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Prior to 46 BCE, the Roman calendar was being exploited by politicians and others who haphazardly added days or months to it. As a result, calendar dates didn’t match the seasons of the year. Unlike the calendar, which is an artificial creation of humans and subject to political influence, the seasons of the year are based on the time it takes the earth to go around the sun, a fact which remains oblivious to human legislation and whim. To bring Order out of Chaos, Julius Caesar took control of the Roman calendar and decreed that henceforth the calendar would be 365 days long with an extra day to be inserted every four years. The extra day was to be added prior to February 25. This seemed to solve the problem and the calendar now matched the seasons.

BUT WAIT: Caesar’s calendar was fairly accurate, but it assumed that the year is 365 days and 6 hours long. In fact, not subject to human legislation, the year is approximately 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes, and 46 seconds long. Therefore, the calendar of Julius Caesar was 11 minutes and 14 seconds too slow. This added up to be a full day off every 128 years.

Some 1,600 years later, the calendar was noticeably out of sync with the seasons and causing some concerns among Christian religious leaders. Easter, a European pagan holiday which had been claimed by the Christians, was supposed to be based on the date of the vernal equinox (i.e. the first day of Spring).  According to the calendar, however, Easter was celebrated too early in March.

In the year 1572, Ugo Boncompagni became Pope Gregory XIII. By this time, the calendar was off by ten days. It was obvious that a serious change needed to take place and Pope Gregory XIII set out to repair the ailing calendar. In consultation with astronomers, a new calendar was created. Like the old calendar, the new Gregorian calendar would continue to be made up of 365 days with an intercalary added every four years. The extra day, however, was moved to after February 28 to make things easier. The solution to keep the calendar in long-term sync with the seasons called for no leap years to be added in years ending in “00” unless those years were divisible by 400. Thus, the years 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2100 would not be a leap years but the years 1600 and 2000 would. This change was so accurate that today, scientists need only add leap seconds every few years to the clock in order to keep the calendar matching the tropical or solar year.

Coming up with a more accurate calendar and getting people to use it are two different problems. Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull, “Inter Gravissimus” on February 24, 1582 that established the Gregorian calendar as the new and official calendar of the Catholic world. In order to get the new calendar in tune with the seasons, Pope Gregory XIII designated that October 4, 1582 would be officially followed by October 15, 1582. In addition, the new year would now begin on January 1 rather than on March 25.

Not everybody liked the new calendar. It was adopted that year in Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, and France. The Pope was forced to issue a reminder on November 7 to nations that they should change their calendars and many did not heed the call. Unfortunately for the Pope, Protestantism had spread across Europe and there were now many people, including political leaders, who no longer heeded his Papal Bulls.

Roman Catholic Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands switched by 1584; Hungary changed in 1587; Denmark and Protestant Germany switched by 1704; Great Britain and its colonies changed in 1752; Sweden changed in 1753; Japan changed in 1873 as part of Meiji's Westernization; Egypt changed in 1875; Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Turkey all changed between 1912 and 1917; the Soviet Union changed in 1919; Greece switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1928; and finally, China changed to the Gregorian calendar after their revolution of 1949.

Russia up until the Communist Revolution was under the Russian Orthodox Church which did not accept the Gregorian calendar. By the time of the revolution, the calendar in Russia was about ten days out of sync with the seasons and so the October Revolution was really November in other parts of the world.

The change in the calendar prompted riots in places like Frankfort and London where people were concerned about the loss of days in the lives. Laws had to be passed decreeing that people could not be taxed or paid during the “missing” days. Furthermore, interest could not accrue on these days.

In Great Britain, Parliament debated the change to the Gregorian calendar (called the New Style calendar at this time) in 1645 and again in 1699, but both times the proposed legislation failed to pass. Finally, in 1751, Parliament legislated the change, but needed to add 11 days instead of 10 to get the new calendar in tune with the seasons. At this time, both the United States and Canada did not exist and thus the new legislation applied to all of North America, except for Alaska which was a Russian colony.

Following the change in the British Empire, people would write dates with the designation O.S. (Old Style) or N.S. (New Style) following the day so people examining records could understand whether they were looking at a Julian date or a Gregorian date. George Washington was born on February 11, 1731 (O.S.), but under the new Gregorian calendar his birth date became February 22, 1732 (N.S.). The change in the year of his birth was due to the change of when the change of the new year was acknowledged. Previously, March 25 had marked the new year, but with the new calendar this was changed to January 1. Therefore, since Washington was born between January 1 and March 25, the year of his birth became one year later upon the switch to the Gregorian calendar.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 08:16 AM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Anglican Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Papal Bulls and Sacred Cows. (18+ / 0-)

    My, how time flies.

    Riots because their lives were shorter? Reminds me of a radio program I listened to on a particularly boring and dreary ride up I-65, through the nether-parts of Indiana.

    They were debating whether to pass day-light savings time throughout the entire state. One particularly stupid pol claimed that they would be getting a whole hour more of sunlight, and that it would save money on street lights. That caused a farmer to call in, irate at the proposal. He swore that his farming techniques had been set for generations, and that if his farmland received an extra hour of sun, due to DST, his crops would burn on the field.

    Sigh. It was so Indiana.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 08:35:00 AM PST

  •  I divided by 400 in my first professional program (11+ / 0-)

    I was a Programmer Trainee and tasked to find the difference between two dates.  During the code review, my supervisor saw my Y2K ready date routine with the divide year by 400 COBOL code.  He noted that in 1977, the slow Burroughs computer would have to needlessly perform the division routine a bazillion times before 2000.

    I left after a year for a better job, and they outsourced the IT department a few months later, so my first program never had to deal with Y2K, let alone the 1980 leap year.

    "And if you come down with a case of Romnesia, and you can’t seem to remember the policies that are still on your website, ..., here’s the good news: Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions." -- President Obama, 10/19/2012, George Mason University

    by rja on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 08:50:36 AM PST

    •  Good for you. (5+ / 0-)

      Many of us were taking the year 2000 into account long before we needed to, and when people who had never thought about such a thing were suddenly running around with their hair on fire about Y2K being the end of the world, we counseled calm.  Between the many programs that  had originally been coded to handle it and the number of programmers performing Y2K remediation, all would be well.  And it was so.

      I worked a project in February of 1999 where we were making a Honeywell Bull system Y2K compliant even though the system was going to be retired in June or July of that year.  The governor (now Senator Angus King) had sworn Maine would be Y2K compliant by April 1, 1999, and compliant it would be, regardless of the necessity or lack there of, and regardless of the cost to the taxpayer.

      I was one of about fifteen programmers (I think) and I was being compensated $65/hour.  Conservatively assuming the consulting firm was keeping half the rate, the state of Maine was actually being billed $130/hour for my time.  I worked there for six weeks, although others had been there a few weeks before I arrived.

      (($130 x 40 hrs) x 6 weeks) x 15 contractors = $468,000

      Half a million dollars -- and I'm sure it was in reality a lot more -- just for the code remediation to make a system Y2K compliant that was going to be extinct six months before the code modifications would ever be used.

      "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

      by JBL55 on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 11:10:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Julius Cesar was more powerful than Pope Gregory (7+ / 0-)

    I guess that if you are going to have so much power, it helps to be smart and forward looking.

    The Popes really inherited the power that Cesar got when he crossed the Rubicon.  The fate of Western civilization was cast.

    And in computers we are still messing around with Julian to Gregorian date conversions.  And I remember having to deal with Julian dates and routines.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 09:19:11 AM PST

    •  Not really (6+ / 0-)
      The Popes really inherited the power that Cesar got when he crossed the Rubicon.  The fate of Western civilization was cast.
      Caesar had power over the entirety of the Roman empire; The Bishop of Rome had authority over the parts of  the empire that comprised western europe... Neither the middle east nor north africa nor the areas where the bishop of constantinople held sway were under the rule of the pope... though that wasnt for lack of trying... Clovis' conversion to Christianity started the ball that is the aggregation of sociopolitical power rolling but it really picked up steam with Charlemagne and Pope Leo III... I recall my Ancient and Medieval History textbook noting that Pope Leo made Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor and Charlemagne then swore fealty to the pope as the pope's vassal... which obligated Charlemagne's vassal to also swear fealty... not sure how accurate that was.. or even how accurate my memory is.. we are talking 1976 here...

      Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

      by awesumtenor on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 10:14:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This reminds me of a mystery story from long ago. (4+ / 0-)
    In order to get the new calendar in tune with the seasons, Pope Gregory XIII designated that October 4, 1582 would be officially followed by October 15, 1582.
    The plot hinged on something being dated October 10, 1582, a date that never was.  

    If only I could remember what the something was ...

    "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

    by JBL55 on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 10:54:28 AM PST

    •  Umberto Eco? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JBL55, Ojibwa, Cassandra Waites

      'the name of the rose' or 'foucalt's pendulum' is ringing a bell; something about 2 members of a secret society were to meet on the date to prepare for some future event, but one was in a country on the new calendar, and the other on the old. The meeting never took place and something bad happened...

      His books were good, but so detailed and convoluted they were hard to follow

      Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

      by postmodernista on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 12:19:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Generally you only have a problem (6+ / 0-)

    if you insist on your calendar having the same number of days/weeks/months every year and being tied to the solar cycle.

    The Jewish calendar is based mostly on the lunar month, with one major tie to the solar year -- Passover has to take place in the spring, which means that every so often we have an extra month of Adar added to the year (Adar being the month before Nisan, which is when Passover takes place).

    I understand the Muslim calendar is based solely on the lunar month, and is in constant drift with regard to the solar year.

    •  Some years ago I did a diary (5+ / 0-)

      on the Jewish calendar on the former Street Prophets web site that no longer exists and therefore my diary no longer exists.  I explained how it was developed by the rabbis in Babylon in the 300's while they were otherwise busy developing the Talmud, and that it was based on a cycle of 19 years with seven leap years interspersed into the 19 year cycle, with each leap year containing an added month.

      I had always assumed these rabbis back then were pretty smart to figure this out, as the calendar they developed was more accurate than the Julian calendar once each 19 year cycle is completed.  But then Objiwa explained that the ancient Babylonians, really ancient like a thousand years earlier, were the ones who figured out the 19 year cycle with the 7 years of added months.  Objiwa is a wealth of knowledge about so many things - we are so fortunate that he shares his knowledge with us.l

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 03:49:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's my understanding of the Muslim calendar too (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, JDsg, rja

      One of my friends was very glad that when she was old enough to be expected to fast, Ramadan was falling in the winter and a dawn to dusk fast wasn't nearly as bad as it would have been in the summer. So she had relatively easy fasts until years later when she'd gotten used to doing it.

      Prayers and best wishes to those in Japan.

      by Cassandra Waites on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 04:12:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You are correct regarding the Islamic... (4+ / 0-)

      ...calendar.  It is a pure lunar calendar as opposed to the Jewish and various Asian calendars, which use a lunisolar calendar.  As a result, the Islamic calendar moves "backwards" by (usually) eleven days per solar year.  The First Eid al-Fitr I celebrated, back in 2000, was on December 28th; this year it will be on August 8th.

      Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

      by JDsg on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:16:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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