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p815 Nundinae

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp815‑816 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

NU′NDINAE is invariably and justly derived by all the ancient writers from novem and dies, so that it literally signifies the ninth day (Dionys. Ant. Rom. II.28, VII.58; Macrob. Sat. I.16; Festus, s.v. Nundinalem Cocum). In ancient Calendaria all the days of the year, beginning with the first of January, are divided into what we may call weeks, each containing eight days which are marked by the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H. Now it is admitted on all hands that this division is made to mark the nundinae, for every eighth day, according to our mode of speaking, was a nundinae. There were thus always seven ordinary days between two nundinae. The Romans in their peculiar mode of reckoning added these two nundinae to the seven ordinary days, and consequently said that the nundinae recurred every ninth day, and called them nundinae, as it were novemdinae. A similar mode of stating the number of days in the week is still customary in Germany, where, in common life, the expression eight days is used for a week, and the French and Italians in the same manner call a fortnight quinze jours and quindici giorni.

The number of nundinae in the ancient year of ten months was 38; and care was always taken that they should not fall on the calends of January nor upon the nones of any month (Macrob. Sat. I.13; Dion Cass. XL.47, XLVIII.33), and in order to effect this, the 355th day of the lunar year (dies intercalaris) was inserted in such a manner as to avoid the coincidence of the nundinae with the primae calendae or the nones.a Macrobius says that it was generally believed that if the nundinae fell upon the primae calendae, the whole year would be signalised by misfortunes; the nones were avoided because the birthday of king Servius Tullius was celebrated on the nones of every month, as it was known that he was born on the nones of some month, though the month itself was not known. Now, as on the nundines, the country-folk assembled in the city, the patricians feared lest the plebeians gathered at Rome on the nones might become excited and endanger the peace of the republic. These reasons are indeed very unsatisfactory, as Göttling (Gesch. der Röm. Staatsv. p183) has shown, and it is more probable that the calends of January were ill suited to be nundinae, because this day was generally spent by every father in the bosom of his own family, and that the nones were avoided, because, as Ovid (Fast. I.58) says, Nonarum tutela p816deo caret. But at the time when the Julian calendar was introduced, these scruples, whatever they may have been, were neglected, and in several ancient calendaria the nundinae fall on the first of January as well as on the nones (see Graevius, Thesaur., vol. VIII p7, and the various ancient Calendaria). Both before and after the time of Caesar it was sometimes thought necessary, for religious reasons, to transfer the nundinae from the day on which they should have fallen to another one (Dion Cass. LX.24). The nundinae themselves were, according to Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. p275, B), sacred to Saturn, and, according to Granius Licinianus (ap. Macrob. Sat. I.16) the Flaminica offered at all nundinae a sacrifice of a ram to Jupiter.

It is uncertain to whom the institution of the nundinae is to be ascribed, for some say that it was Romulus (Dionys. II.28; Tuditanus, ap. Macrob. Sat. l.c.), and others that it was Servius Tullius (Cassius Hemina, ap. Macrob. l.c.), who instituted them, while the nature of the things for which they were originally set apart seems to show that their institution was as old as the Romulian year of 10 months, or at least that they were instituted at the time when the Roman population extended beyond the precincts of the city itself. For the nundinae were originally market-days for the country-folk, on which they came to Rome to sell the produce of their labour, and on which the king settled the legal disputes among them. When, therefore, we read that the nundinae were feriae, or dies nefasti, and that no comitia were allowed to be held, we have to understand this of the populus, and not of the plebs; and while for the populus the nundinae were feriae, they were real days of business (dies fasti or comitiales) for the plebeians, who on these occasions pleaded their causes with members of their own order, and held their public meetings (the ancient comitia of the plebeians) and debates on such matters as concerned their own order, or to discuss which they were invited by the senate (Dionys. VII.58; Macrob. l.c.; Plin. H. N. XVIII.3; Festus, s.v. Nundinas; cf. Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. II p213). How long this distinction existed that the nundinae were nefasti for the patricians and fasti for the plebeians, is not quite clear. In the law of the Twelve Tables they appear to have been regarded as fasti for both orders (Gellius, XX.1 §49), though, according to Granius Licinianus (ap. Macr. l.c.), this change was introduced at a later time by the Lex Hortensia, 286 B.C. This innovation, whenever it was introduced, facilitated the attendance of the plebeians at the comitia centuriata. In the ancient calendaria, therefore, the nundinae and dies fasti coincide. The subjects to be laid before the comitia, whether they were proposals for new laws or the appointment of officers, were announced to the people three nundinae beforehand (trinundino die proponere, Macrob. l.c.; Cic. ad Fam. XVI.12, Philip. V.3, pro Domo, 16; Liv. III.35).

The nundinae being thus at all times days of business for the plebeians (at first exclusively for them, and afterwards for the patricians also), the proceedings of the tribunes of the people were confined to these days, and it was necessary that they should be terminated in one day, that is, if a proposition did not come to a decision in one day it was lost, and if it was to be brought again before the people, the tribunes were obliged to announce it three nundines beforehand, as if it were quite a new subject.

Instead of nundinae the form nundinum is sometimes used, but only when it is preceded by a numeral, as in trinundinum, or trinum nundinum (see the passages above referred to). It is also used in the expression internundinum or inter nundinum, that is, the time which elapses between two nundinae (Varro and Lucil. apud Nonium, III.145). The word nundinae is sometimes used to designate a market-place or a time for marketing in general (Cic. de Leg. Agr. II.33, Philip. V.4).b


Thayer's Notes:

a Depending on what our author means, this was either very easy or categorically impossible to achieve. The truth must have been, as usual, somewhere in between, and contributed its share to the mess the Roman calendar was in until Caesar's reform.

Let's start with the easy case. If he means the supposed ten-month "Romulian" year, those who feel that it once actually existed are in general agreement that it had 304 days distributed as follows, the Nones marked in red:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Martius A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
Aprilis H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E
Maius F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D
Junius E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
Quinctilis C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A
Sextilis B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
September H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E
October F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D
November E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
December C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H

From the above sample calendar it's clear that only four letters (ADFG) are taken up by the nones; the nundinae could be any of the others. Notice that since 304 is divisible by 8, each year would start on the same day of the nundinae (here, A) so that the four available days (BCEH) remain available in perpetuity.

Alas, you will have noticed, of course, that in the same sentence our author speaks of inserting the 355th day of the lunar year; at which point he's no longer talking about Romulus's hypothetical year, but about the historically attested situation in the early republic, in which the basic year had 355 days but saw a 22- or 23‑day intercalary month added every other year in the middle of February. Squaring the nundinae now becomes impossible. With the Kalends of January also marked in red, here is what the 2‑year cycle looks like:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Martius A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
Aprilis H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E
Maius F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D
Junius E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
Quinctilis C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A
Sextilis B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
September H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E
October F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D
November E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
December C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H
Januarius A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
Februarius H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Martius D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
Aprilis C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H
Maius A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
Junius H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E
Quinctilis F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D
Sextilis E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
September C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H
October A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
November H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E
December F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C
Januarius D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B
Februarius C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A
Mercedonius B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G
F
e
b
H A B C D
Martius E F G H A B C . . .

From this second calendar we can see that:

For those of you with a masochistic bent who actually enjoy such calculations, do I ever have a treat in store for you! when I get around to annotating Smith's article Calendarium. The rest of us can come away with a moral: as it has been said of metrology, calendars are "not a science but a nightmare".

b According to David Magie, in Late Antiquity the word also came to mean the portion of a year during which a specific pair of consuls held office. For further details, see his note to Hist. Aug. Al. Sev. 28.1.


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