If pressed one day to reveal my dream tattoo, its explanation would arise as a result of watching far too many Monty Python skits.
More than likely I’d need to find a space massive enough to accommodate this:
All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
The one thing missing, I would hazard to say, is the calendar we depend upon today.
Imagine this– you are a farmer, tied to the land and your animals, agrarian in every sense of the word, and counseled beneath the Roman emperor Numa Pompilius’ calendar.
Lunar to begin with, it consisted of a mere ten months—March through December. Now as much as many folk would wish to be rid of January and February, Numa spit in the eye of his subjects’ greatest fears and threw two months into the beginning of the year, officially recognizing the missing sixty days of terror, when unmentionable fiendish ghouls ruled the streets. Yes, you could still walk around covered in ash and leap through the flaming pyres of purification meant to ward off those who shall not be named, but now you’d be able to pencil in on which day you’d prefer to have a chalky complexion and ones where you’d singe your coattails.
Fast forward around six hundred years. Same ancient farmer—well preserved from a fine diet off the land—and same ancient calendar: lunar and totally bungled. Sure, Numa threw in a few extra days here and there to appease those around him with better mathematical skills. But complaints were rife. A 355 day year falls a little short for the agricultural savviness of most farmers, and after a decade or so, they’re getting reminders from Outlook to start planting seeds around December 23rd. Houston? We have a problem.
Cue Julius Caesar. Even though the guy had a lot on his plate: a budget crisis, political corruption, throwing a few dinner parties complete with gladiators and lions, he apparently got tired of showing up way too late for the Vernal Equinox Festival each year. Things had gotten so out of whack while Rome was busy conquering the world, nobody noticed—unless you were friends with a farmer—that the first day of Spring was scheduled for somewhere in June, just after school let out. Something had to be done.
Since he had friends in high places, Caesar sought the help of someone whose influence was of the highest order, astronomically speaking.
Sosigenes, an Alexandrian greatly envied for the size of his telescope, er … astrolabe, was beckoned forth and instructed to untangle the calendrical conundrum. Pronto.
Up for the challenge, Sosigenes took out his freshly cleaned slate and chalk, came up with a slick marketing plan and presented the new Julian Calendar, complete with slides. The only glitch was that before implementing the shiny new calendar, they had to set straight the old one.
Thinking no one would mind—or even notice—Sosigenes threw a few missing days into the current year. Sixty-seven to be precise. Thirty days were added in between February 2nd and 3rd and thirty-five snuck in just after the last day of November and the first of December. The other two might have been tossed in as a couple of three day weekends.
Still, no matter how much publicity sparkle the PR department tried to spin it with, the Romans became a cranky bunch. And who could blame them?
February now seemed like an unending Lent, and Sosigenes was getting hate mail from kids who were expected to be ultra patient for the start of the Christmas season. People were going to have to wait an ungodly amount of time see if Caesar would put a menorah on the front lawn of the Basilica. Sadly, they’d never know.
Regardless, there are a couple of things we can take from the lesson of what soon became coined as The Long Year. Firstly, Rome realized their kids were falling way behind in math and sciences and that the Chinese were catching up. Secondly, Romans back then were older than what their driver’s licenses said. And lastly, we’ve got little to complain about when every four years we tack on an extra day in February, because seriously, look what the Romans did for us. If you can’t remember, I’ll show you my tattoo.