Did the Romans practice astrology?

Discover the fascinating role astrology played in ancient Rome. Explore its influence on Roman culture, politics, and art. Did the Romans practice astrology? Find out here.

Throughout history, countless civilizations have turned to the stars in search of answers. The Romans, known for their remarkable advancements in architecture, literature, and governance, were no exception. In this article, I aim to explore the intriguing question of whether the Romans practiced astrology. By examining the influence of astrology on Roman culture, evaluating historical evidence, and considering the alignment of celestial bodies with significant events, we can gain a deeper understanding of the Romans’ beliefs and the role astrology played in their lives.


Astrology has a long and complex history, intertwined with various cultures and societies throughout time. In the case of ancient Rome, astrology played a significant role in shaping the beliefs, politics, and even the daily lives of its people. This article aims to delve into the origins of astrology, its evolution within Roman society, the role and perception of astrologers, as well as its influence on Roman art and architecture. Additionally, we will explore some prominent Roman emperors who not only practiced astrology but also utilized it extensively in their decision-making processes. Lastly, we will examine the criticisms and skepticism surrounding astrology in ancient Rome.

The Origins of Astrology

Ancient Mesopotamia

The roots of astrology can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, where the Babylonians developed a system of divination based on celestial patterns and the movements of celestial bodies. They believed that the positions of the planets and stars at the time of a person’s birth could provide insights into their personality traits, life events, and even their potential fate. The Babylonians developed complex astrological charts known as horoscopes, which laid the foundation for the practice of astrology as it is known today.

Egyptian Influence

Although the Egyptians did not contribute significantly to the development of astrology, they certainly played a role in its popularization within the Roman Empire. The Egyptians were known for their deep fascination with the night sky and its connection to the divine. They saw celestial bodies as manifestations of gods and believed that they held immense power over human affairs. As the Roman Empire expanded, it encountered the vast knowledge of the Egyptians, including their astrological practices, which gradually found their way into Roman society.

Astrological Beliefs in Roman Society

Astrology in Politics

Astrology wielded a profound influence over Roman politics, as emperors and other prominent figures sought the guidance of astrologers to make critical decisions. It was believed that by studying celestial movements and interpreting their meanings, astrologers could predict the outcomes of battles, the rise and fall of empires, and even the fate of individuals. Emperors often consulted astrologers before embarking on military campaigns or making important policy decisions, making astrology an integral part of governance in ancient Rome.

Astrology in Religion

Religious beliefs in ancient Rome were intrinsically linked to astrology. The Romans believed that each individual was assigned a personal guardian spirit known as a genius, who was intimately connected to the stars and planets. The birth chart of an individual played a crucial role in determining their genius and the manner in which they could communicate with the divine. Astrology was regularly consulted in religious ceremonies, such as sacrifices and rituals, to ensure favorable outcomes and divine blessings.

Roman Emperors and Astrology


Tiberius, the second Roman emperor, held a deep interest in astrology and sought the counsel of astrologers throughout his reign. He famously consulted astrologers before his accession to the throne, who predicted his rise to power. Tiberius’s belief in astrology can be seen in his meticulous collection of astrological data, which he used to assess the nativities of himself and his family members. It is said that Tiberius had a personal astrologer by his side at all times, advising him on matters of state and personal fortune.


Caligula, infamous for his erratic behavior, was known to be captivated by astrology. He was an ardent believer in his own divinity and frequently used astrological predictions to reinforce his self-proclaimed status as a god. Caligula would often make important decisions based on the advice of his astrologers, including matters of taxation and financial governance. However, his obsession with astrology and his unchecked thirst for power ultimately led to his downfall.


Claudius, the fourth Roman emperor, took a more cautious and pragmatic approach to astrology. While he did consult astrologers, he focused primarily on using the information gathered from celestial observations to make informed decisions. Claudius appreciated the practical aspects of astrology, such as predicting weather patterns, assessing the viability of agricultural endeavors, and planning construction projects. His reign saw advancements in astronomical observations, laying the groundwork for later developments in European astrology.


Nero, notorious for his extravagant lifestyle, was deeply entrenched in astrology and its influence. He believed himself to be a unique celestial being and frequently consulted astrologers for reassurance and guidance. Nero would take great care in selecting auspicious dates for significant events, such as his marriage, and often used astrology as a means to legitimize his decisions and actions. However, his reliance on astrology for personal gain and his extravagant lifestyle created a climate of corruption and excess that ultimately led to his downfall.


Domitian, the final emperor of the Flavian dynasty, maintained a strong belief in astrology throughout his reign. He sought the guidance of astrologers regularly and used their predictions to justify his reign and policies. Domitian believed that he was destined for greatness and used astrology to solidify his position as a powerful and influential leader. However, his increasing paranoia and obsession with astrology led to a reign marked by brutality and repression.

Astrological Tools Used by the Romans


Astrolabes were essential tools used by Roman astrologers to measure and predict the positions of celestial bodies accurately. These elaborate instruments consisted of a disc with multiple rings calibrated to depict the zodiac signs, the essential celestial coordinates, and various astronomical data. By aligning the rings with specific celestial bodies, such as the sun or planets, astrologers could determine their relative positions accurately and extract valuable insights from their observations.


Astrolabiums were handheld astrolabes, slightly smaller and more portable than their larger counterparts. They served the purpose of conducting astrological observations and calculations on the go. With an astrolabium in hand, astrologers could identify the positions of celestial bodies, the moon’s phases, and other astronomical data, ensuring the accuracy and consistency of their predictions.


Planispheres were simple yet effective tools used by Roman astrologers to represent the positions of celestial bodies relative to the observer’s location on Earth. Consisting of a flat circular disk marked with degrees, zodiac signs, and celestial coordinates, planispheres allowed astrologers to determine the positions of stars and planets at any given time. By adjusting the disk, they could align it with specific celestial bodies, enabling precise astrological calculations and forecasts.

Astrologers in Ancient Rome

Role and Perception of Astrologers

Astrologers held a significant position in ancient Roman society. Often associated with learned individuals who possessed advanced knowledge of celestial movements and their interpretation, the role of an astrologer was highly respected and sought after. They were considered experts in the language of the stars, capable of unlocking the secrets of the universe and providing invaluable guidance to those who sought their counsel. Astrologers were consulted not only by emperors but also by individuals from all walks of life, who believed that astrology held the key to understanding their past, present, and future.

Prominent Roman Astrologers

Several astrologers gained prominence during the Roman era for their exceptional knowledge and accurate predictions. One such notable figure was Thrasyllus of Mendes, an esteemed astrologer who served as the personal advisor to Emperor Tiberius. Thrasyllus’ expertise was widely recognized, and his predictions were reputed to be strikingly accurate. His influence in the imperial court was substantial, ultimately shaping the decisions and policies of Tiberius.

Roman Horoscopes and Birth Charts

Significance of Birth Charts

In Roman society, the birth chart held immense significance as it was believed to reveal an individual’s destiny and character traits. Constructed based on the exact time, date, and location of an individual’s birth, these charts provided astrologers with detailed information to make accurate predictions about the individual’s life path. Birth charts were often consulted to gain insights into various aspects of life, such as career choices, marriage prospects, and health concerns. They served as a roadmap for the individual’s life, guiding them towards their true purpose and potential.

Surviving Examples of Roman Horoscopes

Although many ancient Roman horoscopes have been lost to time, some surviving examples offer valuable glimpses into the astrological practices of the era. One such example is the “Nativity of Marcus Manilius,” a horoscope discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum. This horoscope, dating back to the 1st century CE, provides detailed information about the positions of celestial bodies at the time of Manilius’s birth. It offers insights into his character, strengths, and potential life events, emphasizing the belief in celestial influence and its connection to individual destinies.

Astrology in Roman Art and Architecture

Depictions of Zodiac Signs

The zodiac signs held a prominent place in ancient Roman art and were frequently depicted in various forms. Sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics would often incorporate zodiac motifs as a way to connect individuals with the celestial realm. These representations served as a reminder of the influence of the stars and planets on human life, emphasizing the belief that individuals’ destinies were intertwined with the celestial forces.

Astrological Symbolism in Buildings

The influence of astrology extended beyond artistic depictions and found its place in Roman architecture as well. Buildings, such as temples and villas, were designed and adorned with astrological symbolism to align with celestial energies and invoke divine protection. These structures might incorporate zodiac signs, astrological calculations, or even celestial alignments within their architectural features, emphasizing the importance of astrology as a guiding force in Roman daily life.

Critics and Skeptics of Astrology in Ancient Rome


Cicero, a Roman philosopher and statesman, held a skeptical view towards astrology and its claims. In his philosophical writings, Cicero criticized the reliance on astrology as a means of prediction, asserting that individual free will and moral virtue were more influential in shaping one’s destiny. While recognizing the scientific value of astronomy, Cicero regarded astrology as a frivolous pursuit and a superstition that should not be given undue importance.

Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder, a renowned naturalist and historian, expressed similar skepticism towards astrology in his writings. Pliny’s critical stance was rooted in empirical observations and a belief that celestial bodies, while fascinating, did not exert a direct influence over human affairs. He dismissed astrology as mere divination, devoid of any scientific basis, and attributed its popularity to human credulity and a fascination with the unknown.


Seneca, a Stoic philosopher and advisor to Emperor Nero, also questioned the validity of astrology. While acknowledging the existence of a divine order governing the universe, Seneca argued against the deterministic claims of astrologers. He emphasized the importance of individual agency and moral character, stating that one’s actions and choices were far more consequential than any purported celestial influence. Seneca’s skepticism towards astrology aligned with his Stoic philosophy, which promoted self-mastery and personal responsibility.


Astrology held a significant position in Roman society, shaping the beliefs, politics, and artistic expressions of the time. Emperors and individuals alike sought the guidance of astrologers, trusting in the predictive powers of celestial observations and birth charts. Astrology found its place in religious ceremonies, artistic representations, and even architectural designs, serving as a constant reminder of the interconnectedness of the celestial and human realms. However, criticism and skepticism also existed, with prominent figures such as Cicero, Pliny the Elder, and Seneca questioning the validity and scientific basis of astrology. Nonetheless, astrology remained an integral part of ancient Roman culture, playing a pivotal role in shaping the lives and decisions of its people.

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