Solar and Lunar Eclipses have been very Influential in History
How have solar and lunar eclipses impacted the trajectory of human history?
This month of October, there is a solar eclipse visible in many parts of the world, including the US. The moon passed in front of the sun that day, but it was not a total eclipse, which would reveal only a thin fringe of the sun. This is a phenomenon that has given this type of eclipse the name “Ring of Fire”. Lunar or solar eclipses have often changed the course of important events. But has this change been for the better or for the worse? In a popular time, travel novel published in 1889, author Mark Twain wrote about a man whose life was saved by an eclipse.
King Arthur’s Court
In Mark Twain’s novel ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’, Hank Morgan, the protagonist, faints and then regains consciousness in 6th century England. He soon finds himself in trouble and is sentenced to be burned at the stake. Fortunately for him, his execution is scheduled on the same day as the eclipse. He knows the day of the eclipse. Morgan deceives the king and the people about him and makes them believe that he has power over the sun and the moon. Foreknowledge of the eclipse frees him from punishment.
This is a fictional story but may be inspired by real events. Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer of the Americas, once did the same thing, and it probably saved his life. It has influenced decisions, changed the outcome of wars, and even changed our knowledge of the nature of the universe. Solar or lunar eclipses have affected humanity in many ways and are embedded in many cultures, belief systems, and myths. Over the centuries, people have associated these cosmic events of eclipses with an amazing array of gods, supernatural forces, ghosts, and animals. For example, in Western Asia it was called the sun-eating dragon, in Peru the eclipse was a puma. Some Native Americans referred to it as a hungry bear, while the Vikings saw it as a pair of sky wolves.
Sometimes eclipses actually change the course of historical events, explains Mark Littman of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, co-author of “Totality: Eclipse of the Sun”, about a battle more than two thousand years ago. We know that the result was changed due to an eclipse during the war. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in 430 BC that there was a war between the Lydians and the Medes, an ancient Iranian people based in areas of modern-day Turkey. Their fight continued for six years, sometimes one would win and sometimes the other, and a kind of stalemate was formed that again the two opponents came face to face. However, this time, Herodotus wrote, the day suddenly turned into night. The Medes and Lydians, when they observed this change, ceased fighting, and both were equally anxious to agree to terms of peace.
Littman says that astronomers in the 1800s pointed out that Herodotus must have been describing a solar eclipse that occurred on May 28, 585 BC. Another account by Herodotus tells how the Persian army The leader Circassian saw an eclipse before invading Greece. Littman states that it is not clear exactly which eclipse he may have seen that year, but if Herodotus is to be trusted, Circe was so alarmed by it that he consulted his Zoroastrian priests. He told the Circassians that God was warning the Greeks about the coming destruction of their cities. He guessed and said, “The sun prophesies for them and the moon for us.”
Herodotus wrote: “After this tiding, the Circassians grew up in a kind of euphoria.”But this turned out to be terrible advice. Circassian successfully attacked Athens but was force to retreat after its navy was destroy. On his return, his forces were badly repulse. Then in 465 BC, he was kill.
How did Columbus survive?
This isn’t the last time an eclipse has been pivotal to an event. Fast forward more than a thousand years and you’ll see Christopher Columbus on his last voyage. According to one biographer, in 1503 Columbus, in desperation, beached his sinking ships with his crew on the coast of Jamaica. Most of his ship’s anchors were lost and his ship was so eaten by insects that it was ‘full of holes like a honeycomb.’ Fearing both starvation and mutiny, Columbus forbade his crew from leaving his base and temporarily trade small Spanish-made jewelry and other trinkets with the inhabitants for food and water.
Eastern Region of Jamaica
The danger was always there for them. While exploring the eastern regions of Jamaica, one of his scout parties was capture by the natives. Matters took a turn for the worse when, in January 1504, some of the crew mutinied and fled to the island. Columbus’s biographer wrote that he abused and ridiculed the islanders, stole their goods, and ‘committed every possible abuse.’
Columbus and his Crew
This went on for several weeks and then the local’s lost patience. Tolerance gave way to contempt and hatred and the food trade ceased. Columbus and the rest of the crew now faced starvation. In this situation, their end was near when Columbus remembered that an astronomical event, an eclipse of the moon, was approaching. On March 1, Columbus gathered the leaders of the local communities and asked them to lift the ban, warning them that ‘the God who protects me will punish you. Tonight, the moon will change its color and lose its light, and this will be a sign that disaster will descend on you from heaven.’
What would have happened if there was no lunar eclipse that night?
Columbus’ move worked. The frightened locals stopped opposing them and started supplying them with food again. Columbus said he would do one thing that would get them all “forgiveness”. From today’s point of view, this is a troubling story because the natives had every right to stop the marauding Europeans and they hardly used scientific knowledge and fake threats to get their way. It was morally correct.
Return to Spain
But the question remains, what would have happened to Columbus if there had been no eclipse that night? Because aid was not going to reach these people till June. Perhaps it would have been better for his reputation if he had been wreck in Jamaica. The rest of his life was by no means enviable. He returned to Spain in poor physical and mental health, protesting for official recognition and money. His guardians doubted his mental state and ignored his demands. He remained unhappy until his death in 1506.
What’s interesting, Litman says, is that lunar eclipses like Columbus’ occur at critical moments compared to solar eclipses. What is the reason for this? The reason is that more people see it. Although there are more solar eclipses, lunar eclipses last longer, and more than half are visible from Earth. Hence, “it is easy for them to influence history.”
After all, a solar eclipse has played an important role in American history. In the 1800s, the Native American Shawnee leader and self-proclaimed prophet Tecumseh and his brothers were trying to unite their people and preserve traditional ways. The appointed governor of the area, William Henry Harrison, who later became the president of the United States, had different intentions and began to persuade the leaders to cede their land. They knew that Takeumasa and his brothers were standing in their way, so in order to discredit them, they said that if they were prophets, why don’t they stop the sun in the sky?
This trick backfired. Tecumseh’s brother announced that the sun would stand still on April 16, 1806. Littmann says that he ‘came out at the opportune moment with his whole platoon and, pointing to the sun, said: “Hide”. It is not clear how Takeumasa and his brother knew that there would be a solar eclipse that day. But it certainly worked for them and strengthened the influence of the two brothers and their reputation among their people. “The Shawnees didn’t need that kind of evidence, but it didn’t help William Henry Harrison’s efforts,” Littman says. Unfortunately, after that, there was a war.
According to Litman, the most historically consequential eclipse occurred in the early 20th century. An eclipse occurred in 1919 that proved Albert Einstein right about his theory of general relativity, making him one of the world’s most famous scientists. Litt says: “I think it was a real influence on world history”. It was a turning point in terms of science, our understanding of the universe, and people’s attitudes. The universe is much more difficult to understand than we understood it in the days of Newtonian physics.
Einstein’s key Predictions
In short, the 1919 solar eclipse allowed scientists. To see that the Sun’s gravity was bending starlight, one of Einstein’s key predictions. Was this the last eclipse to advance history? maybe not. There are many more candidates in the next decade. But while the paths of the Earth and the Moon can now be easily predict. How people will react when they pass through them.
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