The Advantage Of Eclipse Foreknowledge

It seems incongruous that the Romans profited from the eclipse of168 B.C., because their opponents, the Greeks, were much more proficient in scientific matters. The Greek knowledge of eclipses was largely derived not internally, but from the Babylonians after 330 B.C. The Babylonians had been subsumed into the empire built by Alexander the Great when he defeated the Persians, who had been occupying Mesopotamia through much of the fourth century B.C. as part of their own empire.

After conquering Egypt, Alexander had marched east and pushed the Persians out of Babylonia, pursuing them north into Assyria. When he eventually caught up with King Darius III and defeated him in a decisive battle at Gaugamela in 331 B.C., it was on the day after a lunar eclipse. Alexander interpreted this as an omen blessing the Greek endeavor. One wonders how he knew the eclipse was due. One possibility is information provided by the expert Babylonian astronomers. Perhaps they found Alexander and his people a preferable occupier to the Persians.

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