EARLY ROMAN CALENDAR
Romans often cited events from the traditional foundation of their city ab urbe conditâ, or A.U.C., said to be 753 BCE (although
later they used years A.D. that is, after the emperor Diocletian, ruled
284-305 CE). During the Republic, they also cited years using the names
of reigning consuls, and of course in the Imperial period, they often
used Roman emperors, for instance, an historian might say, during the
reign of Tiberius, such and such occurred.
writing in The Life of Numa Pompilius, explains how the calendar
had fallen into complete disarray, to be reformed by Pompilius. I quote
Plutarch at length due to the richness of the passage. He wrote:
attempted, also, the formation of a calendar, not with absolute exactness,
yet not without some scientific knowledge. During the reign of Romulus,
they had let their months run on without any certain or equal term; some
of them contained twenty days, others thirty-five, others more; they had
no sort of knowledge of the inequality in the motions of the sun and moon;
they only kept to the one rule that the whole course of the year contained
three hundred and sixty days. Numa, calculating the difference between
the lunar and the solar year at eleven days, for that the moon completed
her anniversary course in three hundred and fifty-four days, and the sun
in three hundred and sixty-five, to remedy this incongruity doubled the
eleven days, and every other year added an intercalary month, to follow
February, consisting of twenty-two days, and called by the Romans the
month Mercedinus. This amendment, however, itself, in course of time,
came to need other amendments. He also altered the order of the months;
for March, which was reckoned the first he put into the third place; and
January, which was the eleventh, he made the first; and February, which
was the twelfth and last, the second. Many will have it, that it was Numa,
also, who added the two months of January and February..."
also gives a very interesting account as to the probable origins of the
names of the months. Note, however, that there was disagreement as to
their origins even in Plutarch's day.
the Romans, at first, comprehended the whole year within ten, and not
twelve months, plainly appears by the name of the last, December, meaning
the tenth month; and that March was the first is likewise evident, for
the fifth month after it was called Quintilis, and the sixth Sextilis,
and so the rest; whereas, if January and February had, in this account,
preceded March, Quintilis would have been fifth in name and seventh in
reckoning. It was also natural that March, dedicated to Mars, should be
Romulus's first and April, named from Venus, or Aphrodite, his second
month; in it they sacrifice to Venus, and the women bathe on the calends,
or first day of it, with myrtle garlands on their heads. But others, because
of its being p and not ph, will not allow of the derivation of this word
from Aphrodite, but say it is called April from aperio, Latin for to open,
because that this month is high spring, and opens and discloses the buds
and flowers. The next is called May, from Maia, the mother of Mercury,
to whom it is sacred; then June follows, so called from Juno; some, however,
derive them from the two ages, old and young, majores, being their name
for older, and juniores for younger men. To the other months they gave
denominations according to their order; so the fifth was called Quintilis,
Sextilis the sixth, and the rest, September, October, November, and December.
Afterwards Quintilis received the name of Julius, from Caesar, who defeated
Pompey; as also Sextilis that of Augustus, from the second Caesar, who
had that title. Domitian, also, in imitation, gave the two other following
months his own names, of Germanicus and Domitianus; but, on his being
slain, they recovered their ancient denominations of September and October.
The two last are the only
ones that have kept their names throughout without any alteration. Of
the months which were added or transposed in their order by Numa, February
comes from februa; and is as much a Purification month; in it they make
offerings to the dead, and celebrate the Lupercalia, which, in most points,
resembles a purification. January was also called from janus, and precedence
given to it by Numa before March, which was dedicated to the god Mars;
because, as I conceive, he wished to take every opportunity of intimating
that the arts and studies of peace are to be preferred before those of
accurate calendar was important for an agrarian society and became even
more so for a bureaucratic empire with a complex economy. Archeological
remains reveal that Romans often painted the calendar on the walls of
Archeological remains of Roman calendar fragment |
month was divided into the Kalends, the first day of the month, the Nones,
which was the 9th day before the Ides (counting Idus itself as the 1st
day), and the Ides, which was the 13th day of January, February, April,
June, August, September, November, and December, or the 15th day of March,
May, July, or October. Other days were counted in relation to these three
is presumed that the early Roman calendar was influenced by the Babylonians,
and this is also true of the days of the week. The names of the days of
the week were derived from the heavenly bodies which were known to the
ancients, namely, the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.
The names of heavenly bodies were also used as deities. During the Medieval
Period, similar Norse equivalents replaced some of the Roman gods. Tuesday
comes from Tiu, the Norse god of war. The supreme deity Woden names Wednesday,
Thursday is named in honour of Thor, the god of thunder, while Friday
was Frigg, the wife of Odin and goddess of love and beauty.
200 fragments of Roman calendars are extant, and they reveal both temporal
and geographical variations in their format.
Ovidius Naso, 43 BCE -17 CE, more commonly known as Ovid, is our most
important source for the Julian reforms to the calendar, and along with
Plutarch, the most important source for Roman calendar information. This
is true even though only the first 6 of 12 books, (1 for each month of
the year) of his Fasti, a poetic calendar describing festivals
and the legends, are extant.
Plutarch explained above, the Roman calendar was originally based upon
lunar, not solar calculations, and an "intercalary month", amongst
other fine tunings, was needed to remedy the difference, and keep the
calendar consistent with the seasons. For reasons which are not entirely
clear, this was not always done, and consequently, by the time of Julius
Caesar in the 1st Cen. BCE, the calendar was, bluntly, a mess.
employed the skills of the apparently quite brilliant astronomer and mathematician
Sosigenes, of whom, unfortunately, little is known. His astronomical writings,
including Revolving Spheres, are lost. Only a few isolated fragments
remain, including one which asserts Sosigenes' belief that the planet
Mercury revolves around the Sun.
Coin depicting Julius Caesar | Ca. 45 BCE |
convinced Caesar to adopt his reforms, and, on Jan. 1, 45 BCE, the "Julian"
calendar came into effect, which posits a 365.25 day year, with an extra
day every fourth year as a leap year. Hence the calendar was now truly
solar rather than lunar, and January 1st replaced March 1st as New Year's
Day, which of course it remains.
365.25 days, the Julian Calendar was very accurate for an ancient calendar,
however it was in error, as it included an extra 11 minutes 14 seconds
per year. Over a century this error amounted to almost 3/4 of a day, and
in 1,000 years amounted to approximately one week.
Gregory XIII, upon his election in 1572, received proposals for correcting
the calendar, as the vernal equinox, which was used in determining the
date of Easter, had moved 10 days from its proper date by this time. Gregory
came to accept the proposals based upon
the work of Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius and Aloysius Lilius.
In order to correct the date of the vernal equinox to March 21, the day
after October 5 was designated as October 15, eliminating 10 days. Also,
the year was determined to be 365.2422 days, as opposed to 365.25 days,
in length. This difference of 3.12 days every 400 years led to the rule
that three out of every four centennial years not be leap years (as they
would have been in the Julian calendar). Thus, no centennial year is a
leap year unless divisible by 400. The year 2000 will be will be a leap
year by this formula.
Detail from the Très Riches Heures: February | Limbourg Brothers
| Nimwegen | Ca. 1408 |
origins of the calendar which we use today are often credited to the Scythian
monk Dionysius Exiguus, who lived in the middle of the 6th century, however
this is inaccurate. Exiguus was concerned, as were other theological scholars
of his day, with the correct date of Easter. Also, in his day, years were
often cited as A.D., meaning after the emperor Diocletian. Dionysius desired
to change this fact, as Diocletian was a notorious persecutor of Christians
during his rule from 284 to 305 CE. In his calculations, he also explored
a determination of the date for the birth of Christ. He placed this date,
probably wrongly, as the eighth day before the Calends of January in the
year 753 ab urbe conditâ, that is, 753 years after the founding
of Rome. Hence the Calends of January in 754 ab urbe conditâ became the first day of A.D. 1. He called the years following Christ's
birth years "of the Lord", which became Anno Domini or
A.D., and the years preceding Ante Christum or A.C. The term B.C.
is usually credited to Saint Bede, an English monk, who in 731, used it
in The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. So Exiguus
had little or nothing to do with reforming the mechanics of the calendar
per se, rather, he is partly responsible for the system of how we number
no one person can be credited with devising the calendar, the system which
we use today most resemble that devised by the 1st Cen. BCE Greek scholar
Sosigenes, as the Gregorian and Christian reforms were arguably minor
in comparison to his work.
majority of scholars today no longer use the terms A.D. or B.C., we instead
use the terms BCE and CE, which mean Before Common Era, (some say "Current
Era") and Common Era, respectively. This is done in order to use
objective, non-denominational terms.
MEANING OF CHRONOLOGY
ANCIENT ROME presents to you a chronology of history, and as such, it
is interesting and valuable to note the the meaning of chronology and
the origins and evolution of our calendric system. As we enter a new millennium
there exists an enhanced interest in this topic, and an increased realisation
of its relevance to our daily lives.
word chronology, as does much of our language, comes from the Greek. It
is a combination of two words, Kronos and logos.
was the Greek god of time. The Romans, in Latin, referred to Kronos as
Saturn; he was both a god and a planet. Kronos, according to ancient myth,
ate his own children, as was masterfully rendered by Goya in the accompanying
illustration. Time of course does devour each of us, as we are but children
of time, and this was the meaning of the myth.
is interesting to note that Aristophanes, Ca. 400 BCE, uses the term kronos
as a pejorative, meaning "old fool", in his play Wasps.
Detail from Saturn Devouring His Children | Francisco (José) de
Goya | Spain | Ca.1820 |
had various, albeit related, meanings, such as computation or reckoning,
as in the computation of money. It was used as such in Herodotus The
Histories, in the 5th Cen. BCE. It was also used as the relation,
or proportion of one thing to another, such as the relation of gold to
lead, as used by Aeschylus, who was born in Attica Ca. 525 BCE. Put together
Kronos and logos mean a reckoning of time, and were used in this manner
as early as the first Century BCE. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus
states, for example, "after Artaxerxes' death (Bagoas) designated
in every case the successor to the throne and enjoyed all the functions
of kingship save the title. But of these matters we shall record the details
in their proper chronological sequence."
order to establish a systematic relationship, or correspondence in time,
from one event to another, it is first necessary to designate an arbitrary
point upon a chronological scale from which we can then measure temporal
distance, in empirically consistent and verifiable units, as either before
or after this point. The Romans used the legendary founding date of their
city, 753 BCE as this point, and in the Western world, since the 6th Cen.,
we have used the presumed date of the birth of Christ. Scholars today
have little faith in the accuracy of the dates traditionally cited for
either of these designations.
chronology to the historian is very much like longitude to the geographer.
In order to reckon an east to west position on the globe, geographers
created imaginary points of longitude, before or after the arbitrary point
at Greenwich, England, which has been designated as zero. As with time,
there really are no corresponding points in nature for these designations.
While the solar year records a natural event, time is not a dependent
of this activity, hence, our system of record keeping has been determined
by chance, and simply serves to quantify and measure the concept of time,
a concept which, in truth, remains beyond our comprehensible grasp.
DID THE THIRD MILLENNIUM BEGIN?
Third Millennium began the stroke of midnight, the eve of December 31,
2000, that is, January 1, 2001. The Third Millennium did not begin upon
the transition from 1999 to 2000. Here is why.
millennium consists of an inclusive 1,000 years. When Dionysius Exiguus
devised the system by which we count years, he did not place a year zero
in between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D., so the first thousand years, since January
1, year 1, had passed upon the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1000,
and the Second Millennium began January 1, 1001. Add one thousand years
to that, and you get January 1, 2001 as the beginning of the new millennium.
that you are driving a brand new car, with absolutely no mileage on the
odometer. Yes, you have travelled 1,000 miles when the odometer reads
1,000, but that is because you started at zero. Our calendar did
not start at zero, it started at one, so to travel 1,000 years from one,
we will have to to reach 1,001.