A horoscope for Freie Universität Berlin based on ancient methods

(For the German version, see previous blog entry.)

17. August 2023, by Mathieu Ossendrijver and the ZODIAC-Team

This year Freie Universität Berlin is celebrating its 75th birthday. The research project „ZODIAC – Ancient Astral Science in Transformation“ took this as an opportunity to ask the following question: how would an ancient astrologer determine the birth chart of Freie Universität Berlin and interpret its future? Not only is the answer itself of interest, but even more so the process of answering can yield interesting results, because by reconstructing the individual steps of the calculation and the interpretation of a horoscope according to ancient methods, possible gaps in our understanding of these methods become apparent.

Horoscopic astrology originated in Babylonia in the 5th century BCE. Babylonian scholars introduced the zodiac with twelve signs of 30 degrees and they developed a new astrological doctrine according to which a person’s future is determined from the zodiacal positions of the moon, the sun, and the five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) at the time of birth. In its barest form, an ancient horoscope is nothing more than a list of these positions. Another new feature of horoscopic astrology is that it was used by private individuals, and not just by rulers as was the case in older Mesopotamian astrology.

Horoscopic astrology spread from Babylonia to Egypt and the Graeco-Roman world, where it continued to develop. In Greco-Roman horoscopes, in addition to the positions of the moon, the sun and the planets, the so-called ascendant is also recorded. The ascendant is the position in the zodiac, defined either as a whole sign or more precisely to the degree, that rises on the eastern horizon at the time of birth.

The positions of the moon, the sun, the planets and the ascendant were not observed but calculated. This can already be seen from the fact that not all planets are visible on any given day. The creation of a horoscope therefore required extensive mathematical calculations. It is all the more astonishing that horoscopic astrology was able to spread so successfully from Babylonian to the ancient world.

The basis for creating a horoscope is the date of birth. We take the founding date, December 4, 1948, as the date of birth of Freie Universität Berlin. Since a Greco-Roman horoscope also mentions the ascendant, the time of founding must also be known. Unfortunately, the exact time could not be determined. We have assumed 11:00 am Central European Time as the hypothetical time of birth because we consider this to be a plausible time for the founding act.

Since there were different methods of calculating and interpreting a horoscope in ancient times, we had to make a selection from them. We decided on a Babylonian variant and a Greco-Roman variant.

The horoscope of Freie Universität Berlin based on modern astronomical methods

Ideally, all positions would have to be calculated using ancient methods. Since this would be very time-consuming, we decided to first calculate the positions using standard modern astronomical methods. The result is summarized in the following table:

Horoscope for FU Berlin, December 4, 1948 11:00 CET

moon26º Capricorn
sun12º Sagittarius
Mercury8º Sagittarius
Venus10º Scorpio
Mars6º Capricorn
Jupiter4º Capricorn
Saturn6º Virgo
Ascendent26º Capricorn

The following figure shows a visualization of the horoscope (thanks to Michael Zellmann-Rohrer):

Calculation of the horoscope according to Babylonian methods using Jupiter as an example

We now show first how a Babylonian astrologer might have calculated that Jupiter was in 4º Capricorn on December 4, 1948. This was achieved in two separate steps:

            (1) Calculation of synodic phenomena (date and zodiac position). The synodic phenomena of Jupiter that were observed and calculated in Babylonia are First Visibility, First Station, Evening Rising, Second Station, and Last Visibility. They form a cycle that lasts about 13 months (Fig. 1).

            (2) Calculation of the zodiacal positions of Jupiter from day to day between the synodic phenomena.

Fig. 1 Apparent motion of Jupiter relative to the stars over one synodic cycle. Up to the first station and after the second station Jupiter is moving forward (right to left); between the first and second station backwards (from left to right). Between last appearance and first appearance the planet is invisible.

Step 1: Computation of Synodic Phenomena

The last synodic phenomenon of Jupiter to occur before December 4, 1948 was the second station. We therefore, in Babylonian fashion, first calculate a table of second stations, starting from an earlier instance of this phenomenon. The Babylonians used a number system based on 60 (sexagesimal). Numbers are represented as sequences of digits 0-59, with each digit belonging to a right-decreasing power of 60. In translations, a comma is used as a separator between digits, with one exception: the semicolon (;) separates the part of the number greater than 1 from the part less than 1. For example 17;5,10 = 17 + 5/60 + 10/3600. The Babylonian calendar of the last centuries BCE. was based on the Seleucid Era, where year 1 = 311/310 BCE. The Babylonian months are abbreviated as Roman numerals. December 4, 1948 then corresponds to day 2 of month IX of year 2259 of the Seleucid Era. The year 2259 would be written by a Babylonian as 37.39 (37 x 60 + 39 = 2259).

As initial values for the table we take the second station of Jupiter that took place on Day 28, Month VII, Year 37,29 (= 2249) of the Seleucid Era in 26º Aquarius. The Babylonian astrologer could have taken these values either from an observational report or an existing table. Starting with the second station in 2249, we compute subsequent instances of the second station using a Babylonian algorithm known as „System A.“ We cannot go into the details of the algorithm here. We end the calculation with the second station on Day 10, Month V of the year 2259 of the Seleucid Era, which corresponds to August 16, 1948.

year of Seleucid Eramonthdayposition in zodiac
37,29 (= 2249)VII2926ºAquarius
37,39 (= 2259)V10;46,3019ºSagittarius
Second stations of Jupiter calculated using the Babylonian „System A“ algorithm

Step 2: Calculation of the daily position of Jupiter since the last synodic phenomenon

In the second step, the zodiacal position (longitude) of Jupiter is calculated from day to day from that second station up to the founding day of Freie Universität Berlin. We use a Babylonian method for this, according to which Jupiter moves at a constant speed along the ecliptic. The following table shows the first four days and the last four days of the calculation while omitting the intermediate days:

year of Seleucid Eramonthdayvelocity [º/day]Position in zodiac
37,39 (= 2259)V100;8,1019ºSagittarius
et cetera
37,39 (= 2259)IX20;8,104;14,40ºCapricorn
Daily positions of Jupiter up to December 4, 1948, calculated with a Babylonian algorithm.

The calculation ends on day 2, month IX, year 37.39 (= 2259) of the Seleucid Era, which corresponds to December 4, 1948, with the result: Jupiter was in 4º Capricorn. In a similar fashion, the Babylonian astrologer would have calculated the positions of the moon, the sun, and the other four planets.

The horoscope of Freie Universität Berlin on a Babylonian clay tablet

What would the horoscope look like and which data would it contain? The following illustration shows a synthetic Babylonian clay tablet with the horoscope of Freie Universität Berlin, made and described by Alessia Pilloni based on Babylonian examples.

Clay tablet with the horoscope of Freie Universität Berlin in Babylonian cuneiform (Alessia Pilloni)

Here follows, for those interested, the transliteration of the clay tablet:

MU.37.39.KAM ITI.GAN 2


a-lid ina si-ma-ni-šu

sin ina 26 MAŠ₂

šamaš₂ ina 12 PA


dil-bat ina 10 GIR₂

GU₄.UD ina 7 PA


AN ina 5 MAŠ₂

ina E₂ ni-ṣir-tu₄ ša AN

E₂.DUB.BA a-lid

And here is the translation:

Year 2259, Month IX, Day 2,

the University of Berlin

was born. At that time

the moon was in 27° Capricorn,

the sun in 12° Sagittarius,

Jupiter in 4° Capricorn,

Venus in 10° Scorpio,

Mercury in 7° Sagittarius,

Saturn in 6° Virgo,

Mars in 5° Capricorn.

In the House of Secrecy of Mars the university was born.

Interpretation of the horoscope according to Babylonian methods

How would a Babylonian astrologer interpret the horoscope? The rules according to which the future of the newborn was derived from the horoscope are only partially known. One reason is that the predictions were rarely written on the horoscope. For certain configurations of planets and zodiac signs, but not for all that appear in the chart of Freie Universität, there are tablets with predictive rules. Below are some quotes from such tablets, compiled by Marvin Schreiber. The individual predictions are partly contradictory. How a Babylonian astrologer would derive an overall interpretation of the horoscope from this is not really clear.

Moon, Mars, Jupiter in Capricorn

„Region of Capricorn: he becomes poor, falls ill, dies“. This rule from a collection of death predictions does not promise much good, but it is not as bad as most others, such as „Region of the Twins: Death in Prison.“

Jupiter is visible, Mars invisible

The horoscope does not mention whether a planet was visible or invisible. But Babylonian astrologers could also take this aspect into account. On December 4, 1948, Jupiter was visible at night while Mars was invisible because that date is between Last and First Visibility.

„If a child is born, Jupiter rises and Mars sets: this man will prosper, he will see his adversary’s downfall.“ This rule promises good things for Freie Universität, bad things for its „opponent,“ who has yet to be identified.

Mars in his house of secrecy

For each planet one sign of the zodiac was considered to be its „house of secrecy,“ a concept roughly analogous to the „exaltation“ in Greco-Roman astrology. It is likely that the presence of Mars in his „House of Secrecy“ Capricorn will amplify the effects of this unfavorable planet, but how that might play out is unknown.

Saturn, Moon, Jupiter and Mars in trine (Taurus – Virgo – Capricorn)

The trine aspect (= triangle of zodiac signs) played an important role in Babylonian astrology. Three planets and the moon are in the trine Taurus – Virgo – Capricorn. Corresponding predictions have not been handed down, but they would probably be favorable for the newborn.

Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in trine Taurus – Virgo – Capricorn

Diagram of the trigonal aspect on a Babylonian clay tablet (ca. 200 BCE)

Interpretation of the horoscope according to Greco-Roman methods

The rules by which a horoscope was interpreted in the Greco-Roman world are comparatively well known from astrological manuals such as those of Vettius Valens (c. 120-175 CE), Firmicus Maternus (300-337 CE), Hephaestion of Thebes (5th century CE). From such manuals, Michael Zellmann-Rohrer compiled the following predictions that apply to the horoscope of Freie Universität Berlin:

Mars in its exaltation

Mars in its exaltation, Capricorn: „Diplomacy in the face of difficult circumstances; sharing in Mars‘ affinity with fine clothing and wine.“


Jupiter, Mars, and Moon in conjunction: „clever, courageous civil servants with many friends who rise from humble beginnings to great things, gaining confidence and then taking up their duties. They may suffer losses but, thanks to divine or unexpected help, they recover.“

Jupiter and Mars in conjunction: „Honour comes only through hard work“

Jupiter and Moon in conjunction: „Prestigious offices, discovery of treasures“.

Sun and Mercury in conjunction: „Flexibility, common sense, distinction in careers in public life, love of beauty, charity, initiation into divine teachings, perseverance in the face of adversity“

Saturn and Mercury in square aspect

The square aspect connects zodiac signs separated by three signs (90 degrees). It generally leads to unfavourable predictions in Greco-Roman astrology, in this case: „he will be burdened with administrative duties and attacks from envious people.“

Ascendant in Capricorn

„Attachment to friends, prudence, good luck, ample resources, knowledge of the mysteries of sacred rites and foreign ways of life.“

The 12 places

The zodiacal sign of the ascendant was designated as the 1st place, in this case Capricorn. From there, the other 11 places were counted. Linked to this was a doctrine with its own prediction rules.

Moon, Mars, Jupiter in the 1st place: „a very fortunate career, well-deserved advances ahead of siblings, fame, virtue, and good humour. Advancement through brilliant campaigns, generosity, acquisition of great property, which later passes into the treasury.“

Mercury in the 12th place: „Intelligence“.

Saturn in the 9th place: „famous magicians, soothsayers, astrologers, famous philosophers who often let their hair grow long, interpreters of dreams.“