Development of Astronomy in Ancient History

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Artem Cheprasov

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Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college Physics, Natural science, Earth science, and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree.

Astronomy is the study of space, celestial bodies, and the relationship of the universe to Earth. Explore the development of astronomy, how ancient people used astronomy, and the tools that they developed to study the stars. Updated: 01/19/2022

The Appeal of Stars

Pretty much all of us look up at the stars with wonder, amazement, and awe. Many of us get really excited when an eclipse is about to occur somewhere near us or when there's a meteor shower. Honestly, who hasn't wished upon a star? Admit it, you have, and probably a dozen or so times.

And really, in the grand scheme of things, humans haven't changed that much at their core over millennia. Like us, ancient people the world over looked up at the stars for many of the same reasons. And they even studied their celestial behaviors like we do today.

Let's find out more about this as we go over some of the ways astronomy developed in the ancient world.

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Astronomy & Ancient Civilizations

Astronomy is the branch of science that studies the universe and its celestial bodies, like planets and stars. There were several major reasons why ancient people studied and cared about astronomy. Let's delve into some of the ways astronomy related to different aspects of ancient civilizations.

One extremely important reason ancient astronomy was significant was that it allowed ancient people and civilizations to keep track of the passage of the seasons. This, by extension, meant they could better time when to plant or harvest crops. So astronomy was important for the development of more advanced forms of agriculture.

Astronomy also helped ancient people develop calendars and other time-keeping methods and devices. Why was this important for ancient civilizations? Well, if you had a way to keep track of time on a smaller scale, you could develop a much stronger economy by way of improved trade. If merchants could coordinate with other merchants using precise time-keeping devices, then far more intricate systems of trade and economies could develop over time.

And here's a third big reason for why ancient people cared about astronomy: religion and politics. Ancient priests knew at what time certain celestial events would be likely to occur. This would allow them to yield great power in holding impressive festivities tied to astronomical phenomena. After all, if they could predict such phenomena, they must be pretty special, right? Thus, astronomy helped priests in many civilizations become part of a powerful elite. Astronomy was, in part, a reason for how and why civilizations became stratified in terms of classes.

Politics comes into play as well. For example, ancient astronomers in the Roman Republic were sometimes in cahoots with Roman politicians seeking to extend their stay in office. The astronomers would adjust the Roman calendar to the seasonal year in order to suit the politician's desires by, quite literally, extending the year for everybody at whatever point they wished. This would automatically extend the politician's stay in office.

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Additional Activities

Astronomy Crossword Puzzle


This activity is linked to the lesson on the development of astronomy in ancient history. For this activity, complete the crossword by filling in a word that fits each of the given clues. You can right-click the crossword to save the image and print it. With a pencil and an eraser, neatly write your answers in the boxes provided.


3. A term that relates to the sky or outer space as observed in astronomy.

6. Prediction about human affairs or natural phenomena from the relative positions of celestial bodies.

7. An instrument to help take astronomical measurements such as the altitude of the Sun and stars.

8. Astronomy provided a guide for planting and harvesting crops because the motion of celestial objects allowed ancient people and civilizations to keep track of the _____.

9. The planetary and other celestial motions and events are thought to influence the _____.


1. Ancient people regarded astronomy to play an essential role in _____.

2. _____ made use of astronomy to become part of a powerful elite.

4. It is known as the study of the physical universe beyond the Earth's atmosphere, including the stars and planets.

5. An ancient group of standing stones that are thought to have helped keep track of some celestial movements.

7. Modern scientific methods were further established through the works of _____ astronomers.

Answer Key

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