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DIES (of the same root as δῖος and dens, Curtius, Gr. Etym. No. 269). The name dies was applied, like our word day, to the time during which, according to the notions of the ancients, the sun performed his course round the earth; and this time they called the civil day (dies civilis, in Greek νυχθήμερον, because it included both night and day. See Censorin. de Die Nat. 23; Plin. Nat. 2.188; Macr. 1.3). The natural day (dies naturalis), or the time from the rising to the setting of the sun, was likewise designated by the name dies. The civil day began with the Athenians at the setting of the sun, and with the Romans (as with the Egyptians and Hipparchus) at mid-night ; with the Babylonians at the rising of the sun, and with the Umbrians at mid-day. (Macrob. l.c.; Gellius, 3.2.) We have here only to consider the natural day; and as its subdivisions were different at different times, and not always the same among the Greeks as among the Romans, we shall endeavour to give a brief account of the various parts into which it was divided by the Greeks at the different periods of their history, and then proceed to consider its divisions among the Romans, to which will be subjoined a short list of remarkable days.

At the time of the Homeric poems, the natural day was divided into three parts (Il. 21.111). The first, called ἠώς, began with [p. 1.635]sunrise, and comprehended the whole space of time during which light seemed to be increasing, i. e. till mid-day. (Il. 8.66, 9.84; Od. 9.56.) Some ancient grammarians have supposed that in some instances Homer used the word ἠὼς for the whole day, but Nitzsch (Anmerkungen zur Odyssee, 1.125) has shown the incorrectness of this opinion. The second part was called μέσον ἦμαρ or mid-day, during which the sun was thought to stand still. (Hermias, ad Plat. Phaedr. p. 342.) The third part bore the name of δείλη or δείελον ἦμαρ (Od. 17.606; compare Buttman's Lexilog. ii. n. 95), which derived its name from the increased warmth of the atmosphere. The last part of the δείλη was sometimes designated by the words ποτὶ ἕσπερα or βουλυτός (Od. 17.191; Il. 16.779). Besides these three great divisions, no others seem to have been known at the time when the Homeric poems were composed. (Cf. Buchholz, Hom. Realien, 1.39-42.) The chief information respecting the divisions of the day in the period after Homer, and more especially the divisions made by the Athenians, is to be derived from Pollux (Onom. 1.68). The first and last of the divisions made at the time of Homer were afterwards subdivided into two parts. The earlier part of the morning was termed πρωῒ or πρὼ τῆς ἡμέρας: the later, i. e. from 9 or 10 till noon, πληθούσης τῆς ἀγορᾶς, or περὶ πλήθουσαν ἀγορὰν (Hdt. 4.181; Xen. Memorab. 1.1, § 10, Hellen. 1.1, § >30; Dion Chrysost. Orat. lxvii.). The μέσον ἦμαρ of Homer was afterwards expressed by μεσημβρία, μέσον ἡμέρας, or μέση ἡμέρα, and comprehended, as before, the middle of the day, when the sun seemed neither to rise nor to decline. The two parts of the afternoon were called δείλη πρωΐη or πρωΐα, and δείλη ὀψίη or ὀψία (Hdt. 7.167, 8.6; Thuc. 3.74, 8.26; Xen. Anab. 1.8, 8; compare Libanius, Epist. 1084). This division continued to be observed down to the latest period of Grecian history, though another more accurate division, and more adapted to the purposes of common life, was introduced at an early period; for Anaximander, or according to others, his disciple Anaximenes, is said to have made the Greeks acquainted with the use of the Babylonian chronometer or sun-dial (called πόλος or ὡρολόγιον, sometimes with the epithet σκιοθηρικόν or ἡλιαμάνδρον), by means of which the natural day was divided into twelve equal spaces of time. (Hdt. 2.109; D. L. 2.1, 3; Plin. Nat. 2.187; Suidas, s. v. Ἀναξίμανδρος.) These spaces were, of course, longer or shorter according to the various seasons of the year. The name hours (ὧραι), however, did not come into general use till a very late period, and the difference between natural and equinoctial hours was first observed by the Alexandrine astronomers.

During the early ages of the history of Rome, when artificial means of dividing time were yet unknown, the natural phenomena of increasing light and darkness formed with the Romans, as with the Greeks, the standard of division, as we see from the vague expressions in Censorinus (de Die Nat. 24). Pliny states (H. N. 7.212) that in the Twelve Tables only the rising and the setting of the sun were mentioned as the two parts into which the day was then divided, but from Censorinus (l.c.) and Gellius (17.2) we learn that mid-day (meridies) was also mentioned. Varro (L. L. 6.4, 5) and Isidore (Orig. 5.30 and 31) likewise distinguished three parts of the day, viz. mane, meridies, and suprema, scil. tempestas, after which no assembly could be held in the forum (cf. XII. Tabb. in Censor. 24: “Solis occasus suprema tempestas esto” ). The Lex Plaetoria prescribed that a herald should proclaim the suprema in the comitium, that the people might know that their meeting was to be adjourned (Varr. L. L. 6.5). But the division of the day most generally observed by the Romans, was that into tempus antemeridianum and pomeridianum, the meridies itself being only considered as a point at which the one ended and the other commenced. As it was of importance that this moment should be known, an officer [ACCENSUS] of the consuls was directed to proclaim the time of mid-day, when from the Curia he saw the sun standing between the Rostra and the Graecostasis. The division of the day into twelve equal spaces, which, here as in Greece, were shorter in winter than in summer,1 was adopted at the time when artificial means of measuring time were introduced among the Romans from Greece. This was about the year B.C. 293, when L. Papirius Cursor, before the war with Pyrrhus, brought to Rome an instrument called solarium horologium, or simply solarium. (Plaut. ap. Gellium, 3.3.5; Plin. Nat. 7.212). In B.C. 263 M. Valerius Messala brought one which he had taken at the capture of Catina; and although this was incorrect, having been constructed for a place 4° further south than Rome, it was in use for 99 years, before the error was discovered. In B.C. 164 the censor Q. Marcius Philippus had a more exact sun-dial constructed; but the time was still unknown in cloudy weather (Plin. l.c.). Scipio Nasica, therefore, erected in B.C. 159 a public clepsydra, which indicated the hours of the night as well as of the day (Censorin. 100.23). Before the erection of a clepsydra it was customary for one of the subordinate officers of the praetor to proclaim the third, sixth, and ninth hours; which shows that the day was, like the night, divided into four parts, each consisting of three hours. In daily life numerous terms were in use to denote the different parts of the day, mostly of a general and somewhat vague character. (Cf. Varr. L. L. 6.4-7 ; Servius on Aen. 2.268, 3.587; Isidor. Or. 5.31, 32.) See Dissen's treatise, De Partibus Noctis et Diei ex Divisionibus Veterum, in his Kleine Lateinische und Deutsche Schriften, pp. 130, 150. Compare the article HOROLOGIUM

All the days of the year were, according to different points of view, divided by the Romans into different classes. For the purpose of the administration of justice, and holding assemblies of the people, all the days were divided into dies fasti, dies nefasti, and dies partly fasti, partly nefasti.

I. Dies fasti

in the wider sense were days on which legal and political business could be lawfully transacted. They were divided into--[p. 1.636]

1. Dies fasti in the narrower sense, marked with F in the calendars. On these legal business could be conducted (Ov. Fast. 1.48, “fastus erit per quem lege licebit agi ;” Varr. L. L. 6.29, “dies fasti per quos praetoribus omnia verba sine piaculo licet fari” ). The word is derived by the ancients from fari; but although the root is undoubtedly the same, the more immediate connexion is with fas.

2. Dies comitiales, days on which meetings of the people could legally be held, and on which, if there was no meeting convened, courts could be opened. (Macr. 1.16, 14, quoting Varro: “Comitiales sunt, quibus cum populo agi licet, et fastis quidem lege agi potest, cum populo non potest, comitialibus utrumque potest.” ) These days are marked C in the calendars. The nundinae belonged to this class, so far as the plebeians were concerned, from the first; but in early times they were nefasti for the patricians, a distinction removed in B.C. 287 by the Lex Hortensia (cf. Becker-Marquardt, 2.3, 61). Mommsen doubts this view.

II. Dies nefasti

Dies nefasti were days on which no legal or political business could be done. Varro (L. L. 6.30) says: “Contrarii horum(fastorum) vocantur dies nefasti, per quos dies nefas fari praetorem ‘do, dico, addico,’ itaque non potest agi, necesse enim aliquo eorum uti verbo, cum lege quid peragitur.” These are again divided into two quite distinct classes:--

1. Dies nefasti or feriati,

on which no business could be done because the day was sacred to some festival (a dies festus). These are marked


in the calendars. This sign was commonly interpreted nefastus parte or nefastus principio, and was explained to mean that the day was one during the earlier part of which no business could be done. But Mommsen (Chronol. p. 220; C. I. L. i. p. 366) showed that this view was quite untenable. It is sufficiently disproved by the fact that thus there would be no difference between


and EN, and that the former sign is prefixed to all holidays in the calendar except the Feralia, while it is quite impossible to believe that there was no whole holiday observed at Rome. The sign Mommsen explains to be, like M‘ when used as an abbreviation for Manius, a modification of the archaic M with five strokes (


); but there is little to support this view. Huschke interprets it as for Nefastus Purus.

2. Dies religiosi or dies vitiosi,

sometimes called atri, marked in the calendars by R. These were unlucky days, which had been declared to be such by a decree of the senate in consequence of some disaster which had taken place upon them. All the dies postriduani were included under this head; i. e. the days after the calends, the nones and the ides, because these were believed to have been specially unfortunate (Ov. Fast. 1.59, 60, “Omen ab eventu est: illis nam Roma diebus damna sub averso tristia Marte tulit” ). On these days it was not only unlawful to transact any legal or political business, but it was also unlucky to begin any affair of importance. (Cf. Gellius, 4.9, 5 : “Religiosi dies dicuntur tristi omine infames impeditique, in quibus et res divinas facere et rem quampiam novam exordiri temperandum est.” )

III. Days partly fasti and partly not, including :

1. Dies intercisi,

marked in the calendars by EN, for endotercisi (endo being an archaic form of in, as in endoperator). On these days a victim was sacrificed in the morning, and the exta offered in the evening. Between the sacrifice and the offering the day was fastus; before the former and after the latter it was nefastus. (Varr. L. L. 6.31; Ov. Fast. 1.49; Macr. 1.10, 2, 3.)

2. Dies fissi

Dies fissi, three in number. To two of these, March 24th and May 24th, are prefixed the letters Q. R. C. F., i. e. “quando rex (sacrorum) comitiavit, fas.” These were probably the days on which the rex presided in the comitia calata for the purpose of the testamenti factio (Mommsen, Röm. Staatsr. ii.2 37). These days were even in ancient times confused with the Regifugium, i.e. February 24th, and the letters were wrongly interpreted quando rex comitio fugit. To the third, June 15th, is prefixed Q. ST. D. F., i.e. quando stercus delatum fas: on this day the temple of Vesta was solemnly cleansed by the Vestals, and the filth carried away or thrown into the Tiber (Ov. Fast. 6.707), no other business being permitted on this day.

Mommsen (C. I. L. i. p. 373) calculates that the year contained 45 dies fasti, 194 dies comitiales, 48 dies nefasti or feriati, 57 dies religiosi, 8 dies intercisi, and 3 dies fissi.

Another division of the days of the year was of a purely religious character, with which naturally the former division to a certain extent coincided, in a city so dominated by religious scruples as Rome:--

Macrobius (1.16), in describing the division of the dies profesti, adds to the d. fasti and d. comitiales, comperendini, “quibus vadimonium licet dicere;” stati, “qui iudicii causa cum peregrino instituuntur;” and proeliares, “quibus fas est res repetere vel hostem lacessere.” These were of little practical importance, and do not appear with any distinguishing mark in the calendars.

For the NUNDINAE cf. s. v. (See Marquardt, Röm. Alterth. vi. pp. 270-287.)


1 The day at Rome varies from 8 hrs. 54 min. on Dec. 23, to 15 hrs. 6 min. on June 25: hence the hour varied between 45 min. and 1 hr. 15 min. (Ideler, Chron. 2.13.)

hide References (23 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (23):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.181
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.167
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.6
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.109
    • Homer, Iliad, 21.111
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.606
    • Homer, Odyssey, 9.56
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.191
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.26
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.8
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.1
    • Homer, Iliad, 16.779
    • Homer, Iliad, 8.66
    • Homer, Iliad, 9.84
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 2.1
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 2.3
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.74
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.5
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 17.2
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 3.2
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.9
    • Ovid, Fasti, 1
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
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