18 June 860

For Constantinople, capital of the mighty Byzantine empire, the day brings ‘a thunderbolt from heaven’. Some 200 ships belonging to the Rus, who had travelled from the Baltic, sail down the Bosphorus, burn suburbs and attack local residents.


18 June 1178: Monks witness an extraordinary lunar event

The moon throbs “like a wounded snake” as it is struck by an asteroid

On 18 June 1178, Gervase of Canterbury heard an extraordinary story. Gervase, who had been ordained by Thomas Becket, spent much of his time compiling a detailed chronicle of English history. But nothing could have prepared him for the account reported to him that night by five fellow monks.

Some time after sunset, the monks had noticed something extraordinary in the sky. “Now,” Gervase wrote, “there was a bright new moon... its horns were tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn split in two. From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals, and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the moon which was below writhed, as it were, in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a wounded snake.”

This extraordinary sight, he noted, “was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then after these transformations the moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.”

More like this

Today, many lunar experts believe the monks had been watching the formation of the moon’s enormous Giordano Bruno crater, named after an Italian philosopher. It was probably created by the impact of an asteroid or comet, which would explain the burst of molten matter seen by the monks – though they, of course, had no way of understanding what it was they had witnessed. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

18 June 1511

Architect and sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati was born at Settignano near Florence. One of his most celebrated works was the Ponte Santa Trinita over the Arno in Florence.

18 June 1633

Charles I was crowned King of Scots in Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, accompanied by an Anglican service. it was one of only two visits he made to the country of his birth after his accession to the throne in 1625.

18 June 1769

Robert Stewart, later Viscount Castlereagh and Marquess of Londonderry, is born in Dublin. As British foreign secretary he will play a major role in the diplomacy leading to the overthrow of Napoleon. Waterloo will be fought on his 46th birthday.

18 June 1812

The United States declared war on Great Britain. Hostilities were to continue until early 1815, although the Treaty of Ghent ending the war was actually signed in December of the previous year.


18 June 1940

In a speech broadcast by the BBC, Charles de Gaulle called on the people of France to resist the Nazi invaders.

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