Throwback Thursday: Eclipse of Thales 585 BC

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Ancient Origins Total Eclipse Image One
Image Credit: Ancient Origins

Two thousand, six hundred and five years ago, today (roughly speaking)

The eclipse of Thales was a solar eclipse that was, according to The Histories of Herodotus, accurately predicted by the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus. If Herodotus‘s account is accurate, this eclipse is the earliest recorded (per Isaac Asimov) as being known in advance of its occurrence. How, exactly, Thales predicted the eclipse remains uncertain […].

According to Herodotus, the appearance of the eclipse was interpreted as an omen and, interrupted a battle in a long-standing war between the Medes and the Lydians. The fighting immediately stopped and they agreed to a truce. Because astronomers can calculate the dates of historical eclipses, Isaac Asimov described this battle as the earliest historical event whose date is known with precision to the day and described the prediction as the birth of science.

Ancient Origins Annular Eclipse Image Two
Photo Credit: Ancient Origins

The Mechanics of a Monumentally Difficult Prediction

The reason this astronomical event is thought of as being so important is that predicting a solar eclipse, compared with a lunar eclipse, is exceptionally difficult. The astronomer must not only calculate when it will occur but, where on Earth’s surface it will be visible […]. [In] a lunar eclipse, the moon passes through the Earth’s sun shadow and the phenomena is visible on the whole side of the Earth that is in night-time […]. [They] often last longer than an hour. In solar eclipses, however, the moon’s shadow falls across the Earth in a comparatively narrow path, with a maximum duration, at any given location, of about 7 1/2 minutes.

Moon Blink Eclipse Track Image Three
Eclipse Track
Image Credit: Moon Blink

[What] makes Thales’ prediction [an] historical mystery is that historians know early Greeks, at large, didn’t have this essential lunar data and there are no other records of Greek astronomers in this period accurately predicting any other eclipses. Thus, it is thought by historians that the only place Thales’ advanced astronomical knowledge could have come from was Egypt. [It’s] known [that] Thales studied Egyptian techniques for measuring sections of land with rope […].

Returning [to] the war (mentioned above), after 15 years of fighting, on May 28, 585 BC, the armies of King Aylattes of Lydia were in battle with the forces of King Cyaxares of Medes (or, possibly, Astyages, his son), near the River Halys in what is, today, central Turkey. Chroniclers noted the heavens darkening and soldiers on both sides laying down their weapons in awe of the spectacle […]. [The] event ended both the battle and the war.

[A] Wired article says this famous astronomical event has been debated by hundreds of scholars for nearly two millennia and that some authorities believe Thales’ eclipse may have occurred 25 years earlier in 610 BC. But, the reason most agree with the 585 BC date is the record of the famous battle in Asia Minor ending when the day was suddenly turned to night.

Additional Reading & Sources:
The Battle of the Solar Eclipse (Ancient Origins)
Total Solar Eclipse of May 28, 0585 BC (Moon Blink)
Happy Birthday to Science (Web Archive)
Battle of the Eclipse (Wikipedia)
Eclipse of Thales (Wikipedia)
Predicted Solar Eclipse Stops Battle (Wired)

22 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Eclipse of Thales 585 BC

    macalder02 said:
    May 29, 2020 at 12:17 AM

    I have received a master class in astronomy. I do not master the topic but the topic was interesting. I used to look for the terms a lot and I was satisfied to expand my knowledge. Thanks for sharing your article.
    A big hug
    Manuel

    Liked by 1 person

    Silk Cords said:
    May 29, 2020 at 12:47 AM

    Interesting read. There’s a good bit about ancient Greece that modern science doesn’t know or wont admit to though. The ancient ‘computer’ found on the one sunken ship being a great example. Calling that event the birth of science may be a bit of a stretch also given that the pyramids were built long before that. 🙂 Either way, predicting an eclipse back then is still an impressive feat.

    Liked by 1 person

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      May 29, 2020 at 1:26 AM

      The Antikythera Mechanism is damn fascinating! Astronomical and/or eclipse predictions…calendar, astrology (true sidereal instead of the current tropical)…

      Modern science rarely admits to anything other than what they can get money for…or steer public opinion with (we are up to our collective necks in multiple levels of corruption in all fields).

      Since Asimov was involved in that moniker, that was a modern take on an event that scholars are still arguing about. Thales’ work is still not totally known…there’s just speculation.

      I love stumbling across stuff like this. I’m always amused at “modern man” and his/her arrogance at believing that this time in history is the pinnacle of knowledge. 99.9% of people can’t fathom just how much we’ve lost over time and just how brilliant/powerful we were in antiquity. “Pyramidiots” can’t imagine that “we” built the pyramids…not slaves…with abilities we no longer have.

      Hm. We’ve devolved into screaming mimis that hoard toilet paper, clorox-wipe entire fucking buildings and wear face masks, in cars, alone, with the windows rolled up. We have gone back to the 50s with “duck & cover” (hide under your desk, kids) for nuclear explosions. I’m waiting for the underground bunker hysteria to start back up.

      Liked by 1 person

        Silk Cords said:
        May 29, 2020 at 1:28 AM

        Irks me that I couldn’t remember the name this late in the evening though, LOL.

        Just wait. Clean Rooms will be the new safe rooms / bomb shelters. You mock but it’s coming.

        Like

    MichaelStephenWills said:
    May 29, 2020 at 7:25 AM

    Herodotus is entertaining and, at turns enlightening, though he is not a model of factual reliability.

    Like

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      May 29, 2020 at 2:58 PM

      Hmm…seems to be a common theme in human history. I’m not seeing a lot of factual reliability, now.

      Like

    JT Twissel said:
    May 29, 2020 at 2:36 PM

    Fascinating. The ancients were definitely more respectful of nature.

    Like

    badfinger20 (Max) said:
    May 30, 2020 at 10:03 PM

    Awesome read…absolutely love that picture also with the camel…

    I remember in elementary school we had special things to look at an eclipse. We were told it would burn our eyes without it…we went by the rules….for once.

    Like

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