This is a big shout out to Calendars everywhere. We take them for granted, but without them life would be chaos. What a fuss I made of the new year in my last blog, this arbitrary turning axis of time, this bridge between years as dictated by something as random as the Gregorian calendar. Pope Gregory XIII introduced it in 1582, hence the name. Gregory made a refinement on the Julian calendar, which was developed by Julius Caesar (hence the name, again). Pope Gregory added 0.002% to the year to count for the fact that a year is in fact 365 and a bit days long, not 365 days as Julius had suggested. Gregory invented leap years basically, and so if you were born on February 29th, you have him to thank.
Julius had introduced his calendar in 46BC, which is bizarre, as I very much doubt he knew about the impending birth of Christ at the time. Julius had refined the Roman calendar, of which there were many, the original dating back to Romulus in 753BC. Respect goes out to Romulus for such an initiative, but to be fair his calendar was a bit rubbish, with only 10 months in total, beginning the year in March which is so wrong it’s embarrassing. Even small children know the year starts in January. He actually just missed out the first two months and only had 304 days in his calendar, so there was an actual gap between the end of one year and the beginning of another. Romulus may have founded Rome but his calendar skills were sorely lacking.
I often wonder how calendars ever came about in the first place if no one had any concept of calendars, and so here’s how I think the whole calendar thing played out (in my head).
Thousands of years ago …
Someone amongst a crowd: What day is it?
Everyone else: What? What do you mean? Are you mad? And what on earth is a ‘day’?
Someone: It’s just that, every time I wake up it feels and looks like a repeating pattern, that’s what I mean by a ‘day’, and yet every ‘day’ feels slightly different, but it seems to go full circle – a bunch of warm days, then it gets chilly, then really cold, then it warms up again, and then it starts all over.
Everyone else: Wow. So you’re saying there are repeating cycles within longer repeating cycles, so ‘days’ form part of a longer repeating cycle?
Someone: Hell yeah, I call that longer cycle a ‘year’.
Everyone else: What’s your name?
Everyone else: You’re a genius, you should write that stuff down
Some immeasurable period of time later…
Romulus: I’ve done it! here it is The Romulus Calendar!
Everyone else: You named it after yourself? That’s a little bit egotistical isn’t it?
Romulus: Well I’m not going to call it the Kevin calendar now am I?
Everyone else (looking at each other and nodding): Fair point. So how does it work?
Romulus: The Romulus calendar consists of 304 days, with the winter days after the end of December and before the beginning of the following March not being assigned to any month.
Everyone else: That’s a bit shit isn’t it? Did you just get bored?
Romulus: It’s actually quite complicated. I hate you lot.
Everyone else: Hahaha!! Boo! Rubbish! Gerroff!!
40 years later …
Numa Pompilius: Why are we still using the shitty Romulus calendar? It’s really frustrating. I was born in the dark days of winter for which the calendar has missing bits and so I can’t easily celebrate my birthday. 304 days is really rubbish.
Everyone else: It’s all we’ve got, Romulus was a moron.
Numa: I’m going to make another then
Everyone else: Hurray!!
A while later …
Numa: I’ve done it!
Everyone else: At last! show us!
Numa: OK, so there were 51 previously unallocated winter days, to which I’ve added the six days from the reductions in the days in the months, making a total of 57 days and put these into two brand new months, January and February, which I added to the previous 10 months. January has 29 days, while February has 28 days, making a regular year (of 12 lunar months) 355 days long in place of the previous 304 days of the crappy Romulus calendar!
Everyone else: Wow, that seems much better, good work fella, presumably you named it after yourself?
Numa: I called it the Calendar of Numa
Everyone else: So you did then. Typical
A person in the crowd: Hang on though Numa, it doesn’t quite match with the solar year does it? It’s still going to get out of sync over time. Better than Romulus did I grant you, but it’s still a bit short and therefore a bit shit isn’t it?
Numa: A bit short? A solar year? Wtf? I have to go, I’m a king and therefore very busy. I hate you.
Several years later …
Julius Caesar: I’ve done it!
Everyone else: Done what?
Julius Caesar: Fixed that dodgy Numa calendar by adding in a few more days
Everyone else: Finally! It took you long enough, about 650 years in fact.
Joker: Or 700 years using Numa’s shitty calendar! (high fives all round)
Everyone else: Let’s guess, you called it the Julius calendar?
Julius Caesar: Errr no … actually … it’s the Julian calendar!
A person in the crowd: It still doesn’t quite work, there’s still a 0.002% inaccuracy that over time will really piss people off.
Julius Caesar: Wtf? I have to go, I’m busy, I have an Empire to rule and I fitted this into my spare time. I hate you all.
Several years later …
Pope Gregory XIII: Sorted! I’ve fixed Julius Caesar’s bug-ridden calendar which was created in 46BC by ingeniously adding an extra day to February every fourth year. I call this a leap year, a fine day for getting married methinks.
A person in the crowd: Hang on, how can a year be referred to as BC, Before Christ, when Christ hadn’t yet been born or even known about? Or did they know when He was going to be born before it happened? Was His arrival pre ordained?
Gregory: Ah well, as the Pope I know this. You see, the Anno Domini dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exignus. His system replaced the Diocletian era that had been used previously. The last year of the old table, Diocletian 247, was immediately followed by the first year of this table, AD 532. Thus, Dionysius implied that Jesus’ Incarnation occurred 525 years earlier, without stating the specific year during which his birth or conception occurred. So in fact they didn’t refer to BC back then, but rather the Diocletian equivalent.
The person in the crowd (feeling rather sheepish): Blimey, thanks, I bet you’re a riot at parties Greg. But thanks for the calendar, it really works!