Given all the depressive stuff involving the Tallbloke raid and discovering massive amounts of TAX money being used by international forces to, basically, abuse the taxpayer and steal there liberties, maybe it’s time for a little lighter distraction. Just for a moment…
As it is Sunday (at least where I am), it’s a day of rest. It’s also a day folks think about Christ. We even base our calendar system off of the implied date of birth of Christ. (Yes, even all those neo-prudes who want to use BCE as ‘before the common era’ but keep it the same dates as BC ‘before Christ’… BTW, the present Evangelical payback for that PC stunt of redefinition is to just call BCE “before the Christian Era”… and CE becomes the “Christian Era”. Yes, lots of folks can play the ‘redefinition game’ ;-) But just WHEN was Christ born?
Turns out this is not as simple to figure out as you might imagine.
Even more surprising, the folks who most likely have it right are the Ethiopians.
What? I mean Why? Ethiopia?
So I was hunting around looking to learn how the ancient Egyptian calendar worked. Along the way discovering that there are dozens of calendar systems (you would think we could agree on what day it is, but no, that is not ‘settled science’…) That kind of “dig there” often leads to other threads… Which I pull (how can anyone NOT pull a loose thread? ;-) Which leads to scratching some other long lost itch..
Ethiopia has a fascinating and very long history. Even though it is somewhat impoverished today, it has at times been part of the Egyptian Empire. Occasionally the more important part of it. It has also had an important role in the preservation of ancient Christianity. They have one of the oldest attested Bibles and they have a mythology that The Arc Of The Covenant was sent there when the Romans were busy doing what Romans do to other cultures: destruction and mayhem until submission. (Something to keep in mind as the New Roman Empire forms in Brussels – The European Union). It was a cultural isolate of sorts when the Muslim Invasions were trying to convert Europe to Islam via the sword, and it was in a nice warm place during the Little Ice Age AND during The Dark Ages.
Nothing like being an uninteresting backwater in a place that’s too hot and dry most of the time, but just right when everyone else is collapsing in the cold, to let you hang onto your history. Or, in this case, OUR history.
In any case, I’ve now added “Learn more about Ethiopian History” to my infinite list of Things To Do, that never quite gets done…
The Ethiopians have, despite massive pressures from The West, just gone on about the job of being Ethiopians. They have seen all this before. Things get a bit warm and Yet Another Crazy Empire from up north somewhere tries to sell them a new bill of goods. Some new fangled gizmo of cultural glitz. These guys will sort of accept it for some things, but don’t really let it move in and take up residence. Rather like the USA and the metric system.. Give it a couple of thousand years and THEN, if it’s still around, we’ll consider it…
So Ethiopia has it’s own alphabet (that isn’t really an alphabet, it’s a syllabic based system called an abugida that started as an abjad, that is similar to Arabic or Hebrew in that the vowels were not written, at least at first, but are now incorporated into each syllable/letter). You can see more here:
with more detail than you would ever want including the unicode table here:
To my eye, some of the symbols have a similarity to some hieroglyphic symbols (or, more accurately, some of the demotic). Various “walking legs” and “bent arm” symbols, for instance. Other symbols look a bit more like the ancient symbols used in India. Another “dig here” to find out just when they picked up this writing thing, and from whom… or did we pick it up from them?… The writing history starts about 9th Century BC, all though in a somewhat different hand that is the ancestor of old Arabic writing systems. Do we really know which way that causality ran? From who to whom? I suspect it went more from the Old Egyptian Upper Kindgom of Kush out into the ‘provinces’…
I doubt if Kush really just cut of neatly at the bottom edge of the map…
In about 300 BC the move to Meroë was made more complete when the monarchs began to be buried there, instead of at Napata. One theory is that this represents the monarchs breaking away from the power of the priests at Napata. According to Diodorus Siculus, a Kushite king, “Ergamenes”, defied the priests and had them slaughtered. This story may refer to the first ruler to be buried at Meroë with a similar name such as Arqamani, who ruled many years after the royal cemetery was opened at Meroë. During this same period, Kushite authority may have extended some 1,500 km along the Nile River valley from the Egyptian frontier in the north to areas far south of modern Khartoum and probably also substantial territories to the east and west.
Kushite civilization continued for several centuries. In the Napatan Period Egyptian hieroglyphs were used: at this time writing seems to have been restricted to the court and temples. From the 2nd century BC there was a separate Meroitic writing system. This was an alphabetic script with 23 signs used in a hieroglyphic form (mainly on monumental art) and in a cursive form. The latter was widely used; so far some 1278 texts using this version are known (Leclant 2000). The script was deciphered by Griffith, but the language behind it is still a problem, with only a few words understood by modern scholars. It is not as yet possible to connect the Meroitic language with other known languages.
I find that the weasel wording of “may have extended” leaves lots of wiggle room… It also looks like dipping a toe into Meroitic could be interesting, some other day… I wonder if anyone has tried matching it up with ancient Ethiopian?
But that digression will need to age on the shelf a while.
Ethiopia is far enough south of Sudan that it could easily be an isolate and only rarely part of Egypt or the Kush. That distance has helped it survive as a historical archive for much of history. History which it has in abundance and which it thankfully preserves.
So that is “why Ethiopia”.
This has something to do with December?
There is an ‘odd thing’ in our calendar. (Well, really, a whole boat load of odd things. It really is a crappy calendar in many ways. But one in particular.) Ever notice that the last few months sound like counting up in Latin? Sept, Oct, Nove, Decem? Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten?
So why are they the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th months?
One of those minor annoying discontinuities in life that most folks never notice, and of those that do, substantially all just ‘move on’ and let it slide. IMHO, that is how much of the “crap” in our culture and our governments collects. Folks just letting things sit and not cleaning up the ‘wrong bits’ when they first show up.
I, too, let it just slide. It was near the bottom of the ‘someday list’.
Then I ran into a somewhat delightful page, a page where another person had spent some part of their life ‘making tidy’ several odd loose ends. A page about Ethiopic and old calendars.
It is delightful mix of strange characters in a script just about everybody has never seen (unless you are an Ethiopian) mixed with technology (they are concerned about Ethiopic computers and keyboards) and mixed with a sense of dusty history (much of the page is devoted to sorting out calendars from the AD / BC horizon. It blends in a load of astrological issues to season the astronomical ones. (No, not the dodgy ‘you will see an old friend’, the original astrological as astronomy stuff). It understands the complexity of making calendars and of having both lunar and solar centric calendars.
The “fun bit” for me was pretty simple. Our “modern” calendar has had a long history of fudges, adjustments, and flat out replacements of earlier calendars since the BC times. We’ve added days and months, shifted them this way and that, and generally screwed things around trying to get it right. Sometimes we ran for centuries with a broken system such that seasons ended up arriving at the wrong time of year. It really has been a mess. Such things, and our flailing about trying to fix them, have left us with dates that do not exist (a nice trick history question) and with dislocations versus other cultures and countries (such as Russia having a different set of dates than we do for much of their history).
There ARE other calendars. Chinese. Muslim. Hebrew. Maya. etc. These come in several systems, but generally fall into either a Solar or a Lunar system. Count the lunations, you tend to a 13 month year. If you strictly follow the lunations, that year wanders versus the solar year. Jews and Muslims have to deal with this as it makes the “Holy Month” of let’s-party-now wander around during the seasons of a Solar Year. The solar year has an ‘issue’ in that it isn’t a ’round’ anything. 365 1/4 is just an approximation. And a wrong one. So we accumulate tiny errors, that become big errors if you wait long enough.
Oddly, much of this was solved several thousand years ago. The ancient Mesopotamian / Summerian system added an ‘intercalated month’. But even that was subject to different folks playing with it. The basic idea, though, is a good one. Much like we have a ‘leap year’, and now even the occasional ‘leap second’, they would gather those up and stick them in every so often. Eventually one of the ancient Summerian Kings put his foot down and said we’re all going to use the same calendar. That fixed it. At least until we all started using different calendars again.
The use of lunar reckoning began to prevail in the 21st century BC. The lunar year probably owed its success to economic progress. A barley loan could be measured out to the lender at the next year’s threshing floor. The wider use of silver as the standard of value demanded more flexible payment terms.
In the 18th century BC, the Babylonian Empire standardized the year by adopting the lunar calendar of the Sumerian sacred city of Nippur. The power and the cultural prestige of Babylon assured the success of the lunar year, which began on Nisanu 1, in the spring.
It was necessary for the lunar year of about 354 days to be brought into line with the solar (agricultural) year of approximately 365 days. This was accomplished by the use of an intercalated month. Thus, in the 21st century BC, a special name for the intercalated month iti dirig appears in the sources.
The intercalation was operated haphazardly, according to real or imagined needs, and each Sumerian city inserted months at will; e.g., 11 months in 18 years or two months in the same year. Later, the empires centralized the intercalation, and as late as 541 BC it was proclaimed by royal fiat. Improvements in astronomical knowledge eventually made possible the regularization of intercalation; and, under the Persian kings (c. 380 BC), Babylonian calendar calculators succeeded in computing an almost perfect equivalence in a lunisolar cycle of 19 years and 235 months with intercalations in the years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 of the cycle. The new year’s day (Nisanu 1) now oscillated around the spring equinox within a period of 27 days.
This same system of a lunar calendar survives today in the Muslim and Hebrew calendars, though with different starting dates and somewhat different intercalation systems.
Back at Ethiopia and December
So I knew all that, but it had never quite settled just why OCTober was the TENth month… until I ran into that Ethiopian page.
The Ethiopians have an intercalated month, too. But it’s a rather clever and very orderly system. The year has 12 months of 30 days. That’s 360 days even. Then an intercalated month of 5 or 6 days (depending on when you need a leap year) at the end. The page also describes a calender of Enoch that I rather like. 364 days in a year. From the picture it looks like 4 seasons of 3 months of 30 days, with a ‘special day’ on each of the solstices and each equinox. Nice. Just toss in a 1 or 2 day ‘yearly holiday’ and it works. I think it is what I’d do if I were running a Henge… Each season would be kept exactly in sync with the heavens, each year ‘touched up’ to the orbital imprecision. Never more than a day out of sync. Beats the Julian calendar, for sure. Or the old Roman.
All of which leaves me wondering if anybody really knows what day it is?
But the Ethiopians have been using their calendar for a long time, and seem to have picked up the roots of it from the Coptic Egyptians:
The connection between Egypt and Ethiopia from at least as early as the Twenty-second Dynasty was very intimate and occasionally the two countries were under the same ruler, so that the arts and civilization of the one naturally found their way into the other.
The Ethiopian Calendar has more in common with the Coptic Egyptian Calendar. The Ethiopic and Coptic calendars have 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and an intercalary month at the end of the year of 5 or 6 days depending whether the year is a leap year or not. The year starts on 11 September in the Gregorian Calendar (G.C.) or on the 12th in (Gregorian) Leap Years. The Coptic Leap Year follows the same rules as the Gregorian so that the extra month always has 6 days in a Gregorian Leap Year.
So, unlike the Wiki, the Ethiopians seem to remember a time of being part of the Egyptian Empire…
The page talks a bit about the Egyptian calendar (another Lunar one). But the bit that caught my attention was about the Romans. Seems that they had a somewhat lousy calendar and once they got done murdering Egyptians, figured out they had a good one. So adopted chunks of it.
They still felt compelled to muck things up, so February got raided for days to add to July and August (that also got their names changed) so as to glorify the leaders of the murderers… Which we still do to this day. The Romans had a 10 month year, and needed some added months to use the Egyptian system. Rather than tack them on at the end, they stuck them at the front. THAT then shifted the others to be “off by 2”, but as the middle ones had their names changed to honor Roman Emperors, only the last few are obviously screwed up.
And we keep them screwed up to this day.
No wonder the Jews, Muslims, Chinese, Ethiopians, et.al. were not so keen on adopting our “modern” calendar…
Next thing you know, they will be using feet and pounds.
The earliest known date is 4236 B.C.E., the founding of the Egyptian calendar. The ancient Egyptian calendar was lunar. The solar Coptic (ግብጽ) calendar, oldest in history, originated three millennia before the birth of Christ. The exact date of its Egyptian origin is unknown. It is believed that Imhotep, the supreme official of King Djoser C.2670 B.C. had a great impact on the construction of the calendar. Historically, ancient Egyptians initially used a civil calendar based on a solar year that consisted of 365 days only, without making any adjustment for the additional quarter of a day each year. Each year had 12 months. The heliacal rising of Sirius coincides with the arrival of the highest point of river Nile flood at Memphis marking the first day of the year. The new year of the ancient Egyptians started on Meskerem 1 (መስከረም ፩). This date is an Ethiopian new year signaling the end of Noah’s flood. (The Hebrew new years also start in Meskerem. The Egyptian solar calendar consisted of 12 30-day months with five extra festival days at the end of the year.)
As you will note, no leap year. But the Egyptians kept count of full years based on a more precise annual system that started each year with Sirius rising.
It was this Egyptian Perfect Calendar that was adopted by the Romans… except they left out the part about Sirius and keeping the year in sync with the seasons and stars… Doohh!
Following his conquest of Egypt, Julius Caesar consulted the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes (ሶሲጂነስ) about calendar reform. The calendar that Julius Caesar adopted in the Roman year 709 A.U.C. (Ab Urbe Condita, i.e. since the founding of Rome or 46 B.C.) was identical to the Alexandrian Aristarchus’ (የካህናት) calendar of 239 B.C., and consisted of a solar year of twelve months and of 365 days with an extra day every fourth year. This calendar that replaced the Roman calendar became the Julian calendar. The lunar Roman calendar had only ten months with December (the Latin decem for ten) as the tenth month until January and February were inserted. Quintilis, the fifth month, was changed to July in honor of Julius Caesar and Sextilis was renamed August for Augustus Caesar.
So we are still coping with a calendar that ‘has issues’ when compared to the Egyptian one; in that the Egyptians reset to the celestial sphere each year while we drift. Not as much as with the Julian, but still “si muove”!
I’m sure folks have heard about the small problem with our calendar vs the birth of Christ. See, in the Bible there are some particular events listed. Which emperor ‘was around when’ kind of thing. We know from Roman records when that was. We also know that this means that the dates of the birth and death of Jesus are off by about 7 years. Oh, and when the Romans were making their calendar they forgot about Year Zero… So we have the 1st year before zero and the first year after zero, but no year zero. Kind of like the first Century BC and then the 1st Century AD, and no Century Zero. Another discontinuity that drives me nuts as every time someone says “18th Century” I have to think “OK, they have an ‘off by one error’, which way did it go? Oh, yeah, they have one too many as they left out zero and that causes the whole ‘start of the century’ to be shifted, so it’s the 1700s they are talking about” I really do wish folks would learn to count “ZERO, one, two, three”…
The interesting thing here is that the Ethiopians were not on the Roman bandwagon, so they have the dates correct. The page is a bit out of date as it is talking about the coming of the new millennium, which has already past. They put it in 2008. So in addition to all the folks arguing over the 2000 vs 2001 millennium celebration dates, we really ought to have had a party in 2008.
When the Roman papal chancellor, Bonifacius, asked a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus (ዲዮናሲዮስ ኤክሲጅዮስ) to implement the rules from the Nicaean Council (የኒቅያ ጉባዔ) for general use and to prepare calculations of the dates of Easter, Dionysius fixed Jesus’ birth in such a manner that it falls on 25 December 753 A.U.C., thus making the current era start with A.D. 1 on 1 January 754 A.U.C. It was about 525 A.D. that Dionysius Exiguus, started his count (instead of the Diocletian / ዲዮቅልጥያኖስ of 284 A.D.) with the year 1 A.D., considered to be the year of the birth of Christ. It is likely that Jesus was actually born around 7 B.C. or before King Herod’s death in 750 A.U.C.
The Venerable Bede wrote the history of the early centuries of England in 731 A.D. He adopted the system of Dionysius and its use spread. Unfortunately, Bede made a blunder when he invented the B.C. system and stuck it immediately before A.D. 1. A year and a day were lost because of this error and the controversy on the start of new millennium has even run into 2000 G.C. though 2001 is assumed to be the new beginning.
So now we have both an ‘off by one’ day and an ‘off by one’ year. Oh Joy. And folks wonder why I’m inclined toward having a Henge and just doing what the Egyptians did, marking the year off the rising of a star and the day off the rising of the sun and the month off the rising of a new moon. At least then you always know what time it is, and what date.
There is a marvelous melange of abbreviations for different years used on that Ethiopic page. I thought the whole BC/AD swap to BCE/CE as a PITA…
The Ethiopic calendar differs from both the Coptic and the Julian calendars. The current 1994 Ethiopian Calendar (E.C.) year is equivalent to the 1718 Coptic Calendar (C.C.), the 2001 Julian Calendar (J.C.) and the 2001 Gregorian Calendar (G.C.) years. After the massive killing by the Romans that was so severe and traumatic the Egyptians began a new calendar called “The Martyr’s Calendar” in A.D. 284. The difference between the Ethiopic and Coptic is 276 years. In spite of this, the Ethiopic Calendar is closely associated with the rules and the different calculations influenced by the Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. (According to Aymro and Motovu, the Calendar of the Ethiopian Church came from Egypt and as to methods and dates agrees with the Calendar of the Coptic Church. But the two calendars differ with regards to the saints’ days and the time of observing them.) According to Ethiopian scholars such as Aleqa Kidane Wold Kiflie (ኣለቃ ኪዳነ ወልድ ክፍሌ), the Ethiopic Calendar A.D. differs from other Christian calendars because of the continuity to these years after completion of the 5500 years and the former is religious while the latter is based on history. The Ethiopic years are seven years behind the Western and Eastern Church calendars. The seven years difference by Meskerem 1 or መስከረም ፩ becomes eight on January 1. Ethiopic uses the 5500 E.B.C. years in proleptic as well as modern calendrical calculations.
According to Asrat Gebre Mariam (ዓሥራት ገብረ ማርያም) and Gebre Hiwot Mehari (ገብረ ሕይወት መሓሪ), the Romans endorsed an inaccurate figure by the time they started from counting the birth year of Jesus Christ. Exiguus suggested that the Romans (drop the A.U.C. calendar and) start with the Christian Calendar in 532 A.M. (and 19 lunar cycles times 28 solar cycles equals 532). Many churches accepted the A.D. 1 (or 753 A.U.C.) calculation of Exiguus, which was off by four years, only because of the difficulty associated with changing calendar rules and regulations established on it. The authors point out to evidence presented by Flavius Josephus and other which include Matthew 2:1. Also Tiberius Caesar became the king of Rome in the Roman 765 year and Jesus started teaching fifteen years into his reign, at the age of thirty, in 780 A.U.C.- see Luke 3:1-23.
Gotta love that A.U.C. From the Founding of Rome.
Isn’t it amazing just how much cruft we’ve accumulated because some politician or another wanted to heap “glory” on themselves and / or capriciously stir the pot? ANY time a politician is looking to fool around with dates, times, money systems, trade, historical commemorations, you name it; they are going to screw up something. In some cases we deal with it for thousands of years…
Like constantly resetting the calendar…
Which leaves us with the odd realization that if you want to know correctly when Christ was born, the best place to figure it out is mostly like in Ethiopia and using the Ethiopean calendar.
And folks wonder why I like old things, old systems of measurement and marking time, old books…
So just what date IS IT, then?
However, the four years gap introduced by Exiguus does not account for the seven years difference between the Ethiopic and the Christian calendars. If Jesus was born in 7 B.C. and nobody made the effort to correct the error, the A.D. years should have remained the same. The Ethiopians imply that Exiguus used 532 in the wrong year without mentioning the A.D. year, though he was working on his Easter calculations in (the proleptic) A.D. 525. The difference of about seven years has moved date of creation of the Julian calendar by as many years relative to the Ethiopian. Further research is justified for historical, chronological, computational and other reasons and to find out how the Ethiopians stayed younger in spite of hanging onto the calendar for millennia. The Ethiopian calendar is neither Julian nor Gregorian. (The difference between the Ethiopian and Julian calendars most likely appeared only after Exiguus came up with Anno Domini.) For instance, Ethiopic days could be references. In a new book in Amharic, ባሕረ ሓሳብ (Bahra Hassab), Getatchew Haile (ጌታቸው ኃይሌ) used 365.25 days per year starting with Tuesday, Meskerem 1, 5500 years before the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, if the birth of Christ is a new era for Christians we might as well get ready to celebrate the new millennium with Ethiopians in the year 2001 E.C. on September 11, 2008 G.C.
Which means that we’re about 3 years late for the start of the new millennium per the Ethiopian Calendar in 2008 on the Gregorian Calendar.
Then again, the Maya say we have a year to go…
It looks to me like there is some significant value to “diversity” of cultures, and of calendaring systems. It helps us to preserve some of our history a bit better and keep a sense of perspective.
It also looks to me like there is a constant of human behaviour where some small part of humanity has a compulsion to dominate others, even if it involves the destruction of much wisdom and knowledge. I fear we are in a similar time, today, as there is clear evidence of powerful forces working to hide simple truths, for their own gain. To destroy ancient wisdom for domination.
It has been known since the Ancient Egyptians that Ra ruled the earth. They did not have a “Gas God”, they had a Sun God.
This is not some light statement! The Egyptian Kingdoms and Empires span 4,000 years (maybe more…). These folks studied their history and kept records. They lived and died based on the Nile floods coming on schedule. They had seen the cyclical nature of nature. Then they were destroyed by the Greeks and Romans. Thousands of years of knowledge lost to the dreams of avarice and brutal stupidity.
Perhaps this time we can stop the New Rome and the New Caesars. Perhaps… In the fullness of time… If not, we can only hope that somewhere will be a modern Ethiopia.