Little Bits of History

Exact Date – Maybe

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 28, 2014


May 28, 585 BC: A predicted solar eclipse brings a truce. According to The Histories of Herodotus, the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus predicted an upcoming eclipse and it was interpreted as an omen. When the eclipse took place, the battle between the Medes and the Lydians came to an abrupt halt and a truce was called. Modern day astronomers can calculate the dates of historical eclipses and so this event can be accurately placed in history and it sits as a marker for other dates as well. Because of the accuracy of current astronomy, the battle has the earliest precisely known historical event date.

Herodotus was born 100 years later around 484 BC and died around 425 BC about age 60. The Histories is the first chronicle of previous events and Cicero called Herodotus “The Father of History” while Voltaire called him “The Father of Lies”. He systematically collected data and checked for accuracy as well as he could. His accounts are vivid stories. His goal was to investigate the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars and his narrative gives not only geographical but ethnographical information to all later generations. Herodotus claimed he was only reporting what was told to him.

For this particular war, Herodotus stated there were two reasons for conflict. The first was clashing interests in Anatolia but a more sinister reason was a need for revenge. Scythian hunters employed by the Medes returned from a hunt empty-handed and were insulted by the Medes King Cyaxares. The hunters then slaughtered one of the King’s sons and served him as dinner to the Medes. Then they fled to Sardis, the capital of the Lydians. When the King learned of the treachery, he asked that the hunters/murderers be returned to him and Alyattes II (ruler of the Lydian Empire) refused. The Medes invaded.

NASA has calculated the exact course of the eclipse in question. It peaked over the Atlantic Ocean at 37.9⁰N 46.2⁰W and the umbral path reached the area in question, southwestern Anatolia, in the evening hours and the Halys River is just within the accepted path. So, this is an exact recording of a historically dated event. Unless, Herodotus was in error and his hearsay evidence was carelessly recounted. Or perhaps the solar eclipse is a misinterpretation of the event and it was a lunar eclipse instead. If instead of seeing a full moon, a lunar eclipse blocked the light as dusk fell, it would also be rather striking. But if this is the case, that means the date is wrong and the battle would have taken place on either September 3, 609 BC or perhaps July 4, 587 BC when such dusk-time lunar eclipses took place. All dates were long before Herodotus was writing.

Men trust their ears less than their eyes.

The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.

It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen. – all from Herodotus

Also on this day: It Can’t Be Done – In 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge is opened to traffic.
Beautiful Dining – In 1999, The Last Supper’s restoration was completed.
Sierra Club – In 1892, John Muir became the club’s first president.
Five – In 1934, the Dionne quintuplets were born.