August 27, 413 B.C.E.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.)

On this date, a lunar eclipse caused panic among the sailors of the Athens fleet in Sicily and eventually affected the outcome of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.). Just as the Athenian forces were ready to sail home from Syracuse, the Moon was eclipsed. The soldiers and sailors were frightened by this celestial omen and were reluctant to leave. Their commander, Nicias, described by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides as a particularly superstitious man, asked the priests what he should do. They suggested the Athenians wait for another twenty-seven days, and Nicias agreed. The Syracusans took advantage of this, and seventy-six of their ships attacked eighty-six Athenian ships in the harbor, beginning what has become known as the Second Battle of Syracuse. The Syracusans ultimately defeated the entire Athenian fleet and army in September and executed Nicias.

Why do I mention this footnote to the history of ancient Athens? It illustrates that the failure (or refusal) to recognize the natural causes of natural events, such as a lunar eclipse, may seem harmless but can have disastrous consequences.


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