National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: M. Willis Monroe

Affiliation: University of British Columbia

M. Willis Monroe is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies Department, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Managing Editor of the Database of Religious History in the Asian Studies Department, University of British Columbia.  His primary research interest is the history of astronomy and astrology, particularly in ancient Mesopotamia, and the cuneiform scientific literature of the 1st millennium BCE in ancient Iraq.  His currently publication projects include The Micro-zodiac Texts from Seleucid Babylonia (under contract with Brill).  Dr. Monroe is the AIA Webster Lecturer for 2020/2021.


The rise of modern light pollution has severely limited our nightly access to the fantastic and impressive night sky so vividly described by ancient observers.  Yet, elements of the movement of stars and planets have guided the life of people throughout time, still to the day horoscopes are an integral part of our regular news media.  This talk will start from first principles and explain the origins of astronomy and astrology in Mesopotamia the birth place of writing and then investigate in detail the role that astrology played in everyday life from the highest seats of power down to choosing what to eat.  You can expect to leave the lecture informed about the remarkable debt we pay to Mesopotamian astronomers and astrologers for inventing things like the 360° circle and the signs of the zodiac.  Astrology was not just a esoteric practice relegate to magicians and seers, it was a highly organized and scientific method of inquiry that shaped how we think even to the modern day.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Rochberg, F. 2004. The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steele, J. 2008. A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East. London: SAQI.

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