Dates in Latin (Roman Numbers)

By Cato, in 'Latin to English Translation', Dec 5, 2006.

  1. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    Classical Romans reckoned dates in a strange way. To summarize, they counted backwards from certain "special" days in each month. Your date--June 27th--would be written a.d. VI Kal. Jul.; here's why:

    Every month has three special days: The Kalends which was always the first day of the month, the Ides which fell on either the 15th (in March, July, October, and May) or the 13th (every other month), and the Nones, which always fell eight days earlier than the Ides (i.e. on the 7th in March, July, October, and May, the 5th in every other month).

    To write a date, you first determine the next special day; note this may be the Kalends of the next month if you are in the 2nd half of the current month. Next you count backwards the number of days from that special way to your current date, but there is one slight complication: The Romans counted both the first and last day of a series, so their counting appears to us to include an extra day. For example, we would say January 23rd occurs 5 days before January 28th, but the Romans would actually say January 23rd is the 6th day before January 28th.

    The full form of the date is then written ante diem X Kalends/nones/Idus Y where X is the number of days (usually written as a Roman Numeral) and Y is the month containing the special day (in the genitive case). This was often abbreviated a. d. X Kal./Non./Id. Y, with the month Y abbreviated to three letters.

    A few small exceptions: If the date happens to be the day of a special day, you simply write e.g. Kal. Nov. = November 1st. If the date is the day before a special day, you write e.g. pridie Kal. Nov. = October 31st. Finally, there is a rare exception for dates in late February during a leap year; I don't remember it off-hand, but I believe they count the 6th day before the March Kalends twice, i.e. a.d. VI Kal. Mar. is usually February 24th, but in a leap year it is Feb. 25th, and Feb 24th is written a.d. bis VI Kal. Mar.. Or something like that...

    Some examples:

    December 25th - Next special day is the Kalends of January on the 1st. Count back from there to the 25th and you have seven days, but the Romans add and extra day, so this date is written a. d. VIII Kal. Jan.

    March 12th - a. d. IV Id. Mar.
    April 12th - pridie Id. Apr. (since Ides falls on the 13th in April).
    July 2nd - a.d. VI Non. Jul.
    Olkofri and Shane GaynorOCarroll like this.
  2. Marius Magnus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Kalends is a very interesting word, not only because it preserves the archaic K, but also because it contains the consonant sequence -nds, which, aside from this one instance, is not allowed at all in Latin.

    The -d- could not possibly have been pronounced between n- and -s, extrapolating from the phonology of other Latin words with similar consonant combinations. Does Kalends have other case-forms where the d is pronounced?
  3. PandaSpoon Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris

    debeo manere e parte hoc fori.


    thats all confusing to me.
  4. QMF Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Virginia, US
    Lethe: what gender is pars?
  5. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    In my opinion:

    "Kalends" is an English word.

    The Latin word is plural-only, and declines as follows:


    One of the oldest jokes I know is the promise to pay ad Kalendas Graecas; Suetonius gives it as something that Augustus used to say.
  6. Marius Magnus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Ah, ok, so "Kalends" is just an English plural of a nonexistent Latin singular...
  7. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Or an English translation of a legitimate Latin plural. I see that Cato uses it as if it were Latin, but I think that was just a slip?
  8. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    We're all allowed one...Iynx is right, this should be Kalendae, -arum. Note also that Idus is also plural (4th decl.).
  9. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    If one were all we were allowed, my friend, they'd have thrown me off here a long time ago.
  10. PandaSpoon Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris

    oops :bawling2:

    I'm trying...

    I am not an expert on genders.
  11. PandaSpoon Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris

    same here :p
  12. Nikolaos schmikolaos

    • Censor
    So, today is

    a.d. VIII kal. feb.*

    And it expands to ante diem octauum kalendas februarii?

    If I have the cases right, can someone help me to understand to syntax?

    *Ignoring the date difference between the Julian and Augustan calendars, as any sensible person would do.
  13. deudeditus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    i was under the impression that kalendae acts as an adjective in that case.
  14. scrabulista Consul

    • Consul
    I would think that kalendas is the object of ante, with februarii pointing to kalendas.
    So it would be something like "(at) the eighth day before the kalends of February."
  15. Imber Ranae Ranunculus Iracundus

    • Civis Illustris
    That should be a.d. VII kal. feb., assuming you mean January 26.

    kalendas februarias

    Februarius, like all the names of months, is an adjective and thus agrees with the noun it modifies (cf. Idibus Martiis "on the Ides of March"). When used as a substantive mensis is understood.

    By the way, the Latin words are kalendae (1st decl.), nōnae (1st decl.) and īdūs (4th decl.). Like the names of festival days they are plurale tantum.

    The syntax is elusive and seems to defy parsing. It would appear to be formulaic, and indeed the Romans treat it as an indeclinable noun, e.g. ex ante diem iii Non. Iun. usque ad prid. Kal. Sept. "from June 3rd to August 31".

    Perhaps it originally meant something like "before the Kalends of November, [that being] the sixth day [counting from the date]", the date being understood as the "first day". That would make it somewhat like nudius tertius, which means "the day before yesterday" but literally is something like "today being the third day [counting from then]". To this we might compare the archaic/dialectal English phrase "this day eight days", which means "a week from now".

    But perhaps I'm just rationalizing something that can't really be explained.

    Are you referring to the leap-year discrepancy?
  16. Cicera New Member


  17. Nikolaos schmikolaos

    • Censor
    I wrote it on the 25, at least in my time zone.

    Thanks - I was confused by the part of the original post that said the month name should be in the genitive.

    Thanks again - I was ready to pull my hair out with that.

    Yes, a factor that was pointed out on one site that I had looked as if it were necessary in calculating the date.
  18. Imber Ranae Ranunculus Iracundus

    • Civis Illustris
    Ah, OK. Your post's time stamp says Wed Jan 26 for me.
  19. Nikolaos schmikolaos

    • Censor
    Does anyone here know how dates were written before and during mensis intercalarius? Did the intercalary month have its own kalends, nones and ides? If so, what would be the proper abbreviation for intercalarius?

    Not that I'll ever need to use this, but I am curious.
  20. Imber Ranae Ranunculus Iracundus

    • Civis Illustris
    I think you just replace the month-name with the adjective intercalaris (or interkalaris), e.g. Kalendis Intercalaribus or a.d. III Idus intercalares.


    As indicated above, I think the 3rd decl. adjective intercalaris was more frequently used. I'm not sure what the abbreviation would have been. Perhaps just inter.?

    ETA: here's a good explanation from an authority.
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