calendar: The Julian Calendar

The Julian Calendar

When Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus, the Roman calendar had been so much abused that January was falling in autumn. At this point the methods of the Egyptian calendar were borrowed for the Roman. Julius Caesar, on the advice of the astronomer Sosigenes, added 90 days to the year 46 b.c. (67 days between November and December, 23 at the end of February). This caused the spring of 45 b.c. to begin in March. To retain this position of the seasons, he changed the length of most of the months: March, May, Quintilis (later named July after Julius Caesar), and October he left as they were; he added 2 days each to January and Sextilis (later named August to honor the Emperor Augustus); February was 28 days long except that in every fourth year a day was inserted between the 23d and the 24th of the month.

In Roman computation three days in the month were used for counting the date. These three were the Kalends (1st day of the month), the Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October, the 5th in the other months), and the Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October, the 13th in the other months). The days were counted before, not after, the Kalends, Nones, and Ides. Thus, Jan. 10 was the fourth day before the Ides of January or the fourth day of the Ides of January, because the Romans counted inclusively. Jan. 25 was the eighth of the Kalends of February, Feb. 3 was the third of the Nones of February. Feb. 23 was the seventh of the Kalends of March and remained so when an intercalary day was inserted every fourth year between it and Feb. 24; hence in a leap year there were two days counted as the sixth of the Kalends of March. The leap year was therefore called bissextile [Lat.,=sixth twice]. There is a legend that alterations in the length of the months were made later by Augustus to flatter his own vanity, but there seems to be no foundation for this story.

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