Ancient Egyptian Calendars

Ancient Egyptians used two types of calendars to keep track of dates: a civil calendar and a religious calendar. Both were in use since the Old Kingdom period, though since they were used for different things they would get out of sync with each other. The two calendars only met up every 1460 years, and when they did so it was a time of great importance and celebration.

Both the civil and religious calendars were one year in length, each year being made up of 12 months or 30 days each. Each month was divided into three 10-day weeks for a total of 30 weeks per year. The months were grouped together in fours into 3 seasons based on the agricultural cycle. The first season, akhet, or indundation was the time when the waters of the Nile would flood their banks and make the land fertile and crops could start to be planted. The next season, peret, or growing, was the season when plants would grow and farmers would work in the fields. The last season, shemu, or harvest, was the season when the crops would be harvested from the fields.

Each type of calendar had its own way of dealing with the date shift away from the terrestrial year, since both calendars were officially only 360 days long. The civil calendar added five extra days to the end of every year that celebrated the birth of the gods Horus, Osiris, and Seth, and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. The first day of the new year according to the civil calendar generally occurred around the time when the star Sothis (Sirius) appeared again after being eclipsed by the sun for 70 days. This date occurs around July 19th in our modern calendar. The religious calendar added a 13th month every 2-3 years to make up for the lost days.

Dates were recorded in Egypt using the civil calendar, but also made note of the year of the reign of the current Pharaoh: "Year ______ of Pharaoh ______; month ______ of season ______; day ______."

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