The Sky's the Limit: Astronomy in Antiquity

Silver Denarius of Augustus. Macquarie University Museum of Ancient Cultures. C.21


How did the ancient Egyptians know when the Nile was about to flood? Why was Stonehenge built? How did the ancient Greeks know when to plough their fields? Which zodiac sign did Augustus use to legitimise his rule?

The answers were in the sky.

The sun, moon, stars and planets and their movements were of great significance to the people of the past. Their religious beliefs and ritual activities regularly involved the movement of the sun, moon and stars. Beliefs grew of peoples’ destiny being told in the sky: the zodiac and horoscopes were developed. The movements helped to signal regular events and, with devices such as the Antikythera Mechanism, these were systematised into the calendar that we still use. The philosophical reasoning and the scientific investigations and instruments that have helped to explain the world from Aristotle to Galileo, provide a continuum of human investigation and discovery.

3 May til June 2010

Image: Silver Denarius of Augustus.
Reverse with Capricorn holding a globe and bearing a cornucopiae.
After 27 B.C.
Macquarie University Museum of Ancient Cultures. C.21