The Roman Calendar
The calendar utilized in western Europe
middle ages was not
the universally standardized version we enjoy today. The uniting
the major festivals of the Church. Some of these celebrations occurred
dates such as
used in the middle ages in lands that had been in contact with the
developed for Julius Caesar and enacted in 46 BC, and known to us by
his name –
the Julian Calendar. The Romans set year 1 of their calendar to glorify
Roman Inclusive Counting
Before looking closer at the Roman calendar, there is a quirk of Roman counting that is essential to understanding their system. The Romans used “inclusive” counting which counts both the beginning and ending points, unlike the way we would count in modern times. Using this system, the number of days between dates is one more than the way we would count it. For example, tomorrow would be the second day from now – today=1, tomorrow=2. Have you ever been confused by the Easter story of Jesus being 3 days in the tomb? In modern times we would consider Friday evening to Sunday morning to be a day and a half, or two if you were being generous. However, using the Roman method, you would count Friday as day one, Saturday as day two, and Sunday as the third day.
Division of the Roman Month
The month in the Julian calendar was divided into irregular segments, likely to have originally been connected with the phases of the moon. The first day of the month is the Kalends and originally occurred at the new moon. The name comes from the Latin calere – “to call” as the pontifex would “call out” the announcement of the new month as signaled by the sighting of the moon just past new. The next division was the Nones occurring 9 days prior to the Ides and fell on the 5th or 7th of the month. The Ides represented the full moon. The name is derived from iduare – to divide. The Ides is the 15th of the month in March, May, July, and October, and the 13th in January, February, April, June, August, September, November, and December. The remaining days of the month are counted as the number of days before the next Kalends, Nones, or Ides (counting inclusively) and are labeled, e.g. ante diem III Kalends Martius which would be the 28th of February in a leap year. The day before the Kalends, Nones, or Ides is pridie (e.g. Kalends Martius – the last day of February).
Leap YearA problem that has plagued all calendar systems is there aren’t an even number of lunar months in a solar year. This causes the calendar dates to drift in relation to the seasons. Julius Caesar attempted to fix this drift by adding an extra day to every 4th year to give an average of 365.25 days per year. This was much closer to the actual length of year of 365.2422 days. This slowed the drift of the seasons, but over several centuries it became obvious the dates in the calendar were shifting through the seasons.
Pope Gregory XIII instituted a more refined system in 1582 that we are still using in our Modern Middle Ages. Leap years occur every 4th year except century years divisible by 400 (e.g., 1600 and 2000). This brings the average days per year to 365.2425 – very close to the actual 365.2422. The actual leap day is inserted after a. d. VI kalendis Martias - 24 Feb) and called bis a. d. VI kalendis Martias and is the origin of the term bissextile to describe a leap year.
The New Year
Even though Dionysius Exiguus defined year one of the calendar when he developed his tables of Easter in the early 6th century, there was still a lot of confusion as to the actual date when the new year started:
The starting points of the calendar that have been used include Christmas, the Annunciation (March 25), Easter, and January first. Christmas Day makes sense since a year numbered based on the birth of Jesus would start on the date celebrated as his birthday. It was used in various locations as late as 14th century. The Annunciation is also called “Lady Day” and was commonly considered the start of the new year in England until the Gregorian calendar was adopted in British lands in 1752. Some areas were one off on the starting year and used dates one year earlier than other locations. Easter Day was used in some parts of France. What goes around, comes around, as January 1 was historically used by the Romans and was recommended for use by both Dionysius and Pope Gregory XIII. It was formally adopted in England with the change to the Gregorian calendar.Links
The Ecclesiastical Calendar: It's Theory and Construction by Samuel Butcher published in 1877