Ancient Calendars for Kids
For Kids: Ancient Calendars
Most ancient civilizations had some sort of calendar, some very good ones.
Ancient Babylon (Mesopotamia): This calendar was based on the moon cycles. Every time there was a full moon, there was a new month. Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians counted 7 days. Every 7th day was a "holy-day" or an "evil-day". The Babylonians had to pray even harder than usual to make sure their world was protected from this evil day. Now and then, by decree, they added an extra month to keep things straight.
Ancient Greece: The ancient Greeks used several calendars. Since every Greek city-state had its own government, the government decided on what calendar to use, or how many calendars to use. Some were based on lunar cycles and some on solar events. Days ran from one sunrise and lasted until the next sunrise. Days varied in length depending upon the time of year and when the sun rose and set. Dates on their calendars were given to particular god as that god's special day. In Athens, for example, the 7th day of the calendar was Apollo's Day.
Ancient Egypt: The ancient Egyptian calendar had 365 days. It was also based on the lunar cycles. The ancient Egyptians noticed that by following the lunar cycles, they would be able to farm more effectively by following three seasons - the flood season, the planting season, and the harvest season, all by using the cycles of the moon. They invented a system of irrigation to keep their crops growing. They developed an ox-drawn plow to make their job easier.
Ancient Rome: The early Romans had a calendar as well. But in Rome, politics began to affect the calendar in a very negative way.
During the Roman Republic, there were no emperors. Leaders were elected to office. If the priests did not like someone who had been elected, the priests removed months from the calendar, to shorten the year. Since people could only rule for a certain number of years, that shortened their term of office. But, if the priests liked the person in power, they added months to the calendar, so their favorite leaders had longer in office. It was a crazy system and pretty soon the calendar was a mess.
When Julius Caesar came to power, he decided to throw out the old calendar and invent a new one. "His" calendar was remarkably like the ancient Egyptian calendar, but of course, like all things Roman, no credit was given to an invention by another civilization. The new calendar was Caesar's invention. The new calendar had 365 days each year for three years, and 366 days on the fourth year, just like the ancient Egyptian calendar and just like our calendar today. Julius Caesar named a month after himself, the month of July.
If you've ever wondered why February is the shortest month in our calendar, it all goes back to politics in the Roman Empire. When Augustus Caesar, Julius Caesar's adopted son, took over the government of ancient Rome, he called himself emperor (the first emperor of ancient Rome). He wanted a month named after himself, just as Julius Caesar had done. Augustus took the month after July and renamed his month August. But August only had 30 days, not 31. An emperor could not have a short month. To fix that, the astronomers took a day from February and added it to August. That's why February is the shortest month of the year still today!