Before it was widely accepted that the Earth was round, how did astronomers describe the yearly movement of the sun to south in the Northern Winter that produced the seasons? Did the Earth wobble or did the Sun just not have a perfectly circular trajectory around the Earth? Did this perspective change when we realized the Earth was a globe? What about before Heliocentrism was the norm?

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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the Earth is spherical has been accepted nearly since the beginning. Even the ancient Greeks knew it was spherical (or at the very least not flat) from such evidence as the Earth's shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse is circular. They even did a reasonably good job of measuring the Earth's radius. I don't know of any ancient cultures or groups who honestly thought the Earth was flat, but I'm no historian. $\endgroup$
    – zephyr
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ I've always found it strange that the rumor is that people at the time of Columbus thought the Earth was flat when the educated read Aristotle and held his ideas in high regard. . . . That said, this is a better question for history of Science & Math. hsm.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Found essentially the same question here with a nice answer: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/128081/… $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:37

1 Answer 1


This is not really a physics or astronomy question, but I reckon that when you model the Earth as flat, the stars and the Sun are merely minor objects and their motion is governed by heavenly spirits rather than regular orbits. So, rather then the flat Earth tilting, the Sun's trajectory changed with the seasons.

Btw, what I find more concerning is how the (infinitely extended) flat Earth can be reconciled with the Sun rising in the East after setting in the West: how did it get there?

Btw2, I don't think that elites in classic times (Greek/Egyptian/Middle East Cultures ~1000Bc and more recent) seriously considered the Earth to be flat. All the constructions of epicyles etc for explaining the data assume a spherical Earth in the centre of the cosmos. Flat is much more arcane than Geocentric.

  • $\begingroup$ In Greek mythology, Helios (the sun god) with his horses and carriage boarded a kind of ship in the evening, in the West, that travelled on the Okeanos (the saltwater stream circling the flat Earth) so that he arrived in the East at morning, ready to start a new ride across the sky. The Earth was not considered infinite. $\endgroup$
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ this really doesn't address teh problem that the original question is invalid. Besides which, I don't recall any ancient flat-Earthers claiming it had infinite extent. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose only the less educated actually considered the Earth to be flat, as it is not immediately evident that it is not unless you travel a lot. From the POV of your tiny village life, all the world you know ends after the mountains surrounding you. I don't see why this question is being called invalid. I had a question and now I have an answer. There is a "history" tag in this forum, and I felt it was appropriate. Thanks for the brief explanation. $\endgroup$
    – ecc
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ The question was called invalid because it is based on a false premise (that ancient astronomers thought the World was flat). At any time in history, anyone capable of doing calculations on the positions of heavenly bodies has known about the Earth being round. Several cultures around the world established this independently (as they would - it's obvious to anyone who can measure things). $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2020 at 6:08

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