Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.03.07


Joerg Ruepke, Kalender und Öffentlichkeit: Die Geschichte der Repräsentation und religiösen Qualifikation von Zeit in Rom. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995. Pp. 740. DM 338. ISBN 3-11-014514-6.


Reviewed by Markus Sehlmeyer, Ancient History, Göttingen, msehlme1@gwdg.de.

Joerg Ruepke's (R.) habilitation thesis deals with the Roman calendar and its importance for the history of religions. He has distinguished himself already with his doctoral dissertation Domi Militiae (Stuttgart 1990) about the interdependencies between war and Roman religion. In addition, he examined Eduard Norden's part in the history of Roman religion (Römische Religion bei Eduard Norden, Marburg 1993) and the sources for the history of the Roman religion ("Livius, Priesternamen und die annales maximi," Klio 75 (1993) 155-179).

The intention of Kalender und Öffentlichkeit is to study the Roman calendar in its cultural context. Whether this can interest a layman, as R. intends, remains to be seen. The study is divided into three main parts: 1. The exemplars of the Roman calendar, 2. The history of the Fasti, 3. Calendar and society. The second and most extensive part shall be the center of this review. The works of Agnes Kirsopp Michels (The Calendar of the Roman Republic, Princeton 1967), and some older German contributions, like those of Georg Wissowa, precede R.'s work and R. should be measured against these researchers.

The preface about the social dimension of time (17-36) acquaints the reader with sociological inquiry. As he adopts a theoretical perspective here, the ancient context loses some importance. After the presentation of the views of Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu, R. outlines the results of the sociological system theory, which was developed by the German sociologists W. Bergmann and N. Luhmann. So the organization of religion in time becomes the calendar of a social "Teilsystem" (29).

Chapter 2, which discusses the Republican Fasti (39-44), characterizes what there is to imagine of the Roman Fasti in general. The stone calendars have a column for each of the twelve months and in the case of the Republican Fasti for the intercalary month as well. Within each month there are the eight Roman weekdays, but also the dividing days of the month (e.g. the ides), the days for jurisdiction and festivals. For the time of the Republic, only the Fasti Antiates maiores (henceforth Ant. mai.) are preserved. Unfortunately, a fold-out of the Fasti is missing, which could have been a more useful way to close the book, instead of the map with the places of the discovery of the calendars (741), which are not in fact referred to in the text.

The extensive chapter 3 illustrates the 27 fragmentary calendars of the Roman Empire in the city of Rome (45-94), relying heavily on the leading edition of the Fasti by Attilo Degrassi (Inscriptiones Italiae 13,2; 2 Volumes, Rome 1963, Pp. 572). R.'s contribution is to take into account the few new discoveries since Degrassi's work and the late antique calendars in codices. The state of preservation and specialties of the calendars are discussed. The Horologium Augusti (53) and Ovid's Fasti (71-73) are excluded from closer examination with good reason.

Chapter 4 also describes the fragments of calendars, the 22 pieces from outside of Rome (95-164). The question is whether it would have been more useful to remove most of these descriptions, which take up about 120 pages, in order to reduce the expense of printing. Most of the information is also available in Degrassi's edition. The more detailed descriptions of the Fasti magistrorum vici and Fasti Praenestini could have also been put in the main chapters. In fact, R. himself summarizes the essentials in Chapter 5 (165-188). His thesis that pocket-calendars were wide spread (175) is not persuasive. Both of his cited sources in this regard (Cic. Att. 4,8a,2; Ov. Fast. 1,657) prove only consular Fasti and Fasti respectively existed on (probably very big) rolls.

With chapter 6 (191-244) begins the second part, which investigates the history of the Roman calendar. First of all, the legend that Romulus created a calendar with only ten months is rejected. So R. has removed the error, widespread since Mommsen, which is still found in many books, e.g. Alan E. Samuel's Greek and Roman Chronology (Munich 1972, p. 167-170) or OCD s.v. calendar (p.193). According to R. there was probably, in addition to kalendae, nonae and idus, also a fourth dividing day, which was qualified through the phases of the moon. R. founds this supposition on the conspicuous combination of tubilustrium and QRCF (Quando Rex Comitiavit Fas) at the end of March and May (214-221). Opposing the consensus of current research, he interprets the tubilustrium not as the consecration of the horns of war, but as a ritual covering the moon; and he refers to the custom of other religions to make loud noises at an eclipse of the moon, which seems to be a remarkable analogy. That the reform of the decemviri conveyed a lunisolar calendar with an intercalary month to the Romans is the consensus of current research.

In chapter 7, R. does not derive the introduction of the dies nefasti by Cn. Flavius (aedilis curulis in 304 BC) from theological or economic causes, but from political ones. His thesis is that the purpose of the qualification of the weekdays as N (nefas) in the first half of the February was to prevent the comitia from torpedoing the foreign politics of the Senate considering the coming season for military actions (266f.). Here the danger seems to be in overestimating the roll of the comitia in the time about 300 BC. At this time, the aggressions of the struggle of orders were minimal; the tribunes weren't the aggressive ones of the time of the Gracchi. In the following section of the chapter R. examines the daymarks, which mark the character of the day, e.g. N (nefas), F (fas) or C (comitialis). R. defines the daymark NP as nefas piaculum, which is the more likely definition than the older one (NP = nefas, feriae publicae, according to Wissowa) (259f.). Also the equation of EN to endoitio exitio nefas is an interesting new idea (269). Following Michels, R. assigns to the lex Hortensia the distinction of days with the characters C and F. In the end, some open questions remain in chapter 7, e.g. how R. interprets the information about the edition of Fasti by Flavius (Liv. 9,46,5).

Chapter 8 deals with lex Acilia de intercalando of the consul M.' Acilius Glabrio (191 BC). Here, R. treats the old question of the regulations of this law about the insertion of intercalary months. R. agrees with Scullard's thesis that the lex Acilia gave to the pontifices the duty for the intercalatio (Roman Politics 220-150 BC, Oxford 2. ed. 1973, p. 28). He tries to justify this thesis while he postulates the politics of religion of Acilius Glabrio. But he should take care not to repeat the error of Scullard's book, which is to overestimate our few sources (cf. the review of A. Heuss, in Historische Zeitschrift 182 (1956) 593-597, now Gesammelte Schriften 2, Stuttgart 1995, S. 1557-1561). It seems more likely to this reviewer that lex Acilia has contributed in a more general way to the diminution of the difference between solar and civic year; the period in which the pontifices were involved in the decision about the intercalary month in my opinion cannot be fixed. Moreover, one can reproach R. because he hasn't considered the concrete dates of the eclipse of the sun -- 190 BC (Liv. 37,4,4) -- and the eclipse of the moon -- 168 BC (Liv. 44,37,8) -- for his own computations (cf. p.291) and hasn't discussed John Briscoe's suppositions (A Commentary on Livy Books 34-37, Oxford 1981, p. 17-26). R. should have consulted Elias Bickermann's well known reference work as well (Chronology of the Ancient World, London 1968, 2. ed. 1980).

In chapter 9, R. postulates that Fulvius Nobilior has fixed his Fasti in the temple of Muses as a wall painting. R. tries to establish a connection between Fulvius and the entries of temple dedication days in the calendar. According to R., the youngest dies natalis in the Fasti Ant. mai. is that of the Temple of Fortuna Equestris, founded in 173 BC (345-360), and is the terminus ante quem for the entry of the dies natales. Because of his commentary, Fulvius could be responsible for the abbreviations of dies natales. In view of the physical condition of the Fasti Ant. mai. this thesis must be viewed as overstated. In addition, R. cannot exclude that the entries could be renewed dedications of the late second century BC, e.g. the Temple of Concordia, renewed in 121 BC, the Temple of Jupiter Stator in 146 BC. Therefore, the following thesis that Fulvius wanted to inspire the poets in the aedes Musarum to write historical poems, is not really convincing. The chapter about Ennius (360-366) cannot change the matter.

Chapter 10 deals with Caesar's calendar reform and the further development up to the early imperial times (369-425). Because of the high quality of sources scholarly advances must be small. But R. does succeed in explaining why the Julian calendar didn't work in the early years of calendar reform: the instruction for the February intercalation quarto ... anno confecto (Macrobius 1,14,13) was misinterpreted because of the ingressive meaning of conficere. At first, in every third year (instead of every fourth) an intercalation was inserted (383). The great amplification of feriae publicae in the time of Augustus which of course had influences on the marble calendars is, according to current research (Paul Zanker et al.), explained by the Augustan politics of religion and construction. The disappearance of the wall calendars is explained by the permanent change of festival dates for the emperor.

Chapter 11 deals with the symptoms of decline at the daymarks N, F and C from the late Republic. Lex Pupia (72/61 BC) and lex Clodia (58 BC) mark these only as the holidays of the senate, which were independent from the calendar. On the other hand, Augustus monopolized the decisions about changes in the calendar as the princeps. Late antique alternative calendars are examined as is the acquaintance with the Hellenistic planetary week during the late Republic. The week with seven days, beginning on Sunday, was made official by Constantine. Some remarks on the Christian calendar are added.

The historical part of the book gives some new information about the Roman calendar. It is praiseworthy that all literary sources (above all Varro, Macrobius, Festus and Censorinus) are cited in full, so that a complete collection exists. These are presented by an index locorum (725-740). Skeptical historians like myself will not agree every time with R. in connecting changes of the Roman calendar to certain Roman "Religionspolitiker". In my opinion, most of the questions raised in chapter 8 and 9 cannot be answered with the insufficient evidence that we have. R.'s breadth of description of the historical context is sometimes obstructive because he combines his own theses with speculations which have not much to do with his starting questioning (but cf. the short, clear account of Michels). The intention -- to study the Roman calendar in its cultural context -- does not succeed for the middle Republic.

Chapter 12 begins the part about calendar and society. First of all, R. applies categories of religion sociology to the Roman feriae (487-522). In analogy to the temples, he understands the feriae as divine properties that need certain demarcations as the templum. Exceptions are possible in certain circumstances ("Dependenzunterbrechungen", R. calls them). R. explains the prohibition of iron for some priests not through the metal, but its usage in the ground. Priestly interventions in the earth should be prohibited by the ban on using iron. The chapter ends with the treatment of Caesar's and Augustus' festivals in the Fasti fratrum Arvalium.

Chapter 13 considers the ferialia (chronological lists of ritual actions) (523-546). In addition to Degrassi, R. also covers the feriale Volsiniense found in 1968 and the genre of leges collegiorum as well as the leges municipales, e.g. the lex Irnitana, while he guides the instructions for the religious ceremonies. R. interprets the ferialia as an instrument of Rome to fix the canon of festivals in Italy and the provinces as well.

In Chapter 14, R. presents his theses for separate Roman festivals (547-562). He postulates that not only at the Idus but the fourth division day (the ninth day after the Idus, cf. R.'s Chapter 6.3) especially important Roman festivals took place. This R. tries to show also for the Angeronalia (December 21), but without having enough evidence, to elucidate the questioning. Following Noel Robertson, R. favors the identity of Poplifugia (July 5) and Nonae Capratinae (July 7 according to the consensus of older research). I agree with R.'s position that the festival of vitulatio (jubilation) could not be held on a day after the Nonae -- which would be singular -- but on July 6 (cf. 572); R. points to parallels between Regifugium, Poplifugia and Angeronalia, whereby he compares the vitulatio to the tubilustria, which both were according to R. removed by Flavius from the calendar. The paralleling of the festivals from the end of the year, Regifugium and Angeronalia, as well as the Poplifugia shortly after the summer solstice does not seem so cogent to me that it could only be explained as a variation of the routine running down monthly structure (561).

Chapter 15 summarizes our knowledge about the dies religiosi and their sub-units (563-592). R. finds the dies atri to be analogous to the black-letter-days like Friday the 13th. Divination, familiar in the ancient world to find a suitable day for an undertaking, is interpreted by R. as a step to guarantee societal security. The coincidence of New Year's Day and market day (nundinae), which was perceived as a threat in the late Republic, is shown by R. to be a construct from the time of Julian calendar reform. For the practice of choosing days, R. assumes the planetary week to be more important.

Chapter 16 (593-628) sums up the historical part of the study with consideration of the impression of the calendar to the public. The concept of public, as defined by the sociologist Juergen Habermas, is refuted for the Roman world. According to R., the participants of the comitia calata and other priestly announcements are the presumed public with regard to the calendar, but so are all those attending the more important festivals. The best known form of public is found at the ludi and the munera gladiatoria, which is how they should be called (618).

In the third large part, R. can show for many social sectors that the significance of the calendar shouldn't be underestimated. With good reason, R. has characterized the calendar as a method of religious qualification of time in the title of his book. On the other side, he is conscious of the problem that we aren't able to give concrete numbers of participants for most of the Roman comitia and festivals. In the last part of his book R. gives new approaches for many questionings of religious studies, which exceed of course the study of Michels.

R. turns not only to classicists, but such scientists of religion and sociologists who haven't had a close look at antiquity. This results in the large size of the book: it is swollen to more than 700 pages. It seems to want to be a kind of handbook -- the bibliography has a noteworthy 72 pages and the indexes are over 40 pages. In the end, the scholarly work does give access to the whole of the classical and religio-sociological research that could support a contribution to the history of the Roman calendar. The price of the book, which in USA has to be about $230, could result in R.'s book only being used in libraries as a reference.