Nundinal Synchronisms

The one cycle of the Roman calendar that was absolutely fixed throughout the period of interest is the 8-day nundinal cycle. Accurate nundinal data is therefore capable of providing exact Julian synchronisms.

In general, however, we are not told the nundinal letter for the market day. We can directly determine the values in A.U.C. 677 = 77, A.U.C. 697 = 57, A.U.C. 702 = 52, A.U.C. 713 = 41, and in A.U.C. 813 = A.D. 60. Additionally, there is good circumstantial evidence supporting the predicted nundinal letters for A.U.C. 585 = 169.

The immediate chronological value of this data is that the distance between any two Republican dates which are known to have been market days must be an exact multiple of 8 days. This phenomenon allows us to establish a relative chronology for the period A.U.C. 677 = 77 to A.U.C. 713 = 41. However, since late Republican dates lack a secure astronomical synchronism, and the phase of the nundinal cycle shifted several times after the introduction of the Julian calendar, we are unable to derive absolute dates unless we can anchor these to an astronomical synchronism or we can solve the problem of the nundinal phase shift. As it turns out, there is more than one possible solution to the phase shift problem if only nundinal and relative data is considered. In the end, the problem can only be solved by attaching late Republican chronology, which can be securely established by dead reckoning, to astronomical synchronisms -- the somewhat ambiguous lunar synchronisms of A.U.C. 687 = 67 and the very precise lunar ephemerides of A.U.C. 730 = 24.

Nundinal data can also be used chronologically in two indirect ways.

First, both Macrobius and Dio Cassius remark that it was considered an ill-omen for the year to begin on a market day, and that steps were taken to avoid it; Dio Cassius 48.33.4 describes what was done to avoid a nundinal A in 40. The earliest example of this superstition is connected with the tumultus Lepidianus of A.U.C. 677 = 77. Taken at face value, this means that it was highly unusual for a year to have a nundinal letter of A. Evidently, it did happen on occasion, as in A.U.C. 702 = 52. It also appears that A.U.C. 705 = 49. had a nundinal letter of A, though the fact is unremarked in our sources, perhaps to avoid suggesting that Caesar's decision to cross the Rubicon was ill-omened. However, this suggests that, at least in the decades immediately after A.U.C. 677 = 77, this letter is to be avoided in reconstructions if there is a choice to be made. Applying the inferred Lex Acilia to the data for these years, there are no additional years in which Kal. Ian. was a market day, thouhg Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 674 = 80 was one.

Second, the nundinal cycle provides a negative test for possible solutions. According to Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.16.29, public matters could not be referred to the people on market days under the Lex Hortensia, which is believed to have been passed by the dictator Q. Hortensius in A.U.C. 467 = 287, and so comitia could not meet on such days. Hence, the known dates of such meetings (e.g. for consular elections) can allow us to exclude certain solutions, sometimes to the point of fixing the length of a year. A. K. Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic 58f., lists the comitial dates known to her. The phenomenon allows us to establish that:

There is disagreement whether the Lex Hortensia only prevented comitia from being held on market days or whether it also prevented the holding of public meetings (contiones), as Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.16.29 seems to say. Cicero, Ad Atticum 1.14.1, refers to the market crows listening to a speech by Pompey at a public meeting. This appears to mean that this contio was held on a market day. A. K. Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic, 47 argues that Cicero was actually expressing surprise at the size of the crowd, as if it had been a market day. P. Brind'Amour, Le calendrier romain, 114, notes that Cicero's syntax does not support such an interpretation, which would require "ut nundinarum" instead of the "nundinarum" of our MSS. While an emendation is obviously possible, it is not obviously necessary. Instead Brind'Amour distinguishes two types of contiones: (a) an assembly at which new legislation was introduced to the the people preparatory to being voted on in comitia; and (b) an assembly called by a magistrate simply for the purposes of making a speech. He argues that only type (a) had constitutional import, and hence only this type was subject to nundinal prohibition of the Lex Hortensia. This seems to me to be certainly possible, and not unreasonable.

Also, Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.16.34, refers to a statement by Rutilius, cos. 105, noting that popular and senatorial decrees were published to a general assembly of the populace on market days. A. K. Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic, 47, is of the opinion that contiones could not be held on market days in the first century B.C., but in The Calendar of the Roman Republic, 104, she states that the statement of Rutilius is proof that it had not always been so. However, Macrobius' earlier statement is specific that the law forbade referring matters to the public -- i.e. for decisions -- rather than for publication. So it seems to me that there is no inherent contradiction between the two, but that we may have to be careful about the exact character of a contio, as Brind'Amour proposes.

I have only once suggested using data from contiones to support this reconstruction. Although the result can be derived on other grounds, this particular argument is doubtful because the contio in question was certainly not a legislative contio. One reason I have been reticent in using contiones is that I could not find a list of dated ones, and do not have the time or expertise to compile one. A. K. Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic, 47, remarks that she had compiled such a list, but unfortunately she did not publish it with her comitial list, though she mentions three examples because they occur on NP days (A. K. Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic, 78 n. 52). Any reader who has such a list is invited to contact me.

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