Sunlight and Mankind
 – A Brief History

Mankind, through human culture, has had a long and often highly variable relationship with the Sun and sunlight, ranging from worship of the Sun as a god, through pleasure and leisure activities, and use as a medicine, to fear and avoidance. The desirability of a tanned skin has also fluctuated over the centuries, coming alternately into and out of fashion. Such tanning fashion has often had more to do with the means of its production – as a side effect of labouring or leisure activity – than the desirability of the tan for its own sake.

Ancient Civilizations

Many ancient civilizations paid tribute to the Sun, believing it to be a vengeful deity:

  • The ancient Greeks had Helios and Apollo,
  • The ancient Egyptians had Ra,
  • The Romans had Sol Invictus,
  • The Germanic tribes had Sol,
  • The Aztecs sacrificed many of their youth to ensure that the sun rose every day,
  • The Incas had Inti,
  • Several other South and North American Indian and African tribes were also sun worshippers.

Mithraism, which developed through the Roman period to reach its peak in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD and has been seen as the main rival religion to early Christianity, included worship of a Sun god.

Many cultures also recognised the health benefits of exposure to the sun:

  • The Babylonians, Egyptians and Assyrians had sun gardens;
  • The Greeks had helioses, Hippocrates’ sanatorium had a large solarium, Herodotus’ works include extensive instructions for use of a sun bath, and emphasizes its effect of strengthening muscles and nerves, and Olympian athletes were required to take a sun bath;
  • The Romans had solaria, and used sun baths in their training programmes for gladiators;
  • The Germanic tribes carried their sick to sunny mountain slopes in spring, and placed feverish children in sunlight on the tops of their houses, in order to heal them.

The rise of Christianity, and its extreme opposition to anything Pagan, virtually brought an end to the use of the sun bath.

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