Tuesday, 7 July 2015


“Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.” - D. H.Lawrence

The pre-Roman ancient Greek calendar comprised 12 lunar months, lasting for 29 and 30 days alternately.  The Greeks were aware of the discrepancy between the lunar year and the solar year and made allowances for this through leap years, correcting the inconsistency.  The megas eniautos, or “great year” was a cycle lasting eight years of twelve months each into which were fitted an additional three months of 30 days to bring the lunar and solar years back into concord.  This practice of calculating time spread from the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi to all parts of Greece.  The Greeks regarded the sun-god Apollo as the timekeeper of the gods, this being the reason why many months’ names honoured the festivals of Apollo or of his twin sister, the moon-goddess Artemis.

The Greek lunar year began in summer, with Hecatombaeón, the month in which the great festival of Athens, the Panathenaea, was celebrated.  Other Greek city-states celebrated the main protector deity of their city in the first month of their year.  The names of the months varied accordingly in each city-state, as they commemorated festivals of particular local importance.  There are approximately 300 recorded names of pre-Roman ancient Greek months.  Ionians, Aeolians and Dorians had many names of months in common and this has been of importance in dating certain pan-Hellenic events in antiquity. The best record of the ancient Greek calendar and its festivals is that of the Athens and Attica.
The Olympic Games and the Great Panathenaea, both of which had pan-Hellenic significance, occurred every four years, which was half the great year.  The importance of the Olympics led to certain events being remembered in the context of the “so-and-so Olympiad”, which also had the advantage of being of pan-Hellenic time-keeping relevance and was therefore independent of regional calendrical differences.  The ancient Greek months of the Attic year are given in the table below, where they are correlated with the months of the Gregorian year.

When the Romans conquered Greece they imposed the Julian calendar on the Greeks.  The Greek calendar was still used, however, to calculate the occurrence of local religious festivals.  The Julian Calendar completely ousted the Greek calendar in Hellenistic times.  In Byzantine times the ancient Greek calendar was entirely forgotten and the Julian calendar became entrenched because of the continuing ties with Rome and the Christian tradition.

The photo above is “Apollo served by the Nymphs” by François Girardon (March 17, 1628 – September 1, 1715).

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