The Roman Rustic Calendar

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The Roman Rustic Calendar

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:52 pm

Salvete Sodales

Before Rome adopted its civil calendar of 304 BCE that was based upon the religious lunar calendar kept by the Pontifices, Romans relied on a sidereal calendar. Unlike the later civil calendar that began in March, the civil calendar of the Early Republic began in September with the commemoration of the dedication of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill. Still later, another reform moved the beginning of the year to 1 January. Julius Caesar later reformed that civil calendar when he introduced a solar calendar for civil use. Caesar wrote a book to explain his reform by referring to the sidereal calendar, which was still in use in rural areas, rather than to the religious or former civil calendars.

The rustic calendar followed the sidereal cycle; that is, the observable risings and settings of various stars. The sidereal cycle is not quite the same as the solar cycle. However it is much more accurate, and predicable, for determining the seasons and coinciding with the Roman agricultural cycle. In earlier times this agricultural cycle had been based on winter wheat, and thus the agricultural cycle began in autumn. Another rustic calendar was introduced with viticulture and the introduction of olives and summer wheat. Cato's De Agricultura, written in the second century, relied on this later rustic calendar. Our knowledge of the earlier rustic calendar comes from Varro's De Re Rustica, Virgil's Georgic I, and Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, Book 18 On Agriculture along with Columella's De Re Rustica.

The New Year of the rustic calendar was celebrated with the New Moon before the autumnal equinox. That is, on the Ides of September. This was the traditional date on which the Capitolium had been dedicated by Consul Marcus Horatius [shameles plug :lol: ] in AUC 242 (509 BCE) at the beginning of the Roman Republic. The year was divided into eight half-seasons. Autumn lasted from the setting of Lyra (8 Aug) to the Autumn Equinox, and then on to the rise of the Vergiliae (Pleiades) around 11 November. Winter was then divided from the rise of the Vergiliae to the Winter Solstice on 25 Dec. and from then to the arrival of spring winds, Favonius, at the culmination of Sirius on 11 Feb. Spring began with the westerly winds of Favonius until the Vernal Equinox, and then on to the setting of the Pleiades around 10 May. Summer lasted from this time to the Summer Solstice on 24 June and then to the rise of the Dog Star, Sirius, in early August. The Robigalia, initiated in 238 BCE, occurred on 25 August. Ovid mentioned its counterpart as a Robigalia occurring on 25 April. Ovid posed Sirius as rising in April, when it was actually setting as an evening star. Pliny placed the Robigalia and the rising of Sirius on 11 August, and as early as 18 July, where he seems to confuse Procyon (Canicula) with Sirius the Dog Star. The different signs for the end of summer and the beginning of autumn overlapped by a few days, which was also the case with some of the other seasonal divisions.

These seasonal divisions were further divided into irregular periods of a number of days. The rustic calendar itself did not have months, but the Romans also noted the lunar months of the religious calendar alongside the rustic calendar. Instead, the rising and setting of particular stars set off periods that were comparable to weeks. These were later standardized into nunidae of eight days, each ending with a market day. But the original observances, it would seem, had more to do with forecasting general weather patterns and organizing labor accordingly. Over the course of two thousand years, the dates on which these stars rise and set are different today from what the Romans knew. However, by looking at Pliny, Virgil, and Ovid's Fasti we know which risings and settings were used in the Roman rustic calendar, and the dates on which they fell roughly two-thousand years ago. The Roman rustic calendar thus looked something like the following.

13 Sept. The rustic New Year: The Ides of September, dies natalis Capitolium, and the Hammering of the Nail. When one half of Arcturus is risen, and the swallows have departed, it is "portentous of boisterous weather for five days on land and sea."

18 Sept Rise of Spica in Virgo when the Etesian winds cease

24 Sept Autumn Equinox, "When the Scales now poising fair the hours of sleep and day give half the world to sunshine, half to shade, then urge your bulls, my masters; sow the plain even to the verge of tameless winter’s showers with barley."

28 Sept. Rise of the She-Goat, followed by the rise of her Kids on the following evening

5 Oct Corona Borealis rises, "But if it be for wheaten harvest and the hardy spelt, tax the soil now, to corn ears wholly given, let Atlas' Daughters hide them in the dawn, the Cretan star, a crown of fire, depart."

10 Oct. Rise of Vegiliae (Pleiades), and beginning of the rainy season.

16 Oct Rise of the Suculae (Hyades)

2-12 Nov. Arcturus, then the rest of Bootes sets, "If the vetch and common kidney bean you would sow, nor scorn to make your care Pelusiac lentils, no uncertain sign Bootes fall will send you."

11 Nov. Vergiliae sets, "Then, too, is it time to hide your flax within the earth, and poppy, Ceres' joy, aye, more than time to bend above the plough, while earth, yet dry, forbids not."

25 Dec. Winter Solstice

3 Jan Setting of Cancer just before dawn

5 Jan. "The rain pelting from black storm clouds will signal the nones, as Lyra rises."

23 Jan "Lyra will shine nowhere in the sky."

24 Jan. Rise of Rigel in the evening marks the feriae Sementivae, "This day’s appointed; why search the fasti for moveable rites?"

2 Feb. Setting of the Dolphin

11 Feb Culmination of Sirius, arrival of Favonius, and the beginning of spring, "with spring comes bean sowing."

14 Feb. Rise of Corvus, Anguis, and Crater

5 Mar. Setting of Bootes and the Vindemitor

8 Mar. Rise of Corona

16 Mar. Scorpio begins to rise

25 March Vernal Equinox

2 April Setting of the Vergiliae (Pleiades)

8 April Setting of Libra

17 April Setting of the Suculae (Hyades) announces four days of bad weather in succession. The Suculae then become the Parilicium (Hyades) as this day is observed as the natal day of the City of Rome, and also when fine weather generally returns.

28 April Orion and the Dog Star are wholly set, "the crumbling furrows then receive, and millet’s annual care returns."

2 May The Suculae rise in the morning

8 May The She-Goat rises in the morning to announce rain.

10 May The rising of the Vergiliae

11 May Morning rising of Arcturus

13 May Rising of Lyre

21 May Evening setting of the She-Goat

2 June Aquila rises in the evening

7 June Arcturus sets in the morning

10 June The Dolphin rises in the evening

24 June The Summer Solstice

26 June Setting of Lyra

4 July Rising of Canicula (Procyon)

18 July Rising of Sirius

23 July Setting of Aquila and arrival of Etesian winds

30 July Rigel rises in Leo

8 Aug. The Lyre, by its setting, opens the autumn

12 Aug Rise of Pegasus and setting of the Dolphin
"If showers prevail at the setting of the Dolphin, they will not cease so long as Arcturus is visible."

4 Sept. Midnight setting of Corona Borealis

9 Sept. The She-goat rises in the evening
M Horatius Piscinus

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