Introduced in 1688 by the German astronomer Gottfried Kirch (1639–1710) to honour the Brandenburg province of Prussia, or more likely its ruler Frederick III. Sceptrum Brandenburgicum lay near the foot of Orion in a large bend in the river Eridanus. In its initial configuration it consisted of a simple row of five stars of 4th and 5th magnitudes forming a ceremonial sceptre.

It first appeared on a chart published by Kirch in the scientific journal Acta Eruditorum in 1688, but was ignored for nearly a century until Johann Bode, another German, revived it in 1782 in his popular-level star atlas called Vorstellung der Gestirne. In that atlas Bode called it Der Brandenburgische Scepter; later, on his Uranographia atlas of 1801, he adopted Kirch’s original Latin name for it, Sceptrum Brandenburgicum.

Even Bode’s endorsement could not prevent the eventual extinction of this overtly political creation. Its stars are now part of Eridanus.


Sceptrum Brandenburgicum on Chart XVIII of Johann Bode’s Uranographia star atlas of 1801. The initials “FW III” on the ribbon around the lower part of the sceptre refer to Friedrich Wilhelm III, who had become King of Prussia in 1797.

© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved