Astronomical Texts ('Stobart Tablets')


On display

One of the four ‘Stobart Tablets’ with Demotic inscriptions on either side recording astronomical observations during the reigns of the Roman Emperors, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian between AD 71 – 133. Each tablet gives positions from year to year of the five planets in the ecliptic according to the following order: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. The positions are indicated in the order: month (from 1 to 12 and epagomenae), day (from 1 to 30) and zodiacal sign. Such compilations of planetary tablets were used for the casting of horoscopes; the basis of computation is uncertain. They provided for any specific day the zodiacal sign within which each planet was located. This practice does not go back to Egyptian thought of the Pharaonic period; it derives from the influence of Babylonian astrology in the Graeco-Roman world. The construction of each tablet is as follows: a wooden frame supports a thin wooden foil covered with white plaster (gesso) on both sides. One side of the frame contains three pairs of holes to permit a number of tablets to be bound together into a kind of book (codex). The ‘pages’ have a little rectangular thickening in the middle, also covered with plaster, probably intended to prevent the wooden foils from warping. Each side of a tablet contains 5 columns, separated from each other by fine double-lines in red. Horizontal lines enclose the groups referring to a single planet in each year, the ‘years’ being written in red. Every column contains about 30 lines (not ruled), except the obverse of M11467a, where the lower part of this page is separated by a horizontal wooden fillet and the remaining small rectangular filed was covered with plaster, which is now almost completely gone. It is therefore impossible to tell why this space was separated from the main text in the upper part of the tablet, from which nothing is missing. One could assume that M11467a, now the first of the preserved tablets, was actually the first page in a book and consequently gave some kind of ‘title’ on its obverse. This is, however, very unlikely in view of the fact that M11467a does not begin with a new year, but somewhere at the end of “year 3” (of Vespasian). All the preserved tablets are written by the same scribe as the ductus clearly shows. The actual state of preservation of the tablets is fairly good, however, for this tablet (M11467a) there is damage in obverse column 5 and reverse column 1/2 by the scaling off of the plaster. One little fragment of plaster is now pasted on erroneously and upside down. Originally there must have been at least eleven such tablets