The Sun in Greek Astronomy
Welcome to Study Guides!

The Sun in Greek Astronomy


June 2016 - At first the Greeks imagined that the sun was the god Helios, or Apollo, driving his chariot around and around the earth. In the morning he began driving up in the sky, and then in the evening he drove back down again, and that was the sunset. At night the horses rested under the earth. (Compare to the Egyptian sun god Ra.)

By the Archaic period, though, in the 600s BC, Greek scientists like Thales of Miletus (a Greek city in West Asia) were beginning to understand that the sun was not a god but a round ball of fire hanging in space. Thales was able to predict when a solar eclipse would happen. Still Greek scientists thought that the sun went around the earth instead of the way it really is, that the earth goes around the sun.

In the Hellenistic period, scientists like Eratosthenes, Anaxagoras, and Aristarchus began really taking observations and making measurements. Anaxagoras, working in Athens about 450 BC, figured out that it was the moon getting between the sun and the earth that caused solar eclipses. About 250 BC, Aristarchus of Samos (working in Egypt) did figure out that the earth went around the sun, though not everybody agreed with him. Then Eratosthenes, also in Egypt about 200 BC, figured out how far away the sun was from the earth (about 93 million miles).

Learn by doing: the sun
More about the Sun
Go on to Roman science - Ptolemy

Bibliography and further reading about Greek astronomy and the sun:

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, by Kathryn Lasky (1994). An account of the life and work of Eratosthenes, who figured out the circumference of the earth. Explains how he did it. Easy reading.

Greek Astronomy, by Thomas Heath (1932). A collection of what ancient Greek writers had to say about astronomy, in their own words, with a long introduction. For adults.

The History & Practice of Ancient Astronomy, by James Evans (1998). Includes both the history, and directions to actually re-do the experiments that ancient Greek astronomers used to figure out their conclusions. For adults.

More about the sun god Helios
More about the sun
Ancient Greece home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017