The Foundation of Baghdad — Tropical versus Sidereal

Note: This was originally posted in October 2013, but there is an extensive update at the end which was done in September 2017.  The update is a response to the many comments that were left about the original post.  I have somewhat revised my thinking, and at the very end of this post is my closest approximation by modern computer to the chart described by Al-Biruni for the foundation of Baghdad.

According to James Holden, the city of Baghdad was founded according the the principles of electional astrology to place the greater benefic Jupiter close to the Ascendant at approximately 2:40 PM LMT:

“...the 11th century astronomer/astrologer/scholar al-Bîrûnî has preserved the foundation chart of the city of Baghad.  The Caliph al-Mansûr (c.679-777) desired to build a new capital city.  He told his court astrologer, Nawbakht the Persian (c.679-777), to select a favorable time to begin construction. Nawbakht, with the assistance of the young Mâshâ’allâh (c.740-c.815) and other prominent astrologers of the time, selected the early afternoon of 4 Jumada I 145 A.H., which is equivalent to Saturday 31 July 762 in the Julian calendar.”

I have no idea whether 4 Jumada I 145 A.H. is accurately converted to July 31, 762 Julian.  Holden presents a chart in the tropical zodiac with Mars in early Gemini mutually applying to an opposition of ASC-ruler Jupiter across the horizon.  At first blush, this seems like a terrible choice for an electional chart and it made me wonder whether the original chart was cast using the sidereal zodiac.

I did a google search and found a comment by Tom Callanan that “Masha’allah’s greatest pupil, Abu Ali al Khayyat used whole sign houses. One might expect that he would have used a fixed zodiac as well.”  Other sources also suggest that the sidereal zodiac was in use in Baghdad at the time of the founding of the city.

The significance of using the sidereal zodiac in 762 CE is that on July 31st, Jupiter is still in Sagittarius but Mars is at the end of Taurus rather than at the beginning of Gemini.  Sagittarius and Taurus do not behold one another, so that Mars would no longer be considered in opposition to Jupiter according to the Hellenistic tradition. In fact, Mars would be tucked away in the cadent 6th house below the horizon.

A potential problem with either the tropical or sidereal chart is that the Moon lies in the via combusta.  Electional astrologers often mitigate this condition by placing the Moon in favorable aspect to the Part of Fortune.  At 2:50 PM LMT the Moon is exactly trine the Part of Fortune and, as an added bonus, the Sun in Leo is exactly trine the ASC.  Having both the Sun and Moon making highly favorable trines is a great feature for an electional chart.

If my hypothesis is correct, here is the most likely chart for the foundation of Baghdad, cast in the sidereal zodiac with Whole Sign houses for 2:50 PM LMT:

Foundation of Baghdad, Whole Sign Houses, Sidereal Zodiac, 31 July 762, 2:50 pm LMT.

Foundation of Baghdad, Whole Sign Houses, Sidereal Zodiac, 31 July 762, 2:50 pm LMT.

This chart has a lot going for it.  Both benefics, Jupiter and Venus, are angular and, in fact, are the only angular planets in the chart.

It is a Saturn day during a Jupiter hour, and Jupiter rules the ASC and occupies the first house.  Hour agreement with the ASC is always nice in an electional or horary chart.

Mars, which in day charts according to Hellenistic astrologers is more evil than Saturn, is safely tucked away in a cadent house that does not behold the ASC.  Because Mars “can’t see” the ASC-ruler Jupiter, Mars cannot harm the election.  Mars is also fairly content in the 6th house, which is the place of its joy. In addition, given that the Persian astrologers shared knowledge with Indian astrologers, we can note that, in Jyotish, Mangal or Mars in sixth house of the horoscope confers the native with wealth, power, good lands, a fighting spirit and success over enemies.

Finally, Hellenistic astrologers would apply the concept of “overcoming” to his degree-based opposition.  As I understand the idea, if the chart were turned so that Mars was exactly on the eastern horizon, Jupiter would be more elevated than Mars in the upper hemisphere.  In such a case, Jupiter would be said to “overcome” Mars and have the upper hand in what happens with the opposition.  In other words, “overcoming” involves dividing the chart into two hemispheres with the planet in question at the boundary dividing the hemispheres.  All planets that precede the planet in question in that hemisphere are said to overcome it.  In turn, the planet on the boundary of the two hemispheres “overcomes” all the planets that follow it in that hemisphere.

MC-ruler Mercury is quite powerful because he is making a station.  Mercury went stationary direct in the early morning hours of August 1st, a day after this election.  Jupiter went stationary direct during the early morning of August 2nd, less than 48 hours after this election.  There might be some initial difficulties with the founding but they would very quickly be overcome as Mercury and Jupiter turned direct over the next day and a half.

The Moon is in the via combusta but is fast in motion and exactly trine the Part of Fortune.  The Moon is disposed by an angular Venus and will trine Venus, its last aspect before leaving its sign.  Fortunately the Moon is not in Scorpio, the sign of it fall.  Most likely this date was chosen to avoid the Moon in Scorpio.

The Sun is strong in Leo and occupies the 9th house of its joy.

The Moon lies in Libra, ruled by benefic Venus, and occupies the 11th house, the joy of the great benefic Jupiter.

The main problem with this as an electional chart is the square of MC-ruler Mercury Cancer to Saturn in Aries.  In the Hellenistic tradition, Saturn in a day chart is restrained from being as malefic as it might be otherwise.  Saturn is also below the horizon, a more inferior location to Mercury’s position.  However, Saturn precedes Mercury in the zodiacal order of the signs, so in this sense the malefic has an upper hand.  Saturn fortunately is peregrine (without essential dignity) and in his fall in Aries.

Mercury and the Moon are in square aspect to peregrine Saturn, but this occurs in signs of long ascension so it is kind of “stretched” into having some of the properties of a trine.  The Moon’s next aspect is an opposition to Saturn, but the Moon will quickly move on to trine Venus, who receives her, before leaving its sign.

As I study this chart, the only way it makes sense to me as a good electional chart is if it was judged in the sidereal rather than the tropical zodiac.  This raises a vexing question.  How can an electional chart be favorable in one zodiac and unfavorable in another?  Can both be true?


Addendum (September 2017) regarding Mars in Gemini:

Having reviewed the various references mentioned in the comments, and especially the remarks of Deb Houlding, I would like to add the following. First, here is the table of planetary positions compiled by Allawi from the work of Al-Biruni and Ibn Faqih for the date 4 Jamadi Awwal/31 July 762 when the city was founded. There appears to be an error in Allawi’s table because Saturn would have been in very early Taurus (not early Aries as listed in the table):

Biruni positions
According to Al Biruni report in his ‘Chronology of Nations’, the founding of Baghdad chart looked like this (excerpted from the text):
Al-biruni Baghdad

This chart corresponds to the the afternoon of 31 July 762 in Baghdad. Note that Venus lies at the end of Gemini, but in tropical calculations for this date Venus lies at 2 Cancer 43 in the tropical zodiac, suggesting that the chart must have used some version of a sidereal zodiac. The difference in arc between tropical Venus at 2 Cancer 43 the the position given by Al-Biruni of 29 Gemini 8 is 3 degrees 35 minutes.  The Moon is at 19 Libra 10 in this reproduction of Biruni’s chart, as opposed to 29 Libra 10 in Awalli’s listing.  Saturn is omitted from this above diagram, but in July of 762 Saturn was in late Aries in the sidereal zodiac and at 1 Taurus 25 in the tropical zodiac. Here is a reproduction what the chart looks like in Al-Biruni’s original manuscript:

ARABIC chart

According to Allawi, the Ascendant of the founding of Baghdad chart was chosen as 6 Sagittarius on the basis of locational astrology, a precursor of the modern method called by the trademarked name Astro*Carto*Graphy. Allawi notes that the Ascendant of the Baghdad horoscope was chosen to coincide with the celestial longitude of the Baghdad construction site as measured from the mythical city of Kandakas in Eastern China, which was taken as the 0 Meridian, much as we use the Greenwich Meridian today. In addition, writes Allawi, the 6 Sagittarius Ascendant makes “the distance between the ‘face’ of Baghdad and the azimuth of Mecca” (the holy city of Islam) equal to the distance from the Sun at 8 Leo to the Ascendant a 6 Sagittarius of the Baghdad horoscope.

If we calculate the birth of Baghdad chart in the sidereal zodiac using the Shill Pond ayanasma, we get the following chart, which is close to Al-Biruni’s report. This version of the sidereal zodiac produces a chart for the founding of Baghdad which is a good approximation to the historical record, including the placement of Mars in the early degrees of Gemini:

Shill Pond Baghdad

Below is the same chart with the table of essential dignifies and other information. For example, if this chart is correct, the construction of Baghdad began during a Jupiter hour when the Lot of Spirit (the lot of the Sun god) exactly conjoined the Midheaven. In terms of an election, the Sun is strong in Leo and rejoices in the 9th house.  The Sun trines both the Sagittarius Ascendant and Jupiter within a degree or two.  The Sun and Jupiter are the two strongest planets in the chart. The Lot of Fortune at 22 Aquarius 58 closely conjoins the Lot of Victory (which is a Lot of Jupiter) at 22 Aquarius 55. The midpoint of the Lot of Victory and the Midheaven degree falls precisely on the Jupiter/Ascendant conjunction. The planet Mercury, which rules the Gemini 7th house of Baghdad’s enemies lies in aversion to its own domicile and thus can’t manage its own affairs well.  In addition, Mercury, which rules the 7th of enemies, and Mars in the 7th are both peregrine. Jupiter, which is the benefic of the day sect in a day chart opposes peregrine Mars in the 7th. Jupiter lies in his own domicile and terms and in the triplicity of the Sun. Jupiter is also lord of the hour.

Chart with Shill Pond Sidereal Zodiac and Whole Sign Houses:

BAGHDAD hellenistic

Below is the chart cast in the tropical zodiac with 6 Sagittarius rising.

Chart with Tropical Zodiac and Alcabitius Houses:


Finally, after much tinkering:

My closest approximation for Al-Biruni’s birth of Baghdad chart

Baghdad Cht Sid offset 3.55This chart cast for 31 July 0762 at 2:43:05 in Baghdad (a Saturn day during a Jupiter hour) seems to best fit Al-Biruni’s description.  Using Delphic Oracle software, I used a sidereal zodiac with a decimal Ayanasma fo 23.75 and a zodiac offset of +3.55. (The same chart can be produced with the tropical zodiac using an offset of about -2.75).


Al-Biruni. The Chronology of Nations. Translated by C. Edward Sachau. (See pp. 262-263)

Allawi, Ibrahim. 1988. Some Evolutionary and Cosmological Aspects to Early Islamic Town Planning. (See pp. 62-66)

James H. Holden. The Foundation Chart of Baghdad.

Nina Gryphon. Electional Astrology of the Founding of Baghdad. discussion of the Baghdad chart.

About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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13 Responses to The Foundation of Baghdad — Tropical versus Sidereal

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you Anthony, that’s a very interesting analysis of the chart for Baghdad using the sidereal zodiac. You may also be interested in Nina Gryphon’s take on the chart, using the tropical zodiac:

    • Susan,
      Thanks for the link. The use of the tropical zodiac for this chart makes Mars angular, and the opposition of a malefic to the ASC-ruler is generally a bad choice for an election.

  2. Konrad says:

    Hi Anthony,

    please excuse my shameless self-promotion, but I made a post on this chart a few months ago that you may find useful:


    • Konrad,

      Feel free to do shameless self-promotion. I had read your post some time ago and actually linked to it in my post. What are your thoughts on advancing the time of the chart to 2:50 PM LMT? It seems to me that it makes for a more compelling election. The other curious feature is that the chart changes so much in switching from sidereal to tropical.

      Your blog is always enjoyable and informative. I wish I knew as much about these ancient techniques as you do. In any case, I’m delighted that you took the time to comment here.

      Take care,


      • Konrad says:

        Hi Tony,

        sorry, so you did, I missed that!

        As for moving the time forward, I would be happy to do that as it did strike me as odd they would choose to elect a time when Mars had just set (especially as this Mars had astronomically set 5 or so minutes before the election – surely not a great omen). I did justify that though by reasoning that they saw the rising of Jupiter as more important to their aims.

        I agree with your comments about the Tropical zodiac, I find it hard to believe they would have the out-of-sect malefic opposed to the ASC lord (and chart almuten by my reckoning). It has been suggested to me that they were using the measurement known as “Sassanian” in our modern software which is around 5 degrees closer to the Tropical measurement than the Fagan-Allen measurement. Obviously this puts Mars into Gemini and Venus into Cancer, so who knows? In Masha’allah’s natal text, he places the fixed stars around a degree ahead of their positions in the Fagan-Allen measurement but this section has strong similarities to the one in Rhetorius, and apparently he used Ptolemy’s tables to calculate planetary positions.



  3. james says:

    hi tony,
    interesting thread.. both benefics are angular if one uses a sidereal zodiac, but mars is still quite close to the ascendant degree – 4 degrees away and while putting in another sign, while pushing the election time out to 250pm with sag rising will do it, i would still consider mars angular.
    a few things that fascinate me, one to do with this chart and the other to do with the thought processes of astrologers – there are a few stationary direct planets in this chart – jupiter and mercury ( pluto and uranus too if you include the outers).. the idea that a planet moving slowly as a negative feature (which is essentially what a planet about to turn direct is doing) has never really carried much weight with me. on the other hand a planet stationary has always held a lot of weight in terms of its importance over the chart… these stations have direct bearing on the concept of athe planetary phase of the planet.. perhaps these planetary phase positions of jupiter and mercury had some relevance in the adoption of this date for the election chart. the topic that i find fascinating regarding astrologers is the emphasis on sigh position at the expense of aspectual relationships that are going on at the same time.. in this chart jupiter is clearly ascending, while mars is setting regardless of what sign it happens to be in. i think this is the most significant feature of this chart if the time is indeed close to accurate..
    fwiw holden in his book says around 2pm which isn’t the same as 250pm, but i understand if one has to emphasize signs (and whole house signs) that putting sag on the ascendant will seem to give the jupiter rising (and venus setting) greater emphasis, as opposed to scorpio rising which would put the emphasis on the descending planet mars!
    here is another thread off skyscript with the chart you discuss highlighted as well. unfortunately some of the links no longer work.

    • James,

      You’re right. In his book Holden says “about 2 pm” but when he drew the chart for his article at, he used 2:40 pm LMT.

      My guess is that he said about 2 pm LMT because that is the moment at which Sagittarius began rising and he wanted a Sagittarius ASC. At 2:40 PM LMT, Jupiter is on the ASC. I think that Holden was simply looking at when Sagittarius was first on the ASC and when Jupiter’s zodiacal degree crossed the ASC when he came up with these two times. Unfortunately, he is not longer with us or I would email him and ask him what he meant.

      If I’m reading Solar Fire correctly, the body of Mars set at 11:20 sidereal time and the body Jupiter rose at 11:29 sidereal time. If they were doing observational astrology, by putting Jupiter exacting on the ASC or just above it (as in the 12:50 pm LMT chart I posted), Mars would have been below the horizon for at least 9 minutes. And if the sidereal zodiac they used considered Mars to be in Taurus, Mars and Jupiter would not “behold” each other in the Hellenistic sense of that term.


      • james says:

        thanks tony. that last paragraph has a lot of ”’ifs”’ to it! what about the idea that a stationary direct planet has a special strength that is not being discussed here? having it in its own sign would give it further strength.this can be gotten in tropical without using sidereal…
        another thought is how has it panned out for baghdad in modern times? just looking at some of the predictive charts in connection with the war on iraq – march 20 2003 makes me think the tropical chart for approx 250pm has a lot of merit.. transit saturn in gemini, sec prog saturn in gemini too exactly opposite the rising jupiter.. not a thorough examination by any means, but a start.
        i think the thing that drives astrologers batty here is the idea that an astrologer who use this as an ‘election’ time with mars so close to the descendant.. thus the rationalization of somehow making mars go away or be placed in a different spot, whether thru pushing the time out, or changing zodiacs.. of course it does bring up the ongoing question on the use of which zodiac was in use at the time which is a worthwhile question to ask too! i don’t know that this chart is going to give us the answer to that though..

  4. Pankaj says:

    Islamic to Gregorian conversion .
    July 31, 762 AD is the Gregorian equivalent.


  5. Deborah Houlding says:

    Hi Tony,

    Your post on this chart was reported in the Skyscript forum and developed into a thread –

    I’ve just added a post to that thread myself. I’m sorry to be a negative voice, but I’m much more inclined towards maintaining knowledge of what historical astrologers record – even if we don’t fully understand it. I made a comment there about the fact that it seems illogical to me, to take a date of a chart that is mainly agreed upon because it makes a good match to historically reported positions, and then keep that date, but only as a basis to propose alternative planetary positions.

    A point I didn’t make in that thread is that according to the ancient principles of elections, there is more logic in Mars being in Gemini, than in Taurus, where it bears no testimony to the Moon – that leaves the city weak in military strength and unable to defend itself against attack. A good comment to check is in Ben Dyke’s recent translation of Hephaistio, III, ch.III.7.
    We also have to remember that the Abbasid Caliph’s were pretty brutal in their politics, and were well aware of their own planetary signatures.

    I also mention in the Skyscript thread, why I believe Al BIruni gives the best account of this chart, and why Ibrahim AllawiI (used as a source by a few other blogs linked to here) gives an unreliable account of Al Biruni’s report of it. I’ve played around with that chart in many ways, but the only way to get close to it is to use the tropical zodiac for the date Al Biruni reports in his ‘Chronology’ (not the one that Allawi says he reports, which is wrong).

    Re the whole sign issue – I’m easy on this and don’t think its worth making too much issue out of the houses, since we have nothing to indicate that the astrologers of the period did with this chart, but (on more general issues) examples that we have of Masha’ allah’s charts show him considering the placement of planets both “by counting” and “by division”, sometimes considering them both simultaneously. Examples can be found in ‘The Astrological History of Masha’allah’ by E.S. Kennedy and D. Pingree (Harvard univ. Press, 1971).

    Best regards

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