Time Is Power: Politics and the Julian Calendar Reform

Bradley G. Potter

Pontifical College Josephinum

Macrobius ,.in The Saturnalia, ascribes to Julius Caesar the responsibility for removing the confusion that existed in the calendar of the Roman.  His reform brought the political calendar into line with the solar year.  His initial adjustment meant that the year had an additional 79 days.  Macrobius assigns blame the interests of tax collectors for the confusion that took the fiat of Caesar to rectify.  From Cicero's letters, we can determine that not only the tax collectors benefited from manipulating the calendar, but also the politicians.  Julius Caesar's reform, however, gave the Romans a stable mechanism for intercalation for keeping the calendar year commensurate with the solar year.  This calendar was so effective that it is essentially the same as used throughout the world today.  On the one hand, the calendar reform can be seen as a great boon to Roman society.  In fact, we see plentiful evidence in inscriptions of a wide variety of people at all levels of society using the Julian calendar to mark time, whereas use of the pre-reform calendar was not widespread.  On the other hand, Caesar's reform took control of the calendar from the Senate.  Thus, in this reform we can detect the shift in the underlying power structure from oligarchic to autocratic rule.  In this paper, I will show how the calendar reform reflects this shift as well as the political and social ramifications of the reform.  And finally I will consider how the reform contributed to Caesar's image.


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