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Correspondence of ancient calendars, seasons and Mediterranean transport

The Bible and other historical literature often make statements about months, weather, crops, and travel or correspondence between Jerusalem and Rome. To help explain the implications of those statements and put them in context, the following general reference information on what crops are harvested in which months, how weather affects travel, and which months correspond on different calendars, is provided.

Correspondence of months of various ancient calendars, describes:

Sequences of months in ancient calendars, their durations and spelling of their names, which months were intercalated, differences in sacred or spring vs. fall or civil lunisolar calendars as compared to solar calendars, as well as the inter-correspondence of when the months occurred.

Correspondence of weather, crops, and ancient Mediterranean sailing seasons to Hebrew months, describes:

Seasonal temperature and rainfall extremes and crop harvests by month for ancient Israel, timing of the "former and latter rains", months when extreme weather closed the Mediterranean ocean to most shipping and travel.

Ancient Mediterranean travel between Rome and Jerusalem, describes:

Durations of windward and leeward shipping across the Mediterranean ocean (when weather permitted sailing), and distance and duration of overland routes via the Roman Imperial Post roads, for ancient travel between Rome and Israel. This information is particularly important chronological background for determining when ambassadors, couriers, and soldiers could travel and arrive at their destinations. See for example the communiques between Herod, Antipater and Caesar Augustus during Herod's last two years.

 

Correspondence of months of various ancient calendars

The following table shows the approximate correspondence of the months of the various ancient calendar systems for regular or common years, with the position of embolismic months indicated for the Hebrew, Babylonian, Achaemenid and Macedonian calendars (which were lunisolar). The Julian/Gregorian calendar and the Egyptian civil calendar are essentially solar and not intercalated. The Roman calendar was haphazardly intercalated until the Julian calendar superceded it around 45 B.C. See also Hebrew and Babylonian Calendar Intercalation.

After each month name is its number of days in a regular year. Note that civil and fall calendars begin in August or September (Julian) while spring calendars begin six months later in March (Julian). The unshaded background months are duplicated and shown for the convenience or visualizing the correspondence with months of other calendars.

Calendar Year and Month Correspondence
Julian
Gregorian
1

Roman2


Hebrew
Sacred3
(Spring)
Hebrew
Civil4
(Fall)
Babylonian
(Spring)5

Achaemenid
Elamite
6
(Spring)
Macedonian
earlier7
(Fall)
Macedonian
later8
(Fall)
Egyptian
Civil9

 Thoth 30
 September 30
 Tishri 30  Dios  Hyperberetaios 30
 Phaophi 30
 October 31
 Heshvan 29  Apellaios  Dios 29
 Hathyr 30
 November 30
 Kislev 30  Audynaios  Apellaios 30
 Choiak 30
 December 31
 Tevet 29  Peritios  Audynaios 29
 Tybi 30
 January 31
 Shevat 30  Dystros  Peritios 30
 Mecheir 30
 February 28
 Adar* 29  Xanthikos  Dystros 29
 Phamenoth 30
 March 31  Martius 31
 Nisan 30  Nisan 30  Nisanu 30  Hadukannash  Artemisios  Xanthikos 30
 Pharmuthi 30
 April 30  Aprilis 29
 Iyar 29  Iyar 29  Aiaru 29  Tumar  Daisios  Artemisios 29
 Pachon 30
 May 31  Maius 31
 Sivan 30  Sivan 30  Simanu 30  Sakurrisish  Panemos  Daisios 30
 Pauni 30
 June 30  Junius 29
 Tammuz 29  Tammuz 29  Duzu 29  Karmabadash  Loos  Panemos 29
 Epeiph 30
 July 31  Quintilis 31
 Av 30  Av 30  Abu 30  Turnabasish  Gorpiaios  Loos 30
 Mesore 30
 August 31  Sextilis 29
 Elul 29  Elul 29  Ululu** 29  Qarbashiyash  Hyperberetaios*  Gorpiaios* 29
 5 epagomenal days
 September 30  Septembris 29
 Tishri 30  Tashritu 30  Bagiyatish  Dios  Hyperberetaios 30
 October 31  Octobris 31
 Heshvan 29  Arahsamnu 29  Marqashanash  Apellaios  Dios 29
 November 30  Novembris 29
 Kislev 30  Kislimnu 30  Hashiyatish  Audynaios  Apellaios 30
 December 31  Decembris 29
 Tevet 29  Tebetu 29  Hanamakash  Peritios  Audynaios 29
 January 31  Januarius 29
 Shevat 30  Shabatu 30  Samimash  Dystros  Peritios 30
 February 28  Februarius 27
 Adar* 29  Addaru* 29  Mikannash  Xanthikos  Dystros 29
 March 31

* First intercalary month

** Second intercalary month

  1. Julian and Gregorian calendars

In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar adopted the "Julian" calendar which was a 365-day civil, solar calendar with a leap day (epagomenal day) inserted every 4 years. The names of the Julian months were carried over from the names of the Roman calendar (except for "Quintilis" and "Sextilis") with their lengths adjusted to conform to the Julian calendar, and the Julian year began January 1 (neither spring nor fall).

By the end of the Roman republic the calendar had come into a state of confusion, particularly due to difficulties and inaccuracies in the system and practice of intercalation. In A.U.C. 691 = 63 B.C. (see Table 56) Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus and still followed the previous haphazard practice until the end of 47 B.C. Within this sixteen-vear period the calendar months had receded by about 60 days from their customary position within the tropical year. In order to make up for the deficiency, and in preparation for a complete reform of the calendar, Caesar extended the length of the year A.U.C. 708 = 46 B.C. to 445 days. For the project he sought advice from the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes and in accordance with his suggestions established (in 45 B.C.) what is known as the Julian calendar. This calendar is still in use, with one small modification, among all Western nations. All dependence upon the cycles of the moon was abandoned, and the true length of the year was accepted as 365-1/4 days. Caesar did not, however, impose this calendar throughout the empire (e.g., upon the Jews), many of whose peoples were unwilling to give up the long-familiar lunar relationship. As the outline (in Table 33) of a regular year in the Julian calendar shows, the beginning of the year was transferred to January 1 from March 1 where it had been (Table 32). What had been the “fifth” month and called Quintilis was now the seventh month and, by vote of the Senate, renamed Julius in honor of Julius Caesar, and later the former “sixth” month, Sextilis, was moved to eighth place and renamed Augustus in honor of that emperor. The lengths of the several months were changed from the former figures, which totaled 354 days (12 X 29.5, the average length of a moon month), to make the now required 365 full days. [pp. 66-67]

Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, rev, Hendrickson Publishers (1999)

  1. Roman calendar

The founder of Rome, Romulus, is thought to have instituted a 10-month agrarian calendar, which was subsequently reformed by Numa Pompilius sometime between 715-672 B.C. to a 12-month lunisolar spring calendar, and then much later around 153 B.C. became a civil calendar beginning Januarius 1.

It would seem apparent from the very names of the months at the end of the year Quintilis to December with no numbered month after December, that the Roman calender originally had only ten months.  This was the view of Censorinus, citing Junius Gracchus, Fulvius Nobilior, Varro, and Suetonius, against the testimony of Licinius Macer and Fenestella, who stated that the year had always been of 12 months.  Macrobius also subscribed to the position of a ten month year, as did Solinus,6 and other writers.  The consensus also seems to be that the original year was of 304 days in length, began in March, with six months, April, June, Sextilis, September, November and December of 30 days, and four months, March, May, Quintilis, and October of 31 days. [p. 167]

Alan E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology,
Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung (1972)

From an early time, the Roman calendar was lunisolar. The earliest year was supposed to have been introduced by Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, and to have comprised only ten months. The introduction of a calendar of twelve lunar months was attributed to Numa Pompilius, second legendary king of Rome (715—672 B.C.). [p. 65]

Although the Roman calendar just described (§140) began in the spring with Martius 1, we are told by Cassiodorus Senator that in A.U.C. 601 = 153 B.C. the consuls, elected for one year, began to take office on Jan 1. Under the influence of this custom the beginning of the year was put back to Januarius 1, and the year continued to be reckoned regularly from this point. [p. 66]

Jack Finegan, ibid.

  1. Hebrew Sacred or Spring calendar

The Hebrew Sacred/Spring calendar year lags six months behind the Civil/Fall calendar year. This is because the Hebrews intercalate the Civil calendar and implement postponements that subsequently take effect for Nisan which begins the Sacred/Spring calendar according to which sacred feasts are observed.

  1. Hebrew Civil or Fall calendar

The Fourmilab Calendar Converter Hebrew Calendar 'month drop-down list' displays the Hebrew Sacred or Spring calendar Nisan through Adar/Veadar, but the input, output and calculations are all for the Hebrew Civil or Fall calendar Tishri through Elul. The embolismic month Veadar ("Second Adar", i.e. Adar II) is calculated after Adar I. For purposes of this converter, Tishri is the first month even though it appears in the middle of the Fourmilab converter month drop-down list. This is correct, albeit unintuitive. Lunar observation, intercalation and postponement occur in the Civil year to adjust timing of feasts in the upcoming Sacred year. Intercalating an Adar in the Civil/Fall calendar cause postponements to follow in the next month Nisan 1 which begins the Sacred/Spring calendar.

Full Hebrew A.M. (Anno Mundi) Civil years will span 3 months of the prior Julian year and 9 months of the next Julian year, while Sacred years will span 9 months of the prior Julian year into 3 months of the next Julian year.

Note that converting the Hebrew epoch 1 Tishri 1 yields Oct 7th -3761, which indicates the Hebrew Epoch begins on the Civil/Fall calendar, not the Sacred. This is also correct.

  1. Babylonian spring calendar

Parker and Dubberstein show the correspondence of the months of the Babylonian calendar with the Hebrew calendar, and also the Macedonian and Achaemenid calendars. They further point out the Macedonian calendar is a fall calendar that begins 6 months earlier than the Babylonian.

The arrangement in the tables-is that of the Babylonian calendar, which began in the spring.  The Macedonian calendar, however, began in the fall, six months earlier.  Hence it must be borne in mind that each year of the Macedonian Seleucid era overlapped two Babylonian years, the second of which bore the same number as the Macedonian year.

The month names of the calendars used at various times in this period up to A.D. 75/76 are to be correlated with the Babylonian names as follows.3

3 For the Old Persian and Achaemenid Elamite correlations cf. Poebel in AJSL LV (1938) 39.  In A.D. 46/47 it is probable that the correlation between the Babylonian and the Macedonian  calendars was altered by the insertion of an additional month into the cycle of the Greek months.  On this see R. H. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia on the Tigris (Ann Arbor, 1935) pp. 147-53 and A. T. Olmstead, “The chronology of Jesus’ life,’’ Anglican Theological Review XXIV (1942) 3 f.

Babylonian
Hebrew
Macedonian
Old Persian
Achaemenid
Elamite
Nisanu Nisan Artemisios Adukanish Hadukannash
Aiaru Iyyar Daisios Thuravahara Turmar
Simanu Sivan Panemos Thaigarchish Sakurrisish
Duzu Tammuz Loös Garmapada Karmabadash
Abu Ab Gorpiaios Turnabasish
Ululu Elul Hyperberetaios Qarbashiyash
Tashritu Tishri Dios Bagayadish Bagiyatish
Arahsamnu Heshvan Apellaios Marqashanash
Kislimu Kislev Audynaios Aciyadiya Hashiyatish
Tebetu Tebeth Peritios Anamaka Hanamakash
Shabatu Shebat Dystros Samimash
Addaru Adar Xanthikos Viyakhna Mikannash

[p. 38]

Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 626 BC - AD 75,
Brown University Press (1956)

  1. Achaemenid spring calendar

(see note 5 above)

  1. Macedonian earlier calendar

Gholamreza Assar details the embolismic (inserted or intercalated) months in the earlier ("before retardation") and later ("after retardation") Macedonian calendars:

TABLE 1. Correlation of Months in the Sumerian, Babylonian, Macedonian and Julian Calendars.

No.
Macedonian3
Julian2
Seleucid and Parthian
(Original Calendar Before Retardation)
Parthian
(After Retardation 48/7 B.C. - A.D. 66/7)
VII
Artemisios
Xandikos
Mar.-Apr. or Apr.-May
VIII
Daisios
Artemisios
Apr.-May or May-Jun
IX
Panemos
Daisios
May-Jun. or Jun.-Jul.
X
Loios
Panemos
Jun.-Jul. or Jul.-Aug.
XI
Gorpiaios
Loios
Jul.-Aug. or Aug.-Sep.
XII
Hyperberetaios
Gorpiaios
Aug.-Sep. or Sep.-Oct.
XII2
Hyperberetaios-Embolimos
Gorpiaios-Embolimos
(September-October)
I Dios Hyperberetaios Sep.-Oct. or Oct.-Nov.
II Apellaios Dios Oct.-Nov. or Nov.-
III Audnaios Apellaios Nov.-Dec. or Dec.-Jan.
IV Peritios Audnaios Dec.-Jan. or Jan.-Feb.
V Dystros Peritios Jan.-Feb. or Feb.-Mar.
VI Xandikos Dystros Feb.-Mar. or Mar.-Apr.
VI2 Xandikos-Embolimos Dystros-Embolimos (March-April)

[p. 173]

Gholamreza F. Assar, "Parthian Calendars at Babylon and Seleucia on the Tigris"
Iran, Vol. 41 (2003) pp. 171-191

Jack Finegan cites passages from 2 Maccabees (written before 48 B.C.) which demonstrate the earlier Macedonian calendar in use:

137. Evidence of the use of the Macedonian calendar in Palestine appears in 2 Maccabees and in Josephus. In its account of the Maccabean period, the book of 2 Maccabees (considered to have been written in Greek in Alexandria in the middle of the first century B.C.) quotes a letter from King Antiochus to the Jewish senate and the rest of the Jews, and also a letter from the Romans to them in which the dates of Xanthikos 15 and Xanthikos 30 are given (2 MAcc 11:30, 33, 38). Here we may suppose that the Syro-Macedonian calendar was in use in the earlier correlation (Table 19) which we have established as probably prevailing prior to sometime between A.D. 31 and 46/47 (§127). In this correspondence Xanthikos was equivalent to Adar, and this and the other equivalences would appear as in Table 30. [p. 63]

Jack Finegan, ibid.

  1. Macedonian later calendar

(see note 7 above, TABLE 1. "Parthian (After Retardation 48/7 B.C. - A.D. 66/7)" )

It is now possible to maintain, on numismatic grounds,56 that the change in fact took place at the beginning of a new Macedonian cycle on 28/9 September 48 B.C. and remained so until 27/8 September A.D. 67 six cycles later.57 [p. 183]

56 Certain tetradrachms of Orodes II with abbreviated month names can be shown, on stylistic and iconographical grounds, to be earlier than the variety minted during Gorpiaios-embolimos of 47 B.C.  These same coins strongly suggest that Hyperberetaios followed Gorpiaios prior to this date and not preceded it by eleven months.  It is, therefore, highly likely that the calendrical shift was only authorized at the start and not during the nineteen-year intercalary cycle that began on 28/9 September 48 B.C.

57 Gotarzes II's tetradrachm from year 360 SEM confirms that the corresponding cycle began with a Gorpiaios-embolimos in its year 1.  It seems only logical to assume that the shift from Hyperberetaios to Dios was postponed until after the sixth cycle terminated on 27/8 September A.D. 67 (cf. also n. 56 above).  [p. 188]

Gholamreza F. Assar, ibid.

Jack Finegan also cites passages from Josephus which demonstrate use of the later Macedonian calendar when Josephus wrote:

138. In his Jewish Antiquities and Jewish War, Josephus commonly uses Macedonian month names and from time to time adds their Jewish equivalents. In Ant. 1.80-81 he states that Dios and Marheshvan are the same and that this was the second month. This means that in a year beginning in the fall Hyperberetaios = Tishri was the first month. He also says that Xanthikos and Nisan are the same and are the first month of the year for divine worship and for ordinary affairs. Again in Ant. 3.248 he equates Xanthikos and Nisan and states that this month begins the year. Also in Ant. 11.148, 12.248, and 12.319, he equates Apellaios and Chislev and makes no difference between the twenty-fifth day in one month and in the other. As would be expected in the time at the end of the first century A.D. when Josephus wrote, these correspondences agree with the later correlation between Macedonian and Babylonian months established above (Tables 25, 26). In Josephus, therefore, the Macedonian months may be taken as fully and exactly equivalent to the Jewish months as shown in Table 31. [p. 63-64]

Jack Finegan, ibid.

  1. Egyptian Civil calendar

Parker describes the Egyptian civil calendar:

§22. THE CIVIL CALENDAR. In the following pages when the term civil calendar (abbreviated "civ.") is used, it will mean the familiar Egyptian year of 365 days, comprised of three seasons, with four months each, 30 days to each month, with the 5 extra days called epagomenal after the twelfth month.  Dates in this calendar will be given in the form II prt 23 (meaning the second month of the season prt, day 23).  In the New Kingdom and later the months were sometimes referred to by names (§§226-30 and Table 7).  These are:

First Season      Second Season      Third Season

1. Thoth            5. Tybi                   9. Paehons
2. Phaophi         6. Mechir              10. Payni
3. Athyr             7. Phamcnoth       11. Epiphi
4. Choiak           8. Pharmuthi        12. Mesore

§23. OTHER CALENDARS. The Alexandrian calendar (abbreviated “Al.”) is simply the civil calendar arrested in its forward shift by the addition of a sixth epagomenal day every fourth year.  Whether this calendar was instituted in 30 or in 26 B.C. is still in dispute; but in its actual working Thoth 1 Al. begins on August 29 (in leap year August 30), and this was the situation obtaining in 26-23 B.C.

[p. 8]

Richard A. Parker, "The Calendars of Ancient Egypt"
Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization No. 26 (1950)

Jack Finegan also states the Egyptian civil calendar was introduced "between c. 2937 and c. 2821 B.C.":

40. Alongside the “natural” calendar of Egypt just described (§39), there was established for administrative, government, and business purposes a “public” or “civil” calendar. Whether it was by averaging a series of the lunar years or by counting the days between the heliacal risings of Sirius at the time of the inundation, it became known that the true length of the year to the nearest number of days was 365. .... Since the months were no longer kept in relationship to the real moon but were fixed units in the solar year instead, this may be recognized as essentially a solar calendar, and since the units have an artificial regularity it may be called a “schematic” calendar. This system was introduced, there is reason to believe, between c. 2937 and c. 2821 B.C. and from then on served as the standard civil calendar of Egypt. [p. 21]

Jack Finegan, ibid.

 

Correspondence of weather, crops, and ancient Mediterranean sailing seasons to Hebrew months

When the Bible and other ancient literature mention months of the year and weather, crops and travel, it is helpful to place those references in context. The table below shows for each Julian or Hebrew month, what is the season with typical temperature and rainfall, crop harvests, and Mediterranean sailing conditions in ancient ships.

The months are in the Hebrew sacred or spring calendar order which begins with Nisan when the barley crop begins to bud. Note the distinction between the "early (or former) rains" and the "latter rains". Also, especially note the months when winter weather closes the Mediterranean to shipping and travel by sailship, which in turn influenced when ambassadors (such as those whom Herod the Great sent to Caesar) and soldiers (such as Saturninus, Varus, Quirinius and Pontius Pilate) could travel between Israel and Rome. When sailing was not safe, overland travel via the Roman Imperial Post routes was used.

Calendar Month and Season Correspondence
Month
Seasons
Temperature10
Rains11
Crops12
Mediterranean Ocean13
 March  Nisan  Spring  heat intensified by "siroccos" or desert winds  latter rains  barley and flax harvest  high wave heights
 April
 Iyar    dry season    wave transition high to low wave heights
 May
 Sivan    dry season  early figs ripen  intermediate wave heights
 June
 Tammuz  Summer    dry season  grape harvest  intermediate wave heights
 July
 Av hottest mean ~85 °F
 high ~100 °F
 dry season  olive harvest  intermediate wave heights
 August
 Elul    dry season  dates and summer figs ripen  intermediate wave heights
 September
 Tishri  Fall  heat intensified by "siroccos" or desert winds  early or former rains
(heavier than latter)
   low wave heights
 October
 Heshvan    heaviest rains  winter figs ripen, plowing  wave transition low to high wave heights
 November
 Kislev    heaviest rains  sowing wheat and barley  shipping closes
high wave heights
 December
 Tevet  Winter    rains, snow in high areas    high wave heights
 January
 Shevat  coldest mean ~55 °F
 low ~35 °F
   almonds blossom  high wave heights
 February
 Adar      citrus fruit harvest  high wave heights
shipping reopens
 March

 

  1. Temperature: Edwin Yamauchi reports that "sirocco" winds occur in the transition months and that they intensify the normal temperatures and humidity:

The scorching desert wind (sirocco, khamsin) from the E, SE, or S was and still is a dreaded phenomenon. It strikes for three to four days in the transitional seasons. A sirocco will produce the hottest temperatures of the year, often 20 degrees above the average (Jer. 4: 11). What makes matters worse is the fact that it is an exceedingly dry wind, dropping relative humidity by 30-40%, fraying tempers, and debilitating energies. The air is filled with a fine yellowish dust which veils the sun and reduces visibility. The siroccos of the spring are particularly devastating, withering the winter vegetation in a few hours (Ps. 103:15-16; Isa. 40:6-8; Ezk. 17:10, 19:12; Hos. 13:15; Jon. 4:8). [p. 195b];

Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Ancient Ecologies and the Biblical Perspective"
Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 32.4 (Dec. 1980) pp. 193-202

William Shea reports on calendars excavated at Ebla that their first month of their year corresponded to September/October (Julian) and may have been named for sirocco winds:

I. ITU ha-li-tu -Month of Whirling (Winds). Sept./Oct.
The sirocco winds blow in the spring or fall when the seasons change from winter to summer or vice versa. These winds can cast enough particulate matter into the air to cause a dusty haze. The occurrence of this month early in the fall fits that situation well. [p. 133]

William H. Shea, "Calendars of Ebla Part I. The Old Calendar",
Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1980, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, pp. 127-137

George Post reports sirocco winds in March:

As the rainy season approaches, the range of variation between one day and another increases, and reaches its maximum towards the end of the heavy rains in the latter part of February and the early part of March, when the sirocco winds sometimes raise the temperature to almost summer heat, and the sudden change to the stormy winds brings about as sudden a fall, almost to midwinter cold. [p. 294]

George E. Post "Equability of the Climate of Syria and Palestine",
Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute vol 20 (1887)

Post also reports mean temperature for 1875-1885, with the coldest temperatures for January and February reaching lows of 35 degrees Fahrenheit while averaging about 55 (1.6 and 12.7 degrees Celsius, respectively), with the hottest temperatures for July and August reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit while averaging about 85 (37.7 and 29.4 degrees Celsius, respectively).

The highest temperature recorded for all these years was 100°, and the lowest 35.1°, and the highest solar maximum was 160°. [p. 283]

1975 Jan 58.40 Feb 57.30 Jul 84.20 Aug 84.40
1976 Jan 55.76 Feb 58.76 Jul 84.02 Aug 84.20
1977 Jan 59.18 Feb 58.69 Jul 85.10 Aug 85.62
1978 Jan 56.30 Feb 54.30 Jul 85.64 Aug 88.34
1979 Jan 60.92 Feb 65.24 Jul 85.75 Aug 84.20
1980 Jan 52.20 Feb 58.60 Jul 82.88 Aug 84.40
1981 Jan 61.70 Feb 58.00 Jul 82.80 Aug 85.60
1982 Jan 56.70 Feb 53.20 Jul 81.40 Aug 82.60
1983 Jan 56.20 Feb 55.26 Jul 81.90 Aug 83.47
1984 Jan 54.60 Feb 55.30 Jul 80.35 Aug 82.00
1985 Jan 56.60 Feb 59.30 Jul 82.50 Aug 83.30

[Temperatures for months of Jan, Feb, Jul and Aug excerpted from pp. 284-290]

George E. Post "On the Meteorology of Syria and Palestine", pp. 284-290
Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute vol 20 (1887)

  1. Rains:

The Rainy Season. The exact commencement of the rainy season is not predictable but in general the rainy season runs from mid-October to mid-May. The rainy season includes, but is also more extensive than our winter months (cf. Song 2:11). In this season three to four days of heavy rain alternate with dry days during which cold desert winds blow from the east.

The Early and the Latter Rains. The Bible refers repeatedly to the early (RSV "autumn") and the latter (RSV "spring") rains (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Joel 2:23), giving the average reader the impression that rains fall only at the beginning and the end of the rainy season. As a matter of fact most of the heaviest rains fall in the middle of the season (Lev. 26:4; Ezra 10:9, 13). These initial and final rains are stressed because they are crucial for agriculture. The early rains come in October before plowing and sowing. The latter rains fall in March and April and are needed to make the grain swell for a good harvest (Hos. 6:3; Zech. 10:1). [p. 195b-195c]

Edwin M. Yamauchi, ibid.

  1. Crops: In an article on the Hebrew calendar for The Illustrated Bible Dictionary F.F. Bruce summarizes the months of precipitation and agriculture in ancient Palestine:
Nisan: Latter rains, barley & flax harvest
Iyar: Dry season begins
Sivan: Early figs ripen
Tammuz: Grape harvest
Ab: Olive harvest
Elul: Dates & summer figs
Tishri: Early rains
Marchesvan: Winter figs, ploughing
Chislev: sowing
Tebeth: rains (snow on high ground)
Shebat: Almond blossom
Adar: Citrus fruit harvest

[p. 223]

With the above OT references may be compared the agricultural calendar roughly written on stone, perhaps a palimpsest inscribed by a schoolboy in the 10th century BC, found at Gezer in 1908. The translation is uncertain, but it lists the agricultural operations for the 12 months of the year beginning with the autumn: ‘Two months of storage. Two months of sowing. Two months of spring growth. Month of pulling flax. Month of barley harvest. Month when everything (else) is harvested. Two months of pruning (vines). Month of summer fruit’ (cf. Documents of Old Testament Times, pp. 201-203).

F.F. Bruce, "Calendar",
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary Vol. 1, InterVarsity Press (1980) pp. 222-225

Bruce cites a 1958 article on the "Gezer Calendar" by J. Mauchline:

In 1908 at Gezer, twenty miles west-north-west of Jerusalem, R. A. S. Macalister discovered the small inscribed limestone tablet now called the Gezer calendar. … The tablet was first dated in the sixth century B.C. Recently, however, it has been attributed to the eleventh, tenth or ninth century B.C., and it may be regarded, on linguistic and palaeographic grounds, as the most ancient inscription in Early Hebrew writing, as old as the age of Saul or David.

                  Text

Two months of ingathering. Two months of sow-
ing. Two months of late sowing (or spring growth).
Month of pulling flax.
Month of barley harvest.
Month when everything [else] is harvested.
Two months of pruning [vines].
Month of summer fruit.

[p. 201]

The inscription is an agricultural calendar. The fact that it catalogues the agricultural operations for the twelve months of the year implies that the tablet had its present form when the calendar was written on it. The ingathering (line 1), the storage of grain and wine at the beginning of the year (Sept./Oct.), had to be completed before the first rains came (cp. Exod. xxiii.16, xxxiv.22) ; the sowing (Nov./Dec.) could be done only after these rains had softened the surface of the soil, hard baked by the summer heat (cp. Jer. xiv.1-6 ; Hos. ii.2if.). For prayers for rain at this season, see N. H. Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 1947,62ff. ; the prosperity of the country depended on them (cp. Deut. xi.14 ; Jer. v.24 ; Hos. vi.3 ; Joel ii.23). The late sowing (Jan./Feb.) came after the winter rains and depended for its success on the later rains of March./Apr. The flax was pulled (or harvested) during March (cp. Josh, ii.6) ; seldom mentioned in the O.T., it may nevertheless have been an important crop near Gezer. barley harvest (cp. Ruth i.22, ii) was in April, and the rest of the harvest in May (lines 5f). It is noteworthy that there is no specific mention of wheat or olives and only an implicit reference to vines, although corn, wine, and oil were the staple products of Palestine (cp. Deut. vii.13, xi.14, etc.). The pruning of the vines must have meant cutting off excessive foliage to fill out the grapes, or a normal trimming after an early vintage (June/July). summer fruit, mostly figs, was gathered in August, and the word used for it was associated with the end of the agricultural year (2 Sam. xvi.i ; Amos viii.if. ; Jer. viii.20, xl.io, 12 ; Mic. vii.i). [p. 202]

J. Mauchline, "The Gezer Calendar",
Documents of Old Testament Times, ed. D. Winton Thomas (1958)

  1. Mediterranean Ocean:

Meteorological evidence reveals that a sudden change from a mild southerly wind to a violent north easterly wind often occurs in late fall in the eastern Mediterranean. [p. 8]

There is some disagreement among ancient authorities over when the spring shipping season began. According to Pliny, the Mediterranean was considered open for navigation when the west wind began to blow on February eighth. Vegetius states that the sea lanes were closed until March tenth. In reality, it was probably the weather that dictated the beginning of the sailing season. Paul’s vessel wrecked in the first half of November, so three months would have carried them to the middle of February [14]. [p. 14-15]

Ilie Melniciuc Puică, "Saint Paul’s Captivity Voyage to Rome and Shipwreck (Acts 27-28)",
European Journal of Science and Theology, Vol.1, No.2 (March 2005) pp. 45-61

Oded Tammuz summarizes the literature and conclusions on when the Mediterranean was closed to shipping:

In Ships and Fleets of the Ancient Mediterranean, J. Rouge´ summarized the problem of winter navigation as follows:

Owing to the general climatic conditions in the Mediterranean, there are two long seasons: what the Greeks called cheimon on the one hand, and theros on the other, the ‘bad season’ and the ‘good season’, each implying more than ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ respectively.  Furthermore, the ends of these seasons did not coincide precisely with the ends of the four seasons as determined by astronomy.  Cheimon was characterized by unstable weather, making the prediction of storms or their degree of violence impossible.  During this period, sailing on the open seas was not possible; only coastal sailing could be undertaken, and even so, large-scale, commercial shipping was avoided.  It was the time the Romans quite typically called the mare clausum, the sea is closed — and some texts add, ‘to regular sailing’.1

[1] Rouge´, Ships and Fleets, 15–16. For a similar observation see Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World, 246.

In an earlier summary L. Casson had reached a rather similar conclusion. He differed from Rouge´, however, on one important point; he claimed that the run between Rhodes and Alexandria was an exception and that sailing was conducted there continuously.2

[2] Casson, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World, 270–72. Casson’s opinion is accepted by other scholars. The exception is sometimes attributed to the willingness of the Rhodian sailors to make the passage outside the normal sailing season: Skeat, The Zenon Archive, 76 n. 4.

[p. 145]

Vegetius (fourth century CE) provides the basic theoretical discussion on this issue:

Navigation is safe   May 27 to Sep 14 summer lessens roughness of sea
Navigation doubtful  Sep 24 to Oct 11  fierce equinoctial storms
Seas are closed   Nov 11 to Mar 10  Shipping interrupted with frequent storms
Seas are still perilous  Mar 10 to May 15   greater caution by warships & merchants

[p. 146]

To sum up: While a journey in open water was relatively safe in summer and winter alike, coastal navigation was impossible in winter.71 [p. 156]

[71] Evidence for this interpretation from the Roman period relates to three sea routes: from Rome to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Greece, and from Rome to Syria and Palestine and back.  The route from Rome to Alexandria was an open-water route and therefore open for navigation in the winter (Tacitus Histories 4.51).  The way back was much more difficult.  A journey from Egypt to Rome always began with a crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from south to north towards the Greek islands or Asia Minor.  This was an open-water route and therefore was open for navigation in winter (Philonis In Flaccus; idem, Legatio ad gaium; Josephus Jewish Antiquities 14.3; idem, Jewish War 1.2–3).  From there a ship headed for Rome would have turned west and proceeded under the restrictions of coastal navigation, which meant wintering in an anchorage along the way (Acts 27.5–6, 7–12).  Thus the route from Alexandria to Greece and Asia Minor was actually part of the route from Alexandria to Rome and therefore the evidence concerning it is connected to the evidence concerning the latter.  We lack, however, evidence on the opposite route, from Greece and Asia Minor to Alexandria.  The route from Syria and Palestine to Rome and back was mainly a coastal navigation route (with the possible exception of the passage from Brindisium to Greece, which was also attempted in winter [Plutarch Crassus 17]).  As such, it was not used in winter (Josephus Jewish War 2.11, 7.1; idem, Jewish Antiquities 18.8). [p. 160]

Oded Tammuz, "Mare clausum? Sailing seasons in the Mediterranean in early Antiquity",
Mediterranean Historical Review, Volume 20, Issue 2 (2005) pp. 145-162

 

Ancient Mediterranean travel between Rome and Jerusalem

Essentially, there existed two transportation modes and routes for travel and communication: 1) by sailship over the Mediterranean when conditions permitted sailing, and 2) overland via the Roman Imperial Post (cursus publicus) roads.

Whether travelling via sailship or overland, the commercial routes intersect coastal ports, not Jerusalem, so the distance and time between Jerusalem and the nearest coastal shipping port, Caesarea, must be included. Harold Hoehner determines this distance as 68 miles, which at 50 miles/day would take 2 days:

Since Caesarea is approximately sixty-eight Roman miles from Jerusalem,2 … Friedlander reckoned that the special couriers travelled at ten miles an hour, or 160 miles a day; but his calculations have been subjected to severe criticisms.7 Friedlander’s figure may be valid, it is argued, in special cases of comparatively short distances, but for long distances one cannot reckon on more than fifty miles a day.

2 Although Itin. 589.5 suggests a distance of 116 miles between Jerusalem and Caesarea (possibly the figure CXVI is a scribal error for LXVI), the itemized list in Itin. 600.1-6 which totals 68 miles seems far more plausible.
7 Ramsay, HDB, Extra Volume, 387-8; A. M. Ramsay, ‘The Speed of the Roman Imperial Post’, JRS, xv (1925), 60-74; C. W. J. Eliot, ‘New Evidence for the Speed of the Roman Imperial Post’, The Phoenix, ix (1955), 76-80.

[p. 34]

Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph series, 17
 Cambridge University Press (1972)

Below, this 2 days of overland travel between Jerusalem and Caesarea is added to each sailing and overland route.

  1. Sailing the Mediterranean coast when conditions permitted

Lionel Casson has determined Mediterranean sailing durations:

By combining the average speeds that we have worked out — 4 to 6 knots with the wind and 2 to 23 against — with modern information concerning prevailing winds, we are able to give an estimate of the time it took to sail between the ports of the Mediterranean. This information is given in Table 1.:

Alexandria to Rhodes (via Myra) 71/2-10 days
Rome 53-73 days
Caesarea to Rhodes 10 days
Rhodes to Alexandria   31/2 days
Caesarea   3-4 days
Rome  45-63 days
Rome to Alexandria   10-13 days
Rhodes 7-11 days

[p. 145-146 Table 1]

Lionel Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships",
Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 82 (1951) pp. 136-148

From which passage from Caesarea to Rome and return passage to Caesarea is determined as:

Adding the 2 days overland travel between Jerusalem and Caesarea on to the Mediterranean coastal sailing durations yields:

Jerusalem to Rome: 57-75 days = 2 days overland Jerusalem to Caesarea + 55-73 days windward voyage Caesarea to Rome
Rome to Jerusalem: 12-17 days = 10-15 days leeward voyage Rome to Caesarea + 2 days overland Caesarea to Jerusalem

  1. Overland via the Roman Imperial Post around the Mediterranean coast

As it happened, [the traveller's] choices were often determined by the network of inns and hostels that belonged to the cursus publicus, the government post.

Rome’s cursus publicus was created by Augustus, [p. 182]

When Augustus conquered and annexed Egypt in 30 B.C., the system was right at hand to serve as a model.  He, however, was interested neither in speed nor regular delivery. What he sought was a facility which would forward dispatches when necessary and permit him to interrogate the carriers as well as read the papers they brought.  So he fashioned a service in which there were no relays: each messenger went himself the whole route, and since time was not of the essence, travelled in carriages rather than on horseback.  As the system developed, the couriers were more and more drawn from the army, especially from the elite unit called speculatores ‘scouts’; instead of scouting the situation of an enemy, they scouted, as it were, the situation at the headquarters they were delivering to.

But everywhere else the Roman post operated as Augustus had designed it, making sporadic deliveries according to need — or rather the emperor’s need, since officially only men carrying dispatches from him or for him were entitled to the privileges of the cursus publicus.  Every user had to have a diploma, as a post warrant was called, signed by the emperor or, in his absence, his authorized agent; governors of provinces could also issue them, but they disposed of a limited number only, rationed out by the emperor.  A diploma, entitling one to travel with the use of government maintained facilities, was a prized possession, and inevitably some fell into hands which did not deserve them (188 below).[p. 183-184]

Government couriers hustled along from station to station at an average of five miles an hour for a total of fifty miles in a normal day’s travelling. Thus, a dispatch from Rome would reach Brindisi in about seven days, Byzantium (where Constantinople was later founded) in about twenty-five, Antioch in about forty, Alexandria in about fifty-five.  During emergencies, travelling night and day, they could treble this speed.  When the legions mutinied at Mainz on the Rhine in A.D. 69, the news reached Rome in some eight or nine days; the messenger had averaged better than 150 miles per day.

The traveller charged with government business, and hence with the facilities of the cursus publicus at his disposal, had few problems: he would present his diploma to the nearest authorized inn and be issued an appropriate conveyance. He would consult his handlist or map for the stopping places available along his route, and at these he would eat, sleep, and pick up changes of animals and equipment until he reached his destination.
[p. 188]

Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World
Allen & Unwin (1974)

Ramsay and Eliot have determined the overland distances and rates of travel on the Roman Imperial Post routes between Rome and Caesarea. Eliot determined a Roman Imperial Postal courier's rate of travel as 50 miles/day:

The proclamation of Septimius Severus therefore shows that an average of about five m.p. an hour, fifty m.p. a day (except under the most special conditions of strong evening light), was about the best speed the couriers could achieve. If they could have gone faster, one certainly would have expected them to do so on this important occasion. [p. 80]

C. W. J. Eliot, "New evidence for the speed of the Roman Imperial Post"
Phoenix, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Summer, 1955), pp. 76-80

Ramsay has determined two Roman Imperial Postal routes between Rome and Caesarea, one that crosses the Adriatic by ship and one that is entirely overland, as well as a courier's rate of travel at 50 miles/day:

[an] ordinary traveller using the post-service — namely an average of five Roman miles an hour — was, in all probability, that of the courier bearing despatches. 5

5 The view of Riepl, Das Nachricbtenwesen des Altertums, which was brought to my notice by Prof. Stuart Jones after this article was written, is substantially in agreement with that expressed here.  He considers that there were two rates of speed in customary use: (a) the ordinary rate, at which the ordinary regular despatches passing between the Emperor and his subordinates would travel; (b) an accelerated or express speed, for which a special diploma was required, and which was reserved for despatches of high political importance.

[p. 63]

This would make the 'stage' about eight and a third Roman miles.  According to Procopius, therefore, a day's journey for the courier would be at most just under sixty-seven, and never less than forty-one, Roman miles - say, an average of fifty Roman miles a day, the number of stages varying with the number of hours of daylight, the weather, and the character of the ground. [p. 68-69]

Thus the courier, starting from Rome on January 1, took not less than sixty-three days to reach Alexandria.  The actual distance covered depends on which of two possible routes we suppose him to have taken. He may have travelled by Brundisium and the Via Egnatia, crossing the Adriatic in spite of its being mid-winter, and proceeding by Lampsacus, Philadelphia and Antioch, a distance of, roughly, 2,730 miles and two days on shipboard,1 or — what seems more probable at that season of the year and judging from the length of time he took, — he may have gone by the purely overland route via Aquileia, Sirmium, Byzantium, and Nicomedia.  This would give a total of about 3,177 miles from Rome to Alexandria, 2 and, if the courier arrived on the sixty-third day from Rome, confirms almost exactly the rate of fifty miles per day estimated above as the average speed of the despatch-bearers.

1 [Adriatic via ship route from Rome to Alexandria]
Distances roughly as follows:
Rome-Dyrrhachium, 360 miles and 2 days;
Dyrrhachium-Lampsacus, 630 miles and 2 hours (Itin. pp. 358-322, 333);
Lampsacus-Antioch by Philadelphia, 940 (ibid, pp. 334-66);
Antioch-Caesarea, 365 (ibid. pp. 147-150);
Caesarea-Alexandria, 435 (ibid. pp. 150-154);
total, 2730 miles and 2 days.

2 [purely overland route from Rome to Alexandria]
Rome-Aquileia, 511 (Itin. pp. 126, 281);
Aquileia-Sirmium, 400 (ibid. p. 124);
Sirmium-Byzantium, 7I7 (ibid. pp. 131-135);
Byzantium-Antioch, 747 (ibid. pp. 139-147);
Antioch-Alexandria, 802 (ibid. p. 124);
total, 3,177 miles.

[p. 70]

We conclude, then, that the average rate of the post-couriers was fifty Roman miles per day.  If we allow a ten-hour day, this works out at an average of five miles per hour, which as we saw already is the estimate given by Friedlaender for the ordinary traveller using the posting-service.  To the modern mind no doubt this seems very slow.  Yet it did not seem so in antiquity; Cicero regards fifty-six Roman miles in ten hours as extremely good going - though it is true that this was a night journey.  And fifty miles a day was in all probability as high a rate as could reasonably be maintained unvaryingly at all seasons, without lessening the efficiency of either couriers or posting-animals. [p. 73]

A. M. Ramsay, "The Speed of the Roman Imperial Post"
The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 15 (1925), pp. 60-74

Since Ramsay reports the distance between Caesarea and Alexandria as 435 miles, that can be subtracted from Ramsay's totals, to yield overland distances between Rome and Caesarea of:

2295 miles overland +2 days shipboard = 2730 miles - 435 miles via Adriatic crossing by ship
2742 miles overland                                  = 3177 miles - 435 miles entirely overland

Applying Ramsay's rate of 50 miles/day to the above Rome-Caesarea distances gives durations of:

45.9 days overland +2 days shipboard = 2295 miles / 50 miles/day Adriatic via ship route
54.8 days overland                                  = 2742 miles / 50 miles/day entirely overland route

And adding Hoehner's additional 68 miles between Caesarea and Jerusalem and reapplying Ramsay's postal-courier rate of 50 miles/day to the Rome-Jerusalem Adriatic crossing and overland distances gives:

Rome-Jerusalem via Adriatic crossing: 47.3+2 days shipboard = (2,295 miles + 68 miles) / 50 miles/day
Rome-Jerusalem entirely overland:        56.2 days                        = (2,742 miles + 68 miles) / 50 miles/day



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