Germanic calendar

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The Germanic calendars were the regional calendars used amongst the early Germanic peoples, prior to the adoption of the Julian calendar in the Early Middle Ages.

The Germanic peoples had names for the months which varied by region and dialect, which were later replaced with local adaptations of the Roman month names. Records of Old English and Old High German month names date to the 8th and 9th centuries, respectively. Old Norse month names are attested from the 13th century. Like most pre-modern calendars, the reckoning used in early Germanic culture was likely lunisolar. As an example, the Runic calendar developed in medieval Sweden is lunisolar, fixing the beginning of the year at the first full moon after winter solstice.


As in all ancient calendars, the Germanic calendar before the adoption of the Julian one would have been lunisolar, the months corresponding to lunations. Tacitus in his Germania (ch. 11) writes that the Germanic peoples observed the lunar months.

The lunisolar calendar is reflected in the Germanic term *monaþ "month" (Old English mōnaþ, Old Saxon mānuth, Old Norse mánaðr, and Old High German mānod,[1] Gothic mēnōþs,[1][2] ) being a derivation of the word for "moon", mēnō, itself from an Indo-European root *mē- "to measure".[3]

Days and weeks[edit]

Tacitus gives some indication of how the Germanic peoples of the first century reckoned the days. In contrast to Roman usage, they considered the day to begin at sunset, a system that in the Middle Ages came to be known as the "Florentine reckoning". The same system is also recorded for the Gauls in Caesar's Gallic Wars.

"They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. Instead of reckoning by days as we do, they reckon by nights, and in this manner fix both their ordinary and their legal appointments. Night they regard as bringing on day."[4]

The concept of the week, on the other hand, was adopted from the Romans, from about the first century, the various Germanic languages having adopted the Greco-Roman system of naming of the days of the week after the classical planets, inserting loan translations for the names of the planets, substituting the names of Germanic gods in a process known as interpretatio germanica.

Calendar terms[edit]

The month names do not coincide, thus it is not possible to postulate names of a Common Germanic stage, except possibly the name of a spring and a winter month, *austr- and *jehul-. The names of the seasons are also Common Germanic, *sumaraz, *harbistaz, *wintruz, and *wēr- for "spring" in north Germanic, but in west Germanic the term *langatīnaz was used. The Common Germanic terms for day, month and year were *dagaz, *mēnōþs (moon) and *jērą. The latter two continue Proto-Indo-European *me(n)ses-, *iero- while *dagaz is a Germanic innovation from a root meaning "to be hot, to burn".

A number of terms for measuring time can be reconstructed for the proto Germanic period.

Term Proto-
English Dutch Low
German Old
Icelandic Swedish Norwegian Danish
Nynorsk Bokmål
24-hour period
*dagaz dæġ day dag Dag Tag dagr dagur dag,
Night *nahts niht night nacht Nacht Nacht nátt nótt natt natt natt nat
Week *wikǭ wice week week Wekke Woche vika vika vecka veke uke uge
Month *mēnōþs mōnaþ month maand Mohnd Monat mánaðr mánuður månad månad måned måned
Year *jērą ġēar year jaar Johr Jahr ár ár år år år år
Time, Period, Interval *tīdiz tīd tide tijd Tiet Zeit tíð tíð tid tid tid tid
Time, Period, Hour *tīmô tīma time tími tími timme time time time
Spring *langatīnaz lencten lent lente Lent Lenz
Spring *wēr- vár vor vår vår vår vår
Summer *sumaraz sumor summer zomer Sommer Sommer sumar sumar sommar sommar/sumar sommer sommer
Autumn / Fall *harbistaz hærfest harvest herfst Harvst Herbst haustr haust höst haust høst høst
Winter *wintruz winter winter winter Winter Winter vintr/vetr vetur vinter vinter/vetter vinter vinter

Month names[edit]

The main source of reference for Old English month names comes from the Venerable Bede. He recorded the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon month names in his Latin work known as De temporum ratione (De mensibus Anglorum), written in 725.[5] This is the only testimony of a Germanic lunisolar system, with explicit mention of empirical intercalation, the intercalary month being inserted around midsummer.

Other traditions of Germanic month names give traditional or ad hoc alternative names for the months of the Julian calendar and not a lunisolar system.

Charlemagne (r. 768–814) recorded agricultural Old High German names for the Julian months. (See Julian Calendar: Month names) These remained in use, with regional variants and innovations, until the end of the medieval period in German-speaking Europe and they persisted in popular or dialectal use into the 19th century. They probably also influenced Fabre d'Eglantine when he named the months of the French Republican Calendar.

Julian month Old English[6] Old Norse[citation needed] Old High German Dutch[7] West Frisian[citation needed]
January Æfterra Gēola ("After Yule", or "Second Yule") Mǫrsugur (Suet-sucker) or
Jól (Yule, the first half of the month) and Þorri (Thor, the latter half)
Harti-mánód (Härtemonat, English: Month of Severe Frost) louwmaand (Tanning Month - probably because animals' skins tan in January) Foarmoanne (Fore Month)
February Sol-mōnaþ (from sol "sun"?; Bede: "the month of cakes, which they offered in it to their gods") Þorri and Gói (possibly Winter); Kyndilsmessa (candle/kindle-mass) Hornung[8] sprokkelmaand (Month of Gathering - uncertain, maybe because it was the month when people had to gather wood), schrikkelmaand (Bisextile Month) Sellemoanne (Month of Sales)
March Hrēþ-mōnaþ ("Month of the Goddess Hrēþ" or "Month of Wildness")[9] Gói and Ein-mánuðr Lenzin-mānod (Lenzmonat, Spring Month) lentemaand (Month of Spring) Foarjiersmoanne (Spring Month)
April Easter-mōnaþ ("Easter Month", "Month of the Goddess Ēostre") Ein-mánuðr and Harpa Ōstar-mānod (Ostermonat, Easter month; see also Oster) grasmaand (Grass Month) Gersmoanne (Grass Month)
May Þrimilce-mōnaþ ("Month of Three Milkings") Harpa and Skerpla Drímilki[dubious ][10] (no common NHG equivalent), Winni-mánód (Wonne monat) wonnemaand (Month of Blissfulness/Victory - May was often called "de mooiste maand van het jaar", "the most beautiful month of the year"), bloeimaand (Blowing Month), Mariamaand (Maria's Month) Blommemoanne (Flowers Month)
June Ærra Līþa ("Before Midsummer", or "First Summer") or
Midsumor-mōnaþ ("Midsummer Month") or
Sēre-mōnaþ ("Sear Month")[citation needed]
Skerpla and Sól-mánuðr (Sol month) Brāh-mānod (Brachmonat "fallow month") zomermaand (Summer Month), braammaand (Blackberry Month), wedemaand (Woad Month), wiedemaand (Weed Month) Simmermoanne (Summer Month)
Þrilīþa (Third (Mid)summer, leap month)
July Æftera Līþa ("After Midsummer", "Second Summer"); Mædmōnaþ ("meadow month") Sól-mánuðr and Heyannir (Sun month, Haying) Hewi-mānod or Hou-mānod (both Heumonat, hay month) vennemaand (Month of Pasture/Graze), hooimaand (Hay Month) Heamoanne (Border Month)
August Weod-mōnaþ ("Plant month") Heyannir (Hay month) and Tvímánuðr (Double month) Aran-mānod (Erntemonat, Month of Harvest) oogstmaand (Month of Harvest - the word oogst itself comes from Latin Augustus), koornmaand (Corn Month) Rispmoanne (Month of Harvest)
September Hālig-mōnaþ ("Holy Month") or
Hærfest-mōnaþ ("Harvest Month")
Tví-mánuðr and Haust-mánuðr (Harvest/autumn month) Witu-mānod (Holzmonat, Month of Wood); or
Herbist-mānod (Herbstmonat,"Harvest Month")
herfstmaand (Autumn Month), gerstmaand (Barley Month), evenemaand (Oats Month) Hjerstmoanne (Autumn Month)
October Winterfylleth ("Winter full moon", according to Bede "because winter began on the first full moon of that month [of October]." Haust-manuðr and Gor-mánuðr Wīndume-mānod (Weinlesemonat, Wein-mond Month of Vintage) ; Gilbhart ("Yellowing")[citation needed] wijnmaand (Wine Month), zaaimaand (Sowing Month - Winter wheat was sown) Wynmoanne (Wine Month)
November Blōt-mōnaþ ("Blót Month", "Month of Sacrifice") Gor-mánuðr and Frer-mánuðr (Frost month) Wintar-mānod (Wintermonat "Winter Month"); Nebelung "Fog Month"[citation needed] slachtmaand (Slaughter Month - a pork was always killed in November), bloedmaand (Blood Month), nevelmaand (Fogging Month), smeermaand (Month of Pork Feeding) Slachtmoanne (Slaughter Month)
December Ærra Gēola ("Before Yule", or "First Yule") Frer-mánuðr and Morsugr; or Jól (Yule month) Hailag-mānod ("Holy Month"); Christ-mond ("Christ Month") wintermaand (Winter Month), midwintermaand (Midwinter Month), sneeuwmaand (Snow Month), Kerstmismaand (Christmas Month), Joelmaand (Month of Yule), wolfsmaand (Wolves' Month), donkere maand (Dark Month) Wintermoanne (Winter Month)

Icelandic calendar[edit]

A special case is the Icelandic calendar developed in the 10th century, which inspired by the Julian calendar introduced a purely solar reckoning, with a year having a fixed number of weeks (52 weeks or 364 days). This necessitated the introduction of "leap weeks" instead of the Julian leap days.

The old Icelandic calendar is not in official use any more, but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it. It has 12 months, broken down into two groups of six often termed "winter months" and "summer months". The calendar is peculiar in that the months always start on the same day of week rather than on the same date. Hence Þorri always started on a Friday sometime between 9 and 15 January of the Julian calendar, Góa always starts on a Sunday between 8 and 14 February of the Julian calendar.

  • Skammdegi ("Short days")
  1. Gormánuður (mid October – mid November, "slaughter month" or "Gór's month")
  2. Ýlir (mid November – mid December, "Yule month")
  3. Mörsugur (mid December – mid January, "fat sucking month")
  4. Þorri (mid January – mid February, "frozen snow month")
  5. Góa (mid February – mid March, "Góa's month", see Nór)
  6. Einmánuður (mid March – mid April, "lone" or "single month")
  • Náttleysi ("Nightless days")
  1. Harpa (mid April – mid May) Harpa is a female name, probably a forgotten goddess. The first day of Harpa is celebrated as Sumardagurinn fyrsti, the First Day of Summer
  2. Skerpla (mid May – mid June, another forgotten goddess)
  3. Sólmánuður (mid June – mid July, "sun month")
  4. Heyannir (mid July – mid August, "hay business month")
  5. Tvímánuður (mid August – mid September, "two" or "second month")
  6. Haustmánuður (mid September – mid October, "autumn month")

See also[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: M [Old High German Dictionary: M] (PDF). 
  2. ^ Month, Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. ^ cognate with words for "month" in many Indo-European languages, including Latin mensis, Greek μήν, etc.; unlike Latin luna, Greek σελήνη, from words for "light, brightness", the motif for the Germanic name of the moon is its role in measuring time, i.e. in defining the month as a unit of time.
  4. ^ Coeunt, nisi quid fortuitum et subitum inciderit, certis diebus, cum aut inchoatur luna aut impletur: nam agendis rebus hoc auspicatissimum initium credunt. Nec dierum numerum, ut nos, sed noctium computant. Sic constituunt, sic condicunt: nox ducere diem videtur.
  5. ^ Beda Venerabilis, De Temporum Ratione, Chapter 15, "De mensibus Anglorum"
  6. ^ Frank Merry Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, 1971, 97f.; M. P. Nilsson, Primitive Time-Reckoning. A Study in the Origins and Development of the Art of Counting Time among the Primitive and Early Culture Peoples, Lund, 1920; c.f. Stephanie Hollis, Michael Wright, Old English Prose of Secular Learning, Annotated Bibliographies of Old and Middle English literature vol. 4, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1992, p. 194.
  7. ^ these archaic or poetic Dutch names are recorded in the 18th century and were used in almanachs during the 19th century. Neue und volständige Hoogteutsche Grammatik of nieuwe en volmaakte onderwyzer in de hoogduitsche Spraak-Konst (1768), 173f.
  8. ^ This name of February, the only name in the list withouth the "month" suffix, is explained by König, Festschrift Bergmann (1997), pp. 425 ff. as a collective of horn, taken to refer to the antlers shed by red deer during this time. Older explanations compare the name with Old Frisian horning (Anglo-Saxon hornung-sunu, Old Norse hornungr) meaning "bastard, illegitimate son", taken to imply a meaning of "disinherited" in reference to February being the shortest of months. Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: H [Old High German Dictionary: H] (PDF). 
  9. ^ Gerhard Köbler. Altenglisches Wörterbuch: H [Old English Dictionary: H] (PDF). 
  10. ^ Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: D [Old High German Dictionary: D] (PDF). 

External links and references[edit]