Thursday, February 29, 2024

The year with 445 days and 15 months


I was amused to read an article at the BBC's Web site about calendar reforms in ancient Rome.

To tame a hopelessly disorganised Roman calendar, Julius Caesar added months, took them away, and invented leap years. But the whole grand project was almost thwarted by a basic counting mistake.

It was confusing enough when the harvest celebrations kept arriving in the middle of spring. It was the 1st Century BC and, according to ritual, there ought to be ripe vegetables ready for eating. But to any farm labourer looking around in the field, it was clear there would be many months before the harvest.

The problem was the early Roman calendar, which had become so unruly that crucial annual festivals bore increasingly little resemblance to what was going on in the real world.

This nonsensical system was something Julius Caesar wanted to fix. It was no small feat: the task was to heave the Roman Empire onto a calendar aligned with both the rotation of the Earth on its axis (a day), and its orbit of the Sun (a year).

Caesar's answer gave us the longest year in history, added months to the calendar, took them away, anchored the calendar to the seasons, and brought us the leap year. It was a grand project – and it was almost derailed by a peculiar quirk of Roman maths.

Welcome to 46BC, better known as the Year of Confusion.

There's more at the link.  Entertaining and informative reading.

I've always been entertained by how various human societies have classified time, and tried to account for its passing in culturally meaningful ways.  There have been all sorts of weird misunderstandings about time, confusing human accounting of it with the real thing.  Obviously, when a second, or a minute, or an hour passes, that amount of time has actually gone by.  It matters not whether we call it by those names, or rename those periods a thingumajig, a doohickey and a watchamacallit.  The time still passes.  We could claim that an hour contains 100 minutes instead of 60.  So what?  The time will still pass, no matter what label or measurement we put on it.  Time doesn't care.  However, many people can't think in those terms, and become very uncomfortable when the measurement of time changes.

That's alleged to have been the cause of the "calendar riots" in Britain in 1752.  They may be more legend than reality, but the changeover of the calendar did lead to some controversy.

Before 1752, Britain and her Empire followed the Julian calendar, first implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 BC However this calendar had an inbuilt error of 1 day every 128 years, due to a miscalculation of the solar year by 11 minutes. This affected the date of Easter, traditionally observed on March 21, as it began to move further away from the spring equinox with each passing year.

To get over this problem, the Gregorian calendar was introduced. This is a solar calendar, based on a 365-day year divided into 12 months. Each month consists of either 30 or 31 days with one month, February, consisting of 28 days. A leap year every 4 years adds an extra day to February making it 29 days long.

. . .

Its introduction was not straightforward. It meant that the year 1751 was a short year, lasting just 282 days from 25th March (New Year in the Julian calendar) to 31st December. The year 1752 then began on 1 January.

There remained the problem of aligning the calendar in use in England with that in use in Europe. It was necessary to correct it by 11 days: the ‘lost days’. It was decided that Wednesday 2nd September 1752 would be followed by Thursday 14th September 1752.

. . .

It is also true that when the British government decided to alter the calendar and skip these 11 days, many people mistakenly believed that their lives would be shortened by 11 days. People were also unhappy and suspicious at the moving of saint’s days and holy days, including the date of Easter. Many people also objected to the imposition of what they saw as a ‘popish’ calendar.

. . .

Not everyone was unhappy about the new calendar. According to W.M. Jamieson in his book, ‘Murders Myths and Monuments of North Staffordshire’, there is a tale about one William Willett of Endon. Always keen on a joke, he apparently wagered that he could dance non-stop for 12 days and 12 nights. On the evening of September 2nd 1752, he started to jig around the village and continued all through the night. The next morning, September 14th by the new calendar, he stopped dancing and claimed his bets!

Again, more at the link.

I get the feeling that many of our politicians would happily make every year last 445 days, if it meant they could cling to power that much longer before having to fight another election!



Michael said...

Interesting, the Aztec Priesthood made a living telling the farmers when to plant and when the seasonal rains were coming.

Gardeners and farmers need a reliable calendar to plan for the seed starting, transplants and such to avoid late and early frosts.

NobobyExpects said...

When Protestant science lagged behind because they did not want to accept a Popish innovation.

Russia was worse still...

heresolong said...

I like the Tolkienan calendar. Twelve months of 30 days plus 5 holidays that don't have dates, just names. Every four years another one day holiday to account for the leap year.

Uncle Lar said...

A leap year occurs every year divisible by four. Except that the adjustment is not perfect so every year divisible by 100 February 29 is skipped.
And let's not even get into how the US gubmint moved their fiscal year by 3 months so for book keeping purposes the Federal New Year starts October first. The reason for the shift was actually to give congress an additional 3 months to determine a budget as prior to 1974 the Federal fiscal year began on July 01. During a brief stint as technical advisor to the Comptroller at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center this factored into all our budget calculations, fun times.

RCPete said...

There was further tweaking. Remember that 2000 was also a leap year, though I don't recall the algorithm that adjusts the 100 year exemptions. As memory serves, a year consists of 365.2422 days, so there's going to be some fiddling necessary.

Eric said...

I’ve heard a far more prosaic explanation for the calendar riots: rent was charged monthly, and people were rioting because they had two weeks to earn a month’s rent.

Rick T said...

Leap year every 4 years that aren't divisible by 100, but a year divisible by 400 IS a leap year. That was part of the Y2K problem, it wasn't just about using 2 digit years and flagging 00 as an error value in computer codes.

We were discussing checking fax machines for compliance, and I asked why we are bothering? If the date is wrong reset it on the 29th.... No need to do hours of testing or purchase new machines for a once in 400 year event.

Anonymous said...

The problem is human centric.
God set the universe in motion. The heavens, stars, sun, moon in display of divine order.

Ben Yalow said...

Consider the complications involved in the modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar.

It's basically a lunar calendar, since holidays are tied to certain days of the month (and, originally, months were declared when people saw the new moon, and reported it to the Temple -- now it's done on a calendar basis). And months are 29 or 30 days, since that's a lunar month. But that doesn't work for matching a solar year, and the holidays aren't supposed to drift in the solar year. But 12 months only gives a 354 day year.

So, in leap years, an extra month is added. With 7 leap years in a 19 year cycle.

And, for religious reasons, certain holidays can't fall on certain days of the week. So some months can be 29 or 30 days, as needed to keep the days from falling into prohibited positions. So a year can actually be 353 or 355 days, as well as the usual 354, depending on whether or not a month had to be adjusted by a day. Add 30 days if it's a leap year.

It's complicated, but more accurate than the Julian calendar (although less accurate than the Gregorian one).

I'm ignoring the month numbering situation -- the start of the year for religious purposes is different from the "creation of the world" start of the year for civil purposes. So the Rosh Hashonnah (New Year's day) is the first day of the seventh month.