Hebrew astrolabe

Probably Spain, about AD 1345 - 1355

This stunning instrument embodies perfectly the peaceful exchange of knowledge and ideas between Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars in medieval Spain before 1492.

Ancient Greek astronomical and mathematical texts were translated, discussed and commented upon. Instruments based on these texts were made and ideas taken from here all across Europe by travelling scholars.

The use of Arabic numerals and many words in modern European languages, which still reveal their Arabic origin (such as Algebra, Algorithm etc.) originated at this time.

An astrolabe is an astronomical instrument that enables the user to determine the time during the day with the help of the sun, and at night with the help of the stars. It can also be used in the preparation of horoscopes and for surveying purposes – to name but a few of its functions.

Scientific instruments with Hebrew markings are extremely rare and only a handful are known to have survived. Even more excitingly, research has shown that some of the markings on this astrolabe are in Hebrew letters, but in Arabic language – an indication that the instrument was made within a Jewish community that lived within Arabic society.

Interestingly, the design of the instrument combines both Western European motifs, such as the quatrefoil, and Islamic decorative elements.

Medieval Europe


The medieval period saw the invention of printing and the foundation of modern institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals.

Medieval Europe world culture

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Object details

Height: 11 cm
Width: 9 cm
Depth: 2.18 cm


PE 1893,0616.3

Room 40: Medieval Europe


    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    B.R. Goldstein, ‘The Hebrew Astrolabe in the Adler Planetarium’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 35 (1076), 251–260

    C. Lowney, A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Spain (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005)

    M.D. Meyerson and E.D. English (ed.), Christians, Muslims and Jews in Medieval and Early Modern Spain (Indiana, 2000)

    R. Webster and M. Webster, Western Astrolabes (Chicago, Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, 1998)