What Was the Milky Way Called in Ancient Times?

The Milky Way is a fascinating and mysterious entity that has intrigued humans for centuries. It is a spiral galaxy that contains billions of stars, including our very own Sun. But what did ancient cultures call the Milky Way before we gave it this name?

The Ancient Greeks

The ancient Greeks were the first to coin a term for the Milky Way. They called it “galaxias kyklos,” which means “milky circle” in Greek. This term was used to describe the fuzzy band of light that could be seen stretching across the night sky.

The Romans

The Romans also had a name for the Milky Way. They called it “via lactea,” which means “road of milk” in Latin. This term was likely influenced by the Greek term and was used to describe the same band of light.

Other Cultures

Many other cultures around the world also had their own names for the Milky Way. In China, it was known as “silver river,” while in Finland, it was called “the path of birds.” The Maori people of New Zealand referred to it as “Te Ikaroa,” which means “long fish” in their language.

The Modern Name

The modern name for the Milky Way came about during the Renaissance period. Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer, observed that this milky band of light was actually made up of countless individual stars. He named it “via lactea” in honor of the Roman term.

In 1750, an English astronomer named Thomas Wright proposed that this band of light was actually a disk-shaped collection of stars and that our Sun was located within this disk. This idea became widely accepted and eventually led to our current understanding of what the Milky Way actually is.


In conclusion, while we now call it the Milky Way, this band of light has been known by many names throughout history. From the Greek “galaxias kyklos” to the Roman “via lactea,” and even the Maori “Te Ikaroa,” each culture has had its own unique way of describing this awe-inspiring feature of the night sky.