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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Julius C?sar Assassinated
Topic: Anniversaries
Well that was a long time ago - 44 BC to be exact. Yes, it?s the Ides of March today - just the Roman way of noting the 15th March. I have found out that, in the ancient Roman calendar, each of the 12 months had ?ides?, derived from the Latin ?to divide?. Apparently, the ancient Roman calendar organised its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days. These were Kalends, for the 1st day of the month, Nones, for the 7th day in March, May, July, and October (the 5th in the other months) and Ides, for the 15th day in March, May, July, and October (the 13th in the other months). The unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, the Nones, or the Ides. For example, the 3rd March would be "V Nones" - 5 days before the Nones (to make matters even more complicated, the Roman method of counting days was inclusive; in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of the 5 days). However, the 6th March was not "II Nones" - it was called Pridie Nones (Latin for ?on the day before?). PHEW!

The Ides were originally coincidental with the advent of the new moon but, as the calendar for the Roman year wasn?t quite long enough, everything gradually got out of step. Apparently, the Romans were ruled by superstition and believed that even numbers were unlucky. So they ended up with a year of 355 days made up of four months of 31 days, seven months of 29 days and one unlucky month of 28 days. To try to realign the calendar with the seasons, they created an extra month called Mercedonius of 22 or 23 days which they added to the calendar every second year.

Eventually, even that system became so far out that Julius C?sar, advised by the astronomer, Sosigenes, ordered a major reform in 45 BC and the Romans endured their longest year of 445 days to bring the calendar back in step with the seasons. The solar year was calculated as 365 days and 6 hours (nearly right but actually 11? minutes longer than the solar year) and this formed the basis for the new Julian Calendar. The months were 30 or 31 days long and C?sar decreed that every fourth year would have 366 days. As this new calendar followed the seasons instead of the moon, C?sar also decreed that the year start on the lst January instead of the vernal equinox in late March.

So, did C?sar get confused with the dates when the soothsayer warned him to ?beware the ides of March??

Posted by Noviomagus at 12:06 GMT Post Comment | Permalink

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