Roman calendar

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The Roman calendar changed its form several times in the time between the founding of Rome and the fall of the Roman Empire. This article generally discusses the early Roman or 'pre-Julian' calendars. The calendar used after 46 BC is discussed under Julian calendar.



The original Roman calendar is believed to have been a lunar calendar,[1] which may have been based on one of the Greek lunar calendars. As the time between new moons averages 29.5 days, its months were constructed to be either hollow (29 days) or full (30 days). Full months were considered powerful and therefore auspicious; hollow months were unlucky. Unlike currently used dates, which are numbered sequentially from the beginning of the month, the Romans counted backwards from three fixed points: the Nones, the Ides and the Kalends of the following month. This system originated in the practice of "calling" the new month when the lunar crescent was first observed in the west after sunset. From the shape and orientation of the new moon, the number of days remaining to the nones would be proclaimed.

Roman writers claimed that their calendar was invented by Romulus, the founder of Rome around 753 BC. His version contained ten months with the vernal equinox in the first month. However, his months were not lunar:

The calendar year lasted 304 days and there were about 61 days of winter which were not assigned to any month.[3] The later months were named based on their position in the calendar: Quintilis comes from quinque (meaning five), Sextilis from sex (meaning six), September from septem (meaning seven), October from octo (meaning eight), November from novem (meaning nine) and December from decem (meaning ten).

Numa Pompilius, the second of the seven traditional kings of Rome, reformed the calendar of Romulus by prefixing January and February around 713 BC to the original ten months; thus the names of Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November and December (implying fifth through tenth) no longer agreed with their position in his calendar.

Although Numa wanted to have a lunar year of 354 days, Romans considered odd numbers to be lucky,[4] so Numa added 51 days to the 304 days in the calendar of Romulus and took one day from each of the six 30-day months giving a total of 57 days to share between January and February. January was given 29 days leaving February with the unlucky number of 28 days, suitable for the month of purification. Of the eleven months with an odd number of days, four had 31 days each and seven had 29 days each.

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