What Time Was Ancient Rome

What Time Was Ancient Rome?

It has been more than two thousand years since the height of the might Roman Empire – and one question is often asked: What time was Ancient Rome? It is a complicated question, as there was no ‘time zone’ that encompassed the entirety of the Empire. In today’s terms, it is rather impossible to tell what time Ancient Rome was. All that can be definitively determined is when Rome, as the center of the vast Empire, would have been to its citizens at the peak of its power and reach.

Calendar in Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire relied on a lunar calendar, with Romulus’ founding of the Empire in 753 BCE marking the start of their counting of years. This calendar was based on observation of the cycles of the moon and had three, then later four, seasons with ‘months’ divided into days. This calendar was not very precise, and historians have suggested that, over time, it became out of sync with the earth’s own rotations.
The calendar had 12 months, with names taken from a variety of sources. The first six months were named after some of the Roman gods, while the final were named in relation to their position in the calendar, in relation to festivals and general activities. At the end of the year, a ‘leap month’, known as Intercalaris or Mercedonius, was added if necessary. Originally, the month had 28 days, however over time it increased to 29, and was later increased to 30.

Marking Time in Ancient Rome

The Romans were not very precise in recording time. This is evident in their use of ‘daylight’ and ‘nightlight’ as a measure of time, with ‘noontime’ falling around 3:00 pm. Night was marked with ‘watches’ that changed direction at different times of the year, depending on when the sun went down. The day was then divided into sunrise, mid-morning, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and finally night.
However, more precise records of time were kept. The Romans used a clepsydra (water clock) to measure out the hours and minutes, and a variety of ‘registers’ (public logs) to record events that took place.

Ancient Roman Time Zones

The Roman world was divided into a number of time zones, with the most important being Italy, centered on what is now Rome, and the provinces, ruled by local governors. Since the Roman Empire was so vast, it stretched over multiple longitudes, resulting in what we now call time zones.
In addition to the provinces and Italy, two additional time zones can be found in the ancient Roman world: the Judaean time zone in the Middle East, which existed during period of Roman rule, and the so-called ‘terminal’ time zone, which marked the edge of the Empire.

Ancient Roman ‘Prime Time’

The time at which most activity occurred within the Ancient Roman Empire was between the tenth hour and the eleventh hour, which was between 3pm and 4pm in modern timekeeping (7am to 8am according to the Roman time zone). This period was known as ‘prime time’, and would have been when the Empire was most active.
This period was when people of all classes conducted their business, from merchants who traded their goods to magistrates who had their court sessions and communal events that would take place. It was also the time of day when the Senate would gather and the Emperor would receive ambassadors and friends.

Measuring Time and the Legacy of Ancient Rome

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the mechanism of measurement used by the Ancient Romans changed drastically and the Roman calendar was largely forgotten. The concept of time zones, however, has remained even to this day and is used to keep schedules in sync worldwide.
The interest in the subject of Ancient Rome has gone on and still to this day captivates many people. From the way time was measured to the different time zones that existed, studying and understanding the Ancient Romans is both challenging and fascinating.

Ancient Rome & Trade

The Ancient Roman Empire had an extensive trading network that linked far-flung regions and enabled the transfer of goods and ideas. Trade routes allowed merchants to travel from one region to another, trading their goods in exchange for Roman currency. Over time, these merchants came to rely more heavily on Roman coins, abandoning older forms of bartering.
The trade routes differed in length and the popularity of different goods changed over time. Luxury goods such as silk and spices were particularly popular, while items such as cloth, ores, and grains were very common. The Ancient Romans adapted their technologies to transport these goods in various ways. They constructed roads, ships, and other means of transportation to ensure the efficient movement of goods along their trade routes.

Ancient Rome & Coins

The Ancient Romans were among the first cultures to make coins a form of currency. Before this, bartering was the primary means of exchange. Roman coins reflected the power, culture, and civilization of the empire and would eventually be used throughout the Western world.
The first coins used in the Roman Empire were made from copper and bronze, later transitioning to silver and gold. Coinage provided a way for the citizens of Rome to more easily conduct transactions and become involved in the economy. For example, the coins could be used to pay taxes, honor gods, and purchase goods and services.

Ancient Rome & Religion

Religion was an important part of life in the Ancient Roman Empire. Its pantheon of gods and goddesses ranged from the planetary powers of the sun, moon, and stars to the natural forces of fire and water.
The religion of the Ancient Romans was polytheistic and focused on the veneration of the gods. Religious rituals centered around sacrificing animals, conducting ceremonies, and holding festivals in the gods’ honor. The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus was the most important temple in Ancient Rome and was dedicated to the god Jupiter.

Ancient Rome & Language

The language of Ancient Rome was Latin, an Italic language spoken by the Latins, a group of people living in central Italy. Although other languages were spoken throughout the Ancient Roman Empire, such as Greek and Aramaic, Latin was the language of politics, culture, and commerce.
Latin would go on to become the official language of contract law, military strategy, and religious texts. It would also become the language of literature and the foundation of the Romance languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Ancient Rome & Architecture

The grand monuments and public works of Ancient Rome are some of the most impressive examples of Classical architecture. The Ancient Romans built aqueducts, bridges, stadiums, and other structures in order to ensure the functionality of their civilization.
The Colosseum is arguably the most iconic example of Ancient Roman architecture. Built in the 1st century CE, the structure could accommodate up to 50,000 spectators and was the site of gladiatorial battles, chariot races, and other events. The Pantheon, with its giant dome and unique system of relieving pressure and providing illumination, is another impressive example of Ancient Roman architecture.

Ancient Rome & Law

To maintain order in their immense Empire, the Ancient Romans created a system of law that not only administrated justice but also regulated politics and commerce.
The main body of law in Ancient Rome was known as the Twelve Tables of Roman Law, which laid the foundation for Roman justice and was adopted by other nations in the ancient world.
The Twelve Tables of Roman Law focused on the rights, duties, and obligations of Roman citizens and provided guidance on a range of civil matters, such as property, contracts, inheritance, and marriage. It also established the principle that all citizens were equal in the eyes of the law.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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