PERHAPS you've written a letter headed, in part, "on this 16th day of October, A.S. XXXIV." Doubtless you've heard scrolls read that included some such phrasing as, "upon this 24th day of June, Anno Societatis Thirty-Five, being 2000 Gregorian." Probably at some time or other you've sat scratching your head, trying to remember, "Is this A.S. XXXIV or A.S. XXXIII?"
But you may not be aware that the period new year did not fall on January 1, as the Society new year does not. You may also be unaware of the tremendous variety of period ways in which the date can be expressed, or of the proper methods of calculation of Society years.
This article is intended as a primer on the origins and usages of the Julian (early period), Gregorian (modern mundane), and Society calendars. Herein you can also find a number of different forms for expressing the date, which can be used to dress up your speech and correspondence, award scrolls, or newsletters.
Please note that this material is primarily prepared for the English language, since that is the most common language of SCA correspondence. However, many members who mundanely speak English have non-English personae. While such personae are assumed to be well-educated enough to correspond in English, they might wish to find similar practices in their "native" tongue to those given here for English, to add a foreign flavor to their writings to English associates. Also, the Roman (Julian or Gregorian) calendar was by no means the only one in use in the SCA period—the Anglo-Saxon, Jewish, and Islamic calendars all differed substantially from the Roman calendar, and dates derived from any of these might be used in correspondence, as long as a recognizable mundane date is included.
The mundane practice of numbering years from the birth of Christ was established in the 6th century, based on the calculations of Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk. Standard Society practice seems to be to use modern Arabic numerals for the mundane year. Several designations for the mundane year are available for use in SCA correspondence:
Society years are counted from the founding of the SCA in 1966. Typically, Roman numerals are used to express the Society year (click here for a refresher course on using Roman numerals). The usual notation for the Society year is:
For dating within the SCA, New Year's Day is May 1st, the anniversary of the original May Day Tournament in Berkeley, California from which the Society sprang. For example:
The ancient Roman calendar began the year with March 1. When Julius Caesar, to correct miscalculations of intercalary days ("leap days") introduced his Julian calendar, he moved the beginning of the year to January 1. However, the early Anglo-Saxons began the new year on December 25th. For much of the later SCA period most European countries celebrated the new year on March 25th, Annunciation Day (the anniversary of when the angel Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of Christ).
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII, seeking to correct the small remaining inaccuracy of the Julian calendar, published the Gregorian calendar still in mundane use; the Gregorian new year returned to January 1st, the Feast of the Circumcision. The Gregorian calendar was adopted that year in Roman Catholic countries such as France, Italy and Spain. Scotland switched in 1600, but England and many Germanic countries continued to use the Julian calendar until well after the SCA period. As a result, a late-period traveller from France to England could celebrate the new year twice within a few months.
If a reference book gives a date such as "March 1, 1543-4," the author is allowing for the change in new year. Since modern readers might not recall that March 1543 came after December 1543, the year is recorded both as it was reckoned on that date (1543) and as it is reckoned today (1544).
Note that since the first year of the Society was numbered I, each anniversary of the Society comes at the end of the like-numbered year. Hence, the SCA's 50th anniversary will fall on May 1st, A.S. LI (2016 C.E.), not May 1st, A.S. L.
To calculate the Society year for a given C.E. date:
To calculate the C.E. year for a given Society date:
Note again that this material applies only to the development of English, from about the 13th century to the end of the SCA period. Old English (Anglo-Saxon) is scarcely recognizable to the modern reader. Furthermore, the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Nordic cultures used their own month names, unrelated to the Roman calendar, which would be obscure to a modern reader. For instance, to Anglo-Saxons January (or the lunar month corresponding to modern January) was called "Wolf-Moon" and other names; in modern Irish September is still called Meán Fhómhair (don't ask me to pronounce this), meaning "middle of Autumn."
The modern names for the months of the year are derived from the Roman names of the Julian calendar, made law by Julius Caesar and put into its final form by his successor Augustus Caesar, several hundred years before the SCA period. The two Caesars standardized the scheduling of leap years and adjusted the months to their present lengths; the later Gregorian calendar included only a minor correction. The months of the Julian calendar were:
Many variant spellings can be documented for the names of months, not so much because "spelling was optional" as because the modern usages and pronunciations of many letters were not yet fixed. English was an expanding mishmash of French and Anglo-Saxon, Latin and Greek, with characteristics of all. A given word might be pronounced or spelled as appropriate to any of the sub-languages of English.
For instance, similar-sounding vowels were often interchanged. The Latin -er ending often became French -re. J was simply a variant form of the Latin semiconsonant I (it did not become a distinct letter until after the SCA period), and Y sometimes substituted for the vowel I. A terminal I might be replaced by E (which in Middle English was not silent), or might be dropped altogether. The modern letters V and U were not differentiated in the Latin alphabet, while French speakers softened the consonants B and P to the sound V.
Furthermore, English was by no means a distinct language for much of period, and a period writer might use French, Latin, or Anglicized spellings interchangeably, even within the same document. Chaucer used three different spellings each of February and July within a single paragraph:
The modern spelling of these months has survived unchanged from Roman times, thus is valid throughout the SCA period. In the 13th-16th centuries you might also find the French spelling of -bre. Variations of the last syllable as -bir or -byr occur in the 15th century. November sometimes appeared as Nouember, and October, to match the other months, was sometimes changed to Octember.
These are samples of the variations that may be found in period sources. Note that modern spellings of nearly every month (allowing for interchange of I and J) are found in period.
|13th-14th centuries||15th-16th centuries|
|Ieneuere Ianeuer Genuer Ianuarie||Ianuare Ianuary Janivere Januar|
|Feuerer Feuerrer||Februare February Feverell Februar|
|Mearch Marz Marche||Marche March Merche|
|Auerel Aprile Apprile Aprille||Apryle Averylle Aprelle|
|May Mayus Mayes||Mai Mayes Maie May|
|Iun Iuyn Iune Ione Iuin||Iuyne Iung Iuyng Iune|
|Iul Iulie Iuyl||Iuyll Iuylle Iuly Iulij|
|Augoste Augst||Aust August|
Absolutely consistent spelling is not necessary—at different points in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer uses Averille and Aprill, March and Marche. However, the following sets of names seem to be fairly consistent in style (keeping in mind that I don't really know Middle English). Modern French and German are offered for comparison.
|13th-14th centuries||15th-16th centuries||Modern |
Latin remained an important language of literature, science and diplomacy throughout the SCA period. The original Latin month names (Maius, Iunius, etc.) were used in English writing as well, often with Latin forms of the date.
Another Latin convention in English correspondence concerns the relationship of a month to the present. Ultimo, instant, and proximo meant "of last month," "of the current month," and "of next month" respectively. A letter written on June 15th might refer to May 19th as "the 19th ultimo," to June 30th as "the 30th instant," or to July 1st as "the first proximo." However, I have not been able to identify when these terms came into use, and I don't know if their use is period.
The Romans used a peculiar method (to modern eyes) of numbering the days, which survived into period. For each month, three principal days were defined (each term is a plural noun, used as singular):
Dates are counted back from the Kalends, Ides or Nones (including the starting day). Thus for March, the 15th is "the Ides of March," the 14th is "the Eve of the Ides," and the 13th is "the 3rd before the Ides." For dates after the Ides of a month, dates are counted back from the Kalends of the following month. Thus St. Dunstan's feast day, May 19th, becomes "the 14th Kalends of June." (For a complete calendar of the SCA year in Roman counting, click here.)
In the Latin form of a Roman date, the month name is an adjective rather than a noun, its form dependent on whether or not you refer to one of the three principal dates—thus, Idibus Maiis, "the Ides of May"; but ante diem quintum Idus Maias, "the fifth day before the Ides of May." Such dates are difficult to use without some knowledge of Latin grammar (more than I have).
However, innumerable English forms of Roman dates can be used with English or Latin spellings of the months, and some standard Latin phrases. Consider the following variations:
The date may also be given by its relation to any of the festivals or other special days celebrated in period. Christmas and Christmas Eve are the two most familiar modern examples. Halloween is a modern corruption of All-Hallows' Even, the eve of the Feast of All Saints, November 1. Midsummer Day is another (in period this is not the summer solstice, June 21, but the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24). Even a simplified calendar of saints' days gives scores of different holidays. Some well-known and lesser-known church holidays and popular festivals are:
Note that if you have a well-established persona, some research may be required before using festival days as calendar references. For instance, Thomas Aquinas was not canonized until 1323, so a reference to his feast by a pre-14th-century persona would definitely be a creative anachronism; furthermore, in modern time his feast day is January 28, but in period it was March 7. Also, feast days sometimes differ between the Eastern and Roman churches; for instance, the feast day of St. Christopher is July 25 in the Roman church and May 9 in the Eastern church.
Any of the forms of the date shown above may be used in correspondence. For instance, you might head a letter,
However you might format the date, always include the date in a recognizable mundane form! This is especially important for any sort of official correspondence or for event flyers.
Timekeeping in period was not so accurate is it is today; the pendulum as a regulator for clocks did not appear until the mid-17th century, and the hairspring balance wheel shortly after that. However, many sorts of timepieces did exist, some of them of fair accuracy. Weight-driven clocks, hourglasses, water clocks, hour candles, and even spring-driven watches were all used in period.
What's more, day and night were divided independently into 12 hours each, so that daylight hours were longer in summer and shorter in winter (many period clocks had dials you could replace month by month). Hours were numbered from dawn to sunset, and again through the night. As far as I have been able to discover, the practice of numbering hours from midnight and noon is relatively modern, arising only after the creation of a standard 60-minute hour (which itself arose only after invention of accurate timepieces).
Needless to say, SCA event schedules are unpredictable enough without throwing in period timekeeping practices. However, one period practice which survives until today, the canonical hours, can add flavor to your everyday speech. The canonical hours were those times of day marked aside by the church for regular prayers and services. Modern monasteries and many modern churches still designate services by these names.
As you can see, the names of many of the canonical hours are derived from the practice of numbering daylight hours from dawn to sunset. While SCA events do not include religious services, the canonical hours might be used in ordinary speech to indicate general times of day, as above: "I'll be back on site by vespers."