The Egyptian Calendar

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The ancient civil Egyptian calendar had a year that was 360 days long and was divided into twelve months of thirty days each, plus five extra days at the end of the year. The months had been divided into 3 weeks of ten days each. Since the ancient Egyptian year was almost a quarter of a day shorter compared to solar year and stellar events consequently “wandered” through the calendar, it has been referred to as the annus vagus, or “wandering year”.

Egypt also had a distinct calendar in the Old Kingdom period, with a 320-day year, as mentioned in the Palermo Stone.A tablet from the rule of First Dynasty King Djer (c. 3000 BC) was conjectured by early Egyptologists to indicate that the Egyptians had already established a link between the heliacal rising of Sirius (Egyptian Sopdet, Greek Sothis), and the beginning of the year. However, more current analysis of the pictorial scene on this tablet has questioned whether it really refers to Sothis at all. 

Current knowledge of this period continues to be a matter more of speculation than of established fact.The Egyptians might have used a luni-solar calendar at an earlier date, with the intercalation of an extra month regulated either by the heliacal rising of Sothis or by the inundation of the fields by the Nile. The first inundation according towards the calendar was noticed in Egypt’s first capital, Memphis, at the same time as the heliacal rising of Sirius. The Egyptian year was divided in to the three seasons of akhet (Inundation), peret (Growth – Winter) and shemu (Harvest – Summer).The heliacal rising of Sothis returned to the same point in the calendar every 1460 years (a period called the Sothic cycle). The difference between a seasonal year and a civil year was therefore 365 days in 1460 years, or one day in four years. 

Similarly, the Egyptians were knowledgeable that 309 lunations almost equaled 9125 days, or twenty five Egyptian years, which was later used in the construction of a secondary lunar calendar that did not depend on observations.For much of Egyptian history, the months weren’t known by individual names, but were rather numbered within the three seasons. As early as the Middle Kingdom, nevertheless, each month had its own name. These lastly evolved in to the New Kingdom months, which in turn gave surge to the Hellenized names that were used for chronology by Ptolemy in his Almagest, and by other people.Copernicus made his tables for the movement of the planets based on the Egyptian year because of its mathematical frequency. The convention amongst modern Egyptologists is to number the months consecutively utilizing Roman numerals.

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