A page from the "Calendars" exhibit...


Excerpt of:


Numa Pompilius, ca. 75 C.E.

Plutarch (46 - 119 CE)

Plutarch was a biographer and author whose works strongly influenced the evolution of the essay, the biography, and historical writing in Europe from the 16th to the 19th century. Among his approximately 227 works, the most important are the Bioi paralleloi (Parallel Lives), in which he recounts the noble deeds and characters of Greek and Roman soldiers, legislators, orators, and statesmen, and the Moralia, or Ethica, a series of more than 60 essays on ethical, religious, physical, political, and literary topics. He was born in Chaeronea, Boeotia (Greece). His name is Plutarchos (Greek) and Plutarchus (Latin)

Numa Pompilius lived around 700 B.C.E. and was the second of the seven kings who, according to Roman tradition, ruled Rome before the founding of the Republic (c. 509 B.C.E.). He is said to have reigned from 715 to 673. He is credited with the formulation of the religious calendar and with the founding of Rome’s other early religious institutions, including the Vestal Virgins; the cults of Mars, Jupiter, and Romulus deified (Quirinus); and the office of pontifex maximus. These developments were actually, however, the result of centuries of religious accretion. According to legend, Numa is the peaceful counterpart of the more bellicose Romulus (the legendary founder of Rome), whom he succeeded after an interregnum of one year. His supposed relationship with Pythagoras was known even in the Roman Republic to be chronologically impossible, and the 14 books relating to philosophy and religious (pontifical) law that were uncovered in 181 BC and attributed to him were clearly forgeries.

This excerpt of Plutarch’s biographical essay about Numa Pompilius includes information about the Roman calendar.

"During the reign of Romulus, they had let their months run on without any certain or equal term; some of them contained twenty days, others thirty-five, others more; they had no sort of knowledge of the inequality in the motions of the sun and moon; they only kept to the one rule that the whole course of the year contained three hundred and sixty days.

"Numa, calculating the difference between the lunar and solar years at eleven days, for that the moon completed her anniversary course in three hundred and fifty-four days, and the sun in three hundred and sixty-five, to remedy this incongruity doubled the eleven days, and every other year added an intercalary month, to follow February, consisting of twenty-two days, and called by the Romans the month Mercedinus...

"Many will have it, that it was Numa, also, who added the two months of Januarius and Februarius; for in the beginning they had a year of ten months...

"That the Romans, at first, comprehended the whole year within ten, and not twelve months, plainly appears by the name of the last, December, meaning the tenth month; and that Martius was the first is likewise evident, for the fifth month after it was called Quintilis, and the sixth Sextilis, and so the rest; whereas, if Januarius and Februarius had, in this account, preceded Martius, Quintilis would have been fifth in name and seventh in reckoning.

"It was also natural that Martius, dedicated to Mars, should be Romulus’s first and Aprilis, named from Venus, or Aphrodite, his second month; in it they sacrifice to Venus, and the women bathe on the calends, or first day of it, with myrtle garlands on their heads.

"But others, because of its being p and not ph, will not allow of the derivation of this word from Aphrodite, but say it is called Aprilis from aperio, Latin for to open, because that this month is high spring, and opens and discloses the buds and flowers.

"The next is called Maius, from Maia, the mother of Mercury, to whom it is sacred; then Junius follows, so called from Juno; some, however, derive them from the two ages, old and young, majores being their name for older, and juniores for younger men.

"To the other months they gave denominations according to their order; so the fifth was called Quintilis, Sextilis the sixth, and the rest, Septembris, Octobris, Novembris and Decembris. Afterwards, Quintilis received the name of Julius (July), from Caesar, who defeated Pompey; as also Sextilis that of Augustus, (August) from the second Caesar, who had that title...

"Of the months which were added or transposed in their order by Numa, Februarius comes from februa; and is as such a Purification month; in it they make offerings to the dead, and celebrate the Lupercalia, which, in most points, resembles a purification. Januarius was also called from Janus, and precedence given to it by Numa before Martius, which was dedicated to the god Mars; because, as I conceive, he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are to be preferred before those of war."


Plutarch, "Nuna Pompilius," C.E. 75
Sanctum Library: 8th-7th Century B.C.E.
Translated by John Dryden.