The concept of the zodiac was invented by the Babylonians in the 5th century B.C., then taken up by the Greeks, and finally appeared in Egypt at the end of the 3rd century B.C. The first depiction of the zodiac signs in Egyptian art was on the astronomical ceiling of the tomb of Senenmut, chief steward to Queen Hatsheput, at Deir el-Bahri (1463 B.C.).
The Zodiac of Dendera is a map of the sky used by ancient Egyptians to tell time at night, dating around 50 B.C. The sandstone slab originally adorned the ceiling of one of the Osiris chambers in the Hathor Temple. The vault of heaven is held up by four women, assisted by falcon-headed spirits. The figures or spirits around the edge of the map represent 36 decans, or ten-day periods. Above their heads are the 12 zodiac signs, a combination of Egyptian and Greek. The five planets known at the time are situated with their associated signs. And two eclipses are represented on the exact date they occurred: the solar eclipse on March 7th, 51 B.C. and the lunar eclipse of September 25th, 52 B.C.
There have been conflicting views of what the Zodiac of Dendera represents, especially with the reflection of our modern-day astrology. Though ancient Egyptians did believe certain constellations and decans could have a negative influence, the Zodiac of Dendera should be interpreted as a map of the sky rather than a horoscope.
- Marc, E. (2005) The Zodiac of Dendera. https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/zodiac-dendera
- Oakes, L., and Gahlin, L. (2003). Ancient Egypt: An illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the pharaohs. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
- Strudwick, H. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. New York, New York: Metro Books.
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