Site Section Links
HORUS VOL III. Issue 1
The Calendar of Coligny
In addition, an examination of the scheme of the calendar shows it to be considerably different from the Roman calendar, as MacNeill declared:
Except for the use of Roman characters and numeration, the Coligny Calendar shows no trace of Roman influence. In particular, it is wholly independent of the Roman Calendar. [p. 6]
There are certain other features of the Coligny calendar that are not so readily visible to the eye, but which can be deduced by a careful and detailed examination of the document. Since these features are not clearly manifest but instead have been derived by logical deduction, I list them here as theses in support of which I will adduce arguments and evidence:
Thesis 1. The fragments found at Coligny represented but a section of a larger calendar system that was based on the 19-year Sun-Moon cycle.
Thesis 2. In the Coligny calendar months began at first quarter of the Moon with Full Moon falling in the middle (8th day) of the first (light) half of the month and New Moon falling in the middle (8th day) of the second (dark) half of the month.
Thesis 3. The year was divided into distinct halves, the first beginning with Giamonios (December) and the second half with Samonios (June). The year itself began on the first day of Giamonios. The two solstices were prominently highlighted.
Thesis 4. In the Coligny calendar, a remarkably close synchronization between lunar and solar time was achieved.
Thesis 5. Its scheme differed considerably, and in important ways, from Greek calendar systems.
Thesis 1. The Coligny fragments formed a part of the 19-year cycle calendar.
In the following section each thesis is addressed in turn and a detailed analysis made of it with recourse to mathematical and historical evidence.
I refer the reader to Table A which shows the arrangement of the months as they appeared on the original bronze plate. In Table A I have divided the plate into two distinct segments for the purpose of more easily following the arguments which are presented. The first segment contains columns 1 through 8, and the second segment columns 9 through 16. Each segment can be seen to consist of an intercalary month followed by 30 regular months. (In the original, of course, every day of every month was fully inscribed, along with the diurnal notations appearing at those days, but these are too extensive to reproduce here.) Column 1 contains the first intercalary month followed by the months Samonios (June) and Dumanios (July). Columns 2 through 8 contain the months of the year in continuing sequence, starting with Rivros (August), the last month in the first segment (which is the last month in column 8) being Cutios (November). In the second segment, column 9 contains the 2nd intercalary followed by the months Giamonios (December) and Simivisson (January). Columns 10 through 16 contain the months of the year in continuing sequence beginning with Equos (February), the last month in the segment, and thus also in the full tablet, being Candos (May).
|Segment 1 of Quinquennium||Segment 2 of Quinquennium|
| indicates intercalendary|
There is evidence that the extant fragments belong to a section of a larger calendar containing a cycle, probably a Greek cycle of 19 years or a druidical cycle of 30 years. The lunar year was regulated by making the year consist of 6 months of 30 days, 5 months of 29 days, and one variable month of 28 or 30 days. These years were adjusted to the solar year by intercalary months of 30 days introduced at intervals of 2.5 and 3 years. If the 19-year cycle was adopted, as I think most likely, it would contain, apart from 7 intercalary months of 30 days, 11 years of 355 days, 7 years of 353 days, and one year of 354 days in which Equos would have the traditional count of 29 days. This gives a total of 6,940 days... [p. 33] (Emph. mine.)
As far as I have been able to determine, MacNeill did riot actually expand the five years of the original tablet to the full 19-year format to test his postulations. If he had, I'm sure he would have been surprised and pleased to know just how accurate they were. Using the information and calculations provided by him, I have expanded the quinquennium (5-year span) of the Coligny calendar to the full 19year cycle (Table B). This was a simple procedure, consisting merely of extending each month a total of 19 times, retaining the number of days for each month as they appeared on the original plate. Since Equos was a variable month, 1 used the day numbers for that month as determined by MacNeill's investigations. The intercalations were inserted at 2.5, 5.5, 8, 11, 13.5, 16.5, and 19.
I think it will be conceded that calendar systems never start with an intercalary month; the very meaning of the word, "to insert into or between", so testifies. An intercalated month is one inserted into an already operating system to complete a cycle or to fill up a noted or precalculated deficiency in a chronographic correlation. Therefore, the very fact that the calendar found on the Coligny plate started with an intercalation is almost certain proof that the inscribed format is only a part of some larger system.
It will be noted that the only intercalary interval revealed in the calendar is of 30 months (2.5 years), and that the complete tablet was made up of two of these 2.5 year segments following in immediate succession (See Table A). However, as MacNeill pointed out, the evidence clearly visible in the series of diurnal notations of the calendar attests to alternating intervals of 2.5 and 3-year intervals in the intercalary method. In other words, the 62 months as they appear on the plate are serially out of joint; something clearly is missing. As MacNeill explained:
... the Calendar shows two series of months, one beginning with Samonios, the other with Giamonios. In the intercalary month which precedes Samonios, the diurnal notation starts from Giamonios. In the intercalary month which precedes Giamonios, conversely the diurnal notation starts from Samonios. An easy calculation will show that, if all the intervals were of 30 months this see-saw arrangement would be perpetual. If, however, we take the interval in the Calendar to have been of 36 months, we shall find that the two series coincide; Samonios will begin the diurnal notation of the preceding intercalary month and will also begin the series of months that follows it. In like manner, if we place an intercalary month 36 months later than the second intercalation of the Calendar, we shall find that the two series coincide in Giamonios. At whichever point the year began, it is reasonable to suppose that each series began at that point and that this implies an interval of 3 years beside the attested interval of 2.5 years. [pp. 32331 (Emph. mine).
By assuming that the five years inscribed on the plate actually represented but part of the larger 19-year cycle the problem stated above would disappear, that is, the two series of diurnal notations would then become logically and sequentially integrated rather than haphazard and disconnected as they appear in the quinquennium by itself.
In view of the preceding it justifiably may be asked how, in a calendar whose intercalary intervals are 2.5 and 3-years alternately, is it possible for two 23-year intervals to follow in immediate succession. The answer is this; in a calendar scheme that is cyclic, endlessly repeating itself, a month intercalated at the end of one cycle will, obviously, immediately precede the beginning of the next cycle. By the same token, if the final intercalary interval in a cycle is 2.5 years and the first intercalary interval in the following cycle is also 2.5 years, obviously these two intervals will adjoin each other. The 14 intercalary intervals of two successive 19-year cycles would be as follows:
Conclusion: The two intercalary intervals contained on the bronze plate consist of the last 2-5 years of one 19-year cycle with its intercalary month and the first 2-5 years of the next 19-year cycle with its intercalary month.
[*!* Image: Table B]
In Table B [p. 91 the Coligny quinquennium would be the section starting with Intercalary I of year 17 and ending with Cantlos of year 3. 1 have blocked these off in the table for easy identification. The two distinct segments forming the quinquennium are:
|1.||Intercalary I, year 17, through Cutios, year 19||= 31 months.|
|2.||Intercalary II, year 19, through Cantlos, year 3||= 31 months.|
|Total||= 62 months.|
It can be seen that these two segments exactly correspond to those ' found on the original plate, as in Table A. Each segment starts with an intercalary month of 30 days followed by 30 regular months. The reader can make the comparison between Tables A and B and confirm the exactitude for himself.
The probability that the Coligny. quinquennium formed but part of a larger system becomes much more pronounced when we realize that there is strong evidence that the plate upon which the calendar was engraved belonged to a temple (a bronze statue was found with the plate) and thus may have been drawn
up as an object for public veneration rather than to serve normal calendar purposes. It will be recalled that a golden plate with the 19-year cycle inscribed on it was similarly set up in a public place in Athens to honor the Greek astronomer, Meton. As MacNeill discovered, certain features of the diurnal notation scheme clearly "suggest that the Calendar may have belonged not only to a lunar system of chronography, but also to the cult of a lunar deity." [p. 181
It was common in ancient cultures for the calendar system to be woven into the overall religious life of the community since the calendar was, in effect, a document tracing and recording the sacred activities of the celestial deities, a kind of living bible. In this regard, it is highly significant that Intercalary II, year 19, occupied a central position in the quinquennium and would be, in the 19-year format, the specific intercalary month that came at the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next, like a connective between the two. What more momentous an occasion than this to highlight in a tablet drawn up for public veneration? The special importance of the position occupied by Intercalary II, year 19, in the calendar cycle was prominently designated. In the heading immediately preceding that month is found the partly obliterated inscription as follows:
|CIALLOS BAS||(of this side and that side)|
|SONNO CINGOS||(Sun-march, or year)|
|AAMAN. M. MXIII||(Sum of time, 13 months)|
|... LAT. CCCLXXXV||(days,385)|
In parentheses are the translations as postulated by MacNeill, for which he suggested the following free interpretation; "The sum of the intercalated year is 13 months containing 385 days." [p. 471
Based on new information that has been uncovered since MacNeill's time, it is quite likely that the missing letter in "B..IS" is the L of the Breton word for year, BLIS. SONNO CINGO probably does not mean 'year' but some other as yet undeciphered phrase. Newly acquired evidence concerning Celtic calendars in general indicates that the Celts in America made use of an entire year of 385 days which they referred to as an 'intercalary year'. Since it is probable that the American Celtic calendar had evolved from earlier European models, the meaning of CIALLOS B.IS seems quite clear; simply, Intercalary Year. The month Intercalary II is thus seen to be not only the completion of the preceding cycle, but the beginning of the next, in Celtic calendar practice belonging properly to both. This is borne out by the fact that the 30 days of that month brings the full total of the preceding cycle up to 6,940 days, while at the same time the diurnal notations found in it are precisely carried forward through the 12 months of the following year, fulfilling MacNeill's interpretation "of this side and that side." The specific year thus referred to in the inscription is Intercalary II plus the twelve months in year-1, Table B, the "sum of time" of this period being 13 months containing 385 days.
Further proof that the Coligny quinquennium formed only a part of a larger calendar system is to be found in the placement and character of certain diurnal notations and their relationship to each other that an examination of the format uncovers. On most modem calendars the first day of each calendar quarter (season) of the year is specially annotated, (spring begins, summer begins, etc.) The first day of each quarter of the Coligny 19-year cycle is similarly annotated. In the vocabulary of the calendar three specific notations were employed to indicate days that had special importance. These, as translated by MacNeill, were:
NS, DS occurs only on an average of about twice a month. SINDIV appears much less frequently. TRINUX SAMO appears on the 17th day of Samonios (June), in all years.
In a 19-year calendar there is a total of 6,940 days. A quarter of the cycle contains 6,940 / 4 = 1,735 days. Half of the cycle contains 3,470 days and three quarters of the cycle, 5,205 days. The four quarters of the cycle would thus begin on the days and dates as follows:
|QRTR||BEGINS||WHICH OCCURS ON||DIURNAL NOTATION|
|lst||on day 1||Giarnonios 1, yr. 1 (nr. winter solstice)||MD SIMIVISONN GIA|
|2nd||1,736||Anagantios 24, yr. 5 (m. aut. equinox)||N INIS R|
|3rd||3,471||Samonios 17, yr. 10 (nr. summer solstice)||MD TRINUX SAMO SINDIV|
|4th||5,206||Elembivios 10, yr. 15 (nr. vem. equinox)||N INIS R|
[*!* Image: Figure 1.
The fragments of the Calendar of Coligny as reassembled]
Though the month Giamonios is characterized in its heading as anmatus, "not good", the first day of that month is notated as MD, meaning a good day,the only day in the whole month, except for times of Full and New Moon, so designated. As MacNeill observed, MD marks the first day of Giamonios as having "special importance".
Thus the four days that begin each quarter of the full 19-year cycle of the calendar as expanded from the quinquennium are seen to be highlighted as days of special importance. By contrast, the four days that mark the beginning of each quarter of the quinquennium are not highlighted but merely marked as ordinary days. If we consider the calendar to have begun with Samonios (June) instead of Giamonios (December), we do not find the start of the four quarters to be marked as special but merely as ordinary days. In fact, even though the month Samonios is characterized in its heading as "good", (MATUS), we find the first day of that month, which in this supposition would also mark the be-ginning of the year and the cycle, characterized merely as "D", an ordinary day. That such an auspicious occasion as the start of the year and the start of the cycle should be so lightly regarded would certainly be out of character for a people who, as the content of their calendar indicates, were so fond of, and so scrupulously careful in keeping, festival days.
I believe the preceding information provides convincing argument for the claim that the 62 months of the original plate constituted but a segment of the 19-year calendar format. Additional evidence for this postulation will emerge from my consideration of the remaining theses.
Thesis 2. Coligny Months started at the 1st Quarter of the Moon
Interpreting a significant and relevant commentary by the ancient historian, Pliny, MacNeill made a careful and detailed study of a certain aspect of Druidical calendric practice which he found corroborated in the Coligny format:
It was not the moon, according to Pliny, but the sixth day (or rather night) of the moon that marked the beginnings of months and years for the druids. [p. 14]
The Moon first becomes visible about 1-1/4 days after actual New Moon. Thus the 6th night of the Moon's visibility would be between the 7th and 8th day from. New Moon (29.5 / 4 = 7.375), which is the Moon's first quarter. From this we quickly can come to the obvious conclusion, as did MacNeill, that Full Moon, which occurs 15 days after actual New Moon, would thus fall on the 8th day (15 - 7 = 8) of the first half of the Coligny month and New Moon on the 8th day of the second half of the month.
The division of the month into two halves, so that the time of full moon is in the middle of the first half and the time of new moon in the middle of the second half, enables us to understand why the second half is called atenovx. We may interpret atenovx ... as meaning the returning 'night', the 'afternight' of the month - the sense of after especially being brought out by the prefix because in Celtic tradition the night was the first part of the day. the month was divided into a half of maximum moonlight and a half of minimum moonlight. [pp. 15-161 (Emph. mine.)
It is evident that in each month, and each half of the month, days 7, 8, and 9 [because of the distinctive character of the diurnal notations recurring at those dates] were of special importance. [p. 131
Hence in a calendar for permanent recurring use, the 7th, 8th, and 9th figured jointly as the time of full moon. the opposite phase of the moon [new] was dated 15 days later, that is, on the 7, 8th, and 9th of the second half of the month. [p. 141 (See again, Fig. 2.)
Thesis 3. The Coligny Year was divided into two halves, both solstices highlighted.
In the Coligny calendar numerous cycles involving the diurnal notations are to be found. In every instance these series begin in both the month of Giamonios (Dec.) and Samonios (June), with an obvious inference:
It will be noted that in each of the diurnal cycles the months proceed in calendar order, the days in numerical order; also that the cycles begin with the months Samonios and Giamonios, as does the serial notation of the intercalary months and each series of months following an intercalation. We may infer from this that there was a recognized division of the year into two halves, each hay beginning with one of these two months. [pp. 17-181 (Emph. mine.)
The same kind of analysis of the series of diurnal notations also indicates clearly that Giamonios (Dec.) was the starting point of the Coligny year:
The complete tablet, beyond doubt, contained the series of 12 months five times repeated, and the first of these series begins with Samonios. But the five-times repeated series, we have seen, is also found in the diurnal notations of the two intercalary months, and in the rest of these it begins, not with Samonios but with Giamonios. [p. 31] (Emph. mine.)
In fact, the only explicit evidence that the calendar affords is distinctly in favor of Giamonios as the beginning of the year. [p. 31]
The "explicit evidence" referred to is the heading appearing at the beginning of Intercalary II which contains an inscription, previously discussed, that that month marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Intercalary II is inserted immediately after Cutios (Nov.) and immediately before Giamonios. The inscription appearing there is the only inscription to be found at the head (or end) of any month in the entire calendar. Intercalary I is inserted immediately after Candos (May) and just before Samonios, the two intercalaries thus being placed exactly one-half year apart, which is calendrically logical.
It is important to keep in mind that the two months that began each half of the Coligny year were Giamonios and Samonios, December and June, the months containing the solstices. In the calendar, the 17th day of Samonios (the second day of the second half of that month), bears the notation TRINUX SAMO. Numerous scholars have translated this to mean 'the summer solstice'. This date in a lunar calendar whose years consisted mostly of 354 days, could only be conventional since in two successive years the solstice, or any other annual event, would be separated by 11 days. It appears that the designers of the calendar had settled on the 17th day of Samonios as a fixed date for the summer solstice to stabilize an important festival day which would otherwise "jump around" from year to year, much as does our modem Easter.
Exactly six months later in the calendar we find the 17th day of Giamonios (Dec.) noted as a day of special importance (NS DS), which clearly was a fixed, conventionalized date for the winter solstice. It is manifest that both the summer and winter solstices were highlighted in the Coligny calendar.
Thesis 4. The Coligny calendar very closely synchronized solar and lunar time.
Turning once again to Table B, we discover in it a remarkably close synchronization of lunar with solar time, not only at the completion of the cycle, but at regular and specific points throughout the entire span of the calendar. The designers of the calendar were able to attain such accurate Sun-Moon correlations by use of the following devices:
By these devices they were able to fine-tune the scheme of the calendar to the chronometric realities of the celestial mechanics behind it. Two important results were achieved:
The degree of concordance exhibited in the calendar in reconciling lunar with solar time is, as far as I know, the finest ever achieved in any known luni-solar calendar. It is, in fact, just about as close as can be attained in any man-made system that attempts to reconcile the movements of the Sun with the phases of the Moon.
|Intercalary Interval||Number of Solar Years||Number of Calendar Monhs||Number of Days in A||Number of Days in B||Cumulative Variation D minus C|
Thesis 5. The Coligny Calendar was not related to the Greek calendar.
Because of known cultural contacts of the Celts with the Greeks at certain points in history, it has been the consensus of opinion that the Coligny calendar was derived from the 19-year Metonic cycle calendar developed by the latter people. However, and examination of the two systems does not support such a conclusion. The two calendars of course shared the fixed features common to all systems based on the 19-year cycle. In addition, it is known that both started their day at sunset. But in a number of variable elements, they differed considerably, as indicated in the following comparison:
The most important aspect in which the Greek and Coligny calendars differed significantly was in their degree of precision in reconciling lunar with solar time. In this respect, analysis of the Coligny scheme, as we say, revealed remarkable efficiency. MacNeill also attested to this:
The careful and complex structure of the Coligny calendar does not bespeak a crude attempt. It seemed to me unlikely that a fact of chronography so easily grasped as the Metonic equation, 235 lunar months = 19 solar years, would have been unknown to Gallic teachers of astronomy and contrivers of an elaborately integrated chronography ... or would have left them content with a calendar gravely defective in both lunar and solar adjustment. [p. 281 (Emph. mine.)
By contrast the Encyclopedia Americana, discussing the Greek 19-year calendar, declared; "It seems ... that the precise discoveries of Greek astronomy - either of Meton or Hipparchus were not incorporated into the Greek civil calendar. (Emphasis mine.)
Since the Coligny calendar, as we have found, is extremely precise, it can be seen from this that not only did the Celtic calendar differ considerably from the Greek, but was markedly superior to it.
We are left, then, with the question of where the Celts actually did obtain their calendar. There is, in the "careful and complex structure" of this "elaborately integrated chronography" compelling internal testimony attesting to a long history of empirical development and polishing, of careful and continuous direct celestial observation rather than mere cultural borrowing, from the Greeks or anyone else. That the Celtic Druids were fully capable of such a precise technological achievement has been reported by numerous ancient historians, among them Pliny, Hippolytus, and Julius Caesar who declared; "They hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their motions..."
If the Coligny calendar was empirically obtained, then where and under what circumstances? In the next issue of HORUS, I will provide the answer to this most intriguing question.