Astrolabes in
medieval Jewish society

Project team


  • The Warburg Institute The Warburg Institute

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

This project will, for the first time, explore the role astrolabes played in Jewish communities by examining in detail the earliest known Hebrew treatises on the astrolabe by prominent authors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries as well as all the surviving instruments, both those made of brass and made of paper.

In recent years, texts and instruments both from the Western and the Islamic World have been researched and the varying role astrolabes played in these societies over the centuries have been discussed in detail. Surprisingly, however, there has so far been no study of Hebrew texts dealing with the astrolabe, nor has there been a comprehensive examination of the surviving instruments. Thus the important role Jewish scholars played as leading scientists in the Middle Ages has not received the attention it deserves. As a result, it remains virtually unknown that these scholars developed a completely new terminology in their attempts to understand the Arabic treatises and that the same scholars undertook observations with the astrolabe – a phenomenon unparalleled in Christian Europe until the mid-thirteenth century. More importantly, the role the astrolabe played within Jewish communities has hardly been explored.

Following the departure of Silke Ackermann, the British Museum is no longer contributing to this project.

More about this project on the Warburg Institute website 

On the blog

Looking for a time machine: astrolabes in medieval Jewish society

Read the full article 

Astrolabe with an inscription in Hebrew 

Hebrew astrolabe, probably made in Spain, about AD 1345 - 1355

Further information

A History of the World in 100 objects:
62. Hebrew Astrolabe