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One is not enough: Double dates in inscriptions from the Greek East under Rome

Ilaria Bultrighini

University of London, Institute of Classical Studies

The subject of this paper is closely connected with the institution of the Julian calendar and its diffusion in the Roman East. As is known, in 46 BCE Julius Caesar introduced a new calendar consisting of a fixed 365-day year, with the regular intercalation of one day every four years, the so-called leap or bissextile year (Grumel 1958, 175–76; Samuel 1972, 155–58; Bickerman 1980, 47–51; Rüpke 2011, 109–21; Hannah 2005, 112–24; Stern 2012, 204–5, 211–27). Soon after its introduction, the Julian calendar started spreading throughout the Empire, though its diffusion differed considerably between the western and the eastern provinces: whereas it appears that in the West the new calendar spread massively and soon replaced completely all local calendars, in the eastern provinces –specifically in Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Near East– it also spread quickly but did not supplant completely pre-existing calendars (Stern 2012, 259–60). Before the eastern Mediterranean came under the control of Rome, the several Hellenistic kingdoms and cities operated under a multiplicity of calendrical systems, which were mostly lunar (Samuel 1972, 139–52; Hannah 2005, 71–97; Stern 2012, 231–59). After the introduction of the new solar calendar by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, the eastern cities and provinces did not simply adopt it but adapted their local calendars to its length. This process led to the creation of several different calendars, which, however, were arranged so as to follow the Julian year. The month-names of the local calendars were generally preserved. Some calendars had months equal in length but not coterminous with the Julian months; some began the year with Augustus’ birthday, while others had different New Year’s dates; some calendars had a fixed 365-day year with a leap year every four years, others had 30-day months plus intercalary days to bring alignment to the Julian year, while others had more complex methods of adjustment.

A number of epigraphic documents from the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire comprise double dates, that is, dates given according to the Julian calendar and a local calendar. In a number of cases, it appears that the Roman date is required to confer official status on the document, whereas the date given according to the local calendar is presumably for the benefit of those who were not particularly familiar with the Roman system and, at the same time, adds precision to the document itself. In general terms, it could be said that double dates, particularly bilingual ones, testify to the celebration of diversity and the multiculturalism that in many respects did characterise the Roman Empire. Quite different assumptions can be drawn from the case of official documents emanating from the Roman administration in the eastern provinces dated exclusively according to the Julian calendar and the Roman consular system – which seem to have been the norm, judging from the available evidence. Whether translated into Greek or put into Latin, a Roman date in a Greek document from the East might indeed be seen as symbolic of Roman domination, and even more so if that date is also expressed in Latin (Adams 2003, 391–92). By considering a series of cases of double dates in epigraphic documents from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, this paper looks at the introduction of the Julian calendar and the consequent coexistence of multiple dating systems in the East, as opposed to the West, where the new calendar rapidly replaced completely all pre-existing local calendars. The analysis of this phenomenon allows new important insights into the complexity of the social and political dynamics associated to the Roman presence in the East.

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Inscriptions and Dates

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