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# The Babylonian mind

Trace the legacy of Babylonian discoveries and ideas, including their mathematical system based on 60 and their desire to predict the future. With British Museum curator Irving Finkel. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.

## Want to join the conversation?

• Why did Babylonians use base 60 instead of a more manageable system like base 6 or base 12?
• The advantage to base 60, compared to base 10, 2, 12, etc., is that numbers written in base 60 are easy to divide by numbers like 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10. In our modern base 10 system, it is simple to divide any number by 2, 5 or 10, but it gets more complicated if you want to divide 200 by, say, 3. Using base 60 would have given the Babylonians the advantage of being able to divide things (sheep, bricks, rations of grain, etc.) quickly into thirds, quarters, fifths, and so on.
• @, what is the name of the dragon? I can't quite make out what he said. Thanks for any clarification.
• At He said the Babylonian language is fully understood today. How do we understand their language today? Do we have a lexicon of their language? Is their language implemented in any of our modern languages?
• Their language, Akkadian, is closely related to Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. People partially decoded Akkadian by comparing it to those three languages, and partially through multilingual inscriptions. It was a pretty difficult, complicated process, but now the language is pretty well understood (by specialists, anyway).
• From , the "Ancient form of writing" called ... (chinaeform/kine form?) is mentioned. What is the name of this form of writing? I have no idea how to spell this.
• It's a difficult and slow process, you must study writings. You have to pay attention to words that are used most and keep track of where. Like for English "the", "and", "a" is used often. Sometimes you have to guess a little and come back to whatever word your not sure of.
• How did the Babylonians come up with using base 60 and how did it come to effect the way we measure time today?
• Babylonians used this because of the many divisors 60 could be divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 etc. It is also the lowest number which can be divised by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. It was used so much it just caught on.
• Our 60 system in hours and minutes comes to us through Babylonia via the Ancient Greeks. Could the Greeks then read cuneiform?
• That's quite a leap, from one civilization to another. You propose a line from the Mesopotamian through the Greek to "our system". I propose that it came to us directly, from Asia to the west, but not "through" the Greeks. Try it that way.
(1 vote)
• I have Q way did it go from egepit to zodic sins
(1 vote)
• I heard that the mušḫuššu played a part "Book of Daniel", but what?
(1 vote)
• Nope. It's not found in the canonical book of Daniel, but in Bel and the Dragon, a deuterocanonical Biblical text. That source relates a story that Koldewey thought involved a mušḫuššu/sirrush. In a temple dedicated to Bel (Nebuchadnezzar's god), priests had a "great dragon or serpent, which they of Babylon worshipped." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%C5%A1%E1%B8%ABu%C5%A1%C5%A1u#References
(1 vote)
• Did the Babylonians really put liver from some animal and put it on the Zodic?Or was it something else?
(1 vote)
• Liver was for divination, the zodiac is separate.
Though both used to foretell the future.
(1 vote)

## Video transcript

This dragon here called a Mušḫuššu is about 2500 years old And it comes from Nebuchadnezzar's capital city Babylon in the middle of ancient Iraq And when you see it now, when you look at it and look in its eye it might strike you as something very alien and very distant and nothing to do with the modern world Well the culture from which it comes the Babylonian world is surprisingly close to ours and the thinkers and the writers and the poets and the mathematicians of that ancient culture came up with things which still exist today in our modern lives and are a part of our daily lives all around us These Babylonian discoveries and ideas are conveyed to us through the ancient form of writing called Cuneiform written on tablets of clay or stone The Babylonian language is fully understood today so that many of their ideas and achievements have been preserved for us Great engineers have come up with very ingenious machinery to measure the passage of time And one of the interesting things about the ancient Babylonians was that they had a mathematical system based on sixty not on ten like we do today And one consequence of this is the fact that our own time division of the minute and the hour into sixtieth parts is a direct inheritance of a principle which goes back to ancient Babylon And it's come down to us somehow through the Greeks who looked at Babylonian ideas incorporated them into their own work and maintained this sixty figure as a central calculating device And that is why everyone who has a watch on their wrist or a clock on their kitchen wall is somehow perpetuating the work of these ancient Babylonian thinkers The Babylonians were always attempting to predict the future This clay model of a sheep's liver, complete with gallbladder was used to teach the art of divination zones and Cuneiform inscriptions revealing the ominous signs Much later people relied on dreams or the stars for their portentous messages Another thing that has come to us from ancient Babylon are the signs of the Zodiac And this goes back a long way already in the second millennium some of the figures which became the zodiac figures were already to be found on monuments And side by side with the Zodiac grew up in the late period the idea of the horoscope so the thing when you open your newspaper and you look up your star sign and read what it predicts or you get a horoscope those two ideas likewise come from ancient Babylon