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p1000 Saeculum

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp1000‑1001 of

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

SAE′CULUM. saeculum was of a twofold p1001nature, that is, either civil or natural. The civil saeculum, according to the calculation of the Etruscans, which was adopted by the Romans, was a space of time containing 110 lunar years. The natural saeculum, upon the calculation of which the former was founded, expressed the longest term of human life, and its duration or length was ascertained according to the ritual books of the Etruscans, in the following manner: the life of a person, which lasted the longest of all those who were born on the day of the foundation of a town, constituted the first saeculum of that town; and the longest liver of all who were born at the time when the second saeculum began, again determined the duration of the second saeculum, and so on (Censorin. de Die Nat. 17). In the same manner that the Etruscans thus called the longest life of a man a saeculum, so they called the longest existence of a state, or the space of 110 years, a saecular day; the longest existence of one human race, or the space of 8800 years, a saecular week, &c. (Plut. Sulla, 7; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, I. p137). It was believed that the return of a new saeculum was marked by various wonders and signs, which were recorded in the history of the Etruscans. The return of each saeculum at Rome was announced by the pontiffs, who also made the necessary intercalations in such a manner, that at the commencement of a new saeculum the beginning of the ten months' year, of the twelve months' year, and of the solar year coincided. But in these arrangements the greatest arbitrariness and irregularity appears to have prevailed at Rome, as may be seen from the unequal intervals at which the ludi saeculares were celebrated. [Ludi Saeculares.] This also accounts for the various ways in which a saeculum was defined by the ancients: some believed that it contained thirty (Censorin. l.c.)º and others that it contained a hundred years (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.11; Festus, s.v. Saeculares ludi); the latter opinion appears to have been the most common in later times, so that saeculum answered to our century. (See Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, I. p275, &c.).


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