The times, they are a changin' - Time changes used to be worse

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Julius Caesar changed the calendar
By Sandi Gorin

As I write this, I’m reminding myself to set the clocks back an hour as Daylight Savings time has ended for the year in most of the U.S. But, even more confusing when doing research .. what day is it?

Calendars have changed a multitude of times with different ones used in different countries. If we’re trying to trace back in our family tree, we might get totally lost trying to date an event. Not always did our own American calendars match what we use today. This is part 1 of a 2 part series on dates – not the edible variety or the boy and girl go out together – just dates on a calendar.

Have you run across those dreaded “double dates”? Was the date shown an “iffy” date when shown as 1732/3? In my early researching years, I thought it meant something could have happened in 1732 OR possibly in 1733. No. I’ll explain later.

Thinking back to the earlier days, we must remember that many people couldn’t read, many didn’t have calendars … that’s why they weren’t even sure of the date of their birth!

Let’s go backward in time for a minute and see how this calendar mess actually started. Let’s start with those old Egyptians who left all their graffiti on burial place walls. They computed their years based on a star named Sirius. The year began when good old Sirius rose at the same place as the sun. They then developed a solar calendar. It at least had 365 days and they divided it into 12 30-day months plus five days for their religious festivals.

Then came the Greeks. They developed a lunar calendar called the Metonic calendar. Now their calendar was based on 235 lunar months or almost 19 solar years. Confused yet? But, to get everything to work out correctly, they added an additional month which was added in the years 3,5,8,11,13,16 and 19. This calendar was then modified many times.

Let’s scoot over to the Romans. It originally began with the first month of the year based on the vernal equinox and was only 10 months long! Those months, some of which will sound familiar, were Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quntilis, Sextilis, September, October, November and December. But, this only came out to 304 days, not 365. So, they tacked on another month with no name but just called “Winter.” A Roman emperor named Numa Pompilius kicked in February and January which fell between December and March. Aha, now their calendar was 354 or 355 days. We’re getting closer.

Enter Julius Caesar. He didn’t think much of the calendar so he made some executive changes. In 46 BC (give or take of course), he changed the calendar into 3-yr cycles of 365 days with a 366-day leap year. They celebrated New Years’ Day on March 21st . He must have been thrilled when people called it the Julian Calendar. We’re getting there!

Time passes. It is now 1582 and oops, the calendar had “slipped.” It was 11 days off. So, Pope Gregory XII issued a degree making the day after October 4th , 1582 to suddenly become October 15th . I wonder if people slept through those 11 missing days? Now, not to be outdone, this calendar was named the Gregorian Calendar.

All is well, right? Well, not exactly. France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, being Catholic countries, immediately adopted the Gregorian Calendar. It took 2 years before the German countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland followed suit and it took until 1587 before Hungary joined in. So in between those years, it wasn’t the same year in all those countries.

What about the Protestant German countries though? They waited until the year 1700! But, by then, the calendar was behind the seasons again, now by 12 days. England jumped in in 1752 using the Gregorian Calendar. But, it appears that Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. Another fast passage of time for the English.


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