An equally intractable problem is the association of the eclipse with the battle. Did the war between the Medes and the Lydians come to an end with the eclipse on May 28, 585 or is Herodotus so unreliable that his "history" has to be discounted?

Whether or not Thales was a red herring,  there are serious and irreconcilable chronological problems in the literal acceptance of the Herodotean account.

a red herring ?


One way of approaching these chronological difficulties is to disassociate the culmination of the war and its final battle from the 585 eclipse. It has to be admitted that there is another instance of Herodotus associating a battle with an eclipse which can be shown to have its basis in storytelling rather than historical accuracy (Mosshammer 1981, 151-53 & n. 18). Herodotus relates (7.37) that a total eclipse occurred in 480 B.C. just as Xerxes set out from Sardis to Abydos although it is certain that no eclipse occurred in or around 480 B.C. It has been argued, however, that in this instance there was a clear motive ascribable to the subterfuge (Panchenko 1994, 276). It is legitimate, then, to suggest that in dealing with earlier and more shadowy events the temptation to telescope two events into one, either by Herodotus himself or by an earlier, lost, source, might explain away inconsistencies. In this case, one possibility would be to contemplate the continuation of the war between the Medes and the Lydians for some years after the "battle of the eclipse" thereby lowering the date of the peace treaty that was eventually drawn up between Astyages and Alyattes. A later tradition had it that there was another, later, war between these same protagonists (Cobbe 1967, Huxley 1965).

To sum up thus far: there was an eclipse on May 28, 585, traditionally and perhaps actually predicted by Thales, when it seems possible and perhaps probable that a war was in progress between the Medes and the Lydians.

Now to consider the role of the eclipse. From here on I take it that the battle and the eclipse did coincide; doubters need read no further. The Herodotean account would have readers understand that the eclipse was taken by the protagonists on both sides as a sign from the heavens that they should make peace. The internationally brokered peace treaty would have taken time to arrange, much discussion, and very considerable diplomacy. The Cilicians and Babylonians saw it as being in their own interests to foster peace. One would dearly like to have the text of the treaty itself. It may be imagined, then, that the eclipse brought about a cessation of hostilities, but that the ensuing treaty was not finalised until some considerable time afterwards. Cobbe proposed an interval of three years (Cobbe 1967). We have no idea either where the negotiations were held nor where the treaty was signed. Some of its important terms were reported by Herodotus: a fixing of the border between the Median and Lydian empires at the Kizilirmak (which had earlier been the eastern border of Phrygia and thence of imperial Lydia) and a royal marriage between the Median king Astyages and Aryenis, a daughter of Alyattes and by the same token a sister of Croesus. Huxley has very recently revived the attractive idea that Herodotus intended his audience to understand that a double marriage was involved. Although Herodotus does not provide names, Huxley tentatively suggests that in a reciprocal arrangement a Median princess might have been given in marriage to a member of the Lydian royal family, perhaps even to Alyattes himself (Huxley 1997/8).

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