This stone fell near Aegospotami (“the goat streams”), a small river emerging into the Hellespont close to the ancient Greek town of Sestos. The region, classical Thrace, is now part of the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

Aristotle. Photo credit: WikiCommons/Jastrow

The timing of the fall is difficult to pin down, as there was no standard calendar system across Greece at the time. Each city-state maintained its own lunar calendar, with ‘leap months’ added from time to time to keep the system in line with the solar year. Additionally, some references are made to Olympic game cycles, some to the term of service of local or Athenian archons (magistrates). It appears to be generally agreed, however, that the date was somewhere between 468 – 466 BC. The Met Bulletin gives a date of 465 BC, which is the date I’ve adopted here. (Note that the Met Bulletin lists Aegospotami as a ‘doubtful stone’).

There is an additional twist to the story of this fall. Reports agree that there was a bright comet visible at the time. Recent research by Daniel Graham and Eric Hintz presents a persuasive case for this being the earliest recorded apparition of comet 1P/Halley.

Returning to the meteorite, Aristotle mentions it briefly in his “Meteorology“. This account would have been perhaps 110 years after the event:

For instance, when the stone at Aegospotami fell out of the air, it had been carried up by a wind and fell down in the daytime. Then too, a comet happened to have appeared in the west“.

 

Pliny the Elder gives a fuller account in his “Natural History“:

Pliny the Elder. Photo Credit: WikiCommons/floriang

The Greeks tell the story that Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, in the 2nd year of the 78th Olympiad was enabled by his knowledge of astronomical literature to prophecy that in a certain number of days a rock would fall from the sun.

And that this occurred in the daytime in the Goat’s River district of Thrace (the stone is still shown—it is of the size of a wagon-load and brown in colour), a comet also blazing in the nights at the time. If anyone believes in the fact of this prophecy, that involves his allowing that the divining powers of Anaxagoras covered a greater marvel, and that our understanding of the physical universe is annihilated and everything thrown into confusion if it is believed either that the sun is itself a stone or ever had a stone inside it.

But it will not be doubted that stones do frequently fall [my emphasis]

A stone is worshipped for this reason even at the present day in the exercising ground at Abydos—one of moderate size, it is true, but which the same Anax­agoras is said to have prophesied as going to fall in the middle of the country. There is also one that is wor­shipped at Cassandria, the place that has been given the name of potidaea, and where a colony was settled on account of this occurrence. I myself saw one that had recently come down in the territory of the Vocontii.”

Admittedly, this report is given from a distance of five centuries after the event (Natural History was completed no later than 79 AD). But it’s interesting that, at least in the published opinion of Pliny, stones falling from the sky was a given fact in the first century. (Although he is clearly sceptical that Anaxagoras was able to predict the fall of meteorites).

It’s also interesting to note that the stone was still on display at the time. It’s hard to estimate the size given the reference to a ‘wagon load’ – but something the size of Hoba is perhaps not far from the mark. A meteorite of that size in a single mass would perhaps suggest an iron, giving a mass in the region of ~60 tons as with Hoba.  However, the reference to a ‘brown colour’ would seem to suggest a stone, rather than iron rock.

Plutarch. Photo Credit: WikiCommons/Tomisti

Plutarch, in his “Lysander” (written 45 AD), gives another colourful account of the fall and again notes that the object is still displayed – an ancient tourist attraction.

A stone of a great size did fall, according to the common belief, from heaven, at Aegos Potami, which is shown to this day, and held in great esteem by the Chersonites. And it is said that Anaxagoras foretold that the occurrence of a slip or shake among the bodies fixed in the heavens, dislodging any one of them, would be followed by the fall of the whole of them.

For no one of the stars is now in the same place  in which it was at first; for they, being, according to him, like stones and heavy, shine by the refraction of the upper air round about them, and are carried along forcibly by the violence of the circular motion by which they were originally withheld from falling, when cold and heavy bodies were first separated from the general universe.


But there is a more probable opinion than this maintained by some, who say that falling stars are no effluxes, nor discharges of ethereal fire, extinguished almost at the instant of its igniting by the lower air; neither are they the sudden combustion and blazing up of a quantity of the lower air let loose in great abundance into the upper region; but the heavenly bodies, by a relaxation of the force of their circular movement, are carried by an irregular course, not in general into the inhabited part of the earth, but for the most part into the wide sea; which is the cause of their not being observed.


Daimachus, in his treatise on Religion, supports the view of Anaxagoras. He says, that before this stone fell, for seventy-five days continually, there was seen in the heavens a vast fiery body, as if it had been a flaming cloud, not resting, but carried about with several intricate and broken movements, so that the flaming pieces, which were broken off by this commotion and running about, were carried in all directions, shining as falling stars do. But when it afterwards came down to the ground in this district, and the people of the place recovering from their fear and astonishment came together, there was no fire to be seen, neither any sign of it; there was only a stone lying, big indeed, but which bore no proportion, to speak of, to that fiery compass.