Sunday 23 February 2020

terminalia or forty-eight hours later

Having inherited some of the peculiarities of our civil calendar from the Ancient Romans, tomorrow, 24 February rather than 29 February marks the intercalary day of a leap year, this day proclaimed by Numa Pompililus, legendary king of Rome following Romulus, as New Year’s Eve and the occasion to demarcate borders and survey boundaries to ensure that one’s neighbours were not encroaching on one’s property.
Every two or three years, depending on astrological observation with an approximately week long month called Mercedonius, work month or mensis intercalaris, or according to political will as it was also a time to harrow out one government (24 February—Regifugium) for the next and the addition of holidays was one method to extend one’s time in office. Holding these days to be outside of ordinary time, rather instead made 24 February ante diem sextum kalendas martii—that is, not one’s honour bound term limit but, counting backwards as was the fashion from 1 March (kalends), the sixth day before the first of March. As if it weren’t already convoluted enough, when the calendar needed to be synchronised with the seasons, the Romans didn’t invoke an extra day but rather extended the 24th to a single day forty-eight hours in length, giving us the term ‘bisextile year’ (the-sixth-day-before-the-beginning-of-the-new-month-times-two) a term synonymous with a leap year, the doubled-up day eventually (despite the Romans’ opposition to odd numbers—see above) being split into two.