THE ETHIOPIAN CALENDAR - AN INSIGHT
“The very notion of time presupposes a philosophy of understanding which is beyond the competence of the human intellect, its most decisive moment involves eternal values and God himself. Its principles and guidelines are secretive and beyond the border of human imagination, it can also be polemical. Through procreation, we simply understand what is behind the origin of time, that is, the Divine command “Let It Be.”
Abba Haddis Gedey, 1987
A calendar is a system of organizing days, months and years for the purpose of measuring, recording and tracking time. There are diverse methods used in creating calendars. Some calendars replicate astronomical cycles according to fixed rules, others are based on abstract, perpetually repeating cycles of no astronomical significance.
The Ethiopian calendar is about 7,500 years old. The Egyptians succeeded in finding 365 days in a solar “Tropical” year. The 365 days were as a result of the appearance and reappearance of the Dog Star or Sirius in the eastern skies after several months of invisibility and the cyclical / annual flooding of the Nile river soon after Sirius appeared. The Egyptians fixed 12 months each of 30 days with an extra five feast day added. To this day the Ethiopians calendar has 12 solar months, each of 30 days and a thirteenth month with 5 days in a non-leap year and six days in a leap year.
The Babylonians on the other hand used a lunar-based calendar, which has 12 luna months, some with 29 days and others with 30 days, totalling 354 days in their “ Synodic” year. As a result, their calendar slipped out of sync with nature and they needed to add approx. 3 months every 8 years. The (365-354 =11 day) difference, if unchecked, would accumulate a difference between the 2 of 7 years in the space of 232 years.
At the time of the reign of Julius Caesar (100B.C.-44B.C.), the Roman calendar which was handed down to them by the Greeks, accumulated errors caused by the incorrect length of the Roman year and by the occasional failure to add extra days at the proper time. This made the calendar about 3 months ahead of the season. The calendar said it was Spring when it was actually mid-winter. The Roman calendar then consisted of 10 months in a year of 304 days. Romulus, the legendary first ruler of Rome, is supposed to have introduced this calendar in the 700’s B.C. According to tradition, the Roman ruler Numa Pompilius (715B.C.-672B.C.), added January and February to the year thus making the year 355 days long. Numa also ordered the addition every other year of a 22 day month after February called Mercedinus.
The idea of making a new calendar occurred to Julius Caesar while in Egypt, during the winter he spent with Cleopatra. Caesar had seen the Egyptian, who were at that time under the Ethiopians, using their 4000 year old but relatively accurate solar calendar. Caesar then realized the root problem of their calendar was that it was lunar based and not solar. Caesar then ordered Sosigenes, his Alexandrian astronomer to reform the entire system. These changes resulted in the creation of the Julian calendar of 365.25 days.
The year 46 B.C. marked the introduction of the Julian calendar with 12 months of 30 and 31 days except in February, which had 29 days and 30 in a leap year. The beginning of the year was adjusted from March to January and 2 months were added between November and December and another after February as a result the year 46 B.C lasted 445 days and was known as “The year of confusion.”
In 567 A.D., the Council of Tours abolished 1st January in favor of March as the beginning of a year.
At the behest of the Council of Trent, Pope Pius V introduced a new Breviary (Brief) in 1568 and Missal in 1570, both of which included adjustments to the lunar tables and the leap-year system. Nonetheless the Julian calendar was slightly incorrect, the tropical year being 365.242199 days. The difference amounts to 11 minutes and 14 second~ per year. So, by the year 1572, the calendar was in error by a full 10 days.
Pope Gregory XIII, who succeeded Pope Pius in 1572, soon convened a commission to consider reform of the calendar, since he considered his predecessor’s measures inadequate. The recommendations of Pope Gregory’s calendar commission were instituted by the papal bull “Inter Gravissimus,” signed on February 24th, 1582. Ten days were deleted from the calendar, so that 1582 October 4 was followed by 1582 October 15. This reformation led to what is now known as the Gregorian calendar. The Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius worked on this problem.
The length of the year was redefined as 365.2422 days a difference of 0.0078 days per year from the Julian calendar. This changed accumulated error was 3.12 days every 400 years. Clavius had allowed for such discrepancy and suggested that 3 out of every 4 centennial years , which would ordinarily be leap years, should instead be regarded as common years. This led to the practice that no centennial year could be a leap year unless it was divisible by 400. Following this rule 1700, 1800, and 1900 were common years, but the year 2000 would be a leap year.
This Gregorian reform gives us an extremely accurate calendar system now and re-established 1st January as the beginning of the year and has been referred to as the “new style calendar” and the Julian referred to as the “old style calendar”.
The above are some of the reasons for the date 12th September 2007 (Gregorian Calendar) being equal to 1th Maskaram 2000, that is, New Years Day in the Ethiopian calendar.
Source: Bro. Gebre Hiwot Gordon