Ancient Macedonia and its Calendars

By Theodossiou, E., Danezis, E., Manimanis V.N. and Grammenos, Th.,  University of Athens, School of Physics, Department of Astrophysics, Astronomy and Mechanics, Panepistimiopolis, Athens, Greece
The ancient Macedonian luni-solar calendar, as a result of the conquests of Alexander the Great, became the most widely propagated among all the luni-solar Greek calendars. However, despite its spread, two other calendrical systems were developed and used inside the territory of Macedonia itself during the Roman occupation of Greece. The older one, a luni-solar calendar, used the so-called “Macedonian year’” and started in 148 BC to underline the importance of the victory of the Roman Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus against Philippus Andriscus, king of Macedonia.
The newer solar calendrical system used the “respectable or Augustian year” bearing its name from Octavius Augustus. Its starting point was the date of the catalytic victory of Octavius over Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra at Aktium (31 BC). In Syria and Asia Minor existed another one solar calendar using the Seleucid era. In any case the ancient luni-solar Macedonian calendar outside Macedonia, survived among the calendrical systems of several Asian and Egyptian cities for centuries after Alexander the Great.
The ancient Greek calendrical system was based upon the lunar phase periodicity, or more precisely, upon the synodic lunar month. Ancient Greece did not know a unique calendar. Every Greek city had its own luni-solar calendar, characterised by month names, which were related to holidays in honour of Greek deities. Furthermore, the beginning of the civilian year, as the ancient astronomers established it, coincided with the instant of occurrence of the new moon phase.
In general, there was no accordance between the calendars of different Greek cities and regions, hence between the calendrical holidays. For example, the Attic year started in the month Hecatombaeon after the first new moon which followed the summer solstice (June 21), the Aetolian year started in the winter solstice (December 22), while the Lacaedaemonian year started in the autumnal equinox (September 22). The latter denoted also the beginning of the Macedonian civilian year, the precise starting point of which was set on the first “numenia” after the autumnal equinox. This signifies that the Macedonian calendar was very similar to other Greek calendars, the only difference being the celebration date for the New Year, on the corresponding October of the proleptic Julian calendar.
We come to the conclusion that the Macedonian calendar was, as the rest of the Greek calendars, a luni-solar calendar: “using a 354 lunar year with a periodic intercalated month of 29 or 30 days to keep it in line with the solar motion. The months consisted of 29 or 30 days alternately. The intercalated month was sometimes inserted after the sixth month and sometimes at the end of the year” [10]. The Macedonian calendar started after the first new moon following the autumnal equinox during the month Dios, corresponding to the Attic month Pyanepsion. Thus, the first month of the year was Dios. Its name has its origin in the sacred place Dion, the Macedonian religious center at the foot of mount Olympus – home of the immortal gods. This ancient city was closely associated to Zeus (Jupiter = Zeus pater) as its name implies – in Greek Zeus is also called Dias – and the genitive of Zeus being Dios. Every year during the month Dios, the Macedonians celebrated the great god Zeus and the Muses in Dion. At this sacred place, the Macedonians were gathered from every place to honor Zeus, the father of gods and humans, on the first day of their civilian year, i.e. on the first new moon after the autumnal equinox.
The Greek names for months and various festivals as well, indicate that the Macedonians were a Greek tribe speaking and writing in the Greek language. Aeschylus [1] and Herodotus [5] believed that the Macedonians were of Doric origin [3]; hence, some of the names of the Macedonian months were identical in the calendars of Doric cities (e.g., Sparta, Rhodes). Also, Polybius [13] clearly stated his belief that Macedonia was part of Greece. The geographer Strabo as well as the Roman historian Titus Livius, to mention just a few other ancient scholars, shared the same beliefs. According to Alexandros Gerbessiotis [4] – based on various sources – the Macedonians had their own month names and he additionally claims, that: “If one adopts, that Macedonians were hellenized by the Athenians some time around 340 BC, then one can safely assume that these names had to be identical to those used by the Athenians. Otherwise, they would exhibit the linguistic roots of the Macedonians prior to their alleged who claimed, that Dorians and Macedonians belonged to the same tribe and thus Macedonians were a Greek tribe and Macedonian month names were Greek differing from those used by the Athenians”.
The correspondence between the ancient Greek calendars [14] indicates that the Greek Macedonian month names and the Doric ones have an intersection.
In the 5th century BC, Archelaos, king of Macedonia, rendered splendid the feast of the Macedonian New Year’s day by introducing, in honour of Zeus, theatrics and gymnic games historically known as “εν Δίω Ολύμπια” [en Dio Olympia]. Gradually, these games became the greatest festival in ancient Macedonia. Together with Zeus, the local deities of the nine Muses were worshiped and honoured: Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, Urania and Calliope, considered as daughters of Zeus and Mnemosene, were born at Dion of Pieria, at the foot of mount Olympus, within nine successive nights. Therefore, they were also named Olympiad Muses [9].
The names and the duration of the Macedonian months were as follow [10]:
 Greek Macedonian Name                            Duration (in days)
  1. Dios 30
  2. Apellaeus or Apellaios 29
  3. Audynaeus or Aidonaios 30
  4. Peritius 29
  5. Dystrus 30
  6. Xanthicus 29
  7. Artemisius 30
  8. Daesius 29
  9. Panaemus or Panemus 30
  10. Loous or Lous 29
  11. Gorpiaeus 30
  12. Hyperberetaeus 29
All the Macedonian months can, more or less, be found also in the calendars of other Greek cities. Dios, the first Macedonian month, is attested in the Mycenaean Calendar as well as in Greek territories inhabited by the Greek tribe of Aetolians [8].
The name of the second month, Apellaeus (or Apellaios) had its origin in the famous festival called the “Apellaia”. So, Apellaeus was the second month in the Macedonian calendar, but it also belonged to the Aeolic and Doric Calendars. This month was localised especially in the calendars of the cities of Sparta and Delphi, where it was also called “month of Apollo”. According to the calendar of the Peloponnesian city of Epidaurus, Apellaeus was the last month of the year, while it also appeared as Apellaeon in the calendar of the Greek island of Tenos.
The third Macedonian month name, Audynaeus (Aidonaios or Aid(u)naios) is based on the name of Hades (=Aïdoneus, [7]). Αϊδωνεύς is the poetic type of the Greek word Άϊδης-Άδης [1b].
Peritia was the name of a Greek festival, hence the name of the fourth Macedonian month Peritios.
According to Kalleris [7], Dystrus, the fifth month, and Gorpiaeus, the eleventh Macedonian month, have caused the formation of inadequately supported etymologies. Xanthicus was the sixth Macedonian month and its name originates in the Xanthica festival [8]. The month Artemisius (seventh month in the Macedonian calendar) was dedicated to goddess Artemis and also reported of in the calendars of Sparta and Delphi, while it appeared as Artemisios in Epidaurus, Rhodes and Sicily, Artemision in Delos and Artemeision in Chios, as one can verify from inscriptions found on this island. Daesius, the eighth month [11], corresponding to the Attic month Thargelion, has also been reported in the calendar of the ancient city of Sikyon. However, the Sikyonian Daesius corresponded to the Attic month Anthesterion [12]. Daesius, as Theodaesius or Theudaessius, is attested to certain Doric regions as in the islands: Rhodes, Creta and Sicily. Theodaesia has been a great Greek festival in honour of Theodaesius Dionysus.
Panaemus, Panemos, or Panemus (ninth month in the Macedonian calendar) is found also in calendars of various Doric as well as Lokrian, Phokian and Aeolic cities [8]. The etymology of the eleventh Macedonian month, Gorpiaeus, is obscure, as we have said already. According to Hemerologium Florentinum, the Macedonian Gorpiaeus had a different correspondence in the various calendars outside Macedonia and it seems to be related to Gorpheus, which corresponded to September in the Julian calendar [14].
Finally, the twelfth Macedonian month, Hyperberetaeus, originates in the known epithets of Zeus: Hyperaibetes, Hyperberetes or Hyperpheretes [7].
There is no clue referring to the way that the month was divided. It is certain, that the Macedonians did not use the unknown Jewish “week” – the seven-day period. We may assume that – like the rest of the Greeks – they divided the month in three decades of ten days each, with the last decade of either ten or nine days. Thus, the months endured for 30 or 29 days alternately, giving a total of 354 days per year, since the month and hence the year was controlled by the lunar motion [10]. Consequently, this lunar calendar needed an intercalary month in order to be harmonised with the apparent annual orbit of the sun on the ecliptic. In other words, a 13th month should be inserted in order to keep the lunar calendar in line with the solar-tropical year, i.e. with the four climatic seasons of the year. This reconciliation was a necessary condition for the co-ordination of the people’s agricultural occupations. Therefore, a 13th month having 29 or 30 days was periodically inserted into the year to keep it in line with the apparent solar motion. It remains unknown at which specific time of the year this insertion was performed. It is said, that it took place either after the sixth month, or at the end of the year, i.e. after the twelfth month. Sometimes these month insertions were completely arbitrary and were performed mostly by royal decree. Thus, it is a historical fact that in 334 BC, when Alexander the Great was ready to start his military campaign to Asia, he arbitrarily inserted a second Artemisius just before Daesius [6]. Plutarch refers the act of Alexander: “… For in the month of Daesius the kings of Macedonia were not wont to take the field with an army. This objection Alexander removed by bidding them call the month a second Artemisius” [11]. This act can be explained by the fact, that the Macedonians considered Daesius as an unfortunate month for any kind of military operations.
A lot of Greek religious festivals were associated to the Macedonian calendar. During the winter solstice the Macedonians and other Greeks as well, celebrated planting and harvest festivals. After Alexander the Great, the influence of the Macedonian calendar extended from Macedonia to Asia – over to India – and Egypt in Northern Africa.
As a result of the conquests of Alexander, the luni-solar Macedonian calendar became the most widely propagated among all luni-solar Greek calendars. However, despite its spread, two other Roman calendrical systems were developed and used inside Macedonia itself during the occupation of Greece by the Romans. These two Roman calendars in Macedonia, describing below, are in general unknown and they are not existed in the international Bibliography of the calendars
II. 1 The Macedonian year
The older of these two calendrical systems was a luni-solar one and used the so-called “Macedonian year”. This system started in 148 BC, i.e. in the year of the outburst of the revolution lead by Pseudo-Philippus Andriscus against the Romans [8]. Andriscus has been an adventurer who proclaimed himself as the only son of king Perseus, son of king Philippus V. Hence, Andriscus took the name “Philippus VI” and was crowned in Pella in 149 BC Under the name of his – in appearance only –“grandfather” Philippus V, Andriscus ruled over Macedonia for only one year during which he provoked a new military intervention against the Roman Empire. In the beginning, he managed to stir up the Macedonians and other Greeks against the Romans and his enthusiasm produced some minor victories in Thessaly. Unfortunately for the Greeks, the Roman consul Qointus Caecilius Metellus and his legions won against the troops of Pseudo-Philippus in a decisive battle that took place in the autumn of 148 BC, thus putting an end to the false state of independence holding in Macedonia since king Philippus V (2nd Macedonian War, 197 BC) [15]. In order to underline the importance of his victory over the Macedonian king, the Roman consul decreed the introduction of a “Macedonian year” and defined as its start the respective year of his victory, so that the citizens of Macedonia would remember this fact and would not dare another rebellion against Rome. After 146 BC, the whole territory of Greece was under Roman occupation.
This new Macedonian era is also known to historians and astronomers as the “provincial era” and is associated to the organisation of the new Roman province of Macedonia. This is the reason for calling this period “Macedonian era”. It is also known, that the province of Macedonia was composed of two, ethnically and historically different, parts: Macedonia and Illyria [2]. This new era applies only to the first of these different regions and is therefore wrongly designated as “provincial era”. According to M.B. Sakellariou [8]: “The results of recent research, however, suggest that the new era coincides with an act of gratitude commemorating the liberation of the country from the usurper and the restoration of the republic, which would, in turn, denote that the formation of the province should be dated after the autumn of 148 BC”.
II.2 The year of Augustus
In the late years of the 1st century BC Octavian destroyed his enemies – Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra at Aktium – and founded an Empire that was eventually to stretch from Italy to Egypt and Asia Minor. Following the middle Eastern rulers he also establish a new solar calendar in Macedonia. This was the younger calendrical system that developed in Macedonia during the Early Empire and utilised the so-called “year of Augustus” bearing its name from the honourable address of Octavian as Augustus, meaning respectable. The start of this calendrical system was the date of the victory of Octavian Augustus over Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra at Aktium, on September 2nd of the year 31 BC The victory of Augustus in this naval battle paved the way to his monocracy. Consequently, the Roman emperor decreed the introduction of the “respectable year” in order to perpetuate the significance that catalytic victory had for his further triumphant course [14].
This calendar was a solar one of 365 days with an extra day every four years to account for solar motion. It contained 12 months of 30 days each and extra five – or six in leap years – days at the year’s end. Both the Macedonians in Macedonia and the other Greeks in the territory called by the Romans Macedonia – from ancient Macedonia to Peloponnesos – changed the date of their New Year, while the Macedonians retained all the other elements of the ancient luni-solar Macedonian calendar. The Macedonians in Macedonia began the New Year on September 2 – that is moved the New Year back from October to September – while the Macedonians in the Empire continued to use their old luni-solar calendar.
Apparently, the Macedonians acted rather rapidly in honouring Octavian by inaugurating an “Augustian era” (the new calendar with the epoch in 31 BC). The latter, like the older “Macedonian era” of 148 BC, was only a Macedonian era, not found outside Macedonia proper [8].
The aforementioned calendrical systems were in parallel or separately used in Macedonia during the Roman occupation and served as a criterion for determining whether a territory belonged to Macedonia or not. However, we should point out that the names of the months remained the same as in the ancient Macedonian calendar.
The two Roman calendars started with the month Dios, but they had a different chronological beginning: 148 BC for the “Macedonian year” and 31 BC for the “respectable year” [8].
The Macedonian calendar happened to be the most widespread among the luni-solar Greek calendars. Indeed, this calendar was widely circulated in Asia and Egypt down to the Arabian Peninsula in the South and over to India in the East during the conquests of Alexander the Great and his descendant’s [10].
When the great army leader conquered Egypt and several Asian countries, he imposed the Macedonian calendar on his conquests as a cultural element of connectedness in his new, vast empire. Hence, the Macedonian month names reached along with Alexander the Great, Babylon, Memphis, and a number of other big cities of the East. However, the people of Asia and Egypt had their own calendars already, which necessarily were connected to the Macedonian calendar [14]. As a result, the month correspondence was not accurate for the use of the calendar outside Macedonia. Indeed, the differences were significant in the cities of Antioch, Ascalona of Syria, Ephesus, Gaza, Lycaea, Sidon, Tyros and elsewhere. For example, the month Dios was introduced into the calendars of many Greek cities in Asia, pertaining its name but not its position within the year. Thus, in the calendar of Bithynia, Dios was the sixth month of the year, corresponding to Anthesterion of Attica. Beside the position, the name of several months was also changed. For example, Audynaeus, the third month in the Macedonian calendar, appears also as Audnaeus, Audonaeus, Aedonaeus, Audounaeus and Aurnaeus [7]. Finally, Gorpiaeus, the eleventh month in the Macedonian calendar, seems to have preserved its name after the spread of this calendar through the Greek cities of Minor Asia and the various regions of Asia, but not its correspondence within the year. Hence, according to the Hemerologium Florentinum, Gorpiaeus started in Ephesus on July 25th, in Tyros on September 19th, in Gaza on August 29th and in the Arabic regions on August 19th. In Syria, Gorpiaeus corresponded to September, in Seleukeia of Pieria to October, and in Sidon to November of the Julian Calendar [13].
III. 1. The Macedonian calendar in Egypt
In Egypt, Thoth, the first month of the solar Egyptian calendar, was identified with Dios and the first decameron of today’s October was set as the corresponding start of the year.
The following table presents the correspondence of the months of the Egyptian calendar to the months of the Macedonian calendar [10]:
Egyptian names                                 Macedonian names
  1. Thoth Dios
  2. Paophi Apellaeus or Apellaios
  3. Athyr Audynaeus or Aidonaios
  4. Choiak Peritius
  5. Tybi Dystrus
  6. Mechir Xanthicus
  7. Phamenoth Artemisius
  8. Pharmuthi Daesius
  9. Pachons Panaemus or Panemus
  10. Payni Loous
  11. Epiphi Gorpiaeus
  12. Mesore Hyperberetaeus
After Alexander’s death, the Ptolemaeans, rulers of Egypt, kept in force the Egyptian and the Macedonian calendar as well in order not to displease neither the Egyptians nor the Macedonians. Yet, the disagreement between the accurate solar Egyptian calendar and the imperfect luni-solar Macedonian calendar, which was used by the Alexandrian Court as the official state calendar, caused a chronological confusion characterised by an ever-increasing error. Therefore, Ptolemaeus III Euergetes or Benefactor (279-222 BC) had to put both dates on the official state documents. However, this act was proved useful for the more accurate Egyptian calendar, which prevailed in time, while the Macedonian months were, mentioned only honoris causa. In other words, in ptolemaeic Egypt, while initially the luni-solar Macedonian calendar went along with the more accurate solar Egyptian calendar, eventually the latter replaced the former.
III. 2 The Macedonian calendar in Mesopotamia
In Mesopotamia, the Seleucides, descendants of Alexander the Great and rulers of the region immediately adjusted the 19-year cycle of Meton, also used by the Babylonian calendar, to the Mesopotamian calendar. This time cycle, discovered by the astronomer Meton of Athens in 432 BC, is composed of 19 solar tropical years, while the phases of the moon repeat themselves at the same days and dates of the year. Consequently, Meton constructed the first rational system for the correction of the lunar calendar, by inserting a 13th month into seven predetermined solar years of the 19-year solar cycle (i.e., the third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and the nineteenth year). Hence, that cycle was no more corresponding to 228 but to 235 synodic lunar months.
Since 331 BC, when Alexander the Great conquered Babylon, the month Dios was identified with Tashritu, the 7th Babylonian month.
The next table shows the correspondence between the months of the Babylonian and the Macedonian calendar:
Babylonian names                             Macedonian names
  1. Tashritu Dios
  2. Arakshamna Apellaeus or Apellaios
  3. Kislimu Audynaeus or Aidonaios
  4. Tebeth Peritius
  5. Shabatu Dystrus
  6. Adaru Xanthicus
  7. Nisanu Artemisius
  8. Ayaru Daesius
  9. Simanu Panaemus or Panemus
  10. Du uzu Loous
  11. Abu Gorpiaeus
  12. Ululu Hyperberetaeus
The Babylonian year started not at the vernal equinox of the month Nisanu, but at the first new moon after the autumnal equinox, as did the Macedonian civil year respectively. The ‘month’ continued to last for 30 or 29 days. Furthermore, the clay inscriptions found at the Ninevi excavations, refer to months of 30 or 29 days, however not alternately appearing. For instance, there is a report of three successive months of 30 days in the years 207 and 177 BC of the “Seleucid era”, but never of three successive 29 day months.
Seleucus Necator (4th century BC), one of Alexander the Great general, ruler of Syria, who founded an empire from Asia Minor to India, established a new calendar in his empire.
According to Parise [10] the Seleucid calendar was a solar one of 365 days with an extra day every four years to account for solar motion. It was started on October 2 of 312 BC – according to the proleptic Julian calendar – and contained 12 months of 30 days each and extra five – or in leap years six – days at the year’s end. Because the calendar was used over a large area and among different religions and ethnic groups, there were many variations. Both the Greeks in Syria and the native Syrians changed the date of the New Year. The Greeks began the New Year on September 1, while the Syrians began it on October 9. The Macedonians in the Empire continued to use their ancient luni-solar calendar.
In any case, the ancient luni-solar Macedonian calendar survived among the calendrical systems of several Asiatic and Egyptian cities for centuries after Alexander the Great. The sacred month Dios, the first month in the Macedonian calendar, remained present in the calendars of many important cities and regions of Asia and Egypt as well. The Macedonian month names were kept in force in Alexandria, Gaza, Ascalona, Babylon, Palmyra, Sidon, Tyros and in Cyprus, where inscriptions have been found, witnessing of the usage of Greek names of the Macedonian calendar such as Xanthicus and Gorpiaeus. The latter was used by Paeon the Amathoussious [14].
1a. Aeschylus, Suppliant maidens (Iketidai), Vol. I, 250. Loeb Classical Library, with and English translation by H. W. Smyth. William Heineman LtD. Harvard University Press, 1963.
1b. Aeschylus, Persians (Perses), Vol. I, 650. Loeb Classical Library, with and English translation by H. W. Smyth. William Heineman LtD. Harvard University Press, 1963.
  1. Casson, St., Macedonia, Thrace and Illyria-Their relatiion to Greece from the earliest times down to the time of Philip son of Antypas. Buma’s Boekhuis N.V. Publishers. Gronigen, 1968.
  2. Daskalakis, A.B., The Hellenism of Ancient Macedonia, National Publishing Book Company (Organismos Ekdoseon Didaktikon Vivlion). Athens, 1960, (in Greek).
  3. Gerbessiotis, A., Frequently Asked Questions on Macedonia, 10, 1992 (Revised June 18, 2005),
  4. Herodotus, History, Vol. III. Book V, 22, 1. Loeb Classical Library, with and English translation by A. D. Godley. William Heineman LtD. Harvard University Press, 1963.
  5. Hydria Encyclopaedia, Hydria Publications, Athens, 1978, (in Greek).
  6. Kalleris, I., Les Anciens Macedonies. Etude Linguistique et Historique, Vol. II, Athens,1954, pp. 560-564, 569-571.
  7. Sakellariou, M.B., (ed.), Macedonia, 4000 Years of Greek History and Civilization, Ekdotike Athinon, Athens, 1992, pp.60, 63.
  8. Nystazopoulou-Pelekidou, M., A historical survey of the «Macedonian question»: on scientific truth about Macedonia, National Technical University of Athens, 1993.
  9. Parise, F., (ed.), The Book of Calendars. Facts on File, Lib. Of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data, New York, 1982, p. 8.
  10. Plutarch’s Lives Alexander, vol. VII, 1. Loeb Classical Library, with and English translation by Bernadotte Perrin. William Heineman LtD. Harvard University Press, 1963. Vol. 16, 1. 75, 2. 76, 1.
  11. Plutarch’s Lives Aratus. Loeb Classical Library, with and English translation by Bernadotte Perrin. William Heineman LtD. Harvard University Press, 1963, Vol. XI, 53, 4.
  12. Polybius, The Histories, with and English translation by W.R. Patton. William Heineman LtD. Harvard University Press, 1972, Vol. III, Book V 103, 9 and 104, 1; Book VII 9,1 and 11,4; Vol. IV, Book IX 37,7; Vol. VI, Book XXVII 8, 9; XXXIV 7,13.
  13. Theodossiou, E., Danezis, E., The Odyssey of the Calendars, Vol. I, Searching for the Roots of Knowledge. Diavlos Publ., Athens, 1995, pp. 334-335, 342-354.
  14. Helios Encyclopaedia, Ancient Macedonia, Athens, 1957, (in Greek).
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