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date: 24 April 2018

calendar, Roman

The original Roman calendar supposedly consisted of ten months only, the later March–December, and would therefore have had an uncounted gap in the winter, between years (cf. Ov. Fast. 1. 27–44, with J. G. Frazer's note); but this is all open to challenge. The republican calendar, represented for us by the fragmentary fasti Antiates (Inscr. Ital. 13. 2. 1–28) and literary descriptions (notably Censorinus, DN 20–2; Macrob.Sat. 1. 12–16, drawing ultimately on Varro and Verrius Flaccus), was believed by some to have been introduced from Etruria (see etruscans) by Tarquinius Priscus (Iunius Gracchanus quoted in Censorinus 20. 4). Some of the feast-days in the inscribed calendars are marked in large letters and perhaps represent a very early religious calendar, pre-dating the Capitoline temple (traditionally dated after the expulsion of the kings, see capitol), whose cults are not included. But not all important religious festivals are included in the extant Fasti and it is likely that the early versions were drawn up during conflicts over the allocation of time to political and social purposes, not just to religious ones, January, as containing the festival †Januar (presumably the Agonium of later calendars, 9 January) of the god of gates who was on his way to be a god of all beginnings, may have been seen as the first month, but in fact March remained the first month of the civil year until 153 bce: from then, the year of office of the consuls and most other Roman magistrates began on 1 January; that of the tribuni plebis began on 10 December. March, May, Quintilis (July), and October had 31 days each (Nones on 7th, Ides on 15th), February 28, and the rest 29 (Ides on 13th): total 355.

To insert the extra days needed, February was shortened to 23 or 24 days and followed by an intercalary month of 27 days. This intercalation was so erratically maintained that by the time of Caesar the civic year was about three months ahead of the solar. As pontifex maximus, he intercalated days to bring the year 46 bce to a total of 445; so this was ‘the last year of the muddled reckoning’ (Macrob. Sat. 1. 14. 3). From the next year onwards, the Egyptian solar calendar (see time-reckoning) was adapted to Roman use, by inserting enough days in the shorter months to bring the total up to 365 and arranging for the insertion of a day, not a month, between 23 and 24 February, in leap years (thus 23 February occurred twice). No substantial change was made thereafter until the reforms of Pope Gregory XIII, promulgated in 1582 and gradually adopted as our normal ‘Gregorian’ calendar (in Britain only in 1752); today the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches continue to use the Julian calendar.


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A. Grafton, Joseph Scaliger (1983–93).Find this resource:

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J. Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion (Eng. trans. 2003), 41–59.Find this resource:

D. Feeney, Caesar's Calendar (2007).Find this resource:

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