Ancient astronomers

Let's first get an overview of the era:

The earliest civilization in history is called the Sumerian Civilization, which started around 3000 BC in the Middle East.

Around 2100 BC, the King Ur-Namma used oven-baked bricks to construct stepped pyramid-like structures called ziggurats.


The example to the left, of which only the lowest step remains, used to be as high as a thirty-story building!

In the past, every ziggurat was topped by a temple, where teams of priests systematically studied the stars, making them the first professional astronomers.

the planets

These priests soon noticed some “stars” did not stay in their fixed constellations, but moved from one constellation to the next. 

These special “stars” are now called planets.

They also discovered the planets moved in mathematically determined periodic orbits. This gave rise to the idea that the universe was governed by a cosmic order instated by the gods.


The Greeks would later conclude from these discoveries that the universe is governed by natural laws.

Meet king Ashurbanipal

Now let's see this period through the eyes of an individual:

In the 7th century BC, King Ashurbanipal ordered his servants to collect texts from around the Middle East for his Royal Library of Nineveh. He gave the following order:

"The rare tablets on your route that are not found in Assyria,

seek out and bring to me."

The library contained a stunning 30,000 tablets, including the Venus Tablet, on which the rising and setting of Venus over the course of 21 years was recorded (see the image on the left).

The king himself was also able to read cuneiform and regularly sent clay letters in clay envelops to various cities.