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Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States, & Societies

5 December 2012

Sacha Stern - Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States, and Societies

In his new book, Professor Sacha Stern (Head of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies) explores how calendars were at the heart of ancient culture and society, and far more than just technical, time-keeping devices.

Providing a comprehensive study of ancient calendars across the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, Professor Stern sheds light on the political context in which ancient calendars were designed and managed.

Set and controlled by political rulers, calendars served as expressions of political power, as mechanisms of social control, and sometimes as assertions of political independence, or even of sub-culture and dissidence.

While ancient calendars varied widely, they all shared a common history, evolving on the whole from flexible, lunar calendars to fixed, solar schemes. The Egyptian calendar played an important role in this process, leading most notably to the institution of the Julian calendar in Rome, the forerunner of our modern Gregorian calendar.

Professor Stern argues that this common, evolutionary trajectory was not the result of scientific or technical progress. It was rather the result of major political and social changes that transformed the ancient world, with the formation of the great Near Eastern empires and then the Hellenistic and Roman Empires from the first millennium BC to late Antiquity. The institution of standard, fixed calendars served the administrative needs of these great empires but also contributed to their cultural and political cohesion.