O Kay! – Hawaiian Pin Up Calendar Glamour Girl – 1937
Now that I’ve gotten your attention… .
Chapters 13 & 14 of The Romance of the Calendar (1937) discuss the Caesars’ calendars. Briefly, the Pontifex Maximus was tasked with, among other things, keeping the calendar. Julius became PM in BC 63 and he inherited a mess with respect to the calendar. But he went off to war and things– calendar speaking– didn’t get any better for twenty years.
A lunar calendar is like a watch whose time keeping is perfectly fine if you are only concerned with keeping the day or the lunar month. But a lunar watch gains time– several days per year. Thus, all lunar calendars have to be periodically “fixed” to bring them back in line with the true solar year– a year that has a longest and shortest day, and two days when night and light are of equal length. The easiest way to do this is to “intercalate” a thirteenth month every few years, as the Babylonians and Greeks had.
[t]he month was intercalated, not according to any certain rule, but according to the administrative decisions of the College of Pontiffs. It was a perfect case if government by men not laws… “
Stop and think about what this might have been like.
There you are going about your business and it’s coming up on your birthday, let’s say (as we would say nowadays), June 21– the longest day of the year. Your mater and pater have told you that you were born in the Summer. But for the last few years your birthday– the date on which you celebrate your birth– has been getting cooler and cooler and the leaves are beginning to change color. And then bingo bamo! The Pontiffs in all their glorious wisdom add a month between February and March and a few days here and there and now your birthday is last winter! That’s no way to go through life.
There’s a bit more to the confusion– including some Roman superstition about even numbers– but by BC 47, twenty years or so after Julius had assumed the position of Pontifix Maximus, the calendar was two months out of whack.
When a clock is a couple of hours fast, there are two things that can be done. The first is to stop the clock until it can be set going at the right time, and the second is to regulate the clock so that, in future, the same situation will not arise again. These were the measures Julius Caesar applied to the calendar.
Recall, Rome had conquered Egypt, but in Egypt there were not the calendar problems as in Babylon, Greece and Rome. Egypt had adopted a solar calendar, though it had never put into effect the calendar of Ptolemy Euergetes, which was a superior solar calendar.
“About greatness there is a profound humility.” Caesar sent an adviser to Egypt who was shown Ptolemy’s calendar and recognized its superiority. This is what we know as the Julian Calendar.*
- It abandoned the moon in favor of the sun.
- The solar year was taken to be 365¼ days.
- The civil year was 365 days.
- Each fourth year was given an extra day.
- Months were arranged:
January 31 days
February 29 or 30
Oh my! I have run on a bit haven’t I?
And August Caesar and a pope did some tweeking and here were are today!