History of Calendars in Antiquity

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A calendar is a method of organizing days. This is performed by giving names to periods, typically years, months, weeks, and days. A date is the classification of a single, precise day within such a system. A calendar is also a physical record of such a system.

In Antiquity, the actual evolution of the calendar began. It is older than you think, so let’s explore it in our today’s history article.


Although the oldest evidence of Iranian calendrical traditions is from the second millennium BC, predating the arrival of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, the first known fully maintained calendar is that of the Achaemenids. Throughout documented history, Persians have been keen on the concept and value of having a calendar. They were among one of the first cultures to use a solar calendar and have long advocated a solar over lunar and lunisolar approaches.

Classical Greece

As early as Homer’s time, the Greeks appear to have been familiar with the year’s distribution into the twelve lunar months. Still, no intercalary month Embolimos or day is then introduced. Independent of the division of a single month into days, it was split into periods according to the decrease and increase of the moon. Thus, the new moon or first day was called Noumenia. The month in which the year started and the names of the months technically differed among the states, and in some parts, even no known names existed for months, as they were identified only numerically, as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th month, and so on.

Ancient India

Timekeeping was relevant to Vedic rituals, and Jyotisha was the Vedic-era field of predicting and tracking the movements of astronomical bodies to keep time, to fix the time and day of these rituals, which were developed around the top of the 2nd millennium BCE as mentioned in Sathapatha Brahmana. This study was one of the six old Vedangas or ancillary science linked with the Vedas – the scriptures of Hinduism, which was quoted by 5th-century BCE scholar Yaska. The early extant text on Jyotisha is the Vedanga-Jyotisha, which survives in two editions, one linked to Yajurveda and the other to Rigveda. Indian-Hindus was the earliest civilization to discuss how to use the sun, planet, and moon movement to keep calendar and time.

Roman Empire

The ancient Roman year had three zero four days divided into ten months, starting with March. However, famous historian Livy gave credit to the second early Roman king Numa Pompilius for creating a calendar of 12 months. The extra months Februarius and Ianuarius had been invented, perhaps by Numa Pompilius, as stop-gaps. Julius Caesar discerned that the system had become inoperable, so he affected radical changes in the year of his third consulship. The New Year in 709 AUC started on 1 January and ran over 365 days until 31 December. Further modifications were performed under Augustus, who founded the “leap year” concept in 757 AUC (AD 4).

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