ASTRAKHAN, a town of E. Russia, capital of the government of Astrakhan, on the left bank of the main channel of the Volga, 50 m. from the Caspian Sea, in 46° 21′ N. lat. and 48° 5′ E. long. Since the growth of the petroleum industry of Baku and the construction of the Transcaspian railway, Astrakhan has become an important commercial centre, exporting fish, caviare, sugar, metals, naphtha, cottons and woollens, and importing grain, cotton, fruit and timber, to the aggregate value of £8,250,000 with foreign countries and of £14,500,000 with the interior of Russia. The town gives its name to the “fur” called “astrakhan,” the skin of the new-born Persian lamb, and so to an imitation in rough woollen cloth. There is some tanning, shipbuilding and brewing, and making of soap, tar and machinery. Astrakhan is the chief port on the Caspian Sea and the headquarters of the Russian Caspian fleet. The city consists of (1) the kreml or citadel (1550), crowning a hill, on which stand also the spacious brick cathedral containing the tombs of two Georgian princes, the archbishop’s palace and the monastery of the Trinity; (2) the Byelogorod or White Town, containing the administrative offices and the bazaars; and (3) the suburbs, where most of the population resides. The buildings in the first two quarters are of stone, in the third of wood, irregularly arranged along unpaved, dirty streets. The city is the see of a Greek Catholic archbishop and of an Armenian archbishop, and contains a Lamaist monastery, as well as technical schools, an ichthyological museum, the Peter museum, with ethnographical, archaeological and natural history collections, a botanical garden, an ecclesiastical seminary, and good squares and public gardens, one of which is adorned with a statue (1884) of Alexander II. Vineyards surround the city. Astrakhan was anciently the capital of a Tatar state, and stood some 7 m. farther north. After this was destroyed by the Mongol prince Timur the Great in 1395, the existing city was built. The Tatars were expelled about 1554 by Ivan IV. of Russia. In 1569 the city was besieged by the Turks, but they were defeated with great slaughter by the Russians. In 1670 it was seized by the rebel Stenka Razin; early in the following century Peter the Great constructed here a shipbuilding yard and made Astrakhan the base for his hostilities against Persia, and later in the same century Catherine II. accorded the city important industrial privileges. In 1702, 1718 and 1767, it suffered severely from fires; in 1719 was plundered by the Persians; and in 1830 the cholera swept away a large number of its people. In the middle ages the city was known also as Jitarkhan and Ginterkhan. Pop. (1867) 47,839; (1900) 121,580. Eight miles above Astrakhan, on the right bank of the Volga, are the ruins of two ancient cities superimposed one upon the other. In the upper, which may represent the city of Balanjar (Balansar, Belenjer), have been found gold and silver coins struck by Mongol rulers, as well as ornaments in the same metals. The older and scantier underlying ruins are supposed to be those of the once large and prosperous city of Itil or Atel (Etel, Idl) of the Arab geographers, a residence of the khan of the Khazars, destroyed by the Russians in 969. (P. A. K.)
ASTROLABE (from Gr. ἄστρον, star, and λαβῖν, to take), an instrument used not only for stellar, but for solar and lunar altitude-taking. The principle of the astrolabe is explained in fig. 2. There were two kinds,—spherical and planispheric. The earliest forms were “armillae” and spherical. Gradually, from Eratosthenes to Tycho, Hipparchus playing the most important part among ancient astronomers, the complex astrolabe was evolved, large specimens being among the chief observatory instruments of the 15th, 16th and even 17th centuries; while small ones were in use among travellers and learned men, not only for astronomical, but for astrological and topographical purposes. Nearly every one of the modern instruments used for the observations of physical astronomy is a part of the perfected astrolabe. A collection of circles such as is the armillary sphere, if each circle were fitted with a view-tube, might be considered a complete astrolabe. Tycho’s armillae were astrolabes. In fact the modern equatorial, and the altitude and azimuth circle are astrolabes in the strictest and oldest meaning of the term; and Tycho in one of his astrolabes came so near the modern equatorial that it may be taken as the first of the kind.
|From Exercises, by T. Blundeville.|
|Fig. 3.—Mariner's Astrolabe, A.D. 1594. Made of brass,|
or of heavy wood; it varied in size from a few inches to
1 ft. in diameter.
The two forms of the planispheric astrolabe most widely known and used in the 15th, 16th and even 17th centuries were: (1) the portable astrolabe shown in fig. 1 (Plate). This originated in the East, and was in early use in India, Persia and Arabia, and was introduced into Europe by the Arabs, who had perfected it—perhaps as early as A.D. 700. It combines the planisphere and armillae of Hipparchus and others, and the theodolite of Theon, and was usually of brass, varying in diameter from a couple of inches to a foot or more. It was used for taking the altitudes of sun, moon and stars; for calculating latitude; for determining the points of the compass, and time; for ascertaining heights of mountains, &c.; and for construction of horoscopes. The instrument was a marvel of convenience and ingenuity, and was called “the mathematical jewel.” Nevertheless it passed out of use, because incapable of any great precision.
(2) The mariner’s astrolabe, fig. 3, was adapted from that of astronomers by Martin Behaim, c. 1480. This was the instrument used by Columbus. With the tables of the sun’s declination then available, he could calculate his latitude by meridian altitudes of the sun taken with his astrolabe. The mariner’s astrolabe was superseded by John Hadley’s quadrant of 1731.
ASTROLOGY, the ancient art or science of divining the fate and future of human beings from indications given by the positions of the stars (sun, moon and planets). The belief in a connexion between the heavenly bodies and the life of man has played an important part in human history. For long ages astronomy and astrology (which might be called astromancy, on the same principle as “chiromancy”) were identified; and a distinction is made between “natural astrology,” which predicts the motions of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, &c., and “judicial astrology,” which studies the influence of the stars on human destiny. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) is one of the first to distinguish between astronomy and astrology; nor did astronomy begin to rid itself of astrology till the 16th century, when, with the system of Copernicus, the conviction that the earth itself is one of the heavenly bodies was finally established. The study of astromancy and the belief in it, as part of astronomy, is found in a developed form among the ancient Babylonians, and directly or indirectly through the Babylonians spread to other nations. It came to Greece about the middle of the 4th century B.C., and reached Rome before the opening of the Christian era. In India and China astronomy and astrology are largely reflections of Greek theories and speculations; and similarly with