(ORDO NEWS) — The first observations of celestial bodies, recorded in writing, were made about 3 thousand years ago. How did our ancestors treat objects burning in the sky?
What did they feel and how did they interpret the appearance of space wanderers? How far have we, modern people, gone from the ancient thinkers, so as not to be in awe of the “horned” stars?
The obscure phenomena associated with heaven, for obvious reasons, have always frightened people – after all, heaven was associated with God’s will. Even after the mechanics of eclipses became clear and the fear associated with them almost disappeared, the wandering ghosts of outer space continued to terrify many.
The solar system is populated not only by planets moving in predictable orbits around the star. Asteroids, comets, and countless other rogue bodies also inhabit our star system, often moving in a highly erratic fashion (or at least that’s what an unskilled observer might get).
The spectacular and devastating spectacle put on by comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 when it crashed into Jupiter in 1994, and the impact of a large asteroid with this gas giant in 2009, certainly led many to think that something similar could happen to our planet.
And this is against the backdrop of the constant concern of modern man about the huge amount of unmanaged space material that can collide with the Earth and cause massive destruction.
For people of past eras, the problem of meteorites and comets was not associated with earthly damage, but with a bad omen, the displeasure of the gods. Representatives of civilizations, whose economic activity was tightly tied to the planned change of seasons, it was the unpredictability that inspired fear.
Artistic reproduction of a fragment of a comet heading for a collision with Jupiter
Comets, or “hairy” stars, as the ancient Greeks called them, were a terrible, incomprehensible force that some used to explain previous events, and others to predict the outcome of future undertakings.
Roman augurs interpreted the shape, color, and direction of comets in different ways to differentiate sightings. Pliny the Elder described at least 11 different types, including lantern comets, goat comets, spear comets, dagger comets, silver tail comets, barrel comets, etc.
Ancient classification of comets
A brief review of history shows that the observation and reading of comets was limited not only to political events, but also to military ones.
The first celestial body identified with certainty in the historical record as Halley’s Comet appears to have passed over China in 613 BC, when King Qing-wang of Zhou died. The Bamboo Annals mention that “in the sixth year of his reign, a comet entered Ursa Major and the king died.”
Apparently, the chroniclers felt it necessary to mention that the unexpected death of the young monarch could be associated with an astronomical phenomenon.
Later, the connection of astronomical events with the death of great people, the establishment of dynasties or lean years appears more than once in the historical chronicles of the Celestial Empire.
For example, in the work of the ancient Chinese historiographer Sima Qian “Historical Notes”, or “Shi-chi”, comets and meteors mark the assertion of the power of the Zhou, Qin and Han dynasties, the rebellion of members of the Lu clan, the uprising of the seven princes in Han, a large hail in the lands of Hengshan.
For many thousands of years, chroniclers have been linking astronomical events with notable events on Earth.
Assyriologist George Smith wrote in the 1870s that when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Elam, “a huge comet appeared, the tail of which stretched like a huge snake from north to south.” More recent research has shown that Halley’s Comet did pass Earth in April 1142 BC. But that was most likely a generation before Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne.
The first comet seen in the west associated with a battle was during what is arguably the worst war in Greek history, the second Persian invasion. Pliny reports that the “horned star” appeared over Greece in 480 BC. e., shortly before the Greeks entered the battle of Salamis.
A scholar writing nearly 2,000 years later attributed the Persian defeat to an outbreak of plague that crippled Xerxes’ army as it retreated back into Asia. Neither Herodotus nor later sources, with the exception of Pliny, mention the appearance of a comet in connection with the invasion.
Fourteen years later, in 466 or 465 BC, sources report the appearance of two more heavenly guests over Hellas. The first appeared in the west and was visible at night for about eighty days from June. Aristotle in the treatise “Meteorological” connected the earthquake in Achaia with its appearance.
Perhaps it was the great Spartan earthquake that killed 20,000 people and led to the uprising of the helots. Around the same time, the philosopher Anaxagoras predicted that one of the bodies attached to the sky could break off and crash to the ground.
Indeed, the meteorite apparently fell just a month later, landing in the Aegospotama, a small river on the Hellespont. As is the case with most items of heavenly origin, a sort of local cult developed around the stone, which only intensified after the disastrous Battle of Aegospotami, played out between Athens and Sparta in 405 BC.
Near the site of the meteor impact, the Spartan fleet under the command of Lysander destroyed the Athenian ships, ending the Peloponnesian War.
The cult around the Egospotami meteorite was not unique. Some scientists and historians claim that one of the most famous meteorites is the black stone set in the Kaaba in Mecca. According to Islamic beliefs, he was sent by Allah from Paradise to Adam.
The assumption that the stone is of extraterrestrial origin was made by the Austrian scientist Paul Parch in the middle of the 19th century. The stone has long been revered by the locals, even before the advent of Islam in the region.
Even Mohammed, after the capture of Mecca and the destruction of the idols of the Kaaba, preserved the heavenly stone.
Subsequently, the relic was damaged during the siege of the city by the Umayyads in 683. The Romans also acquired several sacred meteorites during their conquests, most notably the Cybele needle from Phrygia, which was brought to Rome and worshiped for many centuries.
In North and South America, many tribes worshiped and built settlements around numerous large meteorites.
For example, the Clackamas tribe of Oregon traditionally dipped their arrowheads into the water that accumulated in the giant Willamette meteorite: it was believed that this would give them greater accuracy and strength in battle.
The black stone of the Kaaba
Roman sources overemphasized the appearance of comets when it came to their longtime rival for dominance in the western Mediterranean, Carthage. In May 240 BC, Halley’s Comet swept through the skies of North Africa.
At that time, Hamilcar Barca put down a mercenary uprising after the defeat of the city in the First Punic War. According to some later traditions, Hamilcar forced his young son Hannibal to swear by the light of a comet in eternal enmity with Rome.
Titus Livy, however, dates the event of Hannibal’s oath to the ninth year of the latter’s life, placing it around 238 BC. e. A similar event associated with another comet was described 20 years later, when Hannibal was preparing to start the Second Punic War with Rome.
When the successes of the Carthaginians began to wane and Scipio invaded North Africa, Another comet or meteor appeared in Rome.
Livy also mentions a terrible comet seen in Asia Minor around 184 BC. e., the same year that Hannibal was hunted down and killed in the area. As an epilogue to this epic, comets also appeared in 150 BC. e., when the Third Punic War began, and in 146 BC. when Carthage was destroyed.
Even with the advent of Christianity, the idea that comets were symbols of dire omens of war and famine persisted for over a thousand years.
The vision of the cross by Constantine before the battle of the Milvian Bridge may have been caused by a meteorite or a comet. Tradition says that the soldiers of Constantine put the symbol of Christ on the shields, and after that they defeated the army of Maxentius.
Raphael’s fresco “The Vision of the Cross” by Constantine before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge
A number of similar celestial phenomena were recorded during the fall of the Roman Empire. These include the comet of 399 that accompanied Tribigild’s invasion of Asia Minor, the victory of Stilicho over the Goths in 405, the cruciform comet that witnessed the sack of Rome by Alaric in 410, the return of Halley’s comet in June 451, the same week that Attila’s troops were destroyed by the Roman, Gothic and Frankish armies in the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields.
The fall of the Han Empire in China was also accompanied by the appearance of comets and meteorites. In one of the most explicit references to the influence of a comet on the course of a battle, Chinese historians note the appearance of a celestial body in 185 AD. e. as the only reason why a group of well-armed and previously successful rebels stopped their advance on the imperial capital.
One of the best-documented appearances of Halley’s Comet in the Middle Ages occurred in March 1066. Just two months after Harold’s accession to the throne in England, Halley’s comet swept across the sky, terrifying his vassals and subjects.
Duke William of Normandy used the comet’s appearance as propaganda to discredit his rival by including it in one of the opening scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry.
A few months later, his army landed in southeast England and subsequently defeated Harold’s army at the Battle of Hastings. The Bayeux Tapestry remains perhaps the earliest pictorial representation of Halley’s comet to have survived to this day.
Comet, fragment of the Bayeux tapestry
Medieval European and Chinese historians recorded similar astral phenomena that occurred during the life of Tamerlane. Having conquered vast territories of central and southwestern Asia, Tamerlane was viewed by his contemporaries in almost the same light as Hannibal.
Three special comets or meteors associated with him appeared in 1382, 1402 and 1405. The first of them was marked by the beginning of the wars of conquest, the second by the battle of Ankara, and the third by his death.
Tamerlane actually used the comet of 1402, which moved from west to east across the sky, to boost the morale of his people, predicting a great victory over the Ottomans. Tamerlane’s subsequent victory in Ankara significantly weakened the Turkish Empire, leading to a ten-year civil war, which he could not use only because of his untimely death.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453, while not unexpected, was certainly seen as catastrophic for the Western world. Despite the calls of Popes Nicholas V and Calixtus III to start a crusade against the Turks, the Christian world almost did not respond.
Meanwhile, Sultan Mehmed II continued his offensive through southeastern Europe. Since a lunar eclipse accompanied the fall of Constantinople, eyes were no doubt on the night sky for any additional astral clues.
The comet appeared for several days; and many predicted a plague, a drought, or some other great disaster, Calixtus III, in order to avert the wrath of God, ordered processions and prayers to be arranged so that the Lord would turn the impending evil entirely on the Turks. Later legends even claimed
Emperor Maximilian proclaimed a meteorite that fell in Ensisheim, Germany in 1492, as a favorable omen for his wars with the French and Turks. In a similar vein, a blood-red comet appeared over Germany in 1618, heralding the disastrous Thirty Years’ War.
The constant warfare over the next 200 years meant that the appearance of almost every comet could be related to a battle or conflict in one way or another.
Only in 1759, when Halley’s comet returned during the Seven Years’ War, did several important battles take place in Europe and America. However, by this point, few people in Europe or America seriously believed that there was a connection between these events.
Perhaps the last great man in history who truly believed that his rise and fall had something to do with comets was Napoleon Bonaparte. In August 1769, French astronomer Charles Messier observed a large comet that would eventually sail across the sky for a month.
Born during the appearance of the “star”, Napoleon became a man who completely changed the fate of Europe. During his rise to power, there were several other celestial phenomena, the most famous of which was the great comet of 1811.
Image of the Great Comet 1811–1812
Even the young North American United States was not exempt from the anxiety of meteors and comets. From May to August 1861, a bright comet swept across the Northern Hemisphere, reaching its peak of brightness in July, just as the first Battle of Bull Run, the major land battle of the American Civil War, broke out.
The following July, another large comet lit up the night sky. The object was eventually dubbed the Swift-Tuttle Comet, and its appearance during the seven days of battle heralded the death and destruction that ended Union Major General McClellan’s attempt to take Richmond.
In general, many events in human history have been linked in one way or another to the arrival of comets, meteors, and other celestial guests for thousands of years. While the comets may not have had a real physical impact on the battlefield, the fear they caused had a psychological effect.
In addition, they became explanations of the reasons for victories and defeats or propaganda for the promotion of the next leader or famous general. Obviously, the impact of comets is largely due to their unpredictable nature.
The hypothesis that Earth’s impact with comets led to Cretaceous and Paleogene extinctions may have only increased the fear of these objects, overshadowing the scientific evidence pointing to comets as harmless nocturnal visitors.
In 2013, the United Nations announced a plan for a global effort to identify asteroids and comets that could potentially impact the planet, causing death and devastation. And last year, the first DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) project in the history of mankind was launched to change the trajectory of asteroids and redirect them.
But even despite these attempts, according to European Space Agency expert Dr. Detlef Koshny, at this stage, humanity is unlikely to be able to destroy or deflect an asteroid that will be detected no earlier than six months before the alleged impact with the Earth.
Thus, although people no longer look at the celestial bodies with awe, humanity will not yet be able to easily and simply deal with the celestial wanderers who will threaten our planet.
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