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We have named ten of the months of the Roman year. The last two months were added during the reign of Augustus Caesar and, of course, are July for Julius Caesar and August for Augustus Caesar.
As mentioned before, the Roman calendar is particularly difficult for a modern to use. Another level of complexity is due to the fact that only three days of the month were denoted in the calendar. These three markers for each month are unusual and, in essence, are remnants of when the Roman calendar was a strict lunar calendar.
The first of these markers was called “Kalends” and was the first day of the month. Kalends was the first day after the new moon, that is the first day a crescent moon was sighted, and, thus, was the first day of the new month. The day of Kalends was dedicated to the goddess Juno.
The Nones were originally the day of the first quarter moon. This day is usually seven or eight days after the first crescent and usually nine days after the new moon, thus, nones or nonus means the ninth day. Of course, this presents a mathematical issue, because nones, being identified with the first quarter of the moon’s cycle, means that the first quarter of the lunar cycle, which is approximately 28 days, has nine days in it implying a lunar cycle of 36 days!
The third marker is the “Ides”. The Ides is identified with the full month which comes at the middle of the month. The word Ides comes from an Etruscan word Idus which means to divide. The lunar cycle is usually 28 or 29 days, so the Ides could have been assigned to the 14th day of them month. The Ides was dedicated to the god Jupiter.
Now, as noted before, the original 10 Latin months were either 30 or 31 days in length. In about the 5th century BC, the calendar became fixed and lost its connection with the moon. Thus, no longer was it necessary the calendar be synchronized with the lunar cycle. Thus, at about this time, the Ides was normally identified with the 15th day of the month-the half-way day, when a month had 31 days. In those months when the month had 30 days it was assigned to the 13th day.
Also, around this time, the Nones was assigned to being the 7th day of the month in a month with 31 days, and the fifth day of the month when the month had 30 days.
So how did a Roman count days in a month when the month only had three marker dates?
The Romans used a count-down system to express the other days of the month. The count-down would be to the other named marker and would be expressed as x days before the next marker name. Thus, the day after Kalends would be, in a month with 30 days, would be 6 days before Nones. The second day after Kalends would be the fifth day before Nones, and so forth until the day before Nones, which would be call Pridie of Nones, meaning the evening before Nones.
Two further issues regarding the days of the month. The Romans had a system of designating every ninth day from a certain day as a market day. The calendar designated every day of the year with a letter from A to H, with the market days being rotated each year from letter to letter, such that, for example, assume that the last year the market days were on days denoted by the letter G, then this year the market days would be on the letter H days, and next year they would be on the letter days denoted by the letter A.
Finally, days could be designated as being days on which votes could be held, legal business could be conducted, and days upon which festivals or feats or other religious observances could be held. Thus, a calendar might mark a day with the letter C, that is dies comitiales, or a day when committees of citizens could legally vote on political or criminal matters. Likewise, a day might be marked F or N, with F standing for dies fasti, days on which legal action is permitted and N standing for dies nefasti, which meant that no legal action or public voting could take place on this day.