Across the narrow sea

Today’s title is not homage to one of my favorite series (on TV and the printed page); it is a reference to the Mediterranean, even though (as far as I know) it was never called that by ancient civilization. “Inner sea” is more likely to make justice to the historical facts… So maybe it is a nod and a wink to the “Game of Thrones” lore, after all. But I digress…

Last we talked about our calendar, Rome’s second king (Numa Pompilius) has just created to extra months to cover the winter, which was unaccounted for in the original Romulan calendar: Februarius and Januarius.

He had reached the “magic” number of 365 days to a ear, and was apparently happy with that. He did know some sort of corrections should be made, and, later on, this intercalations become a powerful control mechanism in the hands of senators of the Roman Republic.

Meanwhile, in Egypt…

Egypt has a harsh environment. It depends on the Nile River to sustain its citizens, and it is only natural to assume that the bigger the flow of the river, the easier the life of the ancient Egyptians.

It should not come as a surprise that the first method they devised to measure the comings and goings of time was through a graded stick in the water. The rise of the waters of the Nile would indicate summer; when the river started to dry up, winter was just about to begin.

As good as this “calendar” can be (its is commonly known as a Nilometer; literally “measuring the Nile”), it lacks the power of anticipating events. It would be so much more efficient to the average Egyptian farmer to know that the Nile would flood weeks before it actually did… He could prepare the land and the seeds in advance, call his family or hire workers to help him and so on.

After thousand of years paying attention to the Nile, Egyptian astronomers realized its cycle could be also read in the sky. When Sirius, alpha Canis Majoris, brightest star of the night sky had its heliacal rise (rising just before the break of dawn), it was time to get ready for the rising of the waters. And with this celestial pointer, they realized the seasonal cycle lasted 365 days.

They took these days and divided in 13 pieces. Twelve pieces of 30 days each, adding up to 360 days, and one extra piece of five days only. The twelve regular pieces are what we call months; the 13th piece is some very unusual for us nowadays. They called it the “celestial days”.

After the last day of the last month of the year, they took a break and celebrated five celestial days, before the beginning of the next year. It does sound like our holiday season, but do take notice that these celestial days did not belong to any year!

In that sense, they were a lot like the winter days in Romulan calendar. And like the Romulan calendar, you had the oddity of one year ending and having to wait for a while before the next one began!

Paying close attention to Sirius, they soon realized that it would be wise to add a sixth day to their year every four years. And so begins the story of our leap year… ■