Roman timekeeping

A Roman era sundial on display at a museum in Side, Turkey

The Roman clock, or time of day, was divided into 24 hours (Latin horae), 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. [1]

Seasonal change in the hourly length of daytime

Since the daytime duration varied with the seasons, this also meant that the length of the hour changed, with shorter hours in winter and longer hours in summer.[1] The Romans also understood that the length of daytime depended on latitude. At mediterranean latitude, one hour was only about 45 minutes on the winter solstice, but about 75 minutes on the summer solstice.[2][3]

Duration and distribution of horae and vigiliae on equinoxes and solstices of the year AD 8 for Forum Romanum.

Local timekeeping across the Roman Empire

Since local habits varied across the empire, local Roman habits also varied. In particular, whether the day started from sunrise, or later midnight (as Romans), or from sunset as Athenians and Jews. The Romans also divided the day into other periods, such as media noctis inclinatio "midnight," gallicinium "cock-crow",[4] conticinium (with variants such as conticuum) "hush of the night," and diluculum, "decline of the day."[5] The Jewish and early Christian subjects of the empire often had different methods of timekeeping.[6]

Beginning of the Roman day

A diagram illustrating variable lengths of the segments called hora and vigilia.[7] Forum Romanum AD 8.
Lengths of hora, hora noctis and vigilia. Forum Romanum AD 8.
Lengths and distribution of horae and vigiliae changing during the year AD 8, Forum Romanum.

The Roman civil and religious day began at midnight from a very early time.[8] Scholars such as Unger (1892) and Ramsay (1896) maintain that the hours were always counted from dusk and dawn, hence that the "sixth hour" of the night or day represented midnight and midday respectively.

Jack Finegan (1964) argues with little evidence that Romans counted the "sixth hour" from midnight.[9][10] This would make it ambiguous whether the New Testament refers to local Hebrew time or Roman time. For example, the Gospel of John depicts Pilate saying "behold your king" to the people of Jerusalem at "the sixth hour". In Hebrew time, this would mean noon (or midnight), but if John used the supposed Roman time, it would be six o'clock in the morning.[11] The Gospel of Mark refers to Christ being crucified at the "third hour," darkness from "the sixth hour to the ninth hour," and Christ's last words shortly after the "ninth hour".[12] If John wrote from Ephesus after AD 70, he would be writing in a more Roman milieu, and would likely be using Roman time, which Finegan thinks counted third, sixth, and ninth hours from noon.

Numbering and names of hours (horae)
Day[13][14][15][n 1] Night[15][n 1][n 2]
Number[7][n 1] Name[16][17][18][n 1][19][n 3] Number Name[16][17][n 1]
I hora prima I hora prima
II hora secunda II hora secunda
III hora tertia III hora tertia
IV hora quarta IV hora quarta
V hora quinta V hora quinta
VI hora sexta VI hora sexta
VII hora septima VII hora septima
VIII hora octava VIII hora octava
IX hora nona IX hora nona
X hora decima X hora decima
XI hora undecima XI hora undecima
XII hora duodecima XII hora duodecima

To indicate that it is a day or night hour Romans used expressions such as for example prima diei hora,[17] prima noctis hora,[17] hora prima noctis.[15]

Watches of the night

The Romans divided the night into four watches, (Latin vigiliae plural), following the Greek practice (Greek φυλακή), since, as Vegetius explains, a city-guard could not stand watch all night.[20] For example, "in the fourth watch of night" (quarta vigilia noctis) meant just before dawn.

According to many sources, each watch consisted of three of the twelve previously listed night hours.[16][17][18][19][21]

Hours (horae)
[16][n 4][17][18][n 5][n 6]
Watches (vigiliae)
[18][19][n 7][7][15][17][n 8][16][n 4][n 6]
I hora prima prima vigilia
II hora secunda
III hora tertia
IV hora quarta secunda vigilia
V hora quinta
VI hora sexta
VII hora septima tertia vigilia
VIII hora octava
IX hora nona
X hora decima quarta vigilia
XI hora undecima
XII hora duodecima

Time keeping devices

The Romans used various timekeeping devices including the clepsydra, or water clock, and the Greek sundial[22]. Censorinus describes the introduction of sundials to Rome by Manius Valerius after his victories in Sicily.[23] A humorous comment about the prevalence of sundials is illustrated by a character in The Boeotian Woman, a drama by Plautus, who complains "May the gods destroy that man who first discovered hours and who first set up a sundial here, who cut up my day."; though the comparison is with the speaker's young days when a child is free of timekeeping, not about the introduction of sundials.[24] Marcus Vitruvius Pollio lists various types of sundials in Book IX of his De Architectura, with attributions to their Greek inventors.[25]

Modern remnants

  • The Roman day starting at dawn survives today in the Spanish word siesta, literally the sixth hour of the day (sexta hora).
  • The daytime canonical hours of the Catholic Church take their names from the Roman clock: the prime, terce, sext and none (liturgy) occur during the first (prīma) - 6am, third (tertia) - 9am, sixth (sexta) - 12pm, and ninth (nōna) = 3pm, hours of the day.
  • The English term noon is also derived from the ninth hour, although due to semantic drift now refers to midday rather than mid-afternoon.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Sources where the word hora is first.[7][13][14][15][16][17][18] For example hora quarta.
  2. ^ Names with added adjective noctis, for example hora quinta noctis.[15]
  3. ^ Sources where the word hora is second.[19] For example quarta hora.
  4. ^ a b Galvez 2006 - the names of vigiliae in spanish (primera, segunda, tercera and quarta vigilia).[16]
  5. ^ References with the names of horae corresponding to vigiliae listed without numbers of hours.[16][17][18]
  6. ^ a b Traupman 2007 - vigilia prima not listed, other vigiliae in conjunction with names of night hours (without their numbers): hora quarta and vigilia secunda, hora sexta and vigilia tertia, hora decima and vigilia quarta.[17]
  7. ^ Sources where the word vigilia is second.[18][19] For example quarta vigilia.
  8. ^ Sources where the word vigilia is first.[7][15][17] For example vigilia quarta.


  1. ^ a b The Romans: an introduction - Page 208 Antony Kamm - 2008 "The Roman day was divided into twelve hours of equal length, from sunrise to sunset, and likewise during the night. Thus the length of an hour, and the hour itself, varied according to the season of the year."
  2. ^ The Gospel of John: Volume 1 - Page 98 William Barclay - 2001 "The Jewish day, like the Roman day, was divided into twelve equal hours, from sunrise to sunset. That of course means that the length of an hour varied according to the length of the day and the season of the year."
  3. ^ Francis Willey Kelsey introduction to edition of Iulii Caesaris Commentarii rerum gestarum Julius Caesar, 1918 "reckoned about 5 o'clock by our time, we add 31/2 to 5, making 8.30 ; that is, 8.30 am, by our reckoning from midnight, will approximately represent the beginning of the fourth hour of the day by Roman reckoning under the conditions of "
  4. ^ A commentary on the Letters of M. Cornelius Fronto - Page 83 Michael Petrus Josephus van den Hout, Marcus Cornelius Fronto - 1999 - "the gallicinium in Censorinus, Macrobius and Servius auctus, but Varro apud Servium and Isidorus put it before midnight. Matutinum also in Isidorus between gallicinium and diluculum. Censorinus calls it ante lucem, Macrobius omits it ..."
  5. ^ The journal of the British Archaeological Association: Volume 38 1882 "The division of the Roman day was similar to that of the Greek ; but the space of forty-eight hours was reckoned differently by different nations (Macrobius). The Athenians reckoned from sunset to sunset ; the Babylonians from sunrise to sunrise ; but the Roman day extended from midnight to midnight, and the first part was called medice noctis inclinatio ; the next gallicinium, or cock-crow ; the third conticuum, or the silent, when not only cocks cease to crow, to crow, but men also take their rest ; the last is the diluculum, when day begins to decline.8,
  6. ^ Rome in late antiquity: everyday life and urban change, AD 312-609 - Page Bertrand Lançon - 2000 - 185 pages - Preview At the winter solstice, an hour was shorter, about 45 minutes, but, at the summer solstice, it was longer, about 75 minutes. In late antiquity, Christians' perception of a day differed from that of the Roman tradition.
  7. ^ a b c d e Publius Dionysius Mus (2003-07-01). "Essay: Measuring Time in Ancient Rome" (PDF). Societa Via Romana Newsletter. Bimonthly Magazine. The Societas Via Romana. Year 1 (1): 6–7. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  8. ^ William Maude, New York 1900 in footnote to text Censorinus XII and note 109. 109 Idem significat (a media nocte ad mediam noctem diem esse), quod, qui a media nocte ad proximam mediam noctum . . . nascuntur, eumdem diem habent natalem. Says Aulus Gellius, lib. iii, 2: “This question has often been argued. When an infant is born during the night, at the third, at the fourth, or at any other hour, what day should be regarded as the day of its birth? Should it be that which preceded the night on which it was born, or that which followed? Here is what Marcus Varro says in his treatise on Human Things in the book entitled Days: ‘All children born in the interval of 24 hours between the middle of one night and the middle of the following, are considered as having been born on the same day.’ ” In other words, Varro decided that a child born after the setting of the sun but before midnight, should have for its natal day that one which preceded this night; but if he was born during the last six hours of the night, his birthday should be placed in the following day. . . This division of the day (at midnight) is corroborated by other circumstances. Sacrifices offered after the sixth hour of the night belonged to the next day. When a public act had to be executed on the same day that the auspices were taken, the latter were taken after midnight. The Tribunes of the People could not lawfully absent themselves from Rome for a whole day, yet they sometimes left the city after midnight; taking care to return between candle-light and the next midnight. Quintius Musius decided a divorce case on the point that the new year began at midnight of December 31st. See also Macrobius, lib. I, 3. "
  9. ^ The Jewish world around the New Testament: collected essays I - Page 417 Richard Bauckham - 2008 "... which was the beginning of his twenty-four hours day, "the sixth hour of the night"' (458). If this is right, it is the decisive argument against the claim (adopted by Finegan) that John, unlike other New Testament writers, reckons the hours of the day from midnight"
  10. ^ "David A. Ball, "The Crucifixion and Death of a Man Called Jesus, "Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association 30 (1989): 80-82. "The Roman day began at midnight and ended 24 hours later at midnight."
  11. ^ Exploring the gospel of John: an expository commentary - Page 361 John Phillips - 2001 It was "the sixth hour." If this was Hebrew time, it was midnight. If John used Roman time it was six o'clock in the morning. It was "the preparation of the passover," Preparation Day (all four gospels attest that the Lord's burial
  12. ^ The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus - Page 188 Colin J. Humphreys - 2011 "Mark writes: 'It was the third hour when they crucified him' (Mark 15:25); John says that when Pilate handed over ... However, Roman officials such as Pilate used the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar, and counted the hours of their day from midnight ."
  13. ^ a b Severino, Nicola (2011). Storia dell’obelisco e dell’orologio solare di Augusto in Campo Marzio (PDF) (in Italian) (Prima edizione 1997, Prima ristampa 2011 ed.). Roccasecca. pp. 10–11. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  14. ^ a b Monti, Carlo (2010). "Origini e vicende del calendario occidentale 2 [Origins of the Western calendar and events]" (PDF). Agenzia del Territorio. Quadrimestrale di Informazione tecnino-scientifica (in Italian). Roma: Agenzia del Territorio. Anno X - n. 1/2010: 116–147. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g "Telling Time in Ancient Rome". Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Gálvez, Pedro (2006). El maestro del emperador. Grijalbo novela histórica (in Spanish). Badalona: Grijalbo. pp. 290, 293. ISBN 8425340152. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Traupman, John C. (2007). Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency: Phrase Book and Dictionary, Classical and Neo-Latin (revised ed.). Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. p. 80. ISBN 0865166226.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Di Sabato de Polito, Ana (2001). Novum Iter. Nuevo camino para enseñar y aprender la lengua latina y la cultura Romana (in Spanish) (2 ed.). Caracas: Fondo Editorial Humanidades. p. 175. ISBN 9800018409. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  19. ^ a b c d e Payne, Jean W. (1973). Latin Pilot Study. Final Report (PDF). Alexandria City Schools, Va. p. 74. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  20. ^ Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome: studies in ancient cultural ... A. Hilhorst, Florentino García Martínez, Gerard P. Luttikhuizen - 2003 Page 39 "In the Roman army's encampments the four "watches" were in Ambrose's time measured with the "water-clock": in quattuor partes ... ut non amplius quam tribus horis noctumis necesse sit uigilare (Vegetius, Epitome rei militaris 3.8.17)"
  21. ^ Adam, Alexander (1791). Roman antiquities; or, an account of the manners and customs of the Romans; respecting their government, magistracy, laws, judicial proceedings, religion, games, military & naval affairs, dress, exercises, baths, marriages, divorces, funerals, weights & measures, coins, method of writing, houses, gardens, agriculture, carriages, public buildings, &c. &c. designed chiefly to illustrate the Latin classics. Edinburgh: A. Strahan, London; and William Creech, Edinburgh. pp. 307–308.
  22. ^ Baird, James S. S. The Classical Manual: An Epitome of Ancient Geography, Greek and Roman Mythology, Antiquities, and Chronology. Sheldon & Company Publishers, 1870, 167.
  23. ^ Censorinus XII
  24. ^ Greek and Roman technology: a sourcebook : annotated translations ... - Page 517 John William Humphrey, John Peter Oleson, Andrew Neil Sherwood - 1998 "Clocks 11.6 THE AFFLICTION OF SUNDIALS Plautus, The Boeotian Woman (Fragment v.21 Goetz) - Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 3.3.5 May the gods destroy that man who first discovered hours and who first set up a sundial here; who cut up my day ..."
  25. ^ "Marcus Vitruvius Pollio:de Architectura, Book IX". The Latin text is that of the Teubner edition of 1899 by Valentin Rose, transcribed by Bill Thayer. 2007-07-07. Retrieved 2007-09-07.

External links

This page was last updated at 2021-05-20 01:46, update this pageView original page

All information on this site, including but not limited to text, pictures, etc., are reproduced on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), following the . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


If the math, chemistry, physics and other formulas on this page are not displayed correctly, please useFirefox or Safari