Battle of the Eclipse

Date: May 28, 585 BC
Place: The river Halys [40°32'07.95''N and 34°22'10.22''E]
Participants: Media ¤ Lydia
Result: Stalemate in the midst of battle due to a solar eclipse
Consequence: A peace-treaty between the Medes and the Lydians and a peaceful period, because the four powers at that time were to weak to wage war on each other

The world now had four powers: Media, Lydia, Egypt and Babylon. These countries were exhausted as a result of the Assyrian Empire, but the Medes and the Lydians had fought each other for 6 years since 591 BC. 

It all started when a group of Scythians took refuge in Media due to some unrest in their country. Herodotus mentions how he accepted these refugees: 

"Recognizing them [The Scythians] as suppliants, he began by treating them with kindness, and coming presently to esteem them highly, he entrusted  to their care a number of boys, whom they were to teach their language and to instruct in the use of the bow. Time passed, and the Scythians employed themselves, day after day, in hunting, and always brought home some game; but at last it chanced that one day they took nothing."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

Cyaxares was known for his temper, and when he saw that the Scythians returned to him empty-handed, he got enraged and received them very rudely and insultingly. The Scythians thought that they did not deserve this degrading behavior by the Median king. Therefore they decided to avange this humiliation:

"... the Scythians determined to take one of the boys whom they had in charge, cut him in pieces, and then dressing the flesh as they were wont to dress that of the wild animals, serve it up to Cyaxares as game: after which they resolved to convey themselves with all speed to Sardis, to the court of Alyattes, the son of Sadyattes."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

(Scythians in Persepolis,

So the Scythians escaped to Sardis, The capital of Lydia, after they had served Cyaxares' son. Later on, he found out that the meat he was eating with his guests, was the flesh of his son. Meanwhile the Scythians were nowhere to be seen, because the Lydian king accepted them as suppliants like Cyaxares did a couple of years prior. 

So Cyaxares demanded Alyattes to hand over the Scythians, but the refusal enraged Cyaxares, and he planned an invasion of Lydia in 591 BC. Herodotus says how the invasion and the ensuing battles of the Medes and the Lydians went: 

"... war broke out between the Lydians and the Medes, and continued for five years, with various succes. In the course of it the Medes gained many victories over the Lydians, and the Lydians also gained many victories over the Medes."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

But the main battle was still waiting for them in the 6th year of the battle. The battle was fought in the river of Halys, now known as Kizilirmak in Turkey. The battle was going to be the strangest thing the soldiers would have seen in their lives. The day turned in to night! Herodotus says what happened in the battle: 

"As, however, the balance had not inclined in favor of either nation, another combat took place in the sixth year, in the course of which, just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night"
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

(What the soldiers saw in the middle of battle, Austin Childrens Museum)

This solar eclipse was going to change the course of the ancient world drastically. The eclipse had been foretold by Thales of Miletus. The soldiers also saw this as a sign from the gods to stop the battles:

"The Medes and Lydians, when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on."

So the Medes and the Lydians stopped their war after the Battle of the Eclipse. In order to guarantee a long lasting peace, Cyaxares' son, Astyages, married Aryenis, the daughter of Alyattes.


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Very interesting and unique article about the reason of war between two ancient cults. Thanks for publishing this rare information which is not available in other sources.