, I, 1904, pp. 156-70.) These representations were known to Sasanian astronomers at the time of Khosrow I (von Gutschmid, 1861, p. 88; Boll, 1903, pp. 412-39; Pingree, 1963b; Panaino, 1987) and thus to the Arabs (Nallino, 1922, pp. 356-63 = 1948, pp. 296-302; Sezgin, 1979, pp. 71-73; cf. Pingree, 1963b, p. 242; 1978, II, pp. 442-43).

Many descriptions of the astral iconography were translated into Latin, particularly from the works of Abu Mašʿar, which were partly based on Middle Persian material. In this way they entered Europe between the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. Thanks to the AstrolabiumPlanum by Pietro d’Abano (d. ca. 1316), based on the Introductorium maius of Abu Maʿšar (Dyroff apud Boll, 1903, pp. 482-539; Sezgin, 1979, pp. 139-51), many Indian (derived from Varāhamihira, 6th cent. CE, but originally from the Yavanajātaka; see Pingree 1963b; 1978) and Iranian representations of the decans and of the constellations had a significant impact on Italian art (Warburg, 1980, pp. 253-57; Saxl, 1925-26; 1985, p. 283; cf. Pingree, 1989c). Notable examples are the pictorial cycles of the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara dating to 1470 (Warburg, 1980, pp. 249-72) and the famous Salone dei Mesi at the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua, 1306 (Saxl, 1985, pp. 280-91; see also Pingree, 1963b, p. 223; 1987; Burnett and Pingree, 1997).

The Indian system of the nakṣatras (Pahl. xwurdag) with 27 and 28 “asterisms” is well attested in the Iranian sources. In Ir. Bd. II, 2 we find a list (in Pāzand) of 27 xwurdag (see Henning, 1942, pp. 231, 242-46; cf. Hampel, 1974, pp. 24-31, 194-204); they are generally referred to as “lunar stations” (but see Morrisey and Pingree, 1989), each of them measuring 13° 20'. In the Ind. Bd., 28 asterisms seem to be mentioned, although Henning (1942, p. 243) considered such a number wrong (but see Belardi, 1977, pp. 122-35; cf. Hampel, 1974, pp. 30-31). In ms. K27, fol. 12 (Copenhagen), these asterisms seem to have been called manāzel, as in Arabic (cf. Hampel, 1974, pp. 24, 29). A passage from Dēnkard, III, 419 (ed. Madan, 1911, pp. 403-5; Nyberg, 1934, pp. 34-39; Boyce apud de Menasce, 1973, p. 376; Belardi, 1977, p. 123) clearly refers to the beginning of the seasons coinciding with the entrance of the sun into the asterisms placed in Aries (spring), Cancer (summer), Libra (autumn), and Capricorn (winter). In a fragmentary Manichean Sogdian text from Turfan (M 549), 28 asterisms are listed (Henning, 1942, pp. 242-43; Belardi, 1977, p. 122). In addition, we know three other lists of nakṣatras: a Sogdian and a Chorasmian list are quoted by Biruni (Āṯār, pp. 238-40; tr. Sachau, pp. 226-28), and another Sogdian list is identical with the latter (Freĭman, 1938, pp. 43-ss.; 1962, pp. 46-60; Henning, 1942, p. 242). Here the asterisms are named ʾnγrnʾ mʾk “stars of the moon.”

These lists with 27 or 28 asterisms are in any case of Indian origin (Scherer, 1953, pp. 152-59). Their diffusion in Iran should be placed in the Sasanian period, but, without entering here into a detailed discussion about Belardi’s (1977, p. 138, n. 19) assumption of an early Iranian origin for them, it is quite probable that this special subdivision of the constellations was already known in Central Asia about the 2nd century CE through the mediation of Buddhist sources in Sanskrit and the derived Chinese translations, such as those by the Parthian prince An Shih-kao (cf. Forte, 1968; Pingree, 1987, p. 859). Also in the Khotanese literature we can find references to the nakṣat(t)ra- (with a term clearly derived from Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit), sometimes with the direct mention of the individual asterism referred to (e.g., pulśä or pväśa nakṣatträ, etc.; cf. Skt. puṣya-; Bailey, 1982, p. 29; see also the Book of Zambasta, XXIV, 202; Emmerick, 1968, pp. 380-81; Leumann, 1933-36, pp. 322-23).

The conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn also played an important role in Sasanian astrology (Kennedy, 1964, pp. 259-60 Pingree, 1963a; Panaino, 1998, p. 160). These were, at least in part, connected with the Zoroastrian cosmological doctrine of the 12,000 years, in which each millennium was placed under the domain or the chronocratoria of a Zodiacal constellation (cf. ʿOlamā-ye Eslām; Zaehner, 1972, pp. 410-11; see Kennedy and Pingree, 1971, pp. 72-75, with regard to the Astrological History of Māšāʾallāh). The doctrine of the Great Conjunctions, probably introduced by Sasanian astrologers (Pingree, 1963a, pp. 245-46), was strictly linked with that of the so-called “triplicities,” that is, another astrological subdivision of the Zodiac into four groups of three constellations respectively associated with the four basic elements of the creation (first triplicity: Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius with Fire; the second: Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn with Earth; the third: Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius with Air; the fourth: Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces with Water). These Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions actually take place every 20 years in the same triplicity until, after 12 of them (more rarely 13), that is, after 240 or 260 years, a shift of triplicity occurs and a new series of 12 or 13 conjunctions is transferred to the following triplicity, and so on until the end of the cycle, which takes about a millennium, with the occurrence of the Greatest Conjunction (see Kennedy, 1964, pp. 30-32). Then the entire cycle is repeated. This system was basic for the Sasanian historical astrology (Pingree, 1997, pp. 42-44, 55-62) and for the arrangement of general annual predictions based on the horoscopes of the revolutions of the years and on the prorogations of many indicators (such as the fardar, entehāʾ and qesma).

We recall that, according to the Zoroastrian pattern, all the stars should have been considered divine and positive. But in an Arabic astrological text (entitled Ketāb al-mawālid; see Kunitschz, 1993), attributed to Zoroaster and of clear Middle Persian origin, astrologers, using crude deterministic patterns, also assumed the presence of stars with negative significance (see Panaino, 1997a); apparently none of these was located along the ecliptic. This peculiar doctrine should be attributed to an Iranian astrological tradition ultimately depending on an old astrological doctrine of Greco-Babylonian origin. For a direct reference to this unorthodox subdivision (from the point of view of Zoroastrian theology) of the stars into Ohrmazdian and Ahrimanian, see the Persian Riwāyats of Farāmarz (Dhabhar, 1932, p. 431).

With the beginning of the seventh millennium of the gumēzišn, that is, with the period of mixture with Ahriman’s forces, the “chiliadic domination” (hazārag xwadāyīh) was given to the Balance (Ir. Bd. V B 15-17), the sign that represented “the dejection of the dejections” (Pahl. šēbān šēb = Gk. tapeínōma tapeínōmatōn) for the Sun—the astrologically worst place of the Zodiac (see Panaino, 1996a). On the other hand, the Balance contained the place of exaltation for Saturn (Kēwān), the most dangerous planetary demon of the heaven, who therefore became the lord of that millennium. This subdivision is confirmed from the Zand ī Wahman Yasn (Cereti, 1995), where world history is arranged according to the system of the exaltations with respect to the four kéntra (cardines; see above), which are distributed among the four sequences of 3,000 years within the entire cycle of 12,000 years (see Pingree, apud Panaino, 1996a). The beginning of the gētīg (material existence) thus corresponds to the third cardine and the domination of Saturn.

The Pahlavi sources also mention the “terms,” Pahl. marz, Gr. horion “boundary, limit,” which was a particular section of the Zodiac assigned to any planet (Panaino, 1994, pp. 182, 187).

In Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram 30.1-13 (Gignoux and Tafazzoli, 1993, pp. 96-99) a planetary melothesy (i.e. a systematic representation of the mutual correspondences between the various parts of the human body and the 12 zodiacal constellations) is attested. Its pattern here partly follows that attested in the Yavanajātaka, I, 123-126 (Pingree, 1978, II, pp. 251-52). In Ir.Bd. XXVIII (par. 3) the functions of hands and feet is compared with the seven planets and the 12 constellations, while (par. 5) the two eyes are related to the sun and the moon, and the teeth to the stars; this passage has been discussed by Götze, 1923, but the thesis that it influenced the pseudo-Hippocratic text Peri hebdomádōn remains under discussion.

A negative or deterministic representation of the role played by the 7 planets and the 12 constellations is expressed in Wizarišn ī Čatrang 30 (Panaino, 1999, pp. 75-76), where human life is declared to be determined by astral bonds, and destiny is compared to the throw of the die in the game of nēw-ardaxšīr (a kind of backgammon). The complex representation of the astral bonds, originally (i.e., in the Indian sources) which involves the progression of the planets through the Zodiac, and the explanation of their retrogradation, was later extended, according to some Zoroastrian and Manichean sources (see Panaino, 1998a), also to the stars, and then, from stars and planets, to the souls of the human beings.

A Zoroastrian poetical text (in 26 couplets) in Modern Persian, entitled Borj-nāma “Book of the Zodiacal Signs,” and attested in the Persian Rivāyats of Dārāb Hormazdyār (in the ms. BU 29 just after the Mār-nāma “The Book of the Snakes”), states what the appearance of the new moon portended in each sign of the Zodiac (text and tr., Gray, 1909-10, pp. 340-42; 1918, p. 464 [ms. Bu, fol. 64]; cf. West, 1904, p. 129; Panaino, 2005b).

Also present in the Zodiac is the heavenly Dragon. Its head (gōzihr sar) and tail (gōzihr dumb), Gr. ho anabibázōn and ho katabibázōn [súndesmos] (Bouché-Leclerq, 1899, pp. 121-23, passim) are cited in the world horoscope of the Bundahišn, following an Indian astrological tradition; and these correspond to the daêvic representation of the lunar nodes (i.e., the places where eclipses occur). The Dragon’s name has been generally interpreted in Pahlavi as Gōzihr (gwcyhl; Ar. Jawzah(a)r; see in bibliog. the works by Hartner), which should derive from the standard epithet of the Moon in Avestan (gaociθra- “holding the seed of cattle”). However, such a sematic shift remains questionable; the name could be explained otherwise as *gaw-čihr (gwcyhl) from ⁴gav- “daêvic hand” + ¹ciθra- “form” (i.e., *²gaociθra- or *gāuciθra-; cf. Bartholomae 1895-1901, cap. 288, par. 33, p. 157; Morgenstierne, 1927, p. 89, s.v. warγōwai “palm of the hand, sole of the foot” < *fragava-ka-), thus “having the form of a devilish hand.” The model of the Dragon seems to follow the image of Rāhu, the Indian black planet, normally represented with two enormous hands (see Panaino, 2006). Reference to this demon is found in the Mid. Pers. Manichean fragment M556, where the head and the tail are referred to as two dragons (azdahāg; see Boyce, 1975, p. 60; Hutter, 1992, p. 10).

References, not only to astral bodies but more specifically to astrological concepts strictly connected with the standard image of the Zodiac, are well attested also in Manichean sources (Stegemann, 1997); in particular a detailed description of the Manichean representation of the celestial vault is given by the Sogdian manuscript M 178 (ed. Henning, 1948, pp. 310-16; see also Panaino, 1997b). We know that individual horoscopy was practiced as confirmed from the Manichean fragment M 543 (cf. Salemann, 1908, p. 28; Boyce, 1975, p. 149, text cqa), where it is stated that Mani was “born under a sign of good auspice” (cy zʾd hy pd prwj ʾxtr). The knowledge of so-called catholic (or universal) astrology is confirmed thanks to a Manichean Parthian fragment (ed. Kudara, Yoshida, and Sundermann, 1997: photo vol., pl. 124, text vol., p. 232; signature no. 11079; cf. Panaino, 1997b, p. 256, n. 36); here the regions of the known world correspond to the signs of the Zodiac according to a general pattern comparable to that attested in the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, 2.3.3-5 (ed. Robbins, 1940, pp. 128-29). The correspondence between human body and the cosmos (melothesia) was greatly developed in the Coptic Kephalaia (chap. LXX; ed. Polotsky and Böhlig, 1940, pp. 169-75; Gardner, 1995, pp. 179-84); in it are found two melothesiae (Schmidt, 1940, p. 174, ll. 1-ss), in which the order of description is close to that followed by Indian and Classical astrologers (cf. Pingree, 1978, II, pp. 193-203).

In the Manichean cosmology also the stars were considered as demoniac beings, and for this reason the Zodiac too was regarded negatively; but a residual positive evaluation of these constellations seems to survive in the image of the Twelve Virgins of Light and in various other divine groups of 12, such as the 12 buckets of the noria “wheel” in the Column of Light, and the 12 Eons placed behind God the Father of Greatness; these probably have absorbed the role of the Zodiac (Panaino, 1997b). This also seems to be the case for the magic, twelve-faced “Lens” (mjyʾ), on which see Henning (1948, pp. 315-16), set up on the ten Firmaments by the Lord of the Seven Climes and the Mother of the Righteous, where the Son of God sits as watcher, according to the Sogdian fragment M 178 (Henning, 1948, p. 312). Each Firmament has twelve Gates, which, according to Henning (1948, p. 311), appear not to be connected with the twelve constellations; but it is clear that their number evokes another kind of prototypical Zodiac. According to the same manuscript (Henning, 1948, p. 315), below the ten Firmaments were fashioned a rolling wheel and the Zodiac (in Sogdian: Man. ʾ(n)xrwzn/Buddh. ʾnγrwzn; see Gharib, 2004, pp. 40, 47, 82). Within the Zodiac the demons of Darkness were fettered; here we find also a reference to the negative role of the planets and of the twelve Zodiacal constellations. In the same Zodiac, which in the Pahlavi sources represents a mixed place, that is, a place of battle, the demons are imprisoned, and they wove together roots, veins, and links, which can be compared with many other kinds of astral bonds attested in a number of Manichean, Zoroastrian, and also Mandean sources (see Panaino, 1998a).

In the Buddhist Sogdian text of Paris (P. 3, vv. 147 ff.; see Benveniste, 1940, p. 66; Henning, 1946, p. 727), an Indian representation of the heavens is attested with additional references to various astronomical and astrological subdivisions: here the “houses” (γnʾk) of the twelve constellations (12 ʾnγr) are said to have been painted in a magical building by a Shaman, above the image of Mount Sumeru (smʾyr γrw); in addition, the text refers to the 28 “lunar mansions” (28 ʾnγrt), the twelve (eleven in the ms.) “great and terrible Hours” (mzʾyγw wẓpγwnʾyth ẓmnth), and the other Zodiacal stars. The mention of Mount Sumeru is well known in Indian Buddhist astral texts (as well as that of Mount Meru in Hindu sources) and refers to a spherical image of the celestial vault, where the peak of the cosmic mountain is connected with Dhruva or the Pole Star (see Kirfel, 1920, pp. 182-85; Neugebauer and Pingree, 1971, p. 83; Pingree, 1981, pp. 12-13; Panaino, 1995-96, pp. 195-98).

For a description of the Zodiac in Islamic times, see Pingree, 1987 (s.v. ASTROLOGY).



Biruni, al-Āṯār al-bāqia ʿan al-qorun al-ḵāliya, ed. C. Edward Sachau, Leipzig, 1878; tr. C. Edward Sachau as The Chronology of Ancient Nations, London 1879; Russian tr. M. A. Sal’e, Izbrannye proizvedeniya (Selected works), Tashkent, 1957.

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July 20, 2009

(Antonio Panaino)

Originally Published: July 20, 2009

Last Updated: July 20, 2009