Friday, March 17, 2006

Missed the Ides of March -- the Roman Calendar


I was too busy this week to remark in class on the Ides of March, the day on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE. (Above is a reproduction of a coin issued by his assassins, which shows the daggers and displays a freed slaves cap, as a symbol of the liberation of the Roman people from Caesar's tyrrany.)

Before 44 BCE, the "ides of March" was just the name of a day on the Roman calendar. The Romans had a very peculiar way of keeping track of the days and those who want to study them seriously have to wrestle with that calendar at some point. To be brief, there were three days in the month that acted as reference points: the ides (1st) , the nones (5th or 7th, depending on the month), and the ides (13th or 15th). Other days were designated by counting backward to the next reference point. What we call the 2nd of March was identified as the "6th of (or before) the nones of March," while the next day was the 5th of the nones.

One result is that "days of the kalends of March" are all (except for the kalends itself) are in the month of February!

There are plenty more complexities in the Roman calendar. An attractive and detailed site, Calendars through the Ages, is here.

Next, I guess, I'll be looking for an excuse to explain the not-quite-so-arcane "pounds-shillings-pence (Lsd)" currency system used by the English and many other Europeans in the past.

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