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Coligny calendar

The Gaulish Coligny Calendar was found in Coligny, Ain, France near Lyon in 1897, along with the head of a bronze statue of a youthful male figure. It is a lunisolar calendar.

It was engraved on a bronze tablet, preserved in 73 fragments, that originally was 1.48 m wide and 0.9 m high (Lambert p.111) or approximately wide by 3½ feet in height . Based on the style of lettering and the accompanying objects, it probably dates to the end of the 2nd century (Lambert p.111). It is written in Latin inscriptional capitals, and is in the Gaulish language (Duval & Pinault). The restored tablet contains sixteen vertical columns, with 62 months distributed over five years.

The French archaeologist J. Monard speculated that it was recorded by druids wishing to preserve their tradition of timekeeping in a time when the Julian calendar was imposed throughout the Roman Empire. However, the general form of the calendar suggests the public peg calendars (or parapegmata) found throughout the Greek and Roman world (Lehoux pp. 63-65).

A similar calendar, found nearby at Villards d'Heria is only preserved in eight small fragments. It is now preserved in the Musée d'Archéologie du Jura at Lons-le-Saunier.

System

The Continental Celtic calendar as reconstructed from the calendars of Coligny and Villards d'Heria had the following properties:

  • it was a lunisolar calendar, attempting to synchronize the solar year and the lunar month.
  • the months were lunar. Scholars disagree as to whether the start of the month was the new moon or the full moon, or per Pliny and Tacitus perhaps even the First Quarter.
  • the common lunar year contained 354 or 355 days.
  • the calendar year began with Samonios, which is usually assumed to correspond to Old Irish Samhain, giving an autumn start to the year. However, as Samon is Gaulish for summer (Lambert p.112), this assumed start is disputed. Le Contel and Verdier (1997) argue for a summer solstice start of the year. Monard (1999) argues for an autumn equinox start. Bonsing (2007) argues for a May beginning consistent with Irish Beltaine, and Fennian literature, notably Joyce (2000).
  • the entry TRINVX[tion] SAMO[nii] SINDIV "three-nights of Samonios today") on the 17th of Samonios suggests that a festival of Samhain was considered to last for three nights.
  • the solar year was approximated by the insertion of a 13th intercalary month every two and a half years (unlike the Islamic calendar, where the calendar year keeps shifting in relation to the solar year). The additional months were intercalated before Samonios in the first year, and between Cutios and Giamonios in the third year. The name of the first intercalary month is not known with certainty, the text being fragmentary; the second intercalary month is Ciallos bis Sonnocingos (Lambert p.116)
  • the months were divided into two halves, the beginning of the second half marked with the term Atenoux. The basic unit of the Celtic calendar was thus the fortnight or half-month, as is also suggested in traces in Celtic folklore. The first half was always 15 days, the second half either 14 or 15 days on alternate months (similar to Hindu calendars).
  • months of 30 days were marked Mat(os), lucky. Months of 29 days were marked Anm(atos), unlucky.
  • a simple five year cycle would be insufficiently accurate; the sequence of intercalary months is completed every thirty years, after five cycles of 62 lunations with two intercalary months each, and one cycle of 61 lunations, with a single intercalary month, or after a total of 11 intercalary months. This assumes that there are exactly 371 lunations in 30 years, which is accurate to a one day every 20 or 21 years on average (this is less accurate than the Julian calendar, which shifts a day in about 130 years, but which ignores lunar months). It may be assumed that the "30 years cycle" was not prescriptive, and that an extra month would have been omitted as the need arose (i.e. some 300 years after the calendar's inception).

The interpretation of atenoux as "returning night" is improbable (Delamarre p.58) and "renewing" would seem more probable; thus the month would start at new moon and atenoux would indicate the renewal, ie the full moon.

Gaulish calendar in historical sources

Pliny the Elder

The Natural History of Pliny the Elder states, in a discussion of Druidic gathering of mistletoe (Pliny NH 16.95):

The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the sixth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing.

This comment supports the grouping of five-year Coligny calendar periods into thirty-year ages, with the loss of one intercalary month per age to more accurately align the solar and lunar cycles.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar in The Gallic Wars states (Caesar, DBG 6.18) that days, months, and years start with a dark half followed by a light half.

All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.

This is consistent with a month starting at the dark of the moon, or at the sixth day of the moon as with Pliny; it is inconsistent with a month starting at full moon, as mentioned in many Neopagan discussions of the Coligny calendar.

Months

The sequence of month names of the following table assumes the calendar starts with the autumn equinox and is derived from the analysis of Monard (1999) and others.

# Month names Julian months Remark
1 SAMON[IOS] (Oct/Nov) see Samhain for etymology
2 DVMANN[OSIOS] (Nov/Dec) "dark"?
3 RIVROS (Dec/Jan) cf. Irish reo "frost"
4 ANAGANTIO[S] (Jan/Feb)  
5 OGRONIOS (Feb/Mar)  
6 CVTIOS (Mar/Apr) cf. Irish cith/cioth "shower of rain"
  (SONNOCINGOS)   "beginning of spring"?
7 GIAMONIOS (Apr/May) see the etymology section of Samhain cf. Irish geimhreadh "winter"
8 SIMIVISONNA[COS] (May/Jun) "mid-spring"?
9 EQVOS (Jun/Jul) "horse" (Irish each) or "livestock"
10 ELEMBIV[IOS] (Jul/Aug)  
11 EDRINI[OS] (Aug/Sep)  
12 CANTLOS (Sep/Oct)  

The festivals of Beltane (Giammonios full moon) and Lughnasadh (Elembivios full moon) have been claimed to be indicated by small sigils A correspondence to Imbolc (Anagantios full moon) is not indicated.

References

  • Bonsing, John (2007). The Celtic Calendar (available online).
  • Bostock, John and H.T. Riley (eds) (1855). Pliny the Elder, The Natural History Book 16, "the natural history of the forest trees". English translation (available online). Original Latin (also available). The Latin text of the specific passage is est autem id rarum admodum inventu et repertum magna religione petitur et ante omnia sexta luna, quae principia mensum annorumque his facit et saeculi post tricesimum annum, quia iam virium abunde habeat nec sit sui dimidia.
  • Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars 6.18. English translation (available online). Original Latin (also available). The Latin text of the specific passage is Ob eam causam spatia omnis temporis non numero dierum sed noctium finiunt; dies natales et mensum et annorum initia sic observant ut noctem dies subsequatur.
  • Delamarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise: une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental. 2nd edition, Paris, Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6
  • Lambert, Pierre-Yves (2003). La langue gauloise. Paris, Editions Errance. 2nd edition. ISBN 2-87772-224-4. Chapter 9 is titled "Un calandrier gaulois".
  • Le Contel, Jean-Michel and Verdier, Paul (1997). Un calendrier celtique: le calendrier gaulois de Coligny. Paris, Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-136-1
  • Lehoux, D. R. Parapegmata: or Astrology, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World. PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2000

Bibliography

  • Duval, Paul-Marie and Pinault, Georges (eds) (1986). Receuil des Inscriptions Gauloises (R.I.G.), Vol. 3: Les calendriers du Coligny (73 fragments) et Villards d'Heria (8 fragments). Paris, Editions du CNRS.
  • Hitz, Hans-Rudolf (1991). Der gallo-lateinische Mond- und Sonnen-Kalender von Coligny.
  • Joyce, P.W. (2000). "Old Celtic Romances". The pursuit of the Giolla Dacker and his horse. Wordsworth Editions Limited, London.
  • Laine-Kerjean, C. (1943). "Le Calendrier Celtique". Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie, 23, pp.249-84.
  • McCluskey, Stephen C. (1990). "The Solar Year in the Calendar of Coligny". Études Celtiques, 27, pp. 163-74.
  • Mac Neill, Eóin (1928). "On the notation and chronology of the Calendar of Coligny". Ériu, X, pp.1-67.
  • Monard, Joseph (1996). About the Coligny Calendar. privately published monograph.
  • Monard, Joseph (1996). Découpage saisonnier de l'année celtique. privately published monograph.
  • Monard, Joseph (1999). Histoire du calendrier gaulois : le calendrier de Coligny. Paris, Burillier. ISBN 2-912616-01-8
  • Olmsted, Garrett (1992). The Gaulish calendar: a reconstruction from the bronze fragments from Coligny, with an analysis of its function as a highly accurate lunar-solar predictor, as well as an explanation of its terminology and development. Bonn: R. Habelt. ISBN 3-7749-2530-5
  • Parisot, Jean-Paul (1985). "Les Phases de la Lune et les Saisons dans le Calendrier de Coligny". Studies Indo-Européennes, 13, pp.1-18.
  • Pinault, J. (1951). "Notes sur le vocabulaire gaulois, I. Les noms des mois du Calendrier de Coligny". Ogam, XIII, pp. 143-154
  • Rhys, John (1909). "The Coligny Calendar". Proceedings of the British Academy, 4, pp.207-318.
  • Thurneysen, Rudolf (1899). "Der Kalendar von Coligny". Zeitschrift für celtishe Philologie, 2, pp.523-544

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