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The Elusive Planet

Mercury and Ancient Cultures

Since ancient times, humankind has attached great significance to the motions of heavenly objects. The world’s peoples have long observed the sky, fascinated by the rising and setting of the Sun, the phases of the Moon, and the paths of the stars and the visible planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The motions of planets and stars were used to navigate, and to track the passage of time.

Astronomy was often intertwined with religious practice, and the planets, Moon and Sun identified with a pantheon of gods. Long ago astronomers were frequently priests and astrologers as well, seeking to relate human events to celestial motions. In some early cultures the motions of astronomical objects were carefully recorded, so that by constructing accurate calendars, human futures might be predicted. Mercury is the most difficult to see of all the terrestrial planets, because it never is far from the Sun. Yet we know from their records that many ancient cultures kept watch on Mercury, noting its swift movement in the sky and often associating with it a messenger god, or a god of wisdom and knowledge.

The map below indicates some areas of the world in which ancient peoples left clear evidence of their observation of Mercury.

To learn more about what mysteries the planet held for these peoples, select any circled region below or click the names on the banner to the right.


World map image courtesy of GraphicMaps.com

Learn about Mercury in Modern Times.