Wednesday, 12 September 2012

What's a day



Today is today, right? It started last night at midnight and will finish at midnight tonight. Not too hard to figure out. But hang on...who decided that? How did we pluck an arbitrary moment from the middle of the night and decide it should be the beginning of the day? Well, just like our calendar, we can thank the Romans for our 'day'. Pliny tells us there were a variety of measurements for a day before this - the Babylonians counted a day as the interval between two sunrises, the Athenians had settled for the time between two sunsets and the Umbrians in central Italy preferred midday to midday...which to our sensibilities would have been pretty strange, you'd wake up in one day and go to bed in the next. However the Roman choice of midnight is an interesting one. Setting the time by a sunrise, sunset or the midday sun was a simple act of observation, anyone could tell the time when the sun was around. However in the deepest darkest part of the night, 'midnight' could only be determined by a clock. The Romans needed a considerable level of technology to measure their day...just like us. So to start their day, the Romans became the world's first clock watchers. What kind of clocks? Well, that'll be another post.

Find out if Calvus knew what day it was