Sunday 4 October 2020


In this article I would like to talk about the constellation Libra. 

If you search for the information about this constellation, you will find that "it was Romans who first marked Libra as a separate constellation". The sun at that time rose in Libra on the autumnal equinox, a day during which daylight and nighttime are evenly divided. So libra was the balance point of heaven. 

In my post about Libra zodiac sign, I wrote that Libra was originally just the Solar marker for the Autumn Equinox, the moment when we have "the balance of heaven" and that the constellation was a late addition...

The widely available info on Libra will tell you that "the ancient Greeks called the Libra “Chelae,” which means Claws". 


Well because they didn't see Libra as a separate constellation that it is today. 

They saw the constellation we today call Libra as "Claws of Scorpio". 

This name was used in early Greek astronomy as a name of constellation Libra by Eudoxus, Aratus, Pseudo-Eratosthenus and the others...

The less widely available info on Libra will tell you that after the 3rd century BC. we find the name zygos "the balance", lit. "balance, beam of balance, yoke, lever" first mentioned as a name of the Libra constellation in Greek texts. 

Interestingly, in Ptolemy's Almagest both names occur. The Claw as the constellation name and The Balance as the zodiacal name (mainly in tables).

Anyway, we can see from this that it is quite possible (well certain) that Romans borrowed Libra as the name of the constellation from the Greeks...

But of course Greeks didn't invent this Libra = Balance thingy themselves. Like many other things, they borrowed this from their eastern neighbours....

To see where the Greeks could have nicked "Claws" as the name for Libra, we need to look at MUL.APIN (𒀯𒀳) a Babylonian text that deals with astronomy and astrology. Most likely compiled around 1000 BCE, the text is preserved in a 7th-century BCE copy on a pair of tablets...

And it this text we find this:

mulZI.BA.AN.NA SI mulGIR.TAB = zibanitu karan zuqaqīpu 

What the hell is this?

The Akkadian word for "scorpion" was "zuqaqīpu". It was written with the cuneiform signs GIR.TAB.

Seriously cool. It actually looks like scorpion...

Now what about ZI.BA.AN.NA?

Sumerians had two words meaning Scales, Balance": 

The first one was GIŠ.ERIN.

The second one, which is believed to have been a borrowing from Akkadian, was  ZI.BA.AN.NA. It was actually an expression consisting of two words: ZI.BA (balance) and AN.NA (heaven). Apparently, it was "a type of balance being provided with an otherwise unknown part or mechanism called *zibana". These words are derived from the common Semitic root "*zbn" which seems to convey the idea of making a special sort of bargain...

Both were found in astronomical texts as a name of constellation and zodiacal sign Libra. 

Sumerians obviously saw Libra as "the moment when heaven is in balance"...But did then mean  equinox (day day equal to night) or did they mean something else? 

In several of my posts, like "7 stars of Scorpio" and "Ploughing", I explained why Scorpio is where it is on the zodiac circle. The climate in Mesopotamia is divided into two seasons: dry, hot part (end of April, beginning of May-end of October beginning of November) and wet, cool part (end of October beginning of November - end of April, beginning of May). The moment when hot, dry part of the year turns into wet cool part of the year, the moment when "the balance tips from death to life" is the moment when the first winter rains arrive. And when the first rains arrive, scorpions disappear, because the weather gets too cold and wet...And when scorpions disappear, it's time to sow grains...Which is why we see scorpion above the sowing plough on this seal

So what tipping point was really marked by ZI.BA.AN.NA, "the balance of heaven"? Is it just "darkness returning / night overcoming day"? Or was it that and "life returning / rain and cold overcoming drought and heat"?  

Not sure. 

But, in my post about "Dilmun scorpion/goats seal" I talked about how scorpion, because of it's association with the arrival of rains, was in Mesopotamia, but not just in Mesopotamia, the symbol of the return of life. We can see this clearly on this seal on which a palm tree (the tree of life) grows out of a scorpion.

The Ibex goats are just another symbol of the beginning of the rain season, as they mate when the first rains arrive...I talked about this link between Ibex goats and rain Mesopotamia in my posts "Jumping goat", "A vessel from Tepe Hissar", "Queen Puabi's cylinder seal" and many others...

Anyway, the mystery of what was the real meaning of the "balance of heaven", continues into Akkadian times and then into Babylonian times.  

Now that we know what ZI.BA.AN.NA and GIR.TAB mean, the above expression from the Babylonian text MUL.APIN


Can be interpreted in two ways:

1. As a listing of two unrelated features found in the night sky: 

"The Scales and The Horn (The Claws) of the Scorpion" 

2. as an equation of the two words referring to the same feature found in the night sky 

"The Scales otherwise known as The Horn (The Claws) of the Scorpion" 

Babylonians clearly saw Libra as Weighing scales. Their name for it was "Zibānu", the word related to "zibānītu" meaning "Weighing scales"...

But in Mesopotamia, weighing scale had the same shape as a Scorpion's claws

And as I already said earlier, we don't know what BALANCE of HEAVEN we are talking about... 

So it is easy to see why the Greeks understood the above excerpt from MUL.APIN as "ZI.BA.AN.NA, the name for the Libra constellation,  means claws of scorpion"...

Alexander Militarev in "Once more on the origin of Semitic and Greek star names: an astronomic- etymological approach updated" says that this is exactly what Arabs did. Their name for Libra "az-zibana" meaning "Claws (of the Scorpius)" was a misinterpretation of the Akkadian/Sumerian "ZI.BA.AN.NA" by the Arabs and its replacement with their "ZUBAN/ZABAN" meaning "insect bite"...

Interestingly, the Sumerian/Akkadian word ZI.BA (balance) has no known etymology. One proposition found in the paper "The Names of the Assyro-Babylonian Months and Their Regents" by W. Muss-Arnolt is that it is derived from the root *zibu=gold, presuming weighing scales were originally invented to weigh gold only...So "zibānītu" would literally mean "the gold thing"...

Hardly likely... 

Now here is something mad...Proto-Slavic "zybati" meaning "to cradle, to rock, to swing"...From Proto-Slavic "*zybь" meaning "oscillation" but beyond that - of uncertain origin...


Remember "ZI.BA (balance) was a type of balance being provided with an otherwise unknown part or mechanism called *zibana"

I mean ziba = oscillate, rock, swing is what zibanitu, zibanu = scale does...Until ziba = balance (or tipping point???) is reached...Right?

But that balance is short lived. The scale swings (ZI.BA) all the time. Summer follows winter which follows summer which...

Anyway, another old Mesopotamian root found in Slavic languages...

Like Sumerian words for Mind, Writing, Grain, Grain devouring insect, Sickle, Life, Breath, Teeth. And Akkadian word for acorn

How? Why?

Ehh if I only knew the answer to this question...


  1. Indeed, I look at Slavic languages for 12 years now, and keep finding Slavic words for a lot of unexplained etymologies, that experts claim must come from some unknown substrates (just because they cannot explain them on indoeuropean terms).

  2. The two stars making the scales were equally distant from the ecliptic enough to be called "balanced".