The Calendar — our concept of cycles — Months, seasons and years

It's no exaggeration to state that all major government and business systems worldwide are run by computers. Computer processors are controlled by the master signal coming from their inbuilt clock and calendar. This calendar is the same everywhere in the world. This article provides the background on how the calendar that is used achieved such universal acceptance.

Babylonian Clock. The division of a day into 12 hours — sometimes defined as moments — an hour's division into 60 minutes, and a second division into 3600 "seconds", can be traced back to ancient times in the Middle East, with the earliest records found in Babylon (modern day Iraq). However, the length of each hour would vary according to the season. "Are there not (always) 12 hours in the day?" asked Jesus in John 11:9 regardless of the season. It is the development of mechanical clocks in the past 800 — 1000 years that has altered this situation, so that hours, minutes, seconds now refer to a fixed length of time.

Roman Calendar. And for much of Roman, in fact all history, when it came to making appointments or business contracts or any important decisions, months have had a major significance. Months were originally based on the moon cycle — new moon to new moon — i.e. 29.53 days. The 1st day of the month would start after the dark New Moon. This day was the Calends or the "Call out" as the priest used to do to indicate he had seen a thin silver crescent. This procedure can also be observed in the Middle East calendars. In China, on the other hand, the month started on the day of the dark new moon which was very clearly seen (or, rather, not seen).

Now in Rome there were initially only 10 named months in the year. First month of the year was March, the start of Spring and dedicated to Mars who was their god of war. (Soldiers preferred not to fight during winter.) This month was similar to the Jewish calendar, where the religious year also commenced in the first month of Spring, named Abib "an ear of corn" (which they later called Nisan).

Technically, inside Israel, it was the month of (or month following) the Spring Equinox, March 21, that day when hours of day and night are equal. When this Spring Equinox was due inside the month, it needed to occur prior to (or on) the 15th day, the start of Passover week. Because as well as preparing for harvest, it was also for the Jews the anniversary of the passover, when they were delivered from their enemies and celebrated becoming a nation.

Israel and 80,088 Sabbaths: Here's a paragraph for those who like figures. If we take 1535 years * (365.242 days in a solar year / 29.530589 days in a lunar month), the difference in months between the departure of the Jews on 15 Nisan in 1505 BC and the first day of the passover week when Christ was crucified on Friday, 15 Nisan in 31 AD see timeline equates to 18,985 lunar months. If we multiply those 18,985 lunar months by 29.530589 days, we obtain a figure of 560,638 days, adjusting to 560,637 days after accounting for Joshua's long day, ie 80,091 weeks, indicating that the Jews left Egypt (the world as judgment fell on them) also on a Friday. This aligns with the passage in Exodus 16 when we see the establishing of their seven day week on 15 Iyar, 4 weeks & 1 day later, Sabbath 1, with Sabbath 80,088 followed by the Lord's resurrection. There was a promise of food, quail, to be available that evening, then manna the following morning, the Sunday. And the principle of 6 days of gathering food Sunday through Friday was announced, with just the amount to be gathered that would be sufficient for the day. "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack." Exodus 16:18 also in 2 Corinthians 8:15. Any extra that was held over bred maggots and stank. A double portion was always available on the Friday to cover Saturday, a day when no work was to be done, but rather to be a rest day holiday dedicated to God. This appears to be the first practical application of a seven day week, when a whole nation was "trained" into using it as a way of life. Confirmed with the giving of the ten commandments in Exodus 20, about three weeks later.

Back to "pagan" Rome, 800 years later, their last named month was called December, signifying the start of Winter. As for the other month names: "April" was dedicated to Aphrodite — Venus, "May" was dedicated to Maia — goddess of fertility, "June", now summer, was dedicated to Juno — wife of Jupiter and queen of the gods. The remaining names were Quinctilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, December — which were the Roman numbers from five to ten. After Julius Caesar who rebuilt the calendar was deified (the year after his assassination), the month of Quinctilis was renamed as July after him in honour. His great-nephew Augustus, who announced Julius Caesar's deification and then later tidied up problems with the leap years, was honoured with the name of the next month.

So time through the year was measured with 10 named months, adding up to 295 days, with the remaining two (or three) months in a year seen as an unnamed winter gap. It was really quite awkward (from an accounting point of view) to analyse and report on payments and receipts from one group of seasons to the next. And when the sky was cloudy, even knowing when one month finished and the next one began could be difficult to tell (without the priest's say-so).

Numa Pompilius (715-673 BC) traditionally the second king of Rome, and successor to Romulus the founder of Rome — is believed to have established the months of January and February, or, according to some sources, initially February and January, in that order . January was named after their two-headed god of doorways — the doorway that looked back over the past year and forward to the new year. February closed off the year. It came from a word which meant "skins" — flayed from goats and relating to their ideas of purification as it was felt (during Winter) that the month was evil. The skins also kept you warm. He regulated the number of days in each month: 4 months of 31 days — March, May, July and October, February to have 28 days, and all the other months had 29 days. This brought the total to 355 days, with months with their individual festivals still lined up (approximately) with the phases of the moon.

The year was still a little bit short, so every now and then an extra month (called an intercalary month) was tacked at the end of February. This was similar to the 13th month that was added every few years within the Jewish calendar, as well as others such as the Chinese. In China, New Year's Day traditionally comes the second new moon after the day on which the December solstice occurs, the shortest day of the year (the day the sun’s path is furthest to the south). Due to the awkwardness of individuals having to agree on daily sunrise and sunset, the priesthood let everyone know whether the year held this extra month (or whether it didn't).

Important note — with the dispersal of the Jews worldwide, they currently follow the tactic of having 7 extra lunar months in every 19 solar year cycle, a formula which (approximately) lines up each year with the seasons, and the layout of the stars.
Check with a calculator: 235 lunar months * 29.530589 days = 6939.69 days. 19 solar years * 365.25 days = 6939.75 days (virtually identical).

Great little graphical article here on “solstices” (and equinoxes), set out for us in Australia. Some good queries, too.

A monthly reference point for the Romans was the Ides of the month (normally a full moon), which was half way through the month: "Idus — divide in 2". This became regulated as the 15th day of the month (with 31 day months), or on the 13th day (with the other months). Another reference point was on the 7th or 5th day and was called the Nones, being nine days (one Nundinae) before the Ides (counting both days inclusively). The Romans then counted down to the Ides as if launching a rocket to the moon: i.e. 8,7,6,5,4,3 — and then the day before was known as the "pridie" (pronounced pree-dee-ay). With the day after the Ides, you were counting down 17 days to the next Calends (except in February). Interestingly, our method of numbering each day of the month consecutively did not become commonplace in the West until about 1000 AD.


453 BC. In Israel it was the year Daniel had spoken of when Cyrus's decree for the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem would issue forth, followed by 69 sevens that culminated with Christ's glorious entry into Jerusalem in 31 AD.

And throughout the world, famous philosophers and teachers were beginning to impact their societies: Confucius in China, and Buddha in India. In Greece, Anaxagoras (click here to view fragments of his philosophy) was formulating that space, matter, time and mind, were infinite in scope. So compelling was this thought, influencing philosophers from Socrates Plato and Aristotle all the way down to Hegel and Marx that only in the past 100 years (click here) have scientists seriously questioned it. Back then his words had an immediate and profound effect on Greek leaders and teachers, also government administrators in Rome who were rejecting certain religious practices. These included worship of the finite moon and the need to plan appointments according to the moon's various phases.

In its place, the democratic assembly (Ecclesia) was progressively becoming a more popular form of government. Following the advent of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, a revised calendar was now published as part of the Twelve Tables, Rome's code of law. Every 2nd year in a 4 year cycle, February would be split after its 23rd day, an intercalary month of 22 days inserted, then 5 days (which included February's final festivals) placed at the end. Every 4th year February split after its 24th day, the same 22 day intercalary month inserted, then 5 days at the end. This intercalary month was called Mercedonius from the Latin word for Wages — when a worker/soldier was entitled to extra remuneration. Thus, over 4 years, each year would average 366.25 days. This establishing of a fixed four yearly cycle, based around the winter solstice and the seasons was, of course, much easier administratively for government, for tax, for business, and for all other legal purposes.

However the pontiffs ("bridge makers") who were the priests in ancient Rome, were still allowed to overrule on whether to have the intercalary month in any given year. The 4 year cycle was still about four days too long. Also, intercalation was considered unlucky and, during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), when Rome struggled against Carthage, the priests were hesitant to make any changes at all. At other times skipping it was used to push a financial or political advantage — for example, dismissing an unpopular consul sooner than expected if the intercalary month would have normally been due. Note — there were two consuls, who acted as the chief magistrates in the Republic, and these were appointed annually. Bribes could be paid, with little advance warning given. Click here for more details.

153 BC. First clear report of the appointment of the consuls on January 1st, with the first record of this day being referred to as New Year's Day (with parties and giving presents).

46 BC. With the skipping of intercalary months, January in 46 BC started in Autumn: the year was two and a half months short of where the seasons indicated it should have been. Winter hadn't even started yet. Useless, for businesses, festivals, farming (and military) purposes. Julius Caesar, chief of priests and military general now insisted on the year we now call 45BC not being allowed to start until the actual winter solstice, and its accompanying festival which followed a few days later, had passed. This festival, which Julius Caesar decreed would be the 8th day of the Calends of January, i.e. the 25th December, made 46BC a major "Annus Confusionis" — year of confusion (though many saw it as ending many years of confusion). It had 445 days, 12 standard months of 355 days, an early 23 day intercalary month in February and two additional "leap months" between November and December. He then established a standard 365 day year, alternating many of the months between 31 days and 30 days and thus cancelling that somewhat exasperating intercalary month. The priests had disliked the idea of any month (except February) having an even number of days. "Even" signified the number "2" or "Division" indicating breakdown — death. Julius Caesar, however, totally ignored these concerns. He then declared there would be an extra leap day in February that would come on February 24th every 4 years — thus Feb 24th became 2 days in one, known as the 6th of Calends of March.

About the same time, this calendar established Rome's "planetary" name for each day in the seven-day weekly cycle, naming the first day as the "Day of the Sun", based on its "planetary" hour at daybreak (click here for further background). While the naming now spread worldwide (translated into each local language), it was definitely frowned upon in Israel, also with governments in countries having later Eastern Orthodox or Muslim traditions.

But back to Julius Caesar, unfortunately in 44 BC he was assassinated, and leap years then started occurring every 3 years in error. Between 42 BC and 12 BC inclusively it appears there were 11 leap years instead of 8. His great-nephew Augustus ended up having to cancel 3 future leap years in February to fix up the problem (in 9 BC, 5 BC and 1 BC), with that last year being the year that would later be referred to as the one in which Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with the baby Jesus.

And so, from the following year that we now refer to as 1 AD, the calendar was basically fixed, ruled no longer by the moon — but by the sun, the crops, the seasons. Neither priesthood nor emperors were necessary to say how long months would be, how long a year would be, or whether to have a leap year or not. Every individual in a community would now be able to work these dates out for themselves, and be in agreement from community to community. However, the change of year number was a separate issue.

The Sun of Righteousness — The Day

Christmas week Traditionally, Friday December 25th, 2 BC to New Years Day, 1 BC when Jesus was then eight days old (note, there was no "room" provided for a year "zero" in our calendar). See further notes below.

Christ's Resurrection Sunday March 25th, 31 AD.

Click here for an account of Jesus's life and ministry between 2 BC and 31 AD, also reconciling the "three passovers" mentioned in John.

Christianity. From the earliest days of history, the year number was defined by a particular event, such as a patriarch / judge / king's reign. By the year we now call 525, the long-dead Emperor Diocletian had long become the basis of the year number. A great persecutor of the Christian church, his reign had begun 241 years previously and thus the year at that time was known as 241 AD Anno Diocletiani. But there was no longer a Roman emperor in the West, only in Istanbul in the East, at that time called Constantinople after Constantine who had established the city as his capital. (Previously the city had been named Byzantium after an ancient Greek king). And Constantine's promotion of the Christian faith meant that a change in emperor thinking seemed called for.

So, in this year a monk by the name of Dionysius declared in his first argumentum: DXXV. Isti sunt anni ab incarnatione Domini which translates as "525. These are the years since the incarnation of the Lord." He recommended — starting with the year 532 onwards — that this year number be used everywhere.

Dionysius's intention in all this was to establish a 532 year cycle for the dates in coming years for Easter Sunday, taking into account (a) the 19 year cycle containing 7 extra lunar months that enabled the Jewish lunar calendar to line up with the seasons (b) the seven day week as Easter had to occur on a Sunday, which also involved (c) the leap day rule every 4 years: 19 * 7 * 4 = 532. This cycle would enable the whole Church, wherever it was, to be able to plan on celebrating Easter on the same Sunday in the coming years (and centuries). Dionysius was working with scholarly data obtained from church councils in Alexandria in Egypt, a city famous for the vast number of scrolls held in its Royal Library. And this AD (Anno Domini) "year of the Lord" concept had long been a tradition within the Christian faith, as demonstrated in the famous Philocalus calendar of 354 AD.

However, where Philocalus based his definition of 1 AD as starting when Christ was born, Dionysius now declared it to be when Christ turned one year old, after his family had fled to Egypt. Click here for an account of the death of King Herod, almost certainly in 1 BC, or 1 AD at the latest. Secondly, the consul lists of Philocalus — see attached — stated that the crucifixion of Christ occurred in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius's reign. This 15th year commenced in September, 28 AD with the crucifixion marked as occurring early in 29 AD. Now, in Luke 3:1 John the Baptist had commenced his ministry in that 15th year, with people coming from all over Jerusalem and throughout the Judean countryside to be baptized by him. Early records indicated that Christ had had a full year of ministry, visiting Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles (about September), and the Feast of Dedication (about December). Thus this time frame was just too tight.

Instead, in Luke 3:23 it stated that Jesus had been baptized when he was beginning to be (as it were) 30 years old, i.e. at the start of 30 AD. One year of ministry and then his crucifixion and resurrection would have taken place early in 31 AD. Since the time of Irenaeus (c. 130–202), Christ's Passion has been associated with March 25th, which was in the Roman calendar, the 8th day of the Calends of April, and while it came on a Friday in 29 AD, it came on a Sunday in 31 AD.

Accordingly, click here for the evidence Dionysius's 532nd anniversary of that first Easter was set to be celebrated on that same Sunday (March 25th) in 563 AD.

But unfortunately for Dionysius, Alexandria was not the "flavour of the month" for many in Rome. His AD calculations and his Easter dates were accepted by some church councils, but did not gain favour within the general heirarchy. There was little impact for 200 years.

The Dark Ages — The Night

Islam. And during this period, in 638 AD, Umar ibn Al-Khattab, a close companion of Mohammed, established the lunar month that occurred in approx. July 622 AD as the new start of a 12 month year of 354 days which regulated time through the phases of the moon (i.e. new moon to new moon), ignoring the sun, the stars and the seasons altogether. This month became known as the first month of the year 1 AH — Anno Hegirae — Year of the Cutting of Relationships — sometimes translated as Flight. Historically, it had been the month Mohammed left the idolatrous commercial life of Mecca to go to Medina with all of his followers, and where he had established the first real Muslim "community" with its social, economic and political/military rules. A "Muslim", as it was later defined, was a believer in "Islam" — a word that means "Surrendering to the will of God" — as revealed through his prophet, Mohammed.

Within 18 months, the military campaigns were underway. In 630 AD, Mohammed returned to Mecca at the head of an army in triumph. All Arabia was then conquered, and in 632 AD, at the head of 40,000 other pilgrims he re-entered Mecca — 100 years exactly had now passed since Dionysius's year number ruling. Mohammed had transformed a pagan pilgrimage into a regular pilgrimage for all Muslims. Though Mohammed died of a violent fever in 633 AD, by military conquest his system was steadily imposed upon weak, corrupt and divided regimes. First was Mesopotamia and Syria (including Jerusalem in 637 AD) and Egypt (Alexandria fell in 642 AD), then traders spread right through Northern Africa. Persia in the east was overrun in 651 AD, followed by northern areas of India (modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan), the western provinces of China (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan) then, following Genghis Khan's counter invasion, eventually Bengal in the south east. Traders and emissaries to the rulers of Indonesia and Malaya saw the gradual establishing of sultanates, until by the year 1500 Islamic beliefs dominated one quarter of the world. But while Sicily in the west was invaded and Spain fell, they were significantly halted at Tours in France by the French King, Charles Martel, back in 732 AD.

And at that very moment, in England, a notable monk by the name of Bede in Northumbria was popularizing Dionysius's dating system through a scholarly historic work. In 731 AD he had extended the date in a reference to Caesar's invasion of Britain with the phrase "60th year before the Incarnation of the Lord" a phrase subsequently abbreviated to 60 BC — Before Christ. In the next chapter, he referred to Claudius's invasion 105 years later as the "46th year from the Incarnation of our Lord" subsequently abbreviated to 46 AD. Click here for more details. So those abbreviations left no provision for a "Zero AD", the year 1 AD (starting when Jesus actually turned one year old) was preceded by the year 1 BC, meaning Jesus was born at the start of 1 BC — an awkward development from a mathematical and visual perspective, but one that was never altered.

Also, somewhat ironically, it was later worked out that Caesar's initial invasion was in fact five years later, in 55 BC, while Claudius's invasion was in fact three years earlier, in 43 AD.

But back to Bede, at the time he was in a land with a number of kingdoms which over the years had had many different ideas about the year number, and when the year should start, and especially over which day to celebrate Easter . Sixty-seven years previously, the Christian King Oswy of Northumbria had been following the Easter dates of the Irish and Scottish monks, who had been influenced by earlier Celtic traditions. They had established an 84 year cycle which equalled, very nearly, 1039 lunar months. King Oswy's bride, Eanfled of Kent, however, had wished to follow the newer 532 year cycle from Rome. So, one standard year number made excellent sense within a community — as well as discouraging two dates for Easter yes, in 664 AD, those Roman dates had won. So Bede now popularized this Easter decision, as well as Dionysius's Anni Domini dating system, in his Ecclesiastical (i.e. Church) History of England published, as mentioned, in 731 AD.

Shortly afterwards, Charlemagne (Charles the Great) of France was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope on Christmas Day at the close of 800 AD, as he knelt in prayer in Saint Peter's Church in Rome. It was said to be to his surprise — and that had he known what was in store, he would not have come. This could well be true, the man was said to have had a deep faith in God, also believing that government should be for the benefit of the governed. This coronation was in fact to be seen as the recommencement of the Holy Roman Empire in the West. When Charlemagne learned about the work in Northumbria, he continued Bede's work by strongly supporting its general usage.

What day had been meant by "the incarnation"? This exercised a number of scholarly leadership minds, as to when to change the year number. March 25th (the Day of Annunciation which celebrated Christ's conception) gained favour with quite a few as it also highlighted Easter. In opposition to this, December 25th was the day being used and January 1st (which naturally followed Christmas week) continued to be celebrated as the New Year's Day festival, when people held parties and gave presents. All historical almanacs referred to it as such. And the leap day in February could easily be established, as it occurred in the year number that was divisible by 4. But, as a result of various influences in France and England, March 25th officially became New Year's Day in England in 1155 AD in all legal and administrative matters, with the New Year's Day festival moving to April 1st. Sometimes a date that fell between December 25th and March 24th could end up written as being in, say, the year 1602/3 to save confusion, but most documents did not use this mechanism.

Meanwhile, several European nation-states and Italian city-states continued to use Christmas Day as their New Year's Day. France used Easter Day, which meant that for them, New Year's Day changed every year. In 1522, Venice announced that it would be changing from Christmas Day to January 1st — thus shifting the date of Jesus's birth from the start of 1 BC to the last week in 2 BC. The German states followed suit in 1544. Then, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Catholic Netherlands all changed across in 1556, as did Prussia and Sweden in 1559. France, who by now were using various systems, standardized on this day in 1564.

In 1582, Pope Gregory added an extra complexity. Following centuries of discussions, he ruled that Thursday October 4th was to be followed by Friday October 15th as it had become clear that the year according to the anniversary of each winter solstice and spring equinox was not 365 days and 6 hours but about 11 or 12 minutes less. Then, to ease any future pain with people missing out on their birthdays and other anniversaries he declared no leap day in 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 2600, 2700 etc. This complicated Easter's "Spring Equinox, 14th day/full moon, and Sunday" formula settled at Nicaea in 325 AD. Click here for a fairly readable table description. The 14th day, working with Rome's Julian calendar, estimated a date just two days later in the year when we compare 563 AD (click here) with the meal with Jesus in 31 AD — in 31 that 14th day based on observation had been Thursday 22nd March, in 563 the day based on estimation was Saturday 24th March. Ok. Now with Pope Gregory's ruling, the 14th day changed to a much later date again, and by declaring an earlier Spring Equinox date, the holding of Easter a month early in many coming years was the immediate result.

Catholic Europe dropped the 10 days accordingly. Scotland standardized on January 1st in 1600, but didn't delete the 10 days, until England finally changed in 1752, bringing their American colonies into line, standardizing on January 1st for New Year's Day, and on September 3rd as being September 14th. "Give us back our 11 days" came the cry. But of course the ruling stood. All dates were revised by adding 11 days to the old date and following the new date with the phrase NS or New Style (as opposed to OS or Old Style). An example was the close of the English tax year which started March 25th 1752 (OS), it closed April 4th 1753 (NS). And after the leap day was skipped in 1800 British tax authorities (and landlords) declared it be changed again to April 5th 1800 (NS) .

Thus, through business structures and missionaries, national church structures and even an atheistic soldier/politician, China's Mao Tse Tung (on Oct 1st 1949, having strong financial and military ties to Stalin in Russia), governments have involved themselves in this issue one by one. Calendars were steadily altered to reflect a consistent worldwide approach. Thus, business, legal, and most everyday transactions now take as their sole point of reference a date that acknowledges the proclamation of Christ's kingdom — via his birth and resurrection — everywhere.

Click here for the fiscal year ending dates now used by governments, businesses, universities worldwide.

Click here to access c.txt, a script for a calendar program, which when compiled using Wordtech's Quicksilver (an old dBASE III plus 16-bit compiler), accurately displays days of the week months back to 2 BC.

Click here for simple instructions on how to download, compile and run this script. Click here for further info regarding these downloaded files.

Click here for a light hearted Christmas song