The validity of the European chronology
Xenophon of Athens

by Petra Ossowski Larsson

When Xenophon, a Greek soldier and historian, joined the Spartan king in a campaign against Athens, he afterwards reported a partial solar eclipse. The conventional dating of this event does not match the circumstances related to the observation, which might indicate a chronology error. A better matching alternative occured 232 years later, which supports our hypothesis.

Xenophon of Athens, said to have lived about 430 - 354 BC, was a soldier and historian. He is known for his writings on the history of his own times, the 4th century BC, preserving the sayings of Socrates, and the life of ancient Greece. His "Hellenica" is a major primary source for events in Greece from 411 to 362 BC.

Xenophon was later exiled from Athens, most likely because he fought under the Spartan king Agesilaus II against Athens at Coronea. The Spartans gave him property at Scillus, near Olympia in Elis, where he composed the "Anabasis", his most famous work. Xenophon had a fond love of Athens but didn't believe in its political morals, which leads us to believe that he was an oligarch (ref.1).

Therefore it might be an eyewitness report when he writes in his "Hellenica" (ref.2):

"Next day he (Agesilaus) crossed the mountains of Achaea Phthiotis and for the future continued his march through friendly territories until he reached the confines of Boeotia. Here at the entrance of that territory, the Sun seemed to appear in a crescent shape.... "

The same event is also reported by Plutarch in his "Life of Agesilaus" (ref.3):

"Agesilaus now marched through the pass of Thermopylae, traversed Phocis, which was friendly to Sparta, entered Boeotia, and encamped near Chaeroneia. Here a partial eclipse of the Sun occurred... After advancing as far as Coroneia and coming in sight of the enemy... "

The year of the battle at Coroneia is given as the second year of the 96th Olympiad, and thus 395/4 BC in our chronology.

What happened and what are we looking for?

The distance from the pass of Thermopylae to the plain outside Chaeroneia is about 50 kilometres, a hard day's march. We are looking for an observable partial solar eclipse (magnitude >0.5) in the late afternoon and visible at Chaeroneia. There are 17 such occasions between 500 - 100 BC (ref.5).

Stephenson considers the annular solar eclipse of -393 Aug. 14 as a candidate (ref.4). That eclipse had the magnitude 0.91 at Chaeroneia, but it was a morning event and it was over before noon! It is actually not one of the 17 occasions mentioned above, as it does not fit the observation! The discrepancy to the observation is noted by Stephenson:

"Although the Sun would be high in the sky at the time, Agesilaus would be marching in a south-easterly direction, facing into the Sun, so that the eclipse would be more easily noticeable." - With the sun standing high, we might wonder if it was possible to observe the crescent shape of the Sun without hurting the eyes?

If we redate the second year of the 96th Olympiad according to our previous hypothesis 232 years towards our time, we arrive at BC 163. Among our 17 candidates we then find the solar eclipse of -162 March 15 (=BC 163). The magnitude was 0.76 and it started at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, with the maximum one hour later when the Sun was five degrees above the horizon. The crescent shape must have been clearly observable with the naked eye.

1. Wikipedia on Xenophon
2. Xenophon, Hellenica IV, 3, 10; translation Dakyns (1892, vol. II, p. 54).
3. Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus, XVII; translation Perrin (1961, vol. V, p. 47).
4. Stephenson F.R.: Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, Cambridge 1997.
5. Nasa Eclipse Website
April 15 2010. Petra Ossowski Larsson

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