Queen Buran, Astrologer in 9th Century Baghdad

Queen Buran, Astrologer in 9th Century Baghdad

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Episode 295 features an interview with Ali A Olomi about the 9th century Queen Buran, who is the first woman we know of by name that practiced astrology.

Previously in episode 86 I discussed historical references to women practicing astrology as early as the 1st century CE, and discussed the 5th century philosopher Hypatia as one possible candidate for earliest figure.

In this episode we focus on the famous Queen Buran, who lived in Baghdad in the 9th century, and talk about how she is a much more reliable candidate for earliest woman in history who likely had training as an astrologer and used it in practice.

Buran was the wife of the Caliph Al-Ma’mun, who reigned from 813–833, during the early Islamic Golden Age. Their wedding was so extravagant that it became known as something of a legend for centuries.

Buran came from a notable family line of astrologers, and her great-grandfather Nawbakht al-Farisi was the head of a group of astrologers that selected the electional chart for the founding Baghdad.

A legend survives about a prediction that Buran herself made using astrology that helped to avert an assassination attempt on the Caliph al-Mu’tasim.

We spent a good deal of the episode contextualizing Buran’s life in 9th century Baghdad, discussing the history of the Persian and Arabic astrological traditions in the early medieval period, and talking about some of the notable astrologers that were contemporaries of Buran such as Masha’allah, Sahl ibn Bishr, and Abu Ma’shar.

Ali is a historian of the Middle East and Islam, who focuses in particular on esotericism, astrology, and folklore.

He is also the host of the Head on History Podcast, and posts weekly threads on astrology and esotericism through his page on Twitter:



See the podcast website for the full episode description:


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00:00:00 Intro
00:01:12 Ali and his work
00:07:57 Early women in astrology
00:12:12 Transmitting knowledge through family lineages
00:17:49 Buran's name
00:20:07 Conflicting reports about her birth year
00:22:40 Possible chart for Buran
00:24:05 Whole sign houses used in Arabic horoscopes
00:35:00 Birth Chart of Ali ibn Abi Talib 14th Century
00:43:07 12th century solar return chart
00:45:02 Buran's background in the 9th century
00:46:20 Baghdad as cultural center
00:49:50 Electional chart of Baghdad
00:57:49 Electional astrology in Baghdad
01:03:00 Mars in the Baghdad chart
01:09:00 Baghdad city design
01:11:38 Translations of astrology texts
01:15:48 Alexandria
01:19:26 Ethnicity and ancient sources
01:22:09 House of Wisdom in Baghdad
01:28:53 Buran's family line
01:34:00 Persian tradition of astrology
01:40:57 Nawbakht the Persian (c. 679-777)
01:44:51 Buran's training in astrology
01:48:50 Buran's husband Al-Ma'mun
01:56:29 Buran and Al-Ma'mum's lavish wedding
02:01:10 Connection to astrologer Sahl ibn Bishr
02:04:50 Sahl's influence as an astrologer
02:08:02 Sahl works for Buran's father
02:14:50 Importance of Dorotheus
02:17:29 Al-Ma'mum's death
02:19:00 Buran's poem to mourn her husband
02:20:48 Buran's life after his death
02:24:38 The legend of Buran's astrological prediction
02:27:33 Other women astrologers
02:30:25 Social stratification of the astrologers
02:33:20 Al-Qabisi's test of astrologers
02:36:25 Astrolabe technology
02:40:20 Buran's advanced techniques
02:52:20 Buran's later life and legends
03:02:25 Ali's podcast, Patreon, and Twitter
03:08:33 Shout-out to artist Matias Del Carmine
03:09:00 Closing remarks