The Roman year began with the beginning of spring; the first month in it and the only one which bears the name of a god, was named from Mars (-Martius-), the three following from sprouting (-aprilis-) growing (-maius-), and thriving (-iunius-), the fifth onward to the tenth from their ordinal numbers (-quinctilis-, -sextilis-, -september-, -october-, -november-, -december), the eleventh from commencing (-ianuarius-),(8) with reference presumably to the renewal of agricultural operations that followed midwinter and the season of rest, the twelfth, and in an ordinary year the last, from cleansing (-februarius-). To this series recurring in regular succession there was added in the intercalary year a nameless "labour-month" (-mercedonius-) at the close of the year, viz. after February. And, as the Roman calendar was independent as respected the names of the months which were probably taken from the old national ones, it was also independent as regarded their duration. Instead of the four years of the Greek cycle, each composed of six months of 30 and six of 29 days and an intercalary month inserted every second year alternately of 29 and 30 days (354 + 384 + 354 + 383 = 1475 days), the Roman calendar substituted four years, each containing four months--the first, third, fifth, and eighth--of 31 days and seven of 29 days, with a February of 28 days during three years and of 29 in the fourth, and an intercalary month of 27 days inserted every second year (355 + 383 + 355 + 382 = 1475 days). In like manner this calendar departed from the original division of the month into four weeks, sometimes of 7, sometimes of 8 days; it made the eight-day-week run on through the years without regard to the other relations of the calendar, as our Sundays do, and placed the weekly market on the day with which it began (-noundinae-). Along with this it once for all fixed the first quarter in the months of 31 days on the seventh, in those of 29 on the fifth day, and the full moon in the former on the fifteenth, in the latter on the thirteenth day. As the course of the months was thus permanently arranged, it was henceforth necessary to proclaim only the number of days lying between the new moon and the first quarter; thence the day of the newmoon received the name of "proclamation-day" (-kalendae-). The first day of the second section of the month, uniformly of 8 days, was--in conformity with the Roman custom of reckoning, which included the -terminus ad quem- --designated as "nine-day" (-nonae-). The day of the full moon retained the old name of -idus- (perhaps "dividing-day"). The motive lying at the bottom of this strange remodelling of the calendar seems chiefly to have been a belief in the salutary virtue of odd numbers;(9) and while in general it is based on the oldest form of the Greek year, its variations from that form distinctly exhibit the influence of the doctrines of Pythagoras, which were then paramount in Lower Italy, and which especially turned upon a mystic view of numbers. But the consequence was that this Roman calendar, clearly as it bears traces of the desire that it should harmonize with the course both of sun and moon, in reality by no means so corresponded with the lunar course as did at least on the whole its Greek model, while, like the oldest Greek cycle, it could only follow the solar seasons by means of frequent arbitrary excisions, and did in all probability follow them but very imperfectly, for it is scarcely likely that the calendar would be handled with greater skill than was manifested in its original arrangement. The retention moreover of the reckoning by months or--which is the same thing--by years of ten months implies a tacit, but not to be misunderstood, confession of the irregularity and untrustworthiness of the oldest Roman solar year. This Roman calendar may be regarded, at least in its essential features, as that generally current among the Latins. When we consider how generally the beginning of the year and the names of the months are liable to change, minor variations in the numbering and designations are quite compatible with the hypothesis of a common basis; and with such a calendar-system, which practically was irrespective of the lunar course, the Latins might easily come to have their months of arbitrary length, possibly marked off by annual festivals--as in the case of the Alban months, which varied between 16 and 36 days. It would appear probable therefore that the Greek --trieteris-- had early been introduced from Lower Italy at least into Latium and perhaps also among the other Italian stocks, and had thereafter been subjected in the calendars of the several cities to further subordinate alterations.

For the measuring of periods of more than one year the regnal years of the kings might have been employed: but it is doubtful whether that method of dating, which was in use in the East, occurred in Greece or Italy during earlier times. On the other hand the intercalary period recurring every four years, and the census and lustration of the community connected with it, appear to have suggested a reckoning by -lustra- similar in plan to the Greek reckoning by Olympiads--a method, however, which early lost its chronological significance in consequence of the irregularity that now prevailed as to the due holding of the census at the right time.

Introduction Of Hellenic Alphabets Into Italy

The art of expressing sounds by written signs was of later origin than the art of measurement. The Italians did not any more than the Hellenes develop such an art of themselves, although we may discover attempts at such a development in the Italian numeral signs,(10) and possibly also in the primitive Italian custom--formed independently of Hellenic influence--of drawing lots by means of wooden tablets. The difficulty which must have attended the first individualizing of sounds--occurring as they do in so great a variety of combinations--is best demonstrated by the fact that a single alphabet propagated from people to people and from generation to generation has sufficed, and still suffices, for the whole of Aramaic, Indian, Graeco-Roman, and modern civilization; and this most important product of the human intellect was the joint creation of the Aramaeans and the Indo-Germans.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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