The History of Calendars- What is the Roman Calendar?

Part I – The Roman Calendar

An instrument to calculate the passing of days and seasons, when and how did the calendar come into being?

Photo: Wikipedia

Newsroom (05/18/2022 12:00, Gaudium Press) So elementary and so basic, the calendar is present everywhere. Present in homes, offices, doctors’ offices, classrooms, in short, in any pocket. It is a small and simple object that, however, has a vast history.

What is its origin?

The first way to divide time into years, months, days, and hours dates back to the time of Rome’s foundation, in the times of its mythical founder, Romulus (VII-VI B.C.).

According to the traditions, the year was composed of ten lunar months, having a duration, not always equal, of 304 days. Between the end of one year and the beginning of the next, there was a “dead” period, which did not correspond to any established date and no specific month. This was due to the arrival of winter, a time when no crops were cultivated and there was absolutely no military activity, only proper purification rites were performed, so that the year would start well, which would soon begin at the equinox[1] of spring (where the first month was located).

It was already a Roman belief that the day began at midnight, and the months were composed of 29 or 31 days – because it was considered bad luck for a month to have an even number of days – and every 10 months a new year. These were the 10 months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.

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The first two reforms

The first reform came with Numa Pompilius (716 BC to 674 BC), who added two months to the beginning of the year: Januarius and Februarius. In this way, the month that – also because of its name – would be the seventh, September, became the ninth and, with these changes, the year became 355 days long.

The second and great reform occurred with Julius Caesar, emperor and, at the same time, pontifex maximus, decreeing a change in the calendar (in the year 46 BC), which would be called, by his mandate, the Julian Calendar. Also with this Roman magistrate, the month of Quintilis was renamed Julius, and the Sextilis, Augustus. The first, in his own honor; the second, lauding Octavian Augustus.

“It is left to the calends!” and “once upon a time”

“The first day of every month was called Kalendae, a word whose Latin etymology is calare: to call (it was the day when the Priests called the people to announce the New Moon to them).”[2] At the root of this term is found the popular expression “it was left for the calends,” that is, for the beginning of the next month…

Another curiosity: “Nonae is the fifth day,[3] because it is the ninth day before Idus, which was the 13th. Idus, whose root (Iduare) means to divide, divided the month into two almost equal parts.”[4] Hence, the real meaning of the sentence: “In times gone by” (idus) – that is, in times past…

With the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, history was divided into two parts: before and after Him. That is why we say, for example, that we are in the year 2022, because we would be counting, roughly, the years from the Savior’s birth. However, in Roman times, obviously, the way of counting was different. They had, initially, as year I, the year of the foundation of Rome, with the abbreviation a. U. c. (ab Urbe condita).

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In the next article, starting from this august fact, the birth of Christ, we will narrate what happened with the calendars.

By João Pedro Serafim

[1] The moment in which the Sun, in its apparent annual movement, crosses the celestial equator, making day and night of equal length.

[2] Cf. ALMEIDA, Napoleão Mendes de. Gramatica latina. São Paulo: Saraiva, 2011, p. 434.

[3] In some months like Martius, Maius, Julius and Augustus, it was the 7th.

[4] Cf. ALMEIDA, Napoleão Mendes de. Op. cit.

Compiled by Teresa 


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