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Caesar’s Calendar

Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 386
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  • Book Info
    Caesar’s Calendar
    Book Description:

    The ancient Romans changed more than the map of the world when they conquered so much of it; they altered the way historical time itself is marked and understood. In this brilliant, erudite, and exhilarating book Denis Feeney investigates time and its contours as described by the ancient Romans, first as Rome positioned itself in relation to Greece and then as it exerted its influence as a major world power. Feeney welcomes the reader into a world where time was movable and changeable and where simply ascertaining a date required a complex and often contentious cultural narrative. In a style that is lucid, fluent, and graceful, he investigates the pertinent systems, including the Roman calendar (which is still our calendar) and its near perfect method of capturing the progress of natural time; the annual rhythm of consular government; the plotting of sacred time onto sacred space; the forging of chronological links to the past; and, above all, the experience of empire, by which the Romans meshed the city state’s concept of time with those of the foreigners they encountered to establish a new worldwide web of time. Because this web of time was Greek before the Romans transformed it, the book is also a remarkable study in the cross-cultural interaction between the Greek and Roman worlds. Feeney’s skillful deployment of specialist material is engaging and accessible and ranges from details of the time schemes used by Greeks and Romans to accommodate the Romans’ unprecedented rise to world dominance to an edifying discussion of the fixed axis of B.C./A.D., or B.C.E./C.E., and the supposedly objective “dates” implied. He closely examines the most important of the ancient world’s time divisions, that between myth and history, and concludes by demonstrating the impact of the reformed calendar on the way the Romans conceived of time’s recurrence. Feeney’s achievement is nothing less than the reconstruction of the Roman conception of time, which has the additional effect of transforming the way the way the reader inhabits and experiences time.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93376-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Someone writing a book on “time” is well advised not to type the word into a library catalogue search early on in the process. According to the bibliographic guide of S. L. Macey, some 95,000 books were published “on time-related subjects” between 1900 and 1990; in the fifteen years since then, boosted by the millennium, there have no doubt been at least another 35,000 at the rate of increase he charts.¹ As “the most widely used noun in the English language,”² “time” can take you in any direction, and it continually involves other subjects as it goes. “Place” and “space,”...

  6. ONE Synchronizing Times I: Greece and Rome
    (pp. 7-42)

    It is a practically impossible mental exercise for readers of this book to imagine maneuvering themselves around historical time without the universalizing, supranational, and cross-cultural numerical axis of the dates in b.c. and a.d., or b.c.e. and c.e. These numerical dates seem to be written in nature, but they are based on a Christian era of year counting whose contingency and ideological significance are almost always invisible to virtually every European or American, except when we hesitate over whether to say b.c. or b.c.e.¹

    The axis of time along a b.c./a.d. line is not one that has been in common...

  7. TWO Synchronizing Times II: West and East, Sicily and the Orient
    (pp. 43-67)

    In chapter 23 of thePoeticsAristotle begins his discussion of epic. The first point he makes is that epic should be like tragedy in its plots and should be about one whole and complete action. Epic should not be like history, he says, in which there is no unity of action but only of time; historians have to mention whatever happened in their time period, and “each of these things may have a quite casual interrelation” (ων ἔκαστον ωϛ ἔτνχєν ἔχєι πρòϛ αλληλα, 1459a24).¹ As an example of the inconsequential random scatterings of events in time, Aristotle mentions two...

  8. THREE Transitions from Myth into History I: The Foundations of the City
    (pp. 68-107)

    We move now to a different focus on time, and a different kind of horizon. The synchronistic charts of time that have been our subject so far enable the observer to construct webs of connection that are primarily lateral or horizontal. Of course the synchronism charts play a vital part in constructing a sensation of historical depth as well, since the whole of past time is mapped out through an expanding series of lateral synchronisms, and the construction of synchronism is tightly bound up with the apprehension of empires following each other in succession. But the fundamental mind-set of the...

  9. FOUR Transitions from Myth into History II: Ages of Gold and Iron
    (pp. 108-137)

    The last chapter closed with Nero singing as Rome burned, singing of the fall of Troy, “making present evils look like disasters of the past” (praesentia mala uetustis cladibus adsimulantem, Ann. 15.39.3). The question of how “like” are the present and the distant past is one that will preoccupy us in this chapter as well, and the fall of Troy will once again be an important focus. We have seen repeatedly how important the fall of Troy was as a mark in time. On the other side of that demarcation live the heroes, who converse with gods and lift...

  10. FIVE Years, Months, and Days I: Eras and Anniversaries
    (pp. 138-166)

    In the first four chapters we investigated the ways in which Romans and Greeks worked together to construct significant temporal patterns as Roman horizons moved out to embrace the Mediterranean. The horizons of Roman time were progressively extended, reaching backwards to Troy and sideways to assimilate the synchronistic time systems that the Greeks had devised as an indispensable part of their own contentious historical sensibilities; further, key transitional moments in Greek mythology became a tool for the Romans to use in order to reflect on their status as an imperial people, guilty masters of nature and of technology. The final...

  11. SIX Years, Months, and Days II: The Grids of the Fasti
    (pp. 167-212)

    In this final chapter we continue to explore the charts of the Roman Fasti, investigating their role in placing the city and its empire in time, and analyzing in particular the revealing transformations thefastiunderwent as they were revolutionized along with the rest of Roman life by Julius Caesar and his heir. Although in the previous chapter we discussed thefastiin the form of the calendar, the termfastiembraces two principal kinds of time chart for us to consider. The word denotes not only the annual calendar but also the list of eponymous chief magistrates, the elected...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 213-216)

    The reach of the Romans’ time schemes was very great. They extended to heaven to chart the constellations, in the knowledge that the constellations are the result of human work. They extended back to the fall of Troy when the Roman story could be said to begin, and sideways to take in the developments of the empires of Greece and the Near East. Working in history, or operating synchronistic comparisons with other contemporary time schemes, required genuine sophistication of a kind from which our universalizing and homogeneous schemes shield us. Simply living at anything beyond subsistence level required operating with...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 217-302)
    (pp. 303-334)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 335-360)
    (pp. 361-372)