Tankard decorated with the signs of the zodiac and the planet Lords

From Iran
Late 12th century AD

Astrological images were popular decorative motifs on luxury items in medieval times, and may have been considered lucky.

The system of the twelve signs of the zodiac was laid out by the Babylonians in the mid-fifth century BC. They identified the ecliptic, the path through the sky along which the sun and the planets seem to travel, and divided it into twelve constellation-areas, each of thirty degrees. Astrologers designated each of the twelve signs of the zodiac as the house (or domicile) of one of the seven planets.

The sun is housed in Leo, the moon in Cancer, Mercury in both Virgo and Gemini, Venus in both Taurus and Libra, Mars in both Aries and Scorpio, Jupiter in both Sagittarius and Pisces, and Saturn in both Capricorn and Aquarius. The pairing of the sun with the lion is a long-standing astrological image, which survives from a more ancient mythological tradition.

Much of the Babylonian scientific tradition passed to Greek astronomers after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. Over a thousand years later, scientists from the Islamic world translated and revised major works of Greek astronomy and astrology. They also integrated Greek ideas and systems with scientific concepts from other civilisations, such as India and Persia.

Find in the collection online

More information


C.B.F. Walker, Astronomy before the telescope (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)


Height: 14.000 cm

Museum number

ME OA 1966.6-13.1



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore