Throughout history our fascination with astronomy has defined the way in which we view our place on earth, our very existence could be explained by gazing upward to the night sky and finding answers.
These answers were given to us by various gods and deities who inhabited the great dark abyss above our heads, and their messages prompted changes in both our practises of worship and in how society operated.
From the Mayans to the Egyptians, Celts to Norsemen, solar events have shaped human civilisation and many cultures seem to have possessed an intricate knowledge of the stars.
Human beings have often interpreted astronomical events as a catalyst for disaster however, as a warning to mankind to act or change their course.
Today’s solar eclipse will be witnessed by millions across the globe, and as I write this Americans gaze upward at a wonder that we are privileged to witness. In the 6th century BC however an eclipse would be interpreted as a message from the gods, and it was on a battlefield in what is now Turkey that the gods spoke.
On the banks of the Halys River, the Medes and the Lydians met in a battle that would decide the fate of both peoples. A bloody six year conflict had led to this moment, all was at stake; Land, kingship, honour.
The dust was still settling on the once mighty Assyrian Empire, reduced to ashes by the Medes, Babylonians and Scythian’s. The fall of Assyria and the subsequent power vacuum in the Near East makes this a critical event in ancient history.
The Medes were in the ascendancy and with their dominion growing ever larger, war was inevitable. Capitalising on this power vacuum the Lydian’s sought to expand their sphere of influence also.
War erupted, and thus began several years of fierce conflict. A war waged by man, but one that will be decided by the gods.
Our knowledge of this battle comes from a familiar source; Herodotus. His account of the Battle describes a vicious encounter that is interrupted by a solar eclipse.
As day turned to night the clashing of metal, the cries of men and the thunderous roar of hooves came to a stop. One can imagine the eerie silence that would fall over any ancient battleground when this event occurred, for this was a message from the gods.
Whom did they favour? Did they speak to King Alyattes and the Lydians, or to Cyaxeres and the Medes?
Perhaps the gods were angered by this bloodshed.
Of course we know they spoke to neither and this was merely an astronomical event. But for ancient man this did not bode well and action had to be taken.
The outcome of the battle is recorded as coming to a draw. A peace was agreed between the two great leaders and the lives of thousands were spared by something we today view as a trivial event in our solar calendar.
Today we take pictures and videos on our various social media sites, post our hashtags and gaze upward with protective spectacles; In 585BC, history was changed.