“And so we came to Rome” (Acts 28:14). In this final installment we’ll survey the calendars of ancient Rome and environs.
Evidence exists for four calendars from ancient Italy. No account of the moon was taken in the Roman systems known to us.
|Romulus (8th–7th cent.?)||Etruscan||Old Roman (7th–6th cent.?)||Julian (45 BC)|
The (1) “year of Romulus” was a primitive agricultural year, divided into ten months of irregular lengths of up to 39 days.
This calendar was eventually replaced by the (2) Etruscan lunar calendar, which eventually gave rise to the old Roman calendar. The Etruscan calendar began with the “Ides of March,” first full moon after the vernal equinox. In addition to the months listed above, there was also has a month called Thucte whose position is unknown. Masan (“sacrifice”) is also disputed, but perhaps is comparable to the Canaanite ZBḪ ŠMŠ (“sacrifice of the sun”).
The (3) old Roman calendar consisted of 12 months; 4 of 31 days (Martius, Maius, Quintilis, October), 7 of 29 (Ianuarius, Aprilis, Iunius, Sextilis, September, November, December), and one of 28 (Februarius), totaling 355 days in a year. Every other year (even-numbered years BC) an intercalary month, Mercedonius (or Intercalaris), was added after 23 February and lasting 27 or 28 days (the total intercalation was thus 22 or 23 days—approximately one day longer than the tropical year). In later periods, the pontifices determined intercalation. Eventually (by c. 153 BC?) New Year’s Day was moved back to 1 Ianuarius. In Rome, market-days were spaced at eight-day intervals.
Days of the month were not numbered but rather counted relative to three key dates that occurred each month. The Kalends (kalendae) of the month was the first day; the Nones (nonae) was the 7th day of a 31-day month or the 5th day of a 29-day month. The Ides (idus) was the 15th day of a 31-day month or the 13th day of a 29-day month. Originally, these days marked the new moon, first quarter, and full moon. Days were counted down to the next benchmark. Thus, for example, the 13th of Martius was “the third day before the Ides of Martius” and the 4th of Quintilis was “the fourth day before the Nones of Quintilis.”
Julius Caesar abandoned the old Roman calendar and instituted in its place the (4) Julian calendar, a solar calendar of 365.25 days, which was stable and agreed with the seasons. Every fourth year a leap day was inserted after 24 Februarius. In the earliest decades, a leap year was erroneously added every third year instead of every fourth. The discrepancy was eventually corrected in AD 8.
In early imperial times years were sometimes counted from Octavian’s victory at the Battle of Actium (2 September, 31 BC).
According to tradition, the city of Rome was founded in 753 BC. Some Roman historians counted years ab urbe condita (“from the founding of the city”), although this does not seem to have been a widespread dating method. Modern historians use the AUC epoch much more frequently than the Romans did.
- E. J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World, 2nd ed. (Cornell University Press, 1968).
- ________, “calendar.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (Manchester University Press, 2002).
- Holger Oertel, “Several Calendars.”
- Alan E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology (Taylor and Francis, 1972).