Talk abstract details

At the dawn of Greek Astronomy: The Temple of Zagora on Andros
Alexandra Coucouzeli, Orsoula Avghouli


An archaeoastronomical examination of the temple of Zagora on Andros and its immediate surroundings has shown that the building was oriented to the heliacal rising of the star Alpha Centauri in the mid-eighth century B.C. Furthermore, various architectural features of the temple, including its altar, which is equipped with special sighting stones, present important solar, lunar and stellar alignments. Some of these alignments relate to the stars Alpha and Beta Centauri, as well as to the constellation Crux. Other alignments pertain to the cult of the Dioskouroi --indeed, the temple appears to have been the stage of a dramatic spectacle involving, among other things, the epiphany of the Dioskouroi as the constellation Gemini in the framework of the well-known festival of Theoxenia or Banquet of the Gods. Yet other alignments point to the general use of the temple as an early form of astronomical observatory, which constitutes an unparalleled evidence of the existence of such structures in ancient Greece, no doubt for the main purposes of timekeeping and calendric regulation. Finally, the remains of small cairns built around the temple may be identified as astronomical markers, which would have served initially for the observation of the sun, moon and stars and, subsequently, for the setting up and the use of the temple itself.

The Zagora temple reveals an advanced knowledge of practical astronomy, such as is hinted at in the eighth-century B.C. writings of Homer and Hesiod, and which implies a long tradition of direct and accurate observation of celestial phenomena in Greece. This tradition could be said to form the groundwork on which the ancient Greek rational thought, starting with the Presocratics, was slowly built. Thus, Zagora provides us with the hitherto missing physical, archaeological correlate to the text-bound approach that has long dominated the study of the origins of Greek astronomy.