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The Greek Papyrologist's Wall Calendar: Keep time like the authors of the ancient Greek papyri!

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

As a student or scholar of the Greek papyri, there are probably times where you come across something like Χοιάκ κγ or Τῦβι ιδ in a text and just sort of skip over it. You might think, "Yeah, Χοιάκ is the name of the month and κγ is a number". You might even know that κγ represents "23", but perhaps you don't know how to read that out in Greek so you suddenly switch from Greek to English to say "Χοιάκ 23".

Moreover, when you find something like this in a text, do you know what was going on at the same time? Do you know what time of year Χοιάκ was or what festivals and public holiday were happening in Χοιάκ? Do you know how the date coordinates with the Roman calendar or modern dates? In other words, do you have the same frame of reference for this date that the author of the papyrus would have had?

Or maybe you're not a student or scholar of the papyri but you just want to know what it would be like to live with the same sort of calendar that a first-century Greek speaker would have used. You want to be able to talk about the date and the time of year as an ancient Greek speaker would have.

In either case, I've made The Greek Papyrologists's Wall Calendar with just these things in mind. You see, as a teacher of ancient language and as a speaker of Koine Greek, I am always trying to find new ways to transport my students—and myself!—back to the ancient world to experience it in the way that the ancients did. In that vein, I produced The Vaticanus Bible, which helps users read the Greek New Testament in the ancient uncial script in manuscript form in the same way that an ancient reader would have. In the case of this wall calendar, I want to re-create something of the experience of keeping time in your life the same way that the authors of the ancient papyri would have, all the while providing instruction on how to refer to every date of the year in Greek according to the Egyptian or Roman calendar. Perhaps the best part of all of this is that the Egyptian/Alexandrian calendar is coordinated with modern dates as if they were the ancient Roman calendar, so you can even write in your doctor's appointments and Zoom meetings on this calendar from your modern life as you would a normal calendar--you'll just know how to say the date as an ancient Greek speaker would.

The Egyptian year starts on the 29th of August, so get your calendar quick!

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(Now there are probably some of you in the back thinking, "Okay, but the Julian and Gregorian calendars are different! If this coordinates with the Gregorian calendar, it won't match the ancient Roman Julian calendar. Or, on the other hand, if this coordinates with the Julian calendar, it can't be used for modern dates!" For those of you thinking this, jump to the bottom of the page for an explanation 😀)

You can see an example of the calendar layout below:

The format of the calendar is as follows: Each upper page of a month in the calendar lists the name of the Egyptian/Alexandrian month in Greek at the top along with some facts about the month. Each lower page constitutes the actual calendar portion, which is displayed in a modern wall-calendar format with the names of the days of the week listed in Greek according to Jewish/Christian terminology and according to Greek terminology. It should be noted that the diffusion of the seven-day week did not begin to become common in the ancient world until the early centuries of the common era (see Bultarighini 2021). For those students and scholars who focus mainly on papyri before the common era, it should be known that the seven-day week was not very common outside of Jewish circles. Each cell/box of the calendar on the lower page constitutes one day. The Egyptian/Alexandrian dates are listed in blue and the Roman/modern dates are listed in red. Each date follows the same format. In a larger font, the number of the day is listed according to ancient Greek numerals:

Under each Greek numeral, the name of the day is listed as you would say it in Greek. For example, the first day of the first month is written as α as the numeral and below as πρώτη χοιάκ ‘first of Khoiak’ and the twenty-third day of the second month is written as κγ as the numeral and below as εἰκοστὴ τρίτη χοιάκ ‘the twenty third of Khoiak’:

Public festivals and holidays (ἑορταί) that are attested in the Egyptian papyri (and in a minority of cases other sources) are also cited in blue diamond boxes of the various days on which they were celebrated. For each holiday, the name of the holiday (or the description of it) is written out in Greek. Underneath the name of the festival, the papyrological citation is cited in parentheses with the date: e.g., (P.Hib. I. 27, 294-290 BCE):

The citation of the date is especially important because some holidays—in particular, Greek/Roman holidays celebrated in Egypt—would have been celebrated at different times in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The calendar thus possibly includes numerous festivals in a particular month, not all of which would have been celebrated in the same locality in the same time period. Information on the festivals cited in the calendar can be found primarily in Perpillou-Thomas 1993 and Abdelwahed 2015–2019 (see bibliography). It should also be noted that sometimes a papyrological reference to a festival is limited, e.g., ἐφ᾽ ἡμέρας ἑορτῶν πέντε ‘for five days of festivals’. In such cases, even though we do not know exactly which festival was intended, the phrase is nevertheless included in the calendar for reference. Note that some festivals last more than one day. In such cases, rather than writing the name of the festival on every day in which it was observed, the festival name is followed by a phrase like ἡμερῶν ζ ‘for 7 days’.

While referring to Egyptian days of the month is relatively straightforward, referring to particular Roman days of the month is more complex. It was indeed possible to refer to a Roman date in the same way—i.e., εἰκοστὴ τρίτη ἰανουαρίου ‘the twenty-third of January’—but in the ancient world it was common when using the Roman calendar to refer to particular days in relation to the three phases of the moon that served to divide months in the Roman system: the καλάνδαι (kalendae in Latin) marked the new moon and the first day of each Roman month, the νῶναι (nonae in Latin) marked the first quarter moon, and the εἰδοί (ides in Latin) marked the full moon. Although the καλάνδαι always fell on the first day of the month, the νῶναι could be on the 5th or 7th of the month and the εἰδοί could be on the 13th or 15th of the month. According to Roman time keeping, you refer to each day in reference to the number of days left before the next one of these landmarks, each of which is highlighted in a red box in the calendar. For example, although the 9th of March could be referred to as ἐνάτη μαρτίου ‘ninth of March’, it would be more common to refer to it as πρὸ ἑπτὰ εἰδῶν μαρτίων ‘seven days before the Ides of March’, which happens to be on the 15th of March. Therefore, for each Roman date, two ways of saying the date are written under the Greek numeral. First, in parentheses, comes the more straightforward way of saying it (i.e., ἐνάτη μαρτίου). Second, without parentheses, since this was the common ancient convention, comes the Roman way (i.e., πρὸ ἑπτὰ εἰδῶν μαρτίων).

By using this system, the student or scholar will be able to see both how the date would have likely been written in the papyri–i.e., with a Greek numeral and the name of the month—and how a Greek speaker would have referred to the day of the month, whether in the Egyptian or Roman system.

To use the calendar as a wall calendar, all you have to do is use a hole punch to punch through the marked dotted-line circles on the pages, rotate the book 90 degrees clockwise, and hang it on the wall!

The Egyptian year starts on the 29th of August, so get your calendar quick!

( earns additional commission on purchases made through link)*

Julian vs. Gregorian when coordinating modern dates with ancient Roman Calendar and the ancient Egyptian/Alexandrian calendar

Although there were numerous calendars in use in antiquity that are attested in the papyri (Egyptian, Macedonian, Greek, Roman, etc.), the Egyptian calendar was chosen for The Greek Papyrologist’s Wall Calendar because Egypt plays such a central role in the field of papyrology and the Egyptian calendar is prominent in the papyrological material. The Egyptian calendar is made up of 12 months of 30 days with 5 intercalary days (ἐπαγόμεναι) at the end of each year. From a practical standpoint, however, the Egyptian calendar of the Hellenistic period proves to be problematic, since it would gradually shift over the years in its relation to the Julian or Gregorian calendars. For example, at the beginning of the Ptolemaic dynasty, the first day of the first Egyptian month (Thoth) fell in November, whereas in Cleopatra’s reign it fell in September or August. This can be referred to as a “wandering year”. One of the reasons that the concept of a “wandering year” is important is because the Egyptian seasons (Akhet, Peret, Shemu) correlate with agricultural periods and the Nile, but this correlation ceases to be accurate after the year “wanders” sufficiently.

Beginning with Julius Caesar (ca. 45 BCE) and continuing until around the start of the common era, however, a number of important reforms came to be introduced to the Egyptian calendar. Most importantly, by implementing leap years into the Egyptian system, the beginning of the year came to have a fixed date in relation to the Roman/Julian calendar, beginning on the 29th of August normally and the 30th in leap years. In the year before a Roman/Julian leap year, a sixth day was added to the 5 intercalary days (ἐπαγόμεναι) at the end of the year. Although there was some confusion in the coordination of leap years between the calendars early on—regarding a triennial leap year cycle or quadrennial leap year cycle—this was all sorted out by around 4 CE so that by the first century CE, the relationship between the Egyptian calendar and the Roman/Julian calendar was regular. This Egyptian calendar came to be referred to in ancient times as τῶν ἀλεξανδρείων ‘the Alexandrian [calendar]’ and the first-century version of this calendar more or less serves as the basis for the The Greek Papyrologist’s Calendar.

It is also necessary to make a brief note regarding the Roman/modern dates used in the The Greek Papyrologist’s Wall Calendar. The calendar in use across the world today is the Gregorian calendar, which ultimately derives from the ancient Roman Julian calendar but was invented in 1582 to correct a small discrepancy in the Julian calendar which led to the year shifting (in relation to the sun) by 1 day every 130 years. Nevertheless, other than this small discrepancy, which slowly built up to become a 13-day difference between the continuation of the Julian calendar until today and the modern Gregorian calendar, the calendars are exactly the same. Rather, since the reforms introduced by Caesar in 45 BCE, the total number of days in a regular year, the total number of days in a leap year, most occurrence of leap years, the total number of days in each month, and the names of the months are all the same. The only difference between the calendars is that the Gregorian calendar will skip its leap year on the turn of the century every three out of four centuries.

Therefore, for all intents and purposes, with any given year—at least 99% of the time—a Gregorian calendar year might fill in for a Julian calendar year and vice versa. For this reason, The Greek Papyrologist’s Wall Calendar actually uses the same coordination of Julian dates and the Egyptian/Alexandrian calendar that would have applied in the first century, but these dates are coordinated with modern Gregorian dates rather than adding in a conversion to account for the discrepancy that built up over the centuries. For example, in the modern Coptic calendar, which is the continuation of the Alexandrian calendar, the first day of the first month is on the 11th of September in the Gregorian calendar but on the 29th of August in the Julian calendar. Because The Greek Papyrologist’s Wall Calendar attempts to recreate the experience of an ancient user but in a modern context, the first day of the first month of the Alexandrian calendar thus correlates with the 29th of August in the Gregorian calendar. The calendar thus follows Gregorian dates, but the Gregorian dates stand in for the ancient Julian dates as they would have correlated with the Alexandrian calendar in the first century. This compromise seems to achieve the best of both worlds. In this way, the modern student or scholar can use The Greek Papyrologist’s Calendar to keep time in the modern world, but the modern dates are presented and correlated as they would have been for someone using the Roman/Julian calendar.

The Egyptian year starts on the 29th of August, so get your calendar quick!

( earns additional commission on purchases made through link)*

*As an Amazon Associate earns from qualifying purchases.

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