On this day in 585BC, ancient precursors of the Iranian and Turkish people squared off for battle, along the banks of the River Halys in Asia minor. They were the Indo-Iranian Medes inhabiting the west and north-west of modern Iran, and the Indo-European Lydians inhabiting the west of modern Turkey. The two sides had been at war for 15 years
Sometime during the battle, the sky began to darken. It wasn’t long before the sun was obliterated, altogether. Stunned and terrified, the armies ceased fighting and laid down their weapons.Dating the historical events of antiquity with any kind of accuracy can be problematic, but not this one. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the mathematician and astronomer Thales of Miletus predicted the eclipse in a year when the Medians and the Lydians were at war. The “solar clock” can be run backward as well as forward. Thanks to Herodotus, it’s possible to calculate the date with precision. May 28 is one of the cardinal dates from which other dates in antiquity, may be calculated.
Interestingly, this is believed to be the first solar eclipse to be successfully predicted.
It wasn’t the first recorded eclipse of the sun, just the first to be foretold. Two Chinese astrologers lost their heads back in the 22nd or 23rd century BC, for failing to predict one. Clay tablets from the Babylonian period record an eclipse in Ugarit in 1375 BC. Other records report solar eclipses which “turned day into night” in 1063 and 763 BC.
Predicting a solar eclipse isn’t the same as predicting an eclipse of the moon. The calculations are far more difficult. When the moon passes through the shadow of the sun, the event can be seen over half the planet, the total eclipse phase lasting over an hour. In a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon occupies only a narrow path. The total eclipse phase at any given point, lasts only about 7½ minutes.
The method used by Thales to make his prediction is unknown. There is no record of the ancient Greeks predicting any further eclipses. It’s possible that he borrowed his methods from Egyptian astrologers, using their techniques of land measurement (geo-metry in Greek), later codified by Euclid and loved by 8th graders, the world over.Be that as it may, for the first time in history a full eclipse of the sun had been predicted beforehand. The Battle of Halys marked the first time in history, that a war was ended when day turned to night. Aylattes, King of Lydia and Cyaxares, King of the Medes, put down their weapons and declared a truce and their armies, followed suit. With help from the kings of Cilicia and Babylon, the two sides negotiated a more permanent treaty.
To seal the bargain, Alyattes’ daughter Aryenis married Cyaxares’ son Astyages. The Halys River, now known as the River Kızılırmak, was to become the border between the two peoples.
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