Monday, May 28, 2012

The Battle of the Eclipse

The Battle of the Eclipse
      Today is the anniversary of an important event of which you likely have never heard and which is of itself of interest only to scholars, the Battle of the Eclipse.

      The battle itself took place in 585 BC in what is now Turkey between a force of Medes and a force of Lydians. Like I said, this is specialist stuff - the Medes and the Lydians have passed from history as distinct peoples. Today, if remembered at all, it is likely the Medes who were cannon fodder against the Spartans under Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae.

      The importance of the battle is that it was interrupted by an eclipse, and the time and date of that eclipse can be ascertained astronomically. As such it serves as a fixed point from which to measure dates. In an era in which dates were typically recorded in reference to rather transient events such as in the thirteenth year of the reign of King Whomever, a fixed point is very useful. If it is known that the Battle of the Eclipse took place in the fourth year of the reign of King X, and that his total reign was of 26 years, then we can know that he died some 22 years after 585 BC, and from there the reign of the successor to the throne can be measured. When that king, in his fifth year, signs a treaty with a neighbor, and it is the ninth year of that neighboring king's reign, it is now possible to start putting a series of events into chronological context.

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