All the measures are not identical, but those in most common use are so; among liquid measures the -congius- or -chus-, the -sextarius-, and the -cyathus-, the two last also for dry goods; the Roman -amphora- was equalized in water-weight to the Attic talent, and at the same time stood to the Greek --metretes-- in the fixed ratio of 3:2, and to the Greek --medimnos-- of 2:1. To one who can decipher the significance of such records, these names and numerical proportions fully reveal the activity and importance of the intercourse between the Sicilians and the Latins. The Greek numeral signs were not adopted; but the Roman probably availed himself of the Greek alphabet, when it reached him, to form ciphers for 50 and 1000, perhaps also for 100, out of the signs for the three aspirated letters which he had no use for. In Etruria the sign for 100 at least appears to have been obtained in a similar way. Afterwards, as usually happens, the systems of notation among the two neighbouring nations became assimilated by the adoption in substance of the Roman system in Etruria.

The Italian Calendar Before The Period Of Greek Influence In Italy

In like manner the Roman calendar--and probably that of the Italians generally--began with an independent development of its own, but subsequently came under the influence of the Greeks. In the division of time the returns of sunrise and sunset, and of the new and full moon, most directly arrest the attention of man; and accordingly the day and the month, determined not by cyclic calculation but by direct observation, were long the exclusive measures of time. Down to a late age sunrise and sunset were proclaimed in the Roman market-place by the public crier, and in like manner it may be presumed that in earlier times, at each of the four phases of the moon, the number of days that would elapse from that phase until the next was proclaimed by the priests. The mode of reckoning therefore in Latium--and the like mode, it may be presumed, was in use not merely among the Sabellians, but also among the Etruscans--was by days, which, as already mentioned, were counted not forward from the phase that had last occurred, but backward from that which was next expected; by lunar weeks, which varied in length between 7 and 8 days, the average length being 7 3/8; and by lunar months which in like manner were sometimes of 29, sometimes of 30 days, the average duration of the synodical month being 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes. For some time the day continued to be among the Italians the smallest, and the month the largest, division of time. It was not until afterwards that they began to distribute day and night respectively into four portions, and it was much later still when they began to employ the division into hours; which explains why even stocks otherwise closely related differed in their mode of fixing the commencement of day, the Romans placing it at midnight, the Sabellians and the Etruscans at noon. No calendar of the year had, at least when the Greeks separated from the Italians, as yet been organized, for the names for the year and its divisions in the two languages have been formed quite independently of each other. Nevertheless the Italians appear to have already in the pre-Hellenic period advanced, if not to the arrangement of a fixed calendar, at any rate to the institution of two larger units of time. The simplifying of the reckoning according to lunar months by the application of the decimal system, which was usual among the Romans, and the designation of a term of ten months as a "ring" (-annus-) or complete year, bear in them all the traces of a high antiquity. Later, but still at a period very early and undoubtedly previous to the operation of Greek influences, the duodecimal system (as we have already stated) was developed in Italy, and, as it derived its very origin from the observation of the fact that the solar period was equal to twelve lunar periods, it was certainly applied in the first instance to the reckoning of time. This view accords with the fact that the individual names of the months--which can only have originated after the month was viewed as part of a solar year--particularly those of March and of May, were similar among the different branches of the Italian stock, while there was no similarity between the Italian names and the Greek. It is not improbable therefore that the problem of laying down a practical calendar which should correspond at once to the moon and the sun--a problem which may be compared in some sense to the quadrature of the circle, and the solution of which was only recognized as impossible and abandoned after the lapse of many centuries--had already employed the minds of men in Italy before the epoch at which their contact with the Greeks began; these purely national attempts to solve it, however, have passed into oblivion.

The Oldest Italo-Greek Calendar

What we know of the oldest calendar of Rome and of some other Latin cities--as to the Sabellian and Etruscan measurement of time we have no traditional information--is decidedly based on the oldest Greek arrangement of the year, which was intended to answer both to the phases of the moon and to the seasons of the solar year, constructed on the assumption of a lunar period of 29 1/2 days and a solar period of 12 1/2 lunar months or 368 3/4 days, and on the regular alternation of a full month or month of thirty days with a hollow month or month of twenty-nine days and of a year of twelve with a year of thirteen months, but at the same time maintained in some sort of harmony with the actual celestial phenomena by arbitrary curtailments and intercalations. It is possible that this Greek arrangement of the year in the first instance came into use among the Latins without undergoing any alteration; but the oldest form of the Roman year which can be historically recognized varied from its model, not indeed in the cyclical result nor yet in the alternation of years of twelve with years of thirteen months, but materially in the designation and in the measuring off of the individual months.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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