battle

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)

Wayback Wednesday: The Battle of Largs 1263

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The Battle of Largs Image One
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org
Artist: William Hole
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Seven hundred, fifty-six years ago, today…

Summary from Wikipedia:

The Battle of Largs was an indecisive engagement between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde near Largs, Scotland. The conflict formed part of the Norwegian expedition against Scotland in 1263, in which Haakon Haakonsson, King of Norway, attempted to reassert Norwegian sovereignty over the western seaboard of Scotland. Since the beginning of the 12th century, this region had lain within the Norwegian realm, ruled by magnates who recognised the overlordship of the Kings of Norway. In the mid-13th century, two Scottish kings, Alexander II and his son, Alexander III, attempted to incorporate the region into their own realm. Following failed attempts to purchase the islands from the Norwegian king, the Scots launched military operations. Haakon responded to the Scottish aggression by leading a massive fleet from Norway, which reached the Hebrides in the summer of 1263. By the end of September, Haakon’s fleet occupied the Firth of Clyde, and when negotiations between the kingdoms broke down, he brought the bulk of his fleet to anchor off The Cumbraes.

On the night of September 30, during a bout of stormy weather, several Norwegian vessels were driven aground on the Ayrshire coast, near present-day Largs. On October 2 , while the Norwegians were salvaging their vessels, the main Scottish army arrived on the scene. Composed of infantry and cavalry, the Scottish force was commanded by Alexander of Dundonald, Steward of Scotland. The Norwegians were gathered in two groups:
the larger main force on the beach and a small contingent atop a nearby mound.

The Battle of Largs Image Two
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org
Artist: William Hole
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The advance of the Scots threatened to divide the Norwegian forces, so the contingent on the mound ran to rejoin their comrades on the beach below. Seeing them running from the mound, the Norwegians on the beach believed they were retreating, and fled back towards the ships. There was fierce fighting on the beach, and the Scots took up a position on the mound formerly held by the Norwegians. Late in the day, after several hours of skirmishing, the Norwegians recaptured the mound. The Scots withdrew from the scene and the Norwegians re-boarded their ships. They returned the next morning to collect their dead. With the weather deteriorating, Haakon’s fleet sailed to Orkney to overwinter.

The Battle of Largs has been romanticised by [some] later historians as a great Scottish victory but, it only involved a small part of the Norwegian fleet. [Another] saga described the Norwegian campaign as a triumph [but], in reality, it had not achieved anything […]. With his fleet and forces intact, Haakon planned to continue to campaign after spending the winter in Orkney but, he was unexpectedly taken ill and, died there before he had the chance to resume operations. The campaign had started too late and the Scottish king had successfully prolonged negotiations to his own advantage. With Haakon’s death, his successor, Magnus Haakonarson, King of Norway, signed the Treaty of Perth three years after the battle (July 2, 1266), leasing Scotland’s western seaboard to Alexander III in return for a yearly payment. This lease became permanent but, the Kingdom of Scotland eventually stopped paying the Norwegian crown for the islands when Norway became distracted by civil wars.

Sources Cited
Background Information
The Specifics of the Battle
1912 Commemoration

Royal Banner of Scotland Image Three
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org
Kingdom of Scotland
Kingdom of Norway Banner Image Four
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org
Kingdom of Norway