The Sequanni, or Coligny Calendar (used interchangeably) is a parapegma, that is, a bronze calendar with peg holes in it that marked each day. It was discovered in 1897 in Coligny, Ain, France. It is thought to date to the 2nd century CE. Almost everything about the calendar is hotly debated. Some theories are more popular than others, and perhaps we will never all agree. However, there are some context clues from what little can be reasonably assumed about the calendar, and a workable model will be presented.
With that said, let’s explore a little on the matters of timekeeping that we know. Caesar mentions that the Gaulish peoples considered the day to start at sundown. This isn’t really unusual, the Jewish people reckon the same with their own calendar, for example. Thus the reason their sabbaths start on Friday night. Considering that where they lived at the time of the Gauls was some distance away from the Gauls, starting the day at sundown was not at all uncommon in the ancient world.
Caesar didn’t likely gain anything from making mention of this, and so it is likely a truthful observation. The history of issues (to put it lightly) between Gauls and Romans were certainly not because of their differing approaches to calendars. With that said, we can safely wager that the day begins at sunset.
Over The Moons
The months have either 30 or 29 days. 30 day months are noted Matis (MAT), the 29 day months Anmatis (ANM). In this respect, we cannot help but notice that the Attic Calendar, used by ancient Athenians, marks months as “full and “hollow”. It is worth noting that Greek culture was prestigious to the Gauls, especially before their fall to the Romans. Sequanni territory was not very far from the Greek colony of Massalia, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Greeks had some influence on the Sequanni Calendar. This isn’t to say that the ancient Gauls weren’t already using a lunisolar calendar as it were. Which the Sequanni Calendar certainly is.
A lunisolar calendar attempts to reconcile the lunar months with the solar year. This is a relatively old style of timekeeping. Though purely lunar calendars like the Islamic Calendar do exist. Then, of course, the modern calendar, which gets its start in Rome, who weren’t about lunar months, apparently. They were more interested in the solar year. Now, back to Gaul, where the Sun and Moon must agree, at least somewhat. Most of the time, the Sequanni Calendar has twelve months, the first and third year in a five year cycle have thirteen. The first month is Samonios, something that is not debated.
The months start at the first quarter moon. This is an easy moon phase to spot, and it accents the binary fortnight division explained earlier. This centers the full and new moons in each fortnight, half month.
We offer “Areambicatû”, or “The years ahead of Ambicatus” as a term to date years. Starting roughly during the reign of Ambicatus, a legendary king. Before those years, Senamman “Ancient Time”. As opposed to BCE and CE or BC and AD. The app we use (from Ucetion) provides the current year. This work (from Helen Mckay) helps with notations.
At the most basic, and we’ll get to intercalary months in a minute, the months are as such, with rough Gregorian equivalents:
- Samonios (May-June)
- Dumannios (June-July)
- Riuros (July-August)
- Anagantios (August-September)
- Ogronios (September-October)
- Cutios (October-November)
- Giamonios (November-December)
- Simiuisonna (December-January)
- Equos (January-February)
- Elembiuos (February-March)
- Edrinios (March-April)
- Cantlos (April-May)
These are your basic twelve months in order. So, what about those intercalary months? We are less certain. Quimonios (the end of the first segment of the calendar as “QVIMON”) and Rantaranos (the “r” is speculative, but “ANTARAN” is read from the fifth line of the 32nd month) are the two intercalary months inserted to even out a five year cycle. Before Samonios and Giamonios respectively.
It’s hard to say what many of the months mean. The foundation of most versions is what they believe the month of Samonios means. Whether it means “summer” or the end of summer. The latter of which is what leads some to believe Samonios is cognate to Samhain. Some believe Samonios means something like “assembly, gathering”.
However, the frame of reference we use to build a conclusion is not Samonios, but Giamonios. Which has less controversy around it, and is agreed upon to mean something related to “winter”. To our knowledge, no one claims it means “winter’s end”. A poor choice then for a summer month. Buttressed by the infix -on- that is seen in many deity names taken to mean “great, divine”.
Therefore, here the calendar starts in the summer. This is not unheard of, as the Attic Calendar, one of many in Ancient Greece, also started in the summer. The Greeks being a big influence on the Gauls makes this essentially unsurprising.
As stated before, the month starts at the first quarter moon. This means the third denotes the halfway point of the month. We see on the calendar “ATENOUX”, meaning “renewal, return”. Also, appearing in a half circle, like the first quarter fits the binary division of the month. “Light” and “Dark” halves.
Matis months have 30 days. Anmatis months have 29 days. The first half month is always 15 days, the second is either 15 or 14 days. The month of Equos alternates in days. Can be 30 or 29. This is of course an attempt to keep the calendar in a lunisolar harmony.
The Coligny Calendar operates in 5 year cycles. This is regardless of the 25, 30, or proposed 19 year Metonic cycle. The last only differs in that one intercalary year is dropped in the last 5 year cycle, taking it down to 4 years.
Why use a Metonic model? This is because changes were already thought to have been made to the calendar. The Coligny Calendar could well have been one. It would have taken very little effort to make one from where the calendar during its time of use. A Metonic cycle is an extremely accurate model that works perpetually. In other words, it’s an attempt to save future generations the trouble of having to make changes to one of the other models. This will make tracking and cataloguing history easier. Making this not only a liturgical, but practical option. A full, all purpose calendar. This also allows for history to be recorded.
Year 1 has the month Quimonios starting the year, then the normal 12 months. Year 3 has Rantaranos before Giamonios, thus the 7th of 13 months in that year. The second, fourth and fifth year are 12 month years. This 5 year cycle happens three times. The fourth time, Year 1 is dropped, making it a grand cycle of 19 years, then the calendar starts over again. Every 61 years, one day is dropped from Equos on the 5th year. If someone had a replica plaque, they’d never have to change it. They’d simply cover up the first year of the fourth cycle.
On 8 May, 2022, the next start of the 19 year cycle will begin. Which means, at the time of writing, we’re on the last part of the current one, that which is only four years. Even if you aren’t using the app, you’ll know when a month begins, as it will be the first quarter moon.
At the date of writing, (11 December, 2019), we are in the month of Giamonios. It started on 4 December. This means you can use the normal 12 months until then to know what months come next.
Here is the app again. Check the day, and keep your eyes on the moon!
For the big picture, check this full reconstruction done by Helen Mckay.
Helen Mckay – The Coligny Calendar as a Metonic Lunar Calendar
(Don’t worry, the download is free.)
John Bonsing and Scott Rhys Jones – “The Celtic Calendar“