A question of time

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A question of time

Postby Anonymous on Mon Sep 30, 2002 7:02 pm

Salvete omnes,

One of the most intriguing aspect of the "roman way" is their attitude towards the passage of time.
I was puzzled to learn some time ago that they did not conceive this dimension in a linear way. For the romans past was imprecise and the future irrelevant; Only the present counted. Indeed their way of counting years until the Empire is significant : Each (irregular) year was called by the name of the two consuls and one could only understand the notion of passing time if one had access to the record of magistrates (fasti).

In this light how can we reconcile this "day to day" life with the fashionable notion of Imperialism that requires planning and thus a clear idea of time keeping and recording ? Were the romans willing conquerors or genial opportunists ?

Optime Valete


Postby Horatius Piscinus on Wed Oct 02, 2002 11:05 am

Salve mi frater Laureate

A topic that has always interested me is this of a conception of time. I recall reading that the Greeks thought of time in terms of distance. That is, although they could reckon an hour by the movement of the sun or stars, they thought of an hour in terms of the distance a man could walk in an hour. That would do for any military power as well. Why was this a more reliable concept of time was that the Greeks and Romans were aware that an hour is not an hour from day to day, or from hour to hour. The movement of the sun in any season will differ in the morning, noon, and evening. A standard hour is only a modern concept. Very apparent to anyone who attempts to keep time by a sundial. I wonder if the same would be true with water clocks, if the hours vary due to different conditions or seasons?

The Romans apparently had three calendars. The civil or religious calendar is one we know about from the Fasti. There were two different agricultural calendars. One is referred to by Cato, the other by Varro in their respective works on agriculture. Varro's is the older, related to winter wheat production, while Cato uses the type that arrived with viticulture. There are traces of both agricultural calendars in the Fasti with various festivals. The oldest seems to have begun in September, and that was the early civil calendar as well, since Marcius Horatius perfromed the hammering of the nail in the lintel of the sanctuary of Minerva on 13 September to mark the passing of a year.

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