AUGUST WILL SEE A SOLAR ECLIPSE. NOTHING PARTICULARLY BEYOND AN INTERESTING EXPERIENCE FOR US, BUT IT WAS NOT ALWAYS SO.
“On the New Moon, month of Hiyar, the Sun was made shame and did descend in the day, Mars in attendance” (Description of Ugarit Eclipse)
ARGUABLY the earliest solar eclipse recorded was the Ugarit Eclipse (there is an apocryphal tale of two Chinese, Ho and Hi, the “Drunk Astronomers” from 2137 BC ), believed to have been on the 3rd May 1375 BC, observed in the port city of Ugarit on the Eastern Mediterranean littoral (coastal region) in modern day Syria.
The tablet above (which records all solar eclipses between 518 and 465 BC) is typical of the innumerable astronomical records which were kept by the astronomer/astrologer priests of the great city of Babylon, based upon their constant observations and then recorded in Akkadian cuneiform. The solar and lunar eclipses were not all they recorded – the movements of the planets they could observe, in particular the “sacred stars” Mercury and Venus – tablets recording observations from 1700 BC for the 19 years to 1681 BC. They also recorded (some 650 years later!!) the full solar eclipse of 31st July 1063 BC “it turned day into night”; the Assyrian astronomers continued with this tradition, particularly the full eclipse of 15th June 763 BC in Nineveh (“There was insurrection in the city of Aššur: in the month Sivan, the Sun was in an eclipse”). These observations over such an enormous time period allowed for Babylonian astronomers to work out the Saros Cycle (a period of 18 years 11.33 days) after which the solar and lunar eclipse cycles repeat. This meant the, despite their not being able to observe the eclipses necessarily (they occur at repeated times, but on varying observable areas on the Earth’s surface), these astronomers were able accurately to predict the dates and times on which eclipses would occur.