The Egyptian Year -- By: Joseph F. Thompson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 014:55 (Jul 1857)
Article: The Egyptian Year
Author: Joseph F. Thompson


The Egyptian Year1

Joseph F. Thompson

It is about thirty years since Champollion le Jeune made public his discovery of the notation of the ancient Egyptian calendar. The most ancient form of the Egyptian year seems to have been a year of twelve lunar months. “The hieroglyphic signifying month,’ was represented by the crescent of the moon.”2 The first change made in the year, was the substitution of solar for lunar months, making twelve months of thirty days each, and a year of three hundred and sixty days. To correct the variation of the seasons consequent upon such a division, five Epagomense, Epact, or Intercalary days were added after the twelfth month. This, however, was still a “vague year.” To compensate for the retrocession of this, the Sothic year was invented; though at what period, is uncertain; which, dating from the heliacal rising of the Dog-star, which preceded the annual overflow of the Nile, made a year of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days. The Sothic period, on a great scale, answered the same purpose with our intercalation of a day in leap-year. A Sothic cycle of 1460 siderial years was equal to 1461 vague or solar years; when the seasons, having receded through the whole round of the solar year, came again to their original point of departure, coincident with the rising of Sirius.

This solar year, of twelve equal months — leaving out of

view the five Epagomenas— was subdivided into a tropical year of three seasons, based upon natural phenomena. These seasons were of equal duration, each comprising four months of the solar year. This was the discovery of Champollion, first announced in his letters, and afterwards elaborated in his Grammaire Égyptienne, his Grammaire Hiéro-glyphique, his Mémoire sur les Signes, and other works edited from his manuscripts, after his early and lamented death.3 The result of this discovery is thus described by his elder brother, M. Champollion-Figeac.

The twelve names of the months, in the Egyptian calendar, are divided into three series, each of which is characterized by a particular sign, surmounted in all by an inverted lunar crescent; beneath which are one, two, three, or four marks, to indicate the number of the month in that season. These three series, representing the twelve months, show that the Egyptian year was divided into only three seasons. The first sign signifies the season of Vegetation; the second, that of Harvest (récolte); the third, the season of Inundation. The ...

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