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.

Protect Your Eyes

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 15, 2011

Total eclipse (photo by n0ll)

June 15, 763 BC: A total solar eclipse is recorded by Assyrians. Assyria was located in the northern half of Mesopotamia on the upper Tigris River. Because we have the time and place of the eclipse, using mathematical calculations from the current time, we can place the chronology of Mesopotamian history accurately.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. There are three types of eclipses: 1) total, where the Sun is completely hidden by the moon, 2) annular, where the Moon appears smaller than the Sun and a ring of light shows around the entire edge, and 3) partial, where the Sun is not exactly in line with the Moon and so is not adequately obscured.

The Sun is about 400 times larger than the Moon and about 400 times farther away from Earth than the Moon. This synchronicity means that they appear the same size to us. Orbits are not circular, but rather elliptical so that the sizes are not always in sync. The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is inclined 5º when compared to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This all means that there can be up to a 6% difference in the appearance of size.

Lunar eclipses can be seen from anywhere on the night side of the planet. Solar eclipses are less accommodating. The shadow cast by a total solar eclipse is seen only in a particular area. Total eclipses are rare with one occurring every 18 months somewhere on the planet. For a particular place, a total eclipse occurs once every 370 years, on average. The longest a total eclipse can last is 7 minutes and 40 seconds, but most are shorter in duration. In each millennium, fewer than 10 last more than 7 minutes.

By studying the pattern of eclipses, two cycles have been found. The Saros cycle lasts about 18 years and is a more stable and consistent cycle. After a Saros cycle, and Inex cycle that is more volatile and less well defined runs its course. By using complex mathematical computations we can determine when past eclipses occurred and plot them into the calendar we currently use.

“Insurrection in the city of Ashur. In the month Sivan, the Sun was eclipsed.” – from The Assyrian Chronicles

“The Sun was eclipsed, a thing of very evil omen. Then the Moon became small, and now the Sun became small. . . . For the Moon to be eclipsed is but an ordinary matter. Now that the Sun has been eclipsed – how bad it is!” – from the Shih-ching

“Nothing there is beyond hope, nothing that can be sworn impossible, nothing wonderful, since Zeus, father of the Olympians, made night from mid-day, hiding the light of the shining Sun, and sore fear came upon men.” – Archilochus

“You’ve got to be careful when you look at the sun at anytime. Today is no different. The solar eclipse itself doesn’t generate anymore unusual a phenomenon.” – Paul Delany

Also on this day:
King “Soft-sword” John “Signs” on the Dotted Line – In 1215, King John of England signs the Magna Carta.
Not Spock – In 1844, vulcanization was patented.

Tagged with: ,