Astrolabes from Medieval Europe: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Astrolabes from Medieval Europe

1st Edition

By David A. King


422 pages

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Hardback: 9781409425939
pub: 2011-07-28
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This is the fourth set of studies in the Variorum series by David King, a leading authority on the history of astronomy in Islamic civilization and on medieval astronomical instruments, European as well as Islamic. The first of the eleven studies collected here deals with medieval instruments in general, as precious historical sources. The following papers focus on individual astrolabes from the European Middle Ages and early Renaissance that are of singular historical importance. Two look at the origins of the simple universal horary quadrant and the complicated universal horary dial (navicula). The collection concludes with a list of all known medieval European astrolabes, ordered chronologically by region. Three "landmark" astrolabes are discussed: (1) the earliest known European astrolabe from 10th-century Catalonia, that milieu in which the astrolabe first became known to Europeans; (2) an astrolabe from 14th-century Picardy bearing numerals written in monastic ciphers as well as a later dedication mentioning two friends of Erasmus; (3) the splendid astrolabe presented in 1462 by the German astronomer Regiomontanus to his patron Cardinal Bessarion, with its enigmatic angel and Latin dedication, here presented in the context of other astrolabes of similar design from 15th-century Vienna.


‘[This] is a heterogeneous collection, offering readers insight into specific medieval sundials and Renaissance astrolabes in addition to the astrolabes from medieval Europe advertized by the book title… [King] has given us a sample of his scholarship and methods of interrogating scientific instruments in this volume’ – Aestimatio 11 (2014)

'The articles in this book are illustrated with excellent photographs. The content of each one is completed with a comprehensive bibliography. I liked the book and I strongly recommend it. Its reading, though not easy, is indispensable to those who want to unravel the secrets of astronomical instruments. Professor King gives us a taste of how we can do so’ - Suhayl

'… le recueil montre a suffisance la nécessité de considérer les instruments astronomiques comme des sources a part entière, non seulement pour l’histoire des sciences et de la technique, mais encore pour l’histoire de l’art, l’épigraphie, la linguistique ou encore l’histoire culturelle, pour peu que l’on s’intéresse aux usages de la science et de la technique dans un milieu donné. Nul doute non plus que ce recueil ne serve a introduire les profanes dans un champ d’études fascinant qui réserve encore de nombreuses surprises’ - Francia-Recensio

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Part I General: Astronomical instruments between East and West. Part II The Earliest European Astrolabe: The earliest known European astrolabe in the light of other early astrolabes. Part III An Astrolabe Featuring a Remarkable Number Notation: Rewriting history through instruments: the secrets of a medieval astrolabe from Picardy. Part IV More Individual European Astrolabes: The medieval Catalan astrolabe of the Society of Antiquaries, London (co-authored with Kurt Maier); A remarkable Italian astrolabe from ca. 1300 - witness to an ingenious tradition of non-standard astrolabes; An astrolabe from Einbeck datable ca. 1330. Part V Astrolabe Stars: The star-names on three 14th-century astrolabes from Spain, France and Italy. Part VI Universal Horary Devices: A vetustissimus Arabic text on the quadrans vetus; 14th-century England or 9th-century Baghdad? New insights on the elusive astronomical instrument called the Navicula de Venetiis. Part VII Two Renaissance Astrolabes: The astrolabe depicted in the intarsia of the studiolo of Archduke Frederico in Urbino; The astrolabe presented by Regiomontanus to Cardinal Bessarion in 1462 (co-authored with Gerard L'E. Turner). Part VIII An Aid to Future Research: An ordered list of European astrolabes up to ca. 1500; Index.

About the Author

David A. King is Emeritus Professor of History of Science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Michael Greenwood at

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Medieval