Who First Devised the Arctic Circle?

I had assumed that the origin of “arctic” was from the word “arc” but that not correct. Rick Spilman does a nice job of explaining the origin.

To the Greeks a circle drawn through the constellation of the Great Bear, which they called “Arktos,” formed the limit of the stars that were always visible. This limit was therefore called the Bear’s circle, or the “Arctic Circle,” and thus this designation for the northernmost regions of the earth is derived from the sky.


Interesting. I’m a bit surprised that he doesn’t mention the most obvious feature of the Arctic Circle: It defines the southernmost latitude where the sun doesn’t set at midsummer. As someone who grew up in its general vicinity, that’s how I always thought about it.

Evidently that wasn’t the way the ancient Greeks thought of it when they named it.

There are 5 of these “imaginary Lines” around the earth:

Source: Weird Science: Polar Circles and Tropical Circles | manoa.hawaii.edu/ExploringOurFluidEarth

In Norway there are two well known markers to tell you when you pass the Arctic Circle.
Along the coastal fairway it is marked by a globe situated on an island called Vikingen:

Along the main North/South highway(E6) it is marked by this stone:
Situated next to the Arctic Circle Centre at Storforshei on Saltfjellet:

PS>The actual Arctic Circle is now abt. 0.6 km North of the Centre

If you go by railway there isa less well known marker that looks like this:

The train to Bodø crosses the Polar Circle at 650 meters above sea level.
Photo: Rune Fossum, (c) Helgeland Travel Board
Source: The Arctic Circle is the gateway to midnight sun and twilight winter - Visit Northern Norway

From Wikipedia: Circumpolar star

Before the definition of the Arctic was formalized as the region north of the Arctic Circle which experiences the Midnight sun, it more broadly meant those places where the ‘bear’ constellations (Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear) were high in the sky. Thus the word ‘Arctic’ is derived from the Greek ἀρκτικός (arktikos ), ‘bearish’, from ἄρκτος (arktos ), ‘bear’.

They noticed the same thing you did, but from the other direction and with different stars. If someone had asked them about the sun I bet they could have figured it out.


According to the linked article the original idea of arctic is from the Greeks around 300 BCE, it’s from their study of astronomy as described in the quoted text in the OP.

From here arctic | Etymology of arctic by etymonline - in 15c “arctic” came to mean northern cold regions.

1550s in astronomy, in reference to a celestial circle, a line around the sky which, in any location, bounds the stars which are ever-visible from that latitude (in the Northern Hemisphere its center point is the celestial north pole); the concept goes back to the ancient Greeks,

“Arctic Circle” apparently didn’t get it’s present meaning until around 1620

In geography, from 1620s as “the circle roughly 66 degrees 32 minutes north of the equator”

An article here about the spelling - the ‘c’ is silent but apparently the belief that it’s derived from 'arc" is common.

Language Log » Ar(c)tic

Could that be a reason of climate warming?

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