The mysterious "blood moon" phenomenon indirectly killed thousands of ancient Greek soldiers

In 413 BC, thousands of Greek soldiers died because of a total lunar eclipse, also known as the Blood Moon.

In late August 413 BC, the Athenian army under the command of the general Nicias was severely bogged down at the battlefield of Syracuse . Initially, the Athenian army attacked Syracuse to cut off the city’s aid to Starta, a rival at war with Athens.

The operation was favorable for the first two months until Nicias’ army suffered significant losses after failed attacks. They lost 7 large ships and killed hundreds of soldiers. But more seriously, the stalemate of the two waterways left the Athenian army in a dilemma.

The mysterious "blood moon" phenomenon indirectly killed thousands of ancient Greek soldiers
Disaster of the Athenian army at Syracuse.

Now, Nicias’ army is forced to camp next to a wet swamp filled with mosquitoes and poisonous insects. The bad living environment quickly eroded the physical strength of the soldiers. Even General Nicias got sick and lay sick in bed. Bad news continued to spread as a Spartan army arrived just in time to aid its ally Syracuse.

Despite facing trial and the humiliation of defeat, General Nicias admitted it was time for his troops to retreat. Quickly and quietly, the Athenians packed their bags and prepared to retreat in secret before their enemies noticed.

But right on the night of August 28, 413 BC, the moon in the sky of Syracuse suddenly turned red like blood. This is essentially a total lunar eclipse, which occurs when the Earth completely covers the light shining from the Sun to the Moon. However, people from the perspective of superstition in ancient times were often very afraid and considered it a bad omen.

Looking up at the blood-colored moon, General Nicias was extremely scared. He frantically consulted his priests and received advice not to sail under the moon like that. Better yet, the Athenians should wait another 27 days.

The mysterious "blood moon" phenomenon indirectly killed thousands of ancient Greek soldiers
People in ancient times were often afraid of lunar and solar eclipses, seeing them as harbingers of impending disaster.

General Nicias immediately heeded the advice of the priests. Obviously it was a bad decision. First, the Syracuses under the moonlight recognized the retreat of the Athenians. Second, the Athenian army was still stuck at the harbor in a state of sketchy defense. A third harm was added when the Syracuse people with the blood moon sign thought this was a bad omen for the enemy and were even more encouraged. They organized a large-scale attack with the number of 72 warships.

Coordinated with Sparta infantry, the Syracuse army pushed most of the Athenian warships to the beach. The soldiers under Nicias lost countless lives by drowning and being killed by the enemy. An outside force managed to rescue the troops trapped in the harbor, but they themselves were besieged by the allied Syracuse-Spartan forces.

After a few days of despair, the Athenians ignored the advice of their prime minister and priests. They rushed out to break the siege but failed miserably. More than 10,000 soldiers fell while General Nicias was captured and executed on the riverbank.

About 7,000 Athenian POWs survived the siege but slowly died over the next few weeks. Most of them contracted the disease while stationed in the marshes and succumbed to being forced into hard labor in the quarries at Syracuse. Only a few escaped to bring the story of Athens, where they recount the phenomenon of the Moon suddenly turning blood color, leading to the deaths of thousands of soldiers.

With the knowledge of today’s world, a total lunar eclipse has become a phenomenon within human understanding. However, in ancient times, this phenomenon indirectly caused many terrible consequences stemming from people’s fear of it.