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New Old Horoscopes

Andreas Winkler

University of Oxford

In this paper, I will present six ostraca containing seven horoscopes written in a mixture of Demotic and hieratic/cursive hieroglyphs. The pieces date to the period between 48/47 BC and AD 1/2. Only one of these texts has been published previously: O.Ashm.Dem 633 (Neugebauer & Parker, JEA 54 [1968], pp. 231-4). The edprinc. is in need of improvement; the first editors did not recognise that the text was written according to similar principles as many contemporary temple inscriptions, that is, a kind of cryptographic script was used to note down the positions of the celestial bodies. 

There are good reasons to assume that the texts come from Western Thebes and that they once formed part of an astrologer’s professional archive. All the ostraca are clearly written by the same person and must have been kept together. The horoscopes are of particular interest, as among the oldest examples of this genre known from Egypt, and they depart in form and content from most similar pieces in Greek (e.g., Neugebauer & van Hoesen, Greek Horoscopes [1959]) and Demotic (e.g., Neugebauer, JAOS 63 [1943], pp. 115-26; Quack, Enchoria 31 [2008/9], pp. 104-12; Ross, EVO 34 [2011], pp. 47-80). Another interesting point is that they contain more detailed astronomical information than most contemporary pieces; to some extent they resemble the so-called deluxe horoscopes known in Greek (cf., e.g., P.Oxy.Astr. 4276-4285), which mostly date to the second century AD and later. 

My presentation will focus on three main question, which can be elucidated by the present material. The first concerns what these pieces can show about various traditions of constructing horoscopes in Greek and Demotic in the centuries at the turn of the Common Era. The second question relates to the astronomical knowledge of the practitioners, while the third treats their social status and sacerdotal training; one text preserves the name and title of the astrologer. This small archive affords us a better understanding of astrological practices in Graeco-Roman Egypt and sheds light on how Greek, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian practices were employed and merged into a new tradition, which formed the cornerstone of later western astrology. 

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Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

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