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The Heliocentric System in Greek,

Persian and Hindu Astronomy

Wieslacher 5
8053 Zurich, Switzerland


I N THE YEARS 295-283 B.c., Timocharis observed positions of the moon and
of Venus with respect to the fixed stars.’ About 280 B.c.,Aristarchos of Samos
proposed the heliocentric hypothesis.2 At about the same time, a man named
Dionysios established an astronomical calendar based on the assumption of
a tropical year of 365 y4days3 An anonymous observer used this calendar
to date his observations of Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter made in the years
270-239 B . c .The
~ observations of Timocharis and those of the unknown ob-
server complement each other nicely: Ptolemy was able to use the observa-
tions of Timocharis for the moon and Venus, and the anonymous observa-
tions for Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter.
In another case too we have two series of observations that complement
each other. Timocharis observed the declination of twelve fixed stars, and
Aristyllos observed the declination of six more stars.5 From independent in-
vestigations by Rawlins and Maeyama6 we may conclude that the observa-
tions of Aristyllos were made with great accuracy between 280 and 240 B.C.
We may suppose that Timocharis observed his declinations between (say) 290
and 270 B.c., and that Aristyllos continued the program of Timocharis.
It seems that here a team was at work, consisting of three observers and
a calendar maker (or perhaps of three observers only). What was the purpose
of their teamwork?
In all cases in which we know the whole story, the purpose of astronom-
ical observations is always: to determine the constants of an astronomical
system, with the ultimate aim of computing tables based on that system. For
instance, Ptolemy used the observations of Timocharis and Aristyllos and
of our anonymous observer in order to determine the constants in his theory,
and next he composed ”handy tables” for the use of astrologers. The same
order of events can be observed in Babylonia, in India, in the Islamic realm,
and in Western Europe. So it is not unreasonable to suppose that the purpose
of the observations made in Alexandria between 295 and 239 B.C. was: to de-


termine the constants of an astronomical theory in order to compute tables

based on that theory.
Now if this is assumed, we may ask: What kind of theory was it that the
observers had in mind? In a recent paper7 I have shown that the most prob-
able candidate for this theory is the heliocentric theory of Aristarchos. Thus
the question arises: Can we find traces of tables based on the heliocentric
To answer this question I shall first discuss the ancient testimonies con-
cerning Aristarchos of Samos and Seleukos of Seleukia, next the work of the
great Hindu astronomer Aryabhata, and next the Persian table set Tables of
the Shah.


The testimonies about Aristarchos have been collected and commented upon
by Thomas Heath.8 I shall use his translations. The earliest, most important
testimony is from the Sand-Reckoner of Archimedes:
You (KingGelon) are aware that "universe" is the name given by most astronomers
to the sphere, the centre of which is the centre of the earth, while its radius
is equal to the straight line between the centre of the sun and the centre of the
earth. This is the common account ( T U ypacpopwa), as you have heard from
astronomers. But Aristarchus brought out a book consisting of certain hypoth-
eses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the
universe is many times greater than the "universe" just mentioned. His hypoth-
eses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves
about the sun in the circumference of a circle, the sun lying in the middle of
the orbit, and that the sphere of the fixed stars, situated about the same centre
as the sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the earth to revolve
bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the centre of the
sphere bears to its surface.
As Archimedes himself notes, the last statement cannot be taken literally.
A point cannot have a ratio to a surface area. What is meant is, that our dis-
tance to the fixed stars is so large as compared with the diameter of the orbit
of the earth that one can assume that orbit to be concentrated in one single
point. For Aristarchos this assumption was necessary, because otherwise the
apparent distances between fixed stars would vary in the course of the year.
The next testimony is from Plutarchos, De facie in orbe Lunae, c.6,
Only do not, my good fellow, enter an action against me for impiety in the style
of Cleanthes, who thought it was the duty of Greeks to indict Aristarchus of

Samos on the charge of impiety for putting in motion the Hearth of the Uni-
verse, this being the effect of his attempt to save the phenomena by supposing
the heaven to remain at rest and the earth to revolve in an oblique circle, while
it rotates, at the same time, about his own axis.
Plutarchos is certainly right in saying that Aristarchos assumed a rotation
of the earth about its own axis, for in a heliocentric system one is forced to
assume as axial rotation of the earth.

Most ancient astronomers rejected the idea of a motion of the earth, for
reasons explained by Aristotle in De cuelo and by Ptolemy in Almagest 1.7.
The only astronomer who is known to have accepted the theory of Aristarchos
is Seleukos of Seleukia. What do we know about his life and work?
In Chapter XVI of his Geographia, Strabo mentions several "Chaldaen" as-
tronomers. At the end he adds: "Seleukios of Seleukia was a Chaldaean too."
As Strabo himself notes, the word Chaldaean has two meanings. Firstly,
a Chaldaean people existed. A Chaldaean dynasty, to which the great king
Nebuchadnezar I1 belonged, reigned in Babylonia from 626 to 539 B.C. Sec-
ondly, Babylonian astrologersand astronomerswere often called "Chaldaeans."
Strabo calls them "the so-called Chaldaeans". Their writings were translated
into Greek and used by later authors like G e m i n ~ s . ~
The "Chaldaean" astronomers mentioned by Strabo are Kidenas,
Naburianos, Sudines, and Seleukos. The first two are also known from astro-
nomical cuneiform texts under their Akkadian names Nabu-Rimannu and
Among several cities named Seleukia, the best known is Seleukia on the
Tigris, the capital of the Seleucid kingdom. It is possible that the astronomer
Seleukos lived or was born in this city, but it is also possible that his native
town was Seleukia on the Erythrean Sea, for the doxographer "Aetios," fol-
lowed by Stobaios, calls him XFXEUKOSb 'Epu9paioq.10He is said to have
observed the tides. According to Strabo (1.1.9), he stated that the tides are
due to the attraction of the moon, and he also knew that the height of the
tides depends on the moon's position relative to the sun.l1
As an astronomer, Seleukos seems to have been held in considerable es-
teem. According to Stobaios (Eclogae physicue, 1.21), he assumed the universe
to be infinite.12
Concerning the relation between Aristarchos and Seleukos we have an im-
portant testimony of Plutarchos. In his discussion of a statement of Plato on
the motion of the earth (Quuestiones Plutonicu, Qu. 8) , he writes:

XLVI . . . i 6 E I TfiV YqV, ihhOp6WlV K E p i TOV 6lU 7tUVTOV 7lOhOV TETapkVOV,

pfi pEpqXavqaOa1 ouv~xopkvqv,~ a pkvouoav, i bnha orp~cpopkvqvKai
bmhoup6vqv voEiv' bq O D T E ~ O VApiotapxoq K a i E ~ ~ E UhnoSsiKvuoav'
6 ~ Z VGnoeEp~voq
, p ~ v o v b* oz C ~ ~ E V KK aOi hocpaivbpEvog.
In my translation of the first half of this sentence I shall follow Heath.I3 For
the last part, in which Aristarchos and Seleukos are quoted, I shall present
my own translation, and justify it afterwards. I propose the following trans-
Was it necessary to conceive that the earth "rolling about the axis stretched
through the universe" [this is a quotation from Plato] was not represented as
being held together and at rest, but as turning and revolving, as Aristarchos
and Seleukos afterwards proved, the former stating it only as a hypothesis, the
latter showing it by reasoning?
In the last part of this passage, Plutarchos uses three verbs to characterize
what Aristarchos and Seleukos did, namely ~ Z O S E ~ K V U h oW~L
i e, q p t ,
Heath translated a form of the first verb as "maintained," but the usual
meaning is "proved." For the second verb I have adopted the translation of
Heath "stating as a hypothesis." The third verb can have the meaning "stating
as a definite opinion," but my translation "showing by reasoning" is equally
possible. I shall now explain why I prefer the latter translation.
Plutarchos says first that Aristarchos and Seleukos both "proved"
( ~ T O S E ~ K W Othe~ Vmotion
) of the earth. As Heath rightly remarks, one cannot
"prove" an astronomical hypothesis in the strict sense of the word. What one
can do, and what Copernicus actually did, is: to deduce consequences from
the hypothesis and to verify them empirically. I now suppose that this is what
Aristarchos and Seleukos did according to Plutarchos, and that he denoted
this activity by the verbs ~ Z O S E ~ K and V U ~irnocpaivo.
In this connection, I may note that Ptolemy, speaking of the activity of
earlier astronomers who composed certain "eternal tables," uses a related verb
t this sense. In Almagest IX.2, Ptolemy critizes these as-
b ~ t s ~ i ~ v uinpjust
tronomers, saying that they "tried to explain the phenomena by assuming ec-
centric circles or concentric circles carrying epicycles or even -by Zeus! -a
combination of the two." They "declared the anomaly connected with the
ecliptic to be so and so large, and the anomaly relative to the sun so and so
large," and they wanted "to prove the uniform motion on circles" through so-
called "eternal tables".
Now the verb ~ S E ~ K W ~ I I, have translated by "to prove," is a syn-
onym of b ~ o t i ~ i ~ v uIpsuppose
t. that both verbs, used by Plutarchos and
Ptolemy, have the same meaning, namely: to compute planetary positions from
a geometrical theory, and to compare them with reality.

Now let's turn to Plutarchos. He first says that Aristarchos and Seleukos
both "proved the heliocentric hypothesis. Next he corrects himself and makes
a distinction between the two. He says that Aristarchos only stated it as a
hypothesis, which implies that he did not prove it in the sense just explained.
The first assertion that both proved it is now restricted to Seleukos alone,
but instead of ~ O ~ E ~ K he ~ Ithe synonym hnocpaivo, or rather the
medium bnocpaivovat, which according to Liddell and Scott can be used like
the active.
I suppose that Aristarchos did not dispose of a sufficient number of obser-
vations to determine the constants of his theory. Also, the accurate determi-
nation of these constants and the calculation of planetary positions requires
trigonometrical methods, which were not available at the time of Aristarchos.
On the other hand, if we suppose that Seleukos was a near-contemporary of
Hipparchos (second century B.c.), trigonometrical methods and accurate ob-
servations were available at his time, so that he was in a position to "prove"
the heliocentric hypothesis in the sense just explained.
The translation adopted by Heath: knocpatvop~voq= "stating as a defi-
nite opinion" is philologicallypossible, but in my opinion improbable. Seleukos
was a competent astronomer. He knew that the motion of the earth is a hy-
pothesis and not a certain fact. He knew that other hypotheses explain the
phenomena just as well. Aristarchos, the initiator of the heliocentric theory,
had called it a hypothesis only. Why should his follower Seleukos enunciate
it as a definite assertion? This would be a strange and unusual behavior. The
astronomer Geminos, quoted by Simplikiosin his commentary on the Physics
of Aristotle (ed. Diels, 291-92), says that it is the task of the astronomer to
introduce hypotheses to explain the phenomena, leaving it the physicist to
investigate "what is by nature suited to a position of rest and what sort of
bodies are apt to move."
For these reasons I shall assume that SeIeukos determined the constants
in the heliocentric theory and developed methods to compute planetary posi-
tions from this theory. Maybe he computed tables himself, or he enabled his
successors to compute tables for the need of astrologers.




The astronomical system of Aryabhatal4 was composed about A.D. 510 or

a little later.15It is based on the assumption of epicycles and eccenters, so it
is not heliocentric, but my hypothesis is that it was based on an originally

heliocentric theory. Arguments in favor of this view will be presented in the

In the history of astronomy, we may observe a tendency to get away from
the idea of a motion of the earth. It is always possible to transform a heliocen-
tric theory into a equivalent geocentric theory by putting the earth at rest,
while retaining the relative motions of the sun and the planets as seen from
the earth. For instance, Tycho Brahe transformed the system of Copernicus
into a geocentric system in just this way.
Another example. h b h a t a assumed a rotation of the earth. His followers
accepted his methods of calculation, but they put the earth at rest.
Consequently, if we consider a set of tables or a set of rules for computing
planetary positions, it is often not possible to see whether the underlying theory
is heliocentric or geocentric. However, there are details which may give us
more information about the origin of the theory.

One such detail is the axial rotation of the earth. In a geocentric system
there is no reason to assume such a rotation. The assumption of an axial rota-
tion does not simplify the system, and there are strong arguments against this
assumption (see e.g., Almagest 1.7).On the other hand, in a heliocentric system
one is forced to assume a rotation of the earth. Now, if a heliocentric theory
is transformed into a geocentric theory, one may or may not retain the axial
Most Hindu astronomers did not assume a rotation of the earth, but Ary-
abhata did assume it. We can explain this by supposing that his theory was
derived from a heliocentric theory.
Of course, this is not a conclusive proof: it is only an indication of a pos-
sible explanation of a curious fact.

To explain what I mean by the second trace I must first examine the trans-
formation of a heliocentric into a geocentric theory a little more closely.
Let me start with Venus. In the earliest epicycle theory16 the sun rotates
on a small epicycle about the "mean sun," and Venus rotates on a larger epicycle
in such a way that the centers of the two epicycles are always in one line from
the earth. An equivalent theory is explained by Theon of Smyrna in his Ex-
positio rerum mathematicarum ad legendum Platonem utilium (ed. Hiller,


186-87): in this the epicycles of Venus, Mercury and the sun are concentric.
In both theories the center of the Venus epicycle is in the direction of the mean
Now let us consider the heliocentric theory. I feel we may safely assume
that Aristarchos made the earth move in an eccentric circle, for the anomaly
of the apparent motion of the sun was known already at the time of Kal-
1ipp0s.l~On the other hand, the eccentricity of the orbit of Venus is very small,
so it is not unreasonable to suppose that Aristarchos made Venus move on
a concentric circle about the sun.
Now if this model of the motion of the earth is transformed into a geocen-
tric theory, one had to make the sun move on an eccentric circle and to make
Venus move on an epicycle having its center at the center of the sun. Thus,
the eccentric cycle carrying the epicycle of Venus will have the same apogee
and the same eccentricity as the sun’s orbit (see FIGURE1).
In a genuine epicycle theory for Venus, the eccenter carrying the epicycle
is independent of the sun’s orbit. Its apogee and eccentricity are determined
from observations of Venus, whereas the apogee and eccentricity of the sun
are determined from eclipse observations. The probability that the apogee
and eccentricity of Venus coincide with those of the sun in very small. In fact,
in Ptolemy’s theory they do not coincide, nor do they coincide in the Aryabha-
tiya of Aryabhata. According to the latter treatise the apogee of the sun is
at 78 degrees, and that of Venus at 90 degrees. The eccentricities are also


different: see the table of magnitudes of the "manda epicycles" on page 24

of Shukla's translation of the Aryabhatiya.ls
However, the same h a b h a t a also conceived another astronomical system,
the "Midnight System," so called because in this system the Kaliyuga was sup-
posed to begin at midnight. The constants of this system are known from
Brahmagupta's treatise Kha~dakh~dyakalg and from the "old Siiryasid-
dhiinta" of Varaha Mihira.20
The relation between this Midnight System and the more sophisticated Sun-
rise System underlying the Aryabhatiya have been carefully investigated by
P.C. Sengupta.21 In the Midnight System the apogees of the sun and Venus
are both at SO', and their eccentricities are also equal. This fact can be ex-
plained by assuming that the Midnight System was originally derived from
a heliocentric system.

In an epicycle theory, in which the planets move on epicycles carried by
eccentric circles, the position of any planet is determined by two angles x and
y (see FIGURE2). The first angle x is the angle ACS, where A is the apogee
of the eccentric circle, C its center (or in Ptolemy's system the equant point),
and S the center of the epicycle. The second angle y is the angle BSP, where
P is the planet, while SB is the prolongation of the line CS.


The angles x and y are linear functions of time. Their values at any instant
may be calculated from tables of mean motions. As soon as they are known,
the direction EP can be computed by plane trigonometry.
In the theory of Aryabhata, the eccentric circle is replaced by a second
epicycle, the "manda epicycle", with centre M (see FIGURE3 ) . If one draws the
parallelogram ECSM, one sees that it makes no difference whether the point
S moves on an eccentric circle centered at C or on a small epicycle carried
by a circle centered at E.
For the trigonometric calculation of the true latitude of any planet, it does
not matter whether one starts with a heliocentric or with a geocentric theory.
However, there is one characteristicdifference. In a genuine geocentric theory
the primary quantities determining the configurationat any time are the angles
x and y. The period of x is the sidereal period of the planet, and the period
of y is the synodic period. On the other hand, in a heliocentric theory of Venus
(or Mercury) the primary quantities, which determine the positions of the
earth and Venus as seen from the sun, are not x and y, but
L = u + x = mean longitude of sun
z =u + x + y = heliocentric longitude of Venus,
where u is the longitude of the apogee. The period of z is the heliocentric period

of Venus. In the heliocentric theory, this is a fundamental quantity. O n the

other hand, in the geocentric theory, this period has no importance whatever.
Now let us look at the text of the Aryabhatiya. Stanzas 3-4 of the first
book read in the translation of Shukla:
3-4. In a yuga, the eastward revolutions of the Sun are 43,20,000; of the
Moon, 5,77,53,336; of the Earth, 1,58,22,37,500; of Saturn 1,46,564; of Jupiter,
3,64,224; of Mars, 22,96,824; of Mercury and Venus, the same as those of the
Sun; of the Moon's apogee, 4,88,219; of [the Sighrocca of] Mercury,
1,79,37,020; of [the Sighrocca of] Venus, 70,22,388; of [the Sighroccas of] the
other planets, the same as those of the Sun; of the moon's ascending node in
the opposite direction [ i e . , westward], 2,32,226.
The words "the Sighrocca of" are not in the text: they are added by the
translator. Aryabhata himself just says "of Mercury 17 937 020, of Venus 7
022 388." Clark's translation agrees with that of Shukla.
Obviously, the revolutions of Mercury and Venus considered by h a b h a t a
are heliocentric revolutions.
Because of these three traces, I think it is highly probable that the system
of Aryabhata was derived from a heliocentric theory by setting the center
of the earth at rest.


Some twenty years ago, E. S. Kennedy and I analyzed an astronomical

system described by Al-Biriini and Al-Sijzi and ascribed, in both sources, to
the Book of the Thousands of AbU Ma'shar al-Balkhi.22This system is based
on the assumption of a "world-year" of 360 000 years. In this period, all planets
are supposed to perform an integer number of revolutions, starting from po-
sitions near 0" Aries at the beginning of the period.
The numbers of revolutions of the planets in 360 000 years according to
Abii Ma'shar are recorded by Al-Hashimi and Al-Biriini. In the following
table I reproduce the parameters from Pingree's studyz3and compare them
with those derived from the "midnight system" of Aryabhata:
Planet Abii Ma'shar
___ -
Midnight System
Saturn 12 214 12 214 -%
Jupiter 30 352 30 352 -%
Mars 191 402 191 402
Venus 585 199 585 199
Mercury 1494 751 1494 750
Moon 4 812 778 4 __
812 778

It is seen that the numbers ascribed to Abii Ma'shar agree exactly with
those of Aryabhata in three cases, and nearly in three other cases. Also, in
both systems, a conjuction of all planets in 3102 B.C. is assumed. According
to Abii Ma'shar the conjunction took place in the early morning (at midnight
for Babylon) on Thursday, February 17, but according to Aryabhata it took
place at the end of the same day, at midnight for Lanka.
The system of Abu Ma'shar is more primitive and less accurate than that
of Aryabhata, mainly because of the shorter period of 360 000 years. The
longer period of Aryabhata allows a better adaptation to observed longitudes.
It is very remarkable that Abti Ma'shar has only one number of revolu-
tions for every planet, and that his revolutions are heliocentric revolutions.
In Babylonian astronomy and in the system of Ptolemy every planet has two
periods: a sidereal and a synodic period. The only known theory in which
every planet has only one period of revolution is the heliocentric theory. There-
fore I suppose that the astronomical system adopted by Abti Ma'shar was
derived from a heliocentric theory.
Concerning the origin of this system we have several testimonies. Al-Sij-
zi, in his summary of Abti Ma'shar's Book of the thousands, ascribes the
system to "the Persians and some of the Babyl~nians."~~ In another version
of al-Sijzi's summary, only the "Persians" are mentioned. Still another, most
important testimony is found in al-Biriini's Chronology. Al-Birtini discusses
Abu Ma'shar's "star-cycles" of 360,000 years and says that Abii Ma'shar "had
computed these star-cycles only from the motions of the stars, as they had
been fixed by the observations of the Persians" (my italics).25
Already elsewhere I have investigated the identity of the "Persians" and
the "Babylonians"mentioned in our testimoniesl26I shall now discuss the two
cases separately.

In the extant treatises of Al-Biriini the expression "the Persians" occurs
very often. According to E. S. Kennedy, "the Persians" is a generic term com-
prising Ya'qtib ibn Tariq and Al-Khwarizmi and the Zij-iShiih.Z7 The latter
is a table set composed in Sassanid Persia under Khusro Aniishirvan
(531-579) and revised under Yazdigerd I11 (632-642). In most cases, when Bi-
riini refers to "the Persians," he just means the authors of the Tables of the
S h d ~These
. ~ ~tables are lost, but their contents can largely be reconstructed
from other sources.29 Burckhardt and I have shown that the Tables of the
Shah are based on the assumption of a conjunction of all planets at Babylon,
midnight between February 16 and 17, 3102 B.C.The same date was also as-

sumed in the system of Abii Ma'shar. So, we may conclude that Abu
Ma'shar's system was based on the Tables of the Shah.


According to Al-Sijzi, the world-year of 360 000 years and the cycles of
Abii Ma'shar are due to "the Persians and the Babylonians." Is this statement
reliable? It occurs within a passage in which several world-years are compared,
(1)a period of 4 320 millions of years, ascribed to "those in a region of
(2) a period of 4 320 000 years, ascribed to "the partisans of Arjabhaz,"
(3) a period of 360 000 years, ascribed to "the Persians and some of the
The first two ascriptions are correct. The period (1)is the "Kalpa" of Brah-
magupta, and the period (2) is the Mahsyuga" of Aryabhata (= Arjabhaz).
As far as the Persians are concerned, the ascription (3) is confirmed by the
testimony of Al-Biriini. So let us see whether we can make sense of the
ascription to "the Babylonians."
Elsewhere I have gathered several references to the "Babylonians" in Greek
and Arabic s0urces.3~From these references it results that we have to distin-
guish between the "Chaldaeans" and the "Babylonians". For instance, the as-
trologer Vettius Valens ascribes to the "Babylonians" a certain duration of the
year, namely
365 + 1/4 + sari days,
and he ascribes to the "Chaldaeans" another duration of the year. I have also
shown that the "Chaldaeans" are early Hellenistic authors, whose methods
are closely related to those used in the cuneiform texts, whereas the "Babylo-
nians" were late Hellenistic auth0rs.~1
Al-Biriini ascribes to the "Babylonians" a method to compute the rising
times of the zodiacal signs. I fully agree with Neugebauer32 that this method
is a late Hellenistic invention, based on the insight that the earth is spherical
and may be divided into parallel zones having different "climata."
One of the Babylonians was "Teukros the Babylonian," of whom we have
extensive fragments in Greek as well as in Arabic. According to Franz Boll,33
who edited the fragments in his book "Sphaera," Teukros must have lived in
the first century B.C. or slightly earlier. In Arabic sources he was called "Tinkelos
the Babylonian" or "Tinqeros the Babylonian."34
The work of Teukros was well known in Sassanid Persia and in the Islamic

world. A treatise of Teukros concerning the shapes of the 36 zodiacal decans

was translated from Greek into Persian, and from Persian into Arabic. The
Arabic translation is contained in the "Great Introduction" of Abii Ma'shar.
The Greek text of the treatise as well as the Arabic text and a Greek transla-
tion, was published by B O ~ I . ~ ~
Abii Ma'shar's direct source was, without any doubt, a Persian text, for
he mentions several Persian names of decans. In his introduction he ascribes
the text to "the old learned men of Persia, Babylonia, and Egypt."
In Abii Ma'shar's text, the author Teukros is mentioned several times, and
no other Babylonian author is mentioned. From this, we may tentatively con-
clude that for Abii Ma'shar the expression "the learned men of Babylon" is
just a synonym of "Teukrosthe Babylonian." If we assume that the same thing
holds for the expression "some of the Babylonians" used in al-Sijzi's excerpt
from Abii Ma'shar, we may conjecture that the latter derived his "World-
Year" of 360 000 years from a lost treatise of Teukros.
Not let us return to Aryabhata.

coN N E cT I ON s B E T w E E N XRYA B H A T A s "M I D N I G H T sY sT E M "

AND THE zri-I S H ~ H

Aryabhata's fundamental period, the Mahiiyuga, is just 12 times the Per-

sian "world-year" of 360 000 years, and his numbers of revolutions are exactly
or nearly 12 times those of Abii Ma'shar, as we have seen. The multiplica-
tion of the period by 12 enabled Aryabhata to attain a better adaptation to
the observed phenomena.
The Tables of the Shah, the system of Abii Ma'shar, the Midnight System,
and the Sunrise System of Aryabhata all have in common the assumption
of a conjunction of all planets in mid-February, 3102 B.C. The assumed dates
of this conjunction are slightly different in our sources, namely: midnight
February 16/17 Babylon in the system of Abu Ma'shar and in the Tables of
the Shuh, midnight February 17/18 Lanka in the "midnight system" of
Aryabhata, sunrise February 18 Lanka in the "sunrise system" of the h y a -
b hatiya .
The difference between the dates are due to different assumptionsconcerning
the duration of the year. The differences between the durations according to
Abii Ma'shar and Aryabhata amount to approximately 1 day in the 3 600
years between the conjunction and the lifetime of Aryabhata. This explains
the difference of one day in the dates of the conjunctions.
As Kennedy has shown in his paper on the Tables of the Shah, the maxima
of the anomalies of the planets in that work were nearly the same as in the

"midnight system" of h a b h a t a . Al-Biriini informs us that in the case of the

sun and the moon these maxima "came from the Hindus to the Persians."36
Thus we may assume the following dependence:


I Tables of the Shah I

This direction of the dependence is chronologically correct. h a b h a t a
reached the age of 23 years in A.D. 499. On the other hand, we know from
al-Bifini,j7 that Khosro Anoshirvan convoked an assembly of astronomers
in A.D. 556 and ordered them to correct the Tabfesof the Shah. Al-Hashimi
informs us38 that Khosro compared the A h a g e s t with the Arkand, that is,
with the midnight system of Aryabhata, and found that this system accords
better with the observations that the Almagest. So he ordered the astronomers
to compute tables according to the Arkand. Thus, all our sources agree that
the Tables of the Shah are based on the midnight system of Aryabhata.
However, if we take at its face value Bifini's statement that the as-
tronomers were ordered to "revise" the tables, we must conclude that an ear-
lier version of the tables existed that was not dependent of the Arkand. This
conclusion is confirmed by a statement of Ibn Yiinus to the effect that the
Persians "observed the solar apogee at 77" 55' about A.D. 450, that is, half
a century before the time of A r ~ a b h a t a . ~ ~
The epoch of the Tables of the Shah was midnight Babylon.40This seems
to indicate that the tables were based on a Babylonian treatise (perhaps by


As we have seen, Aryabhata and the authors of the Tables of the Shah as-
sumed a conjunctionof all planets in mid-February, 3102 B.C. In a recent paper41
I have shown that this alleged conjunction was not observed, but calculated
from a planetary theory. It cannot have been observed, because about this
time no such conjunction took place.
In the same paper I have argued that the conjunction of 3102 was calcu-
lated by a Hellenistic astronomer or astrologerwho wanted to date the Deluge.
According to al-Bifini,*Z "the sages among the inhabitants of Babylon and
the Chaldaeans" have made several attempts to date the Deluge by calculating
conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn. Some of these astrologers assumed 3580

B.C. to be the date of the Deluge. Others, including Abii Ma'shar, supposed
that a Deluge would occur once in every 180000 years, and that the last deluge
before their own time had occurred in February 3102 B.C.
All calculations of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions are based on the calcula-
tion of mean longitudes. In ancient Babylonian tables, as we know them from
cuneiform texts, the notion "mean longitude" does not occur. O n the other
hand, in Greek tables such as the Handy tables of Ptolemy the prescription
is: First compute mean longitudes and next add or subtract correction terms.
Tables of this kind require trigonometry, so they cannot have existed before
Apollonios (about 200 B.c.). Only after 200 B.C. has the calculation of not
observed conjunctions become possible.
k t me summarize my conclusions. After the discovery of trigonometry,
tables were calculated by trigonometrical methods. By the aid of these tables,
several Hellenistic authors tried to date the Deluge by calculating conjunc-
tions of Saturn and Jupiter in the fourth millennium B.C. One of these attempts
led to the discovery of an approximate mean conjunction of all planets in 3102
B.C. Next, a new theory and new tables were fabricated, based on the assump-
tion of a mean conjunction of all planets in February of this year, and of an
exact repetition of all planetary positions at the end of a certain World-Year.
These tables were used, with corrections, in Sassanid Persia. Aryabhata cor-
rected the theory, replacing the Persian world-year of 360 000 years by a period
twelve times as large.


The astronomical systems of Brahmagupta, h b h a t a , and Abii Ma'shar

are periodic, that is, after the completion of a certain number of years the
motions of the planets are repeated. Since the cycles of Aba Ma'shar are de-
rived, according to al-Birtini, from those of the "Persians," we may safely as-
sume that in the earliest version of the Tables of the Shah the motions were
also periodic with a period of 360 000 years. A table set based on such a period
may well be called "perpetual" or "eternal": If the motions in a world-year are
known, the motions, and hence the positions, are known for all times.
Such "eternal tables" are mentioned by Vettius V a l e n ~and ~ ~Pt01emy.~~ I
feel that the genesis of the system of Abii Ma'shar with its world-year of
360 000 years can best be understood if we assume that the "eternal tables"
used by Vettius Valens were already based on the assumption of a similar
Now let us compare the way in which the anomalies of the planets are com-
puted according to h a b h a t a with the indications of Ptolemy concerning the


calculation of the same anomalies in the ”eternal tables.” Although the indi-
cations of Ptolemy are rather vague, we shall see that they agree well with
what we know from the Aryabhatiya.
To pass from the mean longitude of any planet to its true longitude, one
has to add correction terms, the so-called “equations.” In the Aryabhatiya
two kinds of equations occur, namely
(1)the mandapala or ”equationof axis”f, a function of the angle x in FIGURE
( 2 ) the 4ighrapala or Qighraequation g , a function of the angle y in FIGURE5 .
In Aryabhata‘s “double epicycle theory” we have two kinds of epicycles:
the manda epicycle from which the mandapala is calculated, and the Sighra
epicycle from which the Sighrapah is calculated. Both epicycles are carried
by concentric circles. Some years I explained the rules by which the
corrections from mean to true longitudes are found according to Aryabhata,
and I have shown that these rules can be understood as yielding a reasonable
approximation if one supposes the center S of the epicycle to move on a ec-
centric circle with equant point, as in the theory of Ptolemy. The inventor
of this theory and of the approximation used by Aryabhata must have been
an excellent mathematician; my guess is that it was Apollonios of Perge.
A remarkable feature of this method is the fact that the two equations are


computed separately, not from a combined figure such as FIGURE2. More pre-
cisely, they are found separately in a first approximation. Next they are halved
and used to correct x and y, and then the final values of the manda and S i g h
equations are found. In this way, the use of two-argument tables is avoided.46
Now let us consider, once more, what Ptolemy says about the authors of
the "eternal tables". According to P t ~ l e m y these
, ~ ~ authors "tried to explain
the phenomena by assuming eccentric circles or concentric circles carrying
epicycles or even - by Zeus! -a combination of the two." These words are
well in accordance with our FIGURES4 and 5, for the motion on the manda
epicycle of FIGURE4 is equivalent to the motion on an eccentric circle, and
FIGURE5 shows a concentric circle carrying an epicycle.
Ptolemy continues: "They declared the anomaly connected with the ecliptic
to be so and so large, and the anomaly relative to the sun so and so large."
This means: they calculated the two anomalies separately, whereas Ptolemy
taught how to combine the two anomalies in a geometrically correct way.
But, says Ptolemy, their method was completely wrong, so that "some of
them missed their aim completely, whereas others succeeded to a certain ex-
tent." In my opinion, h a b h a t a and his predecessors belonged to those who
"succeeded to a certain extent," for their methods of calculation yielded a rea-
sonable good approximation, as I have shown previously.48

Combining the results of the preceding sections, we may draw a scheme
of the probable development:


Tables Based on the

Heliocentric Theory

Discovery of the
Conjunction of 3102 B . C .

Eternal Tables

"Some of the Babylonians"

(Teukros the Babylonian?)

Early Persian Tables

Tables of the Shcih

Abii Ma'shar

1. Almagest, VII.3 and X.4.
2. See Heath 1913 for details.
3. See van der Waerden 1983.
4. Ahagest I X , 264-67, 288-89, 352 and 386 (Heiberg).
5. Ahagest, VII.3.
6. Rawlins, D. (unpublished). See also Maeyama.

7. See van der Waerden 1983.

8. Heath 1913.
9. See van der Waerden 1972.
10. See Cumont.
11. See also Kroll in Pauly-Wissowa’s Real-Encyclopaedie, Supp. 5, cols. 962-63.
12. See also Pines.
13. Heath 1932, 108.
14. On this, see Sengupta, Clark, and Shukla.
15. In Billard it is shown that Aryabhata‘s theory is based on observations made about 510.
16. See van der Waerden 1974.
17. ibid.
18. See Shukla. (I have not seen the translation of Bina Chatterjee.)
19. Listed as Sengupta 1934.
20. Listed as Neugebauer and Pingree.
21. See Sengupta 1929.
22. See Kennedy and van der Waerden.
23. Pingree, 30.
24. See Kennedy and van der Waerden.
25. Sachau, 29.
26. See van der Waerden 1977.
27. See Kennedy.
28. See van der Waerden 1977.
29, See Kennedy and Burchhardt and van der Waerden.
30. See van der Waerden 1977.
31. See van der Waerden 1972.
32. See Neugebauer 1942.
33. See Boll.
34. Boll, 10 and Pingree, 10-11.
35. Boll, 25-30 and 490-539.
36. Burckhardt and van der Waerden, 4.
37. Kennedy and Saffouri and Ifram, Section 24:7-11.
38. Kennedy and Pingree and Haddad, 95, 11. 7-23.
39. Kennedy and van der Waerden, 323.
40. See Kennedy 1958.
41. See van der Waerden 1980.
42. Sachau, 28.
43. See Neugebauer 1975, 789.
44. Alrnagest, IX.2, 211 (Heiberg).
45. See van der Waerden 1961.
46. See Burckhardt and van der Waerden, or van der Waerden 1961.
47. See note 44 above.
48. See van der Waerden 1961.

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1968 Das astronomische System der Persischen Tafeln I. Centaurus, 13: 1-28.
Clark, W. E.
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Cumont, F.
1927 La patrie de SCleucus de SCleucie. Syria, 8: 83.
Heath, T.
1913 Aristarchus of Samos, the ancient Copemicus. Oxford: University Press.
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1958 The Sasanian astronomical handbook Zij-i Shah. Joumal of the American
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Kennedy E. S., Commentator and M. Saffouri and A. Ifram, translators
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1981 The book of the reasons behind astronomical tables . . . by a/-Hiishimi,
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