Daily Life in Ancient Rome II

The Calendar

Knowledge of the Roman calendar comes to us from literary references and inscribed calendars which have been found previously (fasti).

The original Roman calendar was originally introduced in the 7th century BC, containing ten months (March - December) and 304 days. Two more months, January and February, were probably added in the 6th century BC. January became the first month in 153 BC.

By the time Caesar reformed the calendar, a year was 355 days, made up of 12 months, four of which contained 31 days (March, May, July, and October). February had 28 days and the remaining months each had 29. The derivation of the names of the months is as follows:

* January: Named after Janus, god of gates and doors. On January first, Romans offered sacrifices to Janus so that he would bless the new year.
* February: Derived from Latin februa, signifying festivals of purification celebrated in Rome this month. Legend holds that King Numa Pompilus added this month in 425 BC. It was originally 29 days but one of those days was transferred to August.
* March: The Roman war god Mars.
* April: Latin, aperire, meaning to open, probably because it is the season during which buds start to open.
* June: Uncertain. It could be derived from the Latin goddess Juno, or the Junius clan of Ancient Rome. The Latin juniores means "youth," and the month June may contrast the month May, which is dedicated to maiores, or age.
* August: Named after emperor Augustus, due to many important events in his life happening in this month.
* September - December: The Latin septem, octem, novem, decem, meaning seven, eight, nine, and ten, in reference to the number of each month in the year. June was originally Quintilus (five) and August sextus (six).

The pontiffs of Ancient Rome generally intercalated days to the calendar, but they did so improperly, so that by the time of Julius Caesar, the calendar was three months off. To make up for this, Caesar extended the year 46 BC to 445 days. His reformed version of the calendar contained 12 months with the present amount of days and a leap year. However, his calendar was 11 minutes longer than a true solar year.

The modern Gregorian calendar was developed by Pope Gregory XIII during 1582. That year, ten days were scrapped from the calendar, and the Pope ordered henceforth three days be omitted from the calendar every 400 years.

Roman calendars only had three dates with separate names: the Kalends (kalendae), or 1st day of every month, the Ides, usually the 13th of a month but for three months the 15th, and the Nones (Nonae), or ninth day before the Ides. Romans would indicate the date by relating how many days it was before one of the dates mentioned above, unless it was the day before, in which case the term pridie was used.

A market day occurred every eight days, and was called a nundina. There was no seven day period, or work weed, except in the east, where some days were named after planets. The first reference to a seven day week is found during the reign of Augustus, and was gradually adopted throughout the empire. The days were as follows: Dies Lunae (Monday), Dies Martis (Tuesday), Dies Mercuri (Wednesday), Dies Jovis (Thursday), Dies Veneris (Friday), Dies Saturnae (Saturday), and Dies Solis (Sunday).

Roman Festivals

Feriae (dies ferialis) were holidays for visiting temples and making sacrifices to the gods. At the same time, the term was used for public festivals and private celebrations, such as birthdays.

Festivals often included additional rituals to what was normally practiced, and if not celebrated correctly, the gods could become angry and cease their benevolence. Therefore, there were important ceremonies conducted by public officials during festivals, as well as private prayer and sacrifice.

Many festivals were not celebrated by the state, but rather as public holidays on which only work sanctioned by the pontiff was permitted. Much work was likely done anyway, however, and only the especially pious went to the temples rather than stay at home. Legally, citizens were obliged not to work, but they were not legally obliged to worship.

The number of Roman holidays was originally few in number, but some of the oldest and most time honored survived untilt the end of the republic, preserving the memory of an ancient agrarian society. So many festivals were added that the number of festivals eventually outnumbered the number of working days. However, since there was no weekend or rest day set aside, the impact was not as great as it might seem.

There was often no distinction between religious and secular activities, so that festivals were often events of merry making. Originally "feast days," on holidays the local aristocracy would pay for meals for the poor. Later, this custom ended and the types of festivals were divided into three categories: feriae stativae, annual festivals which occurred on fixed days, feriae conceptivae, festivals whose dates were set yearly by priests or magistrates, and feriae imperativae, irregular holidays proclaimed by consuls, praetors, or dictators to celebrate military victories.

The games, ludi, had a religious element to them during early Rome in honor of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. This ended after 220 BC, and while other types of festivals, such as chariot races, still maintained a religious facet, the games did not. Much festival celebration was geographically located to Rome and its vicinity. Toward the end of the empire, many Roman holidays found there way into Christianity, such as the Lupercalia, which became the Feast of the Purification of the Saint Mary, and, most importantly, the birth of the sun god Sol on December 25th.

Among the more important Roman festivals were the Saturnalia, Lupercalia, Equiria, and the Secular Games.

The Saturnalia was held in December between the 17th and 23rd, during the winter solstice. During the festival, masters and slaves would trade places, gifts were exchanged, and business activities suspended. The Lupercalia honored Lupercus, a pastoral god of the early Italians, and was celebrated at the cave of the Lupercal on the Palatine Hill, where Romulus and Remus were supposedly found by the shepherd Faustilus and taken home to his wife, Acca Lorentia. The Equiria was held in honor of Mars on February 27 and March 14, when new military campaigns were traditionally prepared. Horse races in the Campus Martius notably marked the celebration. Finally, the Secular Games were held irregularly to usher in "new ages," normally every century or so, with games and sacrifices. Later, the celebration of this festival was often neglected.

Time-Telling Devices

To the Romans, there was always twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night, so that the day and night periods of a Roman day varied, unless there was an equinox. A daylight hour in midwinter would be equivalent to about 45 minutes, where as a daylight hour in midsummer would be almost an hour and a half. The length of each hour also varied with latitude.

Midnight was always the sixth hour of night, as noon was always the sixth hour of day. The abbreviations A.M. and P.M. were first used by the Romans as abbreviations for the term ante meridiem and post meridiem, or, before midday and after midday, respectively.

Clocks (horologia) were used, either by means of shadow or water. Sundials (solaria) were introduced around 300 BC. Relying on sunshine and needing a different scaler at different latitudes, as well as needing seasonal correction, made the sundial the inferior to the water clocks of the day, clepsydrae. These often also needed seasonal adjustment, but could be used at night, especially in military camps to measure the four watches of the Roman night. A basic water clock consisted of a vessel filled with orifices that, when filled with water, measured the time as it emptied. More elaborate clocks had a 24 hour water supply and worked by means of mechanism.

Outstanding examples of each device are the Horologian of Andronicus, a water clock erected in Athens in the 2nd half of the 1st century BC, and the solar clock of Augustus, build in the Campus Martius in 9 BC and using an Egyptian obelisk as its gnomon.


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