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10 Missing Days

July 27, 2011

What happened between October the 4th and October 15th in the year 1582? Nothing – that’s because those days where removed by decree set out by Pope Gregory XIII. The Popes intention was to reform the calendar from the Julian calendar to the one we still use to this day, bearing his name – The Gregorian calendar.

After the Pope ordained the change there was lots of grumbling and confusion. People demanded their full monthly sum of money for the abridged month, unsurprisingly the employers refused. Others disapproved of having their lives shortened by the Popes ruling.

Why would the Pope go out of his way to change the way people marked time? And why did he bother removing 10 days in the process?

To understand this fascinating fact of history, we will need to go back several thousand years where the Nile flows. The Egyptians were the first civilization to devise a method of time keeping based on the sun as opposed to the moon cycles. Observing the emergence of the star Sirius in the sky, which was seen just before a sunrise, marked the beginning of a new year. Even though there is evidence they had known the length of a solar year to at least 365 ¼ days, the Egyptians chose to use 365 days. Historians and Egyptologists date the beginning of this calendar as far back as 2782 BC or even at 4242 BC.

It never ceases to amaze me, that civilizations such as the Egyptians, Babylonians and the Greeks were capable of such high level astronomy and mathematics at the time when the technology was so limited.

Anyway continuing on, when Julius Caesar visited Egypt and returned to Rome in 46 BC he took the idea of the Egyptian calendar and adopted it back home. After a number of changes the Julian calendar had 365 1/4 days, which had much more precision, yet the actual solar year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds (365.24219878 days). So over the centuries the calendar accumulates one day of error with respect to the solar year every 128 years.

Now remember how the Egyptians chose to use the Sun as their bases for the calendar, well the ancient Jews used the moon cycles for their elaborate calendar that created more movements in days from year to year. The remnants of that practice remained with the Christians marking the time of Easter. That is because Easter coincides with the Passover day that the Jews celebrated and calculated based on the moon. That’s partly the reason that Easter is on a different day each year. The way that Easter was/is calculated depended not only on the moon but also the position of the Earth to the sun (Spring equinox). What all this meant was that because the Julian calendar was not exact and due to the days shifting over the centuries by the 16th century calculating Easter became a problem. The Spring equinox I mentioned that was used in calculations use to occur on March 21 back in the early centuries, but by the time the Pope got around to address the issue in 1582,  it shifted on the inaccurate Julian calendar to March 11.

To realign the time back to March 21st as the point from which calculating Easter use to take place, the poor month of October had a chunk taken out of it.


This little account of the 10 missing days comes from a section of a book dealing with a wider concept of time and how mankind began time keeping, first grappling with the year, and eventually establishing what we now know as weeks, days, hours and seconds etc. Yet this is only a single chapter of the book that covers an odyssey of human discoveries and advances over the centuries. A fascinating read for anyone a fan of history and science.

The book is appropriately titled the ‘The Discoverers’ and is authored by Daniel J. Boorstin. In the 700+ pages Boorstin takes the reader on an engrossing journey through history of discoveries. Even though chronology of discoveries is visible throughout the book, the main way that the book is structured is with categorical themes of discovery; time, earth & seas, nature & society.

The book touches on so many areas it’s difficult to even summarize. Boorstin manages to take each discovery and tell it in a way that fills it with interesting side stories & facts while pointing out the relevance to our time.

My personal favorite book is ‘Earth & Seas’, that imparts how the discovery of such objects as maps, a campus and spring-loaded watches that tell time all helped to make discoveries of the New World , Africa and even Australia ( known as Terra Australis which was the mythical land believed to exist as far back as the 1st century, and which is also talked about in the book.)

The author shaves off a lot of discoveries made by the early civilizations as well as the more modern inventions that took mankind through the industrial age into the computer age and beyond. But it can be argued that the book needed to draw the lines somewhere.

Overall an excellent read and will be trying to get my hands on his other books in the series ‘The Creators’ & ‘The Seekers’.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2011 3:06 pm

    Because the Pope proposed it, Protestant countries, like England and its colonies, didn’t go along and stayed behind until the 1700s. The Soviet Union and Russia didn’t convert until the 20th Century.

    • July 28, 2011 9:23 am

      Yes very interesting continuation of that story. The Julian calendar is still in use for Eastern Orthodox Christian liturgical services.

  2. July 31, 2011 7:27 pm

    This book has been added to my reading list.

  3. July 31, 2011 7:35 pm

    Its a good read. I read the hard-copy, but I have the soft copy as well if you want.

  4. Alen permalink
    July 31, 2011 10:12 pm

    Thanks, but I’ve already acquired it, and the others 🙂 Will definitely be reading them after I finish my current book.


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