Let's start at the very beginning…

Neo-Assyrian, 7th century BC, From Nineveh, northern Iraq
Neo-Assyrian, 7th century BC, From Nineveh, northern Iraq. British Museum.

The formal study of astrology began with astronomical observations of the planet Venus. Above is a copy of a Babylonian tablet inscribed with astronomer’s data on the movements of the planet, dating from the 7th century BCE (with its original created, according to scholars, approximately 1000 years earlier). It’s known as the ‘Venus tablet‘.

In my opinion, it’s an extraordinary piece of history, one we can still appreciate thousands of years after its creation.

The tablet currently dwells in a dimly-lit gallery at the British Museum. I have seen it at close range; it’s extremely small, no more than 4-1/2″ tall, and would have been used as a hand-held reference. 

It is the earliest current evidence in existence that shows us the religious belief of the era, in which the importance of the rising and setting of the most prominent star in the sky was documented in cuneiform.

As a system of writing, cuneiform did not survive past the 1st century BCE, but Babylonian culture influenced the Greeks, who transformed astronomical observations with the power of their imaginative interpretation of inherited myth.

The history of astrology begins here, with these little wedge-shaped inscriptions, so necessary for an understanding of the religious ritual of the time. Ritual, timing, and the rising and setting of the planet Venus all combine to create the earliest recorded astrological symbols.