Calendar, Moon Facts, Part 5 of 6

(impacts of lunar eclipses)

Lawrence of Arabia Defeated the Turks at Aqaba with an Advantage Offered by a Lunar Eclipse

The Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany in World War I and as such it was, therefore, a threat to British and French interests in the East. The British attacked the Turks with amphibious landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula near Istanbul and with invasions overland through the Sinai Desert.

In addition to the military attacks by the British, there was also an Arab Revolt, in which the tribes of what is now Saudi Arabia rose up against Turkish domination.

Both the British and French sent assistance to the rebels in the form of money and advisers, such as Thomas Edward Lawrence. Better known as "Lawrence of Arabia," he strongly urged guerrilla warfare as the best means for the small, irregular Arab forces to defeat the large Turkish forces.

His greatest success was an assault on Aqaba, a small port on the east side of the Sinai Peninsula. His daring and very dangerous plan was to lead just 50 Bedouin warriors against strong Turkish fortifications from the landward side of the port.

After getting by many Turkish patrols and traveling through the worst desert terrain at the peak of summer heat, Lawrence and his small force neared Aqaba and recruited additional local Arab fighters.

Lawrence knew in advance that there would be an eclipse of the moon on the night he planned to attack one of the well-fortified positions at night. When the eclipse came, his Arab warriors took the post without any loss because the Turkish defenders were busy firing rifles and clanging copper pots in efforts to rescue the loss of the moon.

With his victories over two of the main points of defense, Aqaba collapsed without a fight. Since the British had this important port in their possession, the Ottoman flank was turned back and Jerusalem and Damascus were soon in control of the Allies.

The making of loud noises during eclipses was practiced by many cultures, probably as the remnants of a tradition which was meant to scare away whatever was "eating the moon."

The Turkish soldiers had other grounds for worry, because an Islamic prophecy declares that the Day of Judgment will be preceded by a lunar and solar eclipse in the month of Ramadan, which is when Lawrence's eclipse occurred.

General Charles G. Gordon, a.k.a. "Chinese" Gordon Suffered His only Defeat in China because of a Lunar Eclipse

The Chinese believed that each emperor was allowed to rule the world by divine gift only as long as he remained virtuous. When he strayed to vice or tyranny, the wrath of heaven would be displayed for all to see by signs in the sky.

So it was, that in a society governed by such beliefs, any unusual astronomical event such as eclipses had serious political consequences.

The Ch'ing (Manchu) dynasty, which started in 1644, achieved great splendor in its earlier years, but by the mid-19th century it became ineffective and corrupt. In 1815, the Taiping Rebellion took place and the Western powers, headed by British and American officers and their mercenaries, supported the struggling dynasty of the Manchus. Western support was given partly because of trade concessions granted to Western businesses by the emperor.

The major assistance to the Manchus came from an army of mercenaries who were equipped with modern weapons and headed by American and British officers. The last leader of the "Ever Victorious" army was Charles "Chinese" Gordon whose military genius and leadership won a string of victories against rebel strong points near the key city of Soochow.

After previous victories over the rebels, the last stockade was to be assaulted at night with the help of the light from a full moon. As they proceeded, there came a deep partial eclipse just before the attack.

Since it took place in twilight, it had no adverse effect on visibility; however,the superstitious Chinese soldiers took the event to be an evil omen concerning their emperor and so with Gordon's army mentally defeated before the attack even started, they failed with high casualties.

The stockade was their only loss under the leadership of Gordon, and it was defeated later. The rebels surrendered and the emperor remained in power.

Partly because of another eclipse, Gordon met his end. In 1884-45, he led the defense of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum against an attack by another religious leader, the Mahdi. This time a solar eclipse so upset Gordon's native forces, that the city fell before a British relief expedition could arrive. "Chinese" Gordon was among those slaughtered.

Christopher Columbus Survived by Using a Lunar Eclipse Trick

As Columbus explored Central America's coast on his fourth voyage, he found himself in a desperate situation. The wooden planks in the ships were riddled by shipworms and they were leaking badly. With half of his crew mutinying, and with nothing to trade for food with the natives, he was stranded on the northern shore of Jamaica.

In February, 1504, Columbus had been stranded for more than six months and food was running short. Ferdinand Columbus, son and author of Historie (a biography of his father), tells us what happened next:

"The admiral remembered that in three days' time, at the beginning of the night, there would be an eclipse of the Moon. . . . As for the Indians, he told them that God had seen how they had neglected to bring us food for which we paid by barter. God was very angry with them and had determined to punish them with a great famine and pestilence. Perhaps they did not believe this."

"God wished to demonstrate with a manifest sign in the heavens, that they would clearly know that the punishment was coming from His own hand. Therefore on that night they should watch carefully the rising of the Moon."

"They would see her appear inflamed with wrath, denoting the evils God would inflict upon them. After this conversation was finished, the Indians departed, some frightened and others believing that these were just hollow threats."

"The eclipse commenced at the rising of the Moon, and the higher it rose the more the eclipse increased. The Indians observed this and were so astonished and frightened that with great cries and lamentations they came running from all directions to the ships, carrying provisions and begging the Admiral to ask God that He might not visit His wrath upon them, and promising they would diligently supply all their needs in the future."

The Admiral answered that he wished to speak for a little while with his God; he retired to his cabin while the eclipse increased, and the Indians continued to cry for his assistance.

When the Admiral saw that the eclipse had reached maximum and that it soon would diminish, he came out of his cabin, saying…God had now forgiven them and as a sign they would see the anger and inflammation of the Moon pass away. . . . From that time forward they were careful in providing us with all that we needed."

Astronomers now know that the "inflammation of the Moon" as a dull red or copper color which is usually seen during a total eclipse is a result of the earth's atmosphere.

Columbus timed the eclipse with a sandglass which was turned every half hour because the clocks in 1504 were not very reliable. Calculating the longitude of his position in the "New World," he later wrote in his Libro de las profecias:"

"On Thursday, February 29, 1504, when I was in the Indies on the island of Jamaica in the port which is called Santa Gloria, which is almost in the middle of the island, in the northern part, there was an eclipse of the Moon, and because the beginning was before the Sun set, I was able to note only the end, when the Moon had just returned to its brightness, and this was most surely after two and one-half hours of the night had passed by, five sandglasses most certainly."

Three days before an eclipse, which he knew was scheduled, he told native chiefs that the Christian god was angry with them for not supplying food and would give a clear sign in the heavens.

Europeans of that era understood eclipses and weren't afraid, but the Jamaicans had strong superstitions about them.

The clear sky during the night of the eclipse displayed an inflamed and "angry" moon, and the terrified indians rushed up with food offerings. They kept Columbus well supplied with whatever they could provide until a relief ship arrived.

It seems that Christopher Columbus used his knowledge of lunar eclipses for both scientific and not-so-scientific purposes.

Nothing walks so quietly as the feet of time.
—Robert Johnson

Moon Facts, Part 6, is available.
You may return to the main lists of months and years from here.
FREE searches of words derived from Latin and Greek sources.
E-mail Form for comments or type in [email protected], if you prefer.

Silence words. Sources of information for Calendar, Moon Facts, Parts 1 to 6 are located at this Calendars Bibliography Unit.