battle of halys

Most wars end when one of the sides surrenders because they know they have lost the war. It would be strange for two enemies to simply walk away from a war. Nevertheless, in the year 585BC, the Medians were at war with the Lydians. When the king of Lydia refused to hand over the Scythians to Cyaxares, a war broke out between the two kingdoms. The war had been going on for five years. Things weren’t going well for either side. Neither side seemed to be able to get the upper hand in the war. Then, it all changed. Still, it didn’t change in the way you would expect.

Technically this battle was called the Battle of Halys, but it ended with the solar eclipse that Thales predicted. After that, it was called the Battle of the Eclipse. The solar eclipse so terrified the Medians and Lydians that they forgot about the vicious battle they were fighting and fled the battlefield. It had to have been the fastest end to a war in history…before or after.

Modern astronomical research places the date of the battle on May 28th 585 BC. Other dates have been proposed with varied evidence, but May 28 is the most widely accepted date for the event. For these ancient people, a solar eclipse would have appeared to have been an omen from the gods. They didn’t know any better. Subsequently, they lay down their weapons and quickly ushered in a truce.

Whilt this eclipse wasn’t the first one to be recorded, it was the first to be accurately predicted. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Thales of Milete had made the prediction that it would occur in the year that it did. How he made the prediction is a mystery, and the answer continues to elude modern historians, because prediction of such events requires certain astronomical knowledge that they weren’t thought to have had back then. Nevertheless, he was probably the only one who was not particularly surprised about the sudden darkness on the battlefield. Everyone else was in a state of panic, and both sides decided that it was time to get the heck off the battlefield, before something really bad happened.

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