Saturday 12 January 2013

What day is it?

Imagine a world where today's date is pretty much subjective, and where a year could vary by four weeks. This was the calendar the Romans lived with until 46BC. Their traditional lunar calendar had only 354 days, with an additional month of Mercedonius usually added between February and March every second year - depending on Rome's senior priests. The situation wasn't perfect and by the time Julius Caesar became Dictator, the New Year was being celebrated in Autumn. Being a man who made big ideas happen, Julius Caesar decided the situation could be improved upon and sought out the western world's top mathematicians in Alexandria to remedy the calendar 'issue'. One, Sosigenes, was able to advance his existing work of charting the sun relative to the earth, showing a solar calendar with 365 days - and an extra day added to February every fourth year - that could take the 'calendar year' out of the hands of Rome's priestly colleges and into the hands of the people. For the first time everyone in the Roman world would be able to calculate a day in the future - and when it would fall - rather than awaiting an edict from Rome. Picking a date next year might seem simple today, but without the drive of Julius Caesar and wherewithal of Sosigenes we might still be having a leap month instead of a leap day.

Check out my latest book - Vagabond - life in Roman Gaul after Caesar

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