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Open letter to science editors


KRONOS Vol II, No. 4


Reprinted with permission from Orientalia, Vol. 43 (Nova Series - 1974), pp. 261-274.

For many years now we have accepted and incorporated the astronomical chronology of Egypt into our histories of the ancient Near East. It is wise, however, to be aware of the potential error in the interpretations and conclusions of the past and the possibility that realignment may be necessary. We still do not possess a final and unquestionable Egyptian Sothic dated historical framework. Recently, Read challenged the traditionally held astronomical chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty (JNES 29 [1970] ). A re-examination of the evidence is in order before our conception of an absolutely established and near perfect chronology influences our judgment of different possibilities.

Certain ambiguous and problematic issues, the solutions of which are vital to an understanding and restoration of ancient history in the Near East, have been "shelved" pending the discovery of additional evidence. Some primary data and arguments have been forgotten with the passage of time. Unfortunately, probationary conclusions have gradually gained unqualified acceptance while the controversial evidence on which the conclusions are based has been relegated to total obscurity. One of these as yet unresolved areas is the astronomical corroboration of dynastic Egyptian chronology.

During the last century and early decades of the twentieth, experts investigated, debated and, then, firmly embraced different conclusions derived from: identical fragmentary papyri, inscriptions and statements from authors of classical antiquity. Egyptologists exhausted all means of analysis of the hieroglyphic and hieratic palaeography, hypothesising of possible time-schemes and identification of nebulous eras. A point was reached where all discussion and opinions had been stated concerning the minute quantity of information for the construction of an astronomically based chronological framework.

Even though substantial proof was lacking and it appeared that nothing remained which was not already part of the disputations, scholars eagerly searching for a mechanism to date the history were overcome with an impulse to arrive at some conclusion. At this juncture, historians were confronted with the options of reserving judgment, or either accepting or rejecting the authority of the information at hand. In general, the theories surrounding the chronology appealed to the early students of Egypt. Little by little, archaeologists and historians from other fields of Near Eastern, European and Mediterranean studies subscribed to the dating, placing their trust and confidence on those knowledgeable in Egyptian languages and affairs. Through the years the unsolved difficulties and provisional nature of the astronomical data has been buried and hidden under a mass of literature originated in unreserved acceptance of the chronology. It should be recognised that the conclusions arrived at years ago by the teachers of our teachers have a tendency to become more "factual" in our minds and less subject to criticism

Time reckoning of political developments and the synchronising of contemporary rulers in the Near East hinge, to a large extent, on the validity of the astronomical dating of Egypt. Floating chronologies and the complete lack of a means of absolute dating for the early periods in Mesopotamia, Greece and other Mediterranean regions are dependent on the dynastic structure of Egypt. Every effort is made to establish the contemporaneity of events in the ancient nations, but the foundation vitally necessary before this can be accomplished is the validity and accuracy of the Sothic chronology. We must first be certain of the foundation.

Radiocarbon chronologists, testing the accuracy of carbon 14 as a scientific dating technique, have utilised what they consider the firmly grounded chronology of pharaonic Egypt as a check. Geophysicists have discovered, however, that Egyptian artifacts from the second millennium B.C. often date approximately five centuries too early based on astronomical dating. This is a serious discrepancy which not even Suess calibration explains.(1) The amount of C-14 available is influenced by geography, and this places doubt on the accuracy of the method.* Thus, it is important that we investigate the seven astronomical benchmarks listed in Table I. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the records and comment on their contribution to absolute dating.

[*See I. Velikovsky, "The PitfaUs of Radiocarbon Dating", Pensee IV (Spring-Summer, 1973 pp. 12ff. -- The Ed ]

Egypt possessed a 365 day civil calendar:** 3 seasons, each containing 4 months or 12 months of 30 days with 5 epagomenal days at the beginning of the year. Being 1/4 day short every year or an entire day every 4 years the calendar corrected itself in accordance with the seasons only once in approximately 1460 revolutions of the earth around the sun (actually 1460 Julian calendar years and 1461 Egyptian calendar years). The relevancy of the seven citations in Table I is dependent on the assumption that the Egyptians never altered the calendar throughout their long history.+ By means of the seven statements regarding the helical rising of Sirius (Sothis to the Egyptians) relative to the assumed continuous or unreformed calendar, absolute dates are assigned to the period referred to in the document or inscription.

[**But see Peoples of the Sea, pp. 215 and 243. The Egyptian year appears not to hare always been 365 days; also see Worlds in Collision, "Changes in the Times and the Seasons". - The Ed]

[+This is not true, however. See Peoples of the Sea, p. 242; also see Worlds in Collision, pp. 124, 336-338 and "The Reforming of the Calender". - The Ed]

That the Egyptians did not "correct" their year is supported by the testimony of P. Nigidius Figulus during the latter Ptolemaic period (first century B.C.). This author points out in the following quote that the pharaohs swore an oath never to change the days or months of the calendar.++ "Deducuntur a sacerdote Isidis in locum qui vocatur ~ouroS et iure iurando adiguntur neque mensem neque diem intercalatu ros se neque festum diem immu taturos, sed CCCLXV peracturos, sicut institutum sit ab antiquis".(2) As to the static quality of the Sothic cycle, Prof. Parker has affirmed that, "the belief that this cyclical progress of the civil year did obtain and was not interfered with has been a cornerstone of Egyptian chronology since it was formulated by Eduard Meyer in 1904".(3) %

[++This, of course, only applies to the Ptolemaic Pharaohs. See Peoples, pp. 238-239. - The Ed]

[*But see KRONOS 1, 3 (Nov., 1975), pp. 4-5 - The Ed]


Pharaoh Source Year, season, day Date
1. Sesostris III Illahun Papyrus 7 IIII prt, 16 1872 B.C.
2. Amenhotep I Ebers Papyrus 9 III smw, 9 c.1540 B.C.
3. Thutmose III Temple of Elephantine ?, III smw, 28 c. 1464 B.C.
4. Seti I Era of Menophres 1, I sht, I c. 1316 B.C.
5. Ramesses II or III Medinet Habu ?, I sht, ? c. 1196 or 1316 B.C
6. Ptolemy III Decree of Canopus 9 II smw, 1 238 B.C.
7. -- Censorinus, De die natali liber -, I sht, 1 A.D.139-140
Note: there were 3 seasons with 4 months each. rht was the inundation, prt the sowing period and f mw the time of harvest. The figures in front of these names are month I-IIII (month one through four).


A fragrnentary papyrus, discovered by Borchardt near the end of the nineteenth century in a temple at Illahun, is the first of the Sothic dated source to be considered. Based on interpretations of several decades ago, this scrap of papyrus is believed to provide ancient history with its earliest and only fixed astronomical date in the Middle Kingdom and for the Middle Bronze period. Current opinion, stated as unequivocal fact in texts and journal articles for years now, has a heliacal rising on the sixteenth day of the eighth month in the seventh year of Sesostris III of l)ynasty XII. On this supposition rests the chronology of the Middle Kingdom, the likewise dependent absolute dating of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate. Moreover, the dating of the Early and Middle Bronze in Palestine, Greece and Mesopotamia are to a great degree founded on faith in the veracity and accuracy of the document. Tenaciously insisting upon the notion of a continuously operative unreformed calendar and existence of a 1460 year Sothic cycle, Egyptologists were also encountered with the possibility of having to date Sesostris 111 in the 19th century B.C. because of the Illahun evidence. Scholars were forced to either accept this date and reduce the Hyksos domination to a duration of two centuries or reject the date in part and transport the supposed Sothic date in Sesostris's reign an entire Sothic period back. Initially this led to Meyer's "erste sichere Datum der Weltgeschichte" of 4241 B.C. which has since been proven quite wrong. Only one alternative remained, and so, the Second Intermediate was slashed to a length of a mere two hundred years.* This modified chronology was viewed by H. R. Hall who found it difficult to fit the shepherd kings' oppression into two centuries. Yet, Hall felt that it was equally impossible to set Sesostris III in the previous cycle.(4)

[*See Peoples of the Sea, pp. 222-224; Ages in Chaos, pp. 75-76 - The Ed 92]

With so much history, not only Egyptian but the events of other civilisations, dependent on this heliacal appearance of Sirius, one would expect, or at least hope for, a firmly and thoroughly established set of data. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Two fragments from Illahun are involved: 1. a suggestion, twenty one days in advance, that preparations be made for the festival of the rising of Sothis and 2. a record from the temple register of the offerings made on the day of the heliacal rising. Borchardt's transcription into hieroglyphs of the pertinent hieratic text translates as follows into German: "Du sollst wissen, dass der Aufgang des Sirius am 16. des 4. Wintermonats stattfindet".(5) The other fragment merely states the year, month and day besides the offerings for the festival of the rising of Sothis. Lacking is the all important name of the pharaoh in whose reign the events occurred. Edgerton commented on the situation: "From 1899 until 1937, inclusive, all publications on the chronology of the Twelfth Dynasty seem to have accepted the view that a certain fragment of the el-Lahun temple register foretold a heliacal rising of Sothis on the sixteenth day of the eighth month in the seventh year of Sesostris III. No king is named in the fragment".(6) The truth is that no name of a ruler, not even a partial cartouche, or any other evidence of a pharaoh is to be found in the Illahun papyrus. Thus, year seven could apply to almost any pharaoh of Dynasty XII - a dynasty which was 200 years long.

What, then, is the basis for the identification of the fragment with Sesostris III? An explanation in Borchardt's own words: "Die Fragmente des Tempeltagebuchs, aus dem unsere Aufzeichnungen entnommen sind, reigen fur die Jahre 5 bis 9 die gleiche Handschrift, eine kleine, sehr klare und deutliche, fette Schrift, die sich von den sonst auf unseren Papyri vorkommenden Schriften ganz charakteristisch unterscheidet. Es kann daher keinem Zweifel untediegen, dass in diesen funf Jahren das Tempeltagebuch von ein und derselben Person gefuhrt wurde".(7)

Sesostris III was chosen because of similarity of hieratic handwriting. Technically, as we shall see, palaeography, not astronomy, is the foundation of this Sothic date.

Certain fragmentary pieces of papyri were uncovered in the same temple at Illahun by Borchardt which refer to the death of Sesostris II. Borchardt was convinced that these fragments which mention Sesostris II were written by the same scribal hand as that which wrote the scraps important to the Sothic appearance. Thence, the assignment of both fragments to Sesostris III is based on an assumption. In fact, the fragments may belong to two different pharaohs. Any doubt as to the Sesostris III arrangement or desire to read the hieratic itself is hindered and frustrated by the fact that the papyri have not as yet been published. Otto Neugebauer wisely asked: "Is the palaeographical evidence from the (still incompletely published Kahun papyri) sufficient to determine the pharaoh referred to....?"(8)

Although Borchardt may be correct, there is a danger in unqualified acceptance of Sesostris III. Neugebauer has demonstrated that new moon information and the Sothic figures coordinate ". . . equally well chronologies of the Twelfth Dynasty which differ from one another by about one century!".(9) We should be cognizant of the problems involved in the interpretation of the Illahun papyri. Much of ancient chronology depends on the proper reading and understanding of these texts.


An intriguing web of confusion surrounds the Smith and Ebers Papyri. In August, 1870, Brugsch published an article(10) announcing the discovery of a fragmentary text which contained a Sothic date. Brugsch felt compelled to withhold the name of the pharaoh in whose third year the hieratic papyrus was composed.(11) Eisenlohr, who had obtained the papyrus from Edwin Smith at Luxor, had supplied Brugsch with a copy of the hieratic. Brugsch's transcription into hieroglyphic did not include the cartouche because Eisenlohr wanted to publish the hieratic with his own commentary first. Within a few months of Brugsch's announcement, Eisenlohr in December, 1870, published an article concerning the document dated to the third year of Pharaoh (12) In June, 1873, Ebers claimed that Herr Smith had given Eisenlohr a copy of the authentic papyrus which was in Ebers possession.(13) Thus, Eisenlohr and Brugsch had written about a mere second-hand copy of what soon became known as the genuine Ebers Papyrus. Problems and arguments had, however, only begun over this document.

New Kingdom (especially Eighteenth Dynasty) and Late Bronze chronology are largely dependent on the Ebers Sothic date from the ninth year of Amenhotep 1. Lamentably, there are serious defects which cast suspicion on the trustworthiness of the identification of the cartouche with Amenhotep I. Indeed, both the regnal year and the name of the pharaoh are subject to question due to difficulties in deciphering the hieratic script.

Even if Smith, Eisenlohr and Brugsch worked with a copy of the authentic papyrus, it is nevertheless indicative of the problematic reading of it that resulted in divisive comments and interpretations. Evidently the individual who copied the calendar in ancient times found it difficult to read. It is not surprising that modern Egyptologists also had a struggle. Brugsch described the text as ". . . in hochst fluchtigen hieratischen. . .".(14) Both Brugsch and Eisenlohr had read the third year of the king when, in reality, it was later found to be the ninth (or should it really be the third?). Lepsius concluded that it was the sixth.(15) Eisenlohr observed that the hieratic was almost demotic in form, that it was a late script and perhaps dated from only a few centuries before Christ. As to the cartouche, Eisenlohr stated that, "das zweite Zeichen könnte auch het sein, das dritte vielleicht as, dann hatten wir Hatasu, die Mitregentin Thotmes II".(16) Yet, with further reflection the cartouche might indicate an association with a much later person such as Cleopatra. Haigh, allowing for the poor script, chose a pharaoh centuries prior to the Ptolemies. Strictly speaking all of these comments apply to the Smith Papyrus, a copy of the Ebers Papyrus. The original is no less confusing and doubtful than the Smith copy.

In 1873 Ebers informed his colleagues that the authentic papyrus mentioned a Sothic rising during the reign of Dsr-k3-R' (Amenhotep I). He was not apparently concerned over the quite difficult discernment of the hieratic. To Ebers's consternation, C. W. Goodwin three months later (October, 1873), discussed the Smith Papyrus as if it were the best version available. Goodwin expressed the opinion that the regnal year figure had been misread. Disagreeing with 3 (Brugsch and Eisenlohr) and with 6 (Lepsius) he chose 9. Furthermore, Goodwin proposed that the name: ". . . really presents little difficulty. The third character is open to very slight doubt. It is clearly the form of some bird

and very nearly resembles the usual hieratic form of ba".(17) Thus, Goodwin's solution to the enigmatic hieratic cartouche was: Ba-en-ra or the Bicheres of Manetho's Dynasty IV. Another three months passed before Ebers was able to challenge Goodwin and again reassert the identity of the correct text. Regarding the cartouche, Ebers reaffirmed his confidence in the reading of the first sign as a sun symbol. Willing to admit another possibility, Ebers mentioned that the second sign could be read either as an arm with a rod of rule or just an arm. In an unexpected comment on the third sign, however, Ebers conceded to Goodwin's thinking. In Ebers' words he acknowledged the necessity: ". . . dass Goodwin's Lesung die einzig richtige ist und man es trotz seiner Schmalheit für den Vogel halten muss".(18)

In a striking reversal in 1890, Ebers repudiated this reading in language as convincing and filled with conviction as that with which he had previously defended the interpretation of the bird or ba sign.(19) Ebers returned to Dsr-k3-Ra, the original identification, but also the name he had discarded for many years.**!!**

Naville, in 1876, did not follow either the arm or bird reading for the third sign in the pharaoh's name. A new concept was injected into the debate by Naville. He equated the second symbol with the hieroglyph for a cup, so that the name was Kerpheres (Kerh-ab-Ra), a contemporary of Cheops of Dynasty IV.(20) Bicheres, chosen by others as the pharaoh in question, was also a member of Dynasty IV. In the meantime, Eisenlohr, commenting on the hieroglyphic meaning of the second hieratic symbol in the authentic Papyrus Ebers cartouche, challenged Ebers and Erman for their reading of the upraised arms.(21) Chabas, in 1877, transliterated the cartouche into a hieroglyphic cartouche which could have belonged to more than one king of the Old Kingdom.(22)

Considering the qualifications and contributions of Ebers and the other scholars, surely this controversy over the cartouche and regnal year demonstrates the highly questionable and imprecise nature of the hieratic of the Ebers Papyrus. There are problems in the current Dsr-k3-R' interpretation. Although it may be correct, Edgerton has wisely concluded the following: "We must return, then, at least provisionally, to the view that the heliacal rising of Sothis occurred on the ninth day of the eleventh month in the ninth year of Amenhotep I. I do not claim that this view has been established with absolute certainty; new evidence may compel us to reconsider the question at any time".(23)*

[*But see Peoples of the Sea, pp. 220-221 - "The so-called Ebers Papyrus is known for its calendar of twelve months of thirty days each, with no epagomenal days at the end or the beginning of the year, thus . . . the very fact that the Ebers calendar is not of 365 but of 360 days confounds every computation in which a quarter of a day difference in a year is the basis for the chronological use of the heliacal rise of Sothis (Sirius)." - The Ed]


This Sothic date originating in an unknown year of Thutmose III is handicapped, considering the enormous controversy connected with the Thutmosid succession, for the establishment of an absolute chronology. The hieroglyphic inscription discovered in stone is on the island of Elephantine.(24) It translates: "Epiphi, day 28, the day of the festival of the rising of Sirius". Of this record Ginzel commented that: "Es ist einigermassen zweifelhaft, ob der Stein zu einer festliche mit Angabe aus der Zeit Thutmosis III gehört".(25) At the time Ginzel wrote (1906) the foremost Egyptologists did not date Thutmosis III in the period of the Sothic date. Adjustments were later made to accommodate all the evidence. The Elephantine Sothic date coordinates with the era of Menophres and the Medinet Habu calendar. Nevertheless, we cannot be 100% positive that the inscription belongs to Thutmosis III.


Theon, an Alexandrian astronomer during the reign of Theodosius the Elder (379-39S), has left what some consider a record of a Sothic cycle. More than the other six Sothic benchmarks, this has been the object of criticism from non Egyptologists. As with several statements regarding Sirius, Theon's remarks do not constitute unmistakable or unequivocal evidence. Theon's statement in Greek:


From the quotation we gather that the era of Menophres (apo Menophreos) lasted from circa 1321-1316 B.C. to AD. 285 or the duration of 1605 years, i.e. from Emperor Diocletian back to someone or something designated "Menophreos". Theon has possibly provided chronologists with an extraordinary verification for a Sothic cycle of 1460 years beginning in 1321 B.C. and ending in A.D. 139. Censorinus supplies the termination date (AD. 139) and Theon, it would appear knew the initiation year. It is uncanny and surely not mere coincidence that the data from Theon and Censorinus, suggest a year around 1321 B.C.**

[**But see Peoples, pp. 218-219 and 224-225. - The Ed]

A question, however, remains -- who or what was Menophreos? Opinions have been divided primarily over whether the name is Memphis or Memeptah.

Struve, in agreement with Lepsius, felt strongly that Menophreos could not possibly be Memphis and that it had to be a pharaoh.(27) Lepsius was so committed to the logic of this theory that he felt equally confident in the ethics of an emendation of the Greek name. An J replaced Theon's "r". thereby, creating MenofJews. Many have favoured this idea, but by no means all. Lepsius was not prepared to accept an equation with Merneptah because this pharaoh had ruled a century too late. Three choices were left: Harmhab, Ramesses I or Seti I. The throne-name of Harmhab, Dsr-hprw-k3, and of Ramesses I, Mn-phtj-R', could not be transliterated to Menophreos. By process of elimination a single candidate remained -- Seti I. Obviously the personal name, Sthj could not be transliterated to the desired form. Seti's throne-name Mn-m3't-R' which transliterates into Greek as either Menmarhs or Menmhrhs did not seem to facilitate an identification. Sthj-mr-n-Pth, the complete personal name, with the second part mr-n-Pth offered a more reasonable position for an argument. Lepsius thought that he had found Theon's "Menophreos", yet an explanation for the absence of "Sethi" had to be included. Since the name "Seth" was associated with the shrewd murderer of Osiris, the hated name had been dropped sometime after the XlXth Dynasty. Thus, by emending the Greek and adding a little theoretical magic the problem seemed to vanish.

Cerný flatly denied the logic of the preceding discussion. "Beloved of Ptah", mr-n-Pth, was just an epiphet attached to Seti's cartouche. Cerný stated: "It is, however, hard to believe that postedty in this case replaced the real name of the king, known then as SeJws, by a mere epithet".(28)* Moreover, Cerný invalidated an argument that the many references during Seti's reign to "millions of years" and other "era appellations", were references to the beginning of a Sothic period. These, he said, were types of what was later found in the "Recurrence of Births" of Dynasty XX.

[*See KRONOS I, 2 (June, 1975), p. 72, n. 33. - The Ed]

Rowton has produced the finest investigation into the era of Menophreos.(29) Here we can only briefly summarise a few pertinent points. Mesopotamian chronology, which at this point is above dispute and extremely likely fixed to within one to two years, does not coordinate with the Eighteenth Dynasty chronology which is dependent on the era of Menophreos dating. Ashur-uballit I and Akhenaton were contemporaries, yet if the era's dating is maintained, their contemporaneity is non-existent. Analysis of the Mesa inscription as well as other materials led Rowton to the conclusion that Menophreos was more than likely not a king. Much chronological evidence is included in Rowton's discussion.

Additional factors presented by Rowton are worth sober consideration. Equation of Menophreos with Seti is based on the corruption of Mernophtes. Regarding this Rowton stated: "Such a corruption is not improbable, but the necessity to assume it, in the absence of any supporting evidence, does not strengthen this theory".(30) Another problem is that only part of the name was rendered. Sethe rejected the explanation of "Seth" being dropped for reasons of religious prejudice.

There are those, Rowton being one, who believe that the "apo Menophreos" refers to a period of time linked with the city of Memphis. To be more precise, in Rowton's thought the era is related to Memphis because this is where the sighting was made each year for the appearance of the Dog-star. When Sirius rose and was observed in Memphis, then the cycle or festival was recognised. Thus, Rowton does not disassociate Theon's era from the general period of the XIXth Dynasty, but only from any particular ruler. Theon, being acquainted with many "eras" in a time when it was fashionable to write in terms of "eras", probably confused the era of Memphis with the concept of a king.

Now, all that remains is a tidy explanation for the transliteration of Memphis into Menophreos. Gauthier notes that Memphis has several hieroglyphic variations, but all "men no fir" rather than the Greek Memjis.(31) Hall reported that "Memphis" transliterated by the Assyrian demonstrates the pronunciation was "Mennofer".(32) The transition to Menophreos from Mennofir was not hindered by any linguistic problems.


Whether the Medinet Habu calendar belongs to Ramesses II of Dynasty XIX or Ramesses III of Dynasty XX is not known. The cartouche, as it appears at Medinet Habu, could belong to either Ramesses.(33) Ramesses III may have just had an exact copy of Ramesses II's calendar inscribed at Medinet Habu. As it is impossible to assign the calendar positively to either of these pharaohs, the only reasonable conclusion Egyptologists could decide on was that the year in question might be either 1196 B.C. or 1316 B.C.* As the day within the month is not known the span of time between 1 196 and 1316 is not a problem. Approximately 100 years are equivalent to the Sothic cycle's progression in one Egyptian calendar month. That is, the calendar could be for either Ramesses II or III and still fit into the astronomic cycle if the Egyptian dynastic reconstruction is correct.

[*These dates are based upon the conventional chronology. Under the revised chronology, the Medinet Habu calendar would belong to either the fourth or the seventh century B.C. The Ed.]


The next Sothic date is the result of a decree passed in 238 B.C. by a synod of Egyptian priests, representing all Egypt, gathered at Canopus. This document which provides us with a date of Payni 1, 238 B.C. for the festival of Sothis, originated in the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (247-221).(34) A remedy had to be found for the deplorable statement of summer festivals arriving in winter. Euergetes and his advisors recognised the inaccuracy of the year and decided to correct it with the addition of a sixth epagomenal day. This day was designed to be a special feast in honour of the gods Euergetes. Once proposed the suggestion was accepted by the priests, however, the populace did not respond favourably. There is no indication that the reform even had the slightest influence on the calendar.

In effect, Euergetes designed a Julian reform. That it failed due to lack of enthusiasm from the people demonstrates that there were strong feelings either about the inclusion of a usurping, mortal, foreigner into a body of quite ancient and special beings or a distaste for calendar reform itself. Rejection of a plan for adding one day every four years does not prove that the Egyptians never adjusted their calendar to align it with the seasons and proper festive occasions. Adjustment of a calendar and increasing the length of the year are two completely separate reforms in calendation. Correction of the seasons with the proper months could be effected without the addition to or subtraction from the total length of the civil year.

Payni 1 fell near the rising of Sirius (July 19-22) in 238 B.C. Thoth 1,170 days away, occurred on October 22 in the same year. This data coordinates perfectly with Censorinus, making the existence of a continuous Sothic cycle in the first millennium B.C. a firm proposition.


Censorinus, a Latin writer of the third century AD., is unknown to us except for his treatise entitled De die natali liber. His reference to the rising of Sirius is, however, of first order importance. A recent book concerned with the Exodus tries to discredit Censorinus's chronology on the basis of MacNaughton's laughable and fallacious translation of the Latin. Fortunately, Censorinus was quite specific in orienting the year in which he composed the book: the second year in the 254th Olympaid (1014 years after 776 B.C.), during the consulship of (C.?) Fulvius Pius and Pontius Proculus Pontianus (which was in A.D. 238), 991 years from the founding of Rome in 753 B.C., 283 years after the establishment of the Principate by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. and 265 years from the third consulship of M. Vipsanius L. f. Agrippa in 27 B.C.(35) Therefore, the year in which De die natali liber was written was A.D. 238.

Censorinus understood the functioning of the Egyptian calendar year and the characteristics of the Sothic cycle. To quote him: "Ad Aegyptiorum vero annum magnum luna non pertinet, quem Graece Kunicon Latins canicularem vocamus, propterea quod initium illius sumitur, cum pdmo die cius mensis, quem vocant Aegyptii QwnJi, caniculae sidus exodtur. Nam corum annus civilis solos habet dies CCCLXV sine ullo intercalad: itaque quaddennium apud eos uno circiter die minus est quam naturale quaddennium, eoque fit ut anno MCCCCLXI, ad idem revolvatur pdncipium. Hic annus etiam hliacos a quibusdam dicitur, et ab aliis qeou eniautos".(36)

He recognized the intimate connection between Sirius and the Egyptian calendar, that the year was 365 days in length (i.e. without intercalation) and that a complete cycle amounted to 1461 years. To ascertain the accuracy of the Sothic statement it was necessary to establish the year of composition and Censodnus's knowledge of the cycle.

Now we can examine the quotation referring to the rising of Sirius. "Sed horum initia semper a primo die mensis eius sumuntur cui apud Aegyptios nomen est Thoth, quique hoc anno fuit ante diem VII Kal. Iul., cum abhinc annos centum imperatore Antonino Pio 11 et Bruttio Praesente Romae Coss. idem dies fuerit ante diem XIII Kal. Aug., quo tempore solet canicula in Aegypto facere exortum".(37) This statement further confirms the dating of Censorinus. C. Bruttius Praesens and Imp. Caes. T. Aelius Hadrianus Antonius Augustus Pius were consuls in AD. 139. Censorinus does not provide the initiation or termination dates of a Sothic period. Rather he gives the data for the relationship of a heliacal rising of Sirius with the Roman calendar for the years A.D. 139 and 238. Since it is known, however, that Sirius appears between the 19th and 22nd of July, July 21 in A.D. 139 is close to the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new Sothic period. This benchmark enables the computation (assuming that the calendar for the previous 1460 years had not been altered or corrected)* of an absolute calendar year for a document which includes the season, month and regnal year of a particular pharaoh.

[*But the calendar was altered. See Peoples of the Sea, p. 242 and the earlier references to Worlds in Collision. - The Ed]

Theon, a fourth century A.D. astronomer, has left a statement which contradicts Censorinus. Theon claims that a Sothic cycle ended and another began in 26 B.C. In Theon's words: "Now this period of 1,460 years, commenced from a certain time, terminated in the fifth year of the reign of Augustus so, from this last epoch, the Egyptians begin all over again to find themselves every year one quarter of a day in advance".(38) It should be kept in mind that other ancient witnesses verify Censorinus. Assuming the greater precision of Censorinus, Thoth 1 could have fallen on August 30 in 26 B.C. or more than one month after the rising of Sirius. Also, Theon would even seem to contradict himself with his era of Menophreos which coordinates with Censorinus's Sothic appearance.

One other point remains to be made on this issue. Albiruni, an Arabian chronologist (AD. 973-1048), supported Theon. The Arab recorded that Augustus delayed his reform of the Egyptian calendar for five years until the completion of a Sothic cycle in 26 B.C. With the beginning of a new cycle, Augustus took advantage of the situation by instituting the new 365-1/4 day year.(39) Albiruni may have just quoted Theon and thought a 26 B.C. Sothic rising a convenient explanation for Augustus's delayed calendar reform. If, however, 26 B.C. was the correct date for a Sothic rising then cycles began circa 1486 B.C. and 1946 B.C. rather than the currently accepted dates obtained from A.D. 139 of circa 1317 B.C. and 2773 B.C. Obviously, these differences would cause a radical change in dynastic chronology. There appears to be no reason to doubt that Thoth 1 marked the beginning of Sothic cycles and, therefore, we accept Consorinus. Theon remains a problem.


The A.D. 139 Sothic date is confirmed by information from Claudeaus Ptolemy,** Vettius Valens and other ancients. The Decree of Canopus fits into the first pre-Christian cycle, i.e., Censorinus and Canopus check each other. It is doubtful that Censorinus had knowledge of the decree. This adds to the weight of the validity of the cycle. The beginning date for the era of Menophreos (c. 1321 B.C.) establishes the existence of a Sothic period of 1460 years ending in A.D. 139. Theon fixed 1321 B.C. not through Censorinus or 139, but by Diocletian. Even the specialists, however, cannot be certain whether Menophreos was Memphis or a pharaoh of Dynasty XIX. Thus, an absolute date in the Nineteenth Dynasty must await future developments which may facilitate a stronger case. The Medinet Habu calendar Sothic date and Elephantine Sothic record coordinate with the projected second pre-Christian Sothic cycle and the era of Menophreos, especially if by Menophreos we mean a pharaoh of Dynasty XIX. All three provide data for the transition period between the termination of one Sothic cycle and the initiation of another. The two remaining Sothic dates are subject to serious doubt. Admittedly, they seem to fit the Sothic pattern and coordinate with the other dates. Have chronologists, however, juggled the reigns and figures in order to reconcile the evidence? To a certain degree this has definitely occurred. The Sothic date in Dynasty XII cannot be assigned to any one pharaoh until the papyri are made available for investigation. The identification of the Ebers papyrus hieratic cartouche, still the subject of speculation, will probably never be firmly and solidly resolved.

It would appear, however, that the writings of Claudius Ptolemy do not support an A.D. 139 Sothic date - See Peoples of the Sea, pp. 230-231. -- The Ed


1. See the author's article, "The Bible, Radiocarbon Dating and Ancient Egypt", Creation Research Society Quarterly, June, 1973.
2. P. Nigidius Figulus, De errore profanarum religionum, 27, quoted by F. K. Ginzel in Handbuch der mathematischen und technischen Chronoligie, Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1906, vol. 1, p. 196.
3. Richard A. Parker, "Sothic Dates and Calendar 'Adjustment' ", RdÉ 9 (1952) 102.
4. H. R. Hall, in The Cambridge Ancient History, ed. by J. B. Bury, S. A. Cook and F. E. Adcock, N. Y.: Macmillan Co., 1923, vol. 1, p. 168-169.
5. L. Borchardt, "Der zweite Papyrusfund von Kahun und die zeitliche Festlegung des mittleren Reiches der ägyptischen Geschichte", ZÄS 37 (1899) 99.
6. W. Edgerton, "Chronology of the Twelfth Dynasty", JNES 1, 3 (July, 1942) 307.
7. L. Borchardt, op. cit., p. 101.
8. O. Neugebauer, "The Chronology of the Hammurabi Age", JAOS 61 (1941) 61.
9. Ibid. 10. H. Brugsch,"Ein neues Sothis-Datum", ZÄS 8 (1870) 108-111.
11. Ibid., p. 108. ". . . Jahre 3 der Regierung eines Königs beginnt, dessen Namensschild ich leider zu verschweigen genöthigt bin".
12. A. Eisenlohr, "Das doppelte Kalendar des Herm Smith", ZÄS 8 (1870) 165-167.
13. G. Ebers, "Papyrus Ebers", ZÄS 11 (1873) 41-46.
14. Brugsch, op. cit., p. 108.
15. R. Lepsius, "Einige Bemerkungen uber denselben Papyrus Smith", ZÄS 8 (1870) 167.
16. Eisenlohr, op. cit., p. 166.
17. C. W. Goodwin, "Notes on the calendar in Mr. Smith's Papyrus", ZÄS 11 (1873) 108.
18. G. Ebers, "Nochmals der Calendar auf der Ruckseite des Leipziger Papyrus Ebers", ZÄS 12 (1874) 4.
19. Ebers, Die Marchen dff Papyrus Westcar II, vol. 5 of Mitteilungen us den Orientalischen Sammlun0en, ed. by Adolf Erman, Berlin: W. Spemann, 1890, p. 56-57.
20. E. Naville, "Le cartouche du papyrus Ebers", ZÄS 14 (1876) 111.
21. Eisenlohr, "Letter from Dr. A. Eisenlohr of Heidelberg", PSBA 13 (1890) 596-598.
22. F. Chabas, in Mémoires présentés à l'Académie d'Inscriptions par divers savants. Ist series (1878), vol. I, p. 111. 23. W. Edgerton, "On the Chronology of the Early Eighteenth Dynasty (Amenhotep I to Thutmose III)", AJSL 53 (1937) 192.
24. E. Mahler, "König Thutmosis 111", ZAS 27 (1889) 98.
25. F. K. Ginzel, Handbuch der mathematischen und technischen Chrondogie. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1906. p. 194.
26. W. Struve, "Die Ära 'apo Menojrews' und die XIX. Dynastie Manethos", ZÄS 63 (1928) 45.
27. Ibid.
28. J. Cerný, "Note on the supposed beginning of a Sothic Period under Sethos l", JEA 47 (1961) 151.
29. M. B. Rowton, "Mesopotamian Chronology and the 'Era of Menophres' ", Iraq 8 (1946) 94-110.
30. Ibid.,p. 108.
31. H. Gauthier, Dictionnaire des noms geographiques. Paris: Llnstitut Fransais d'Archeologie Orientale, 1926, vol. 3, p. 38.
32. H.R.Hall, op .cit., vol.3,p.281n.2.
33. K. H. Brugsch, Kalendansche Inschriften, part 2 of Thesaulus Inscriptionum Aegyptiacarum. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, 1968, p. 364.
34. For a Greek transcription see Mahaffy, The Empire of the Ptolemies, or Bevan, The House of Ptolemy.
35. Censorinus, De die natali liber. ed. and emendated by Otto Jahn. Hildesheim, Georg Olms, 1965, chapter 21.
36. Ibid., chapter 18.
37. Ibid., chapter 21.
38. Theon, in Commentaire sur les tables manuelles astronomiques de Ptolemee, ed. by Abbe Halma, Paris 1822,1. 30.
39. Albiruni, The Chronology of Ancient Nations (Athar-ul-Bakiya of Albizuni), translated by C. Edward Sachau. London, W. H. Allen and Co., 1879. p. 58.


Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 12, No.4 (March, 1976), pp. 201-210.

KRONOS I, 3 (Nov., 1975), pp. 3-7.

KRONOS I, 2 (June, 1975), pp. 49-72.

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