Dorotheus of Sidon

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(fl. Egyptf[?], first century)


Dorotheus was one of the most influential astrologers of antiquity. His théories form the basis of the astrological treatises of Firmieus Maternus, Hephaestio of Thebes, and Rhetorius of Egypt; and he became one of the chief authorities for Arabic astrologers beginning with Māshā’ allāh, ‘ (Umar ibn al-Farrukhān al-Tabarī, and Abū Ma’shar. Through Firmieus and the translations of Arabic texts Dorotheus’ doctrines also profoundly influenced the astrology of the later Middle Ages and Renaissance in the Latin West. Unfortunately, we know virtually nothing of his person, although Symon de Phares1 in the late fifteenth nturyidentified him with the Dorotheus, son of Nathan-ael, whom Josephus (Ant. Iitd. 20, 14) mentions as a member of an embassy in a.d. 51; there is nothing to substantiate this legend.

The work of Dorotheus was originally published as five books in hexameters; the first two on the basc reading of a horoscope, the third and fourth on methods of continuous astrology (prorogation and the revolution of the years of nativities), and the fifth on catarchic (concerning initiatives) and interrogational astrology. In these last three books Dorotheus was particularly innovative.

But these Greek hexameters do not survive save in the citations of Byzantine astrologers, in particular Hephaestio of Thebes, We must rather study Dorotheus in an Arabic version made in about 800 by ʿUmar ibn al-Farrukhān alʾ-Tabarī on the basis of a lost Pahlavi translation, which Ibn al-Nadīm, following Ibn Nawbakht,2 dates in the time of Ardashīr I (226-240) and Shāpīr I (240-271). ʿUmar’s Pahlavi original, however, represents a redaction of about a.d. 400, when various insertions into the Dorothean texts were made. These insertions include passages from the Pahlavi translation of Vettius Valens’ Anthologies definitions of the Indian navāmśas or ecliptic arcs of 1/9 of a sign, and two horoscopic examples, one of which can be dated 20 October 281, the other 26 February 381. The latter is of some significance as it proves that in Sassanian Iran at this time an astronomer would give a date in the era of Diocletian and would employ Ptolemy’s table of oblique ascensions. In the first book Dorotheus gives a series of horoscopic examples, which can be dated between 7 b.c. and a.d. 43. These allow us to fix his date and to gain some added insight into the methods of computing planetary longitudes employed in the fifty years after the beginning of our era.


1. EL Wickersheimer. ed.. Recueil des plus célèbres astrologues et quelques hommes doctes(Paris, I929) pp. 44. 134.

2. D. Pingrce. The Thousands of Abū Ma’shur(London. 1968), p. 10.


Dorotheus’ work on astrology in ʿUmar’s translation survives in two manuscripts: Yeni Cami 784 and Berlin or. oct. 2603; an edition with translation and Greek and Latin fragments by D. Pingree was published at Leipzig in 1976. Aside from this, there exist a large number of texts and opinions falsely attributed to Dorotheus; unfortunately, this was not fully realized by V. Stegemann in his incomplete Die Fragments des Dorotheas von Sidon. 2 pts. (Heidelberg, 1939- 1943): Stegemann also did not know of ’Umar’s translation.

David Pingree

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Dorotheus of Sidon

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