Once emperors took over and consuls
became insignificant, Romans started
counting years after Rome was founded
using the AUC system (ab urbe condita,
a Latin phrase meaning “from the found-ing;of;the;City;of;Rome”),
Exiguus attempted to calculate the year
of Christ’s birth and started numbering
the years of history from that important
point, starting with A.D. 1 (anno domini).;All;years;prior;to;that;date;were
later termed in English “B.C.” for “Before
Christ.” This way of numbering years did
not catch on broadly until after A.D. 800.
Knowing what year it was could be
problematic for an ancient person;
knowing what day it was could be impossible. Trial and error taught people that
some systems were more reliable than
others. The moon was an easy calendar
guide since it was visible everywhere
and lunar cycles divided the year into
months of twenty-nine or thirty days.
But lunar months don’t add up to 365¼
days a year. Consequently, every few decades the days and months drifted out of
season. Harvest holidays would show up
in icy winter, and spring holidays were
celebrated in sweaty summer. In Rome,
politicians were asked to toss in an extra
month to even things out. It was hard to
write to a friend in Thrace or Egypt to
arrange to meet in Athens or Rome on a
definite day, because everyone kept track
of dates differently.
On February 24 in A.D. 1582 a fairly
large part of the planet got on board for
the solar calendar system we use today.
All Catholic countries of Western Eu-
rope agreed to keep time the same way
when an edict to that effect was issued by
Pope Gregory XIII. His reason for strict-
ly regulating the calendar was so that all
Christians could celebrate Easter on the
same day. This idea was first suggested by
the church fathers at the First Council of
Nicaea in A.D. 325, but the idea got stuck
in committee for a very long time.
Each nation has
used different ways
to mark time.
suitable task for an ambitious politician.
He was technically allowed to make some
years longer to extend the political terms
of allies or make them shorter whenever
an adversary was in office.
A hectic schedule of conquering Gaul,
fighting Pompey, and touring Egypt
meant the calendar was neglected too
long. Julius Caesar found a moment to
fix time in 46 B.C. In addition to a spare
month between February and March, he
added another sixty-seven days between
November and December. That year
seemed to go on endlessly, but Caesar’s
new Julian calendar was a big hit. It followed the solar year closely and the Romans finally enjoyed the luxury of knowing when summer started and when to
plant a garden.
“March,” “April,” “May,” “June,” plus
“September”;( 7),;“October”;( 8),;“Novem-
ber”;( 9);and;“December”;( 10);were;named
by Romulus in his original ten-month
calendar. The next king added January
and February to the start of the year. So
months named “seven” through “ten”
became months nine through twelve
evermore. The Roman month Quintilis
would be later be renamed “July” after Ju-
lius was slain. The month Sextilis became
“August” to honor Caesar’s heir, the first
Amy Barr is a homeschool mother of three
and a full-time instructor of other home-educated students as co-founder of The Lukeion
Project, www.lukeion.org. As an archaeologist, she spent more than a decade excavating sites throughout the Mediterranean and
teaching Classics at the college level. Now she
and her husband, Regan Barr, offer their expertise through live online workshops and college preparatory high school courses about the
Classical world, Latin, and Greek. The two of
them lead annual family tours to the Mediterranean and invite you to join them for a tour.
1. Velleius Paterculus, 8. 5.
2.;Dionysius;of;Halicarnassus,;1. 74. 2.