Coptic Calendar

Today marks the beginning of the Coptic Year 1729 A.M. We will study the history of the Coptic calendar. Please note that the names of the Coptic months are written in Coptic in the article but it might not be viewed correctly.

Begin: (CE:438a-440a)

CALENDAR, MONTHS OF COPTIC. Of all survivals from pharaonic Egypt, the calendar is the most striking. Each of the twelve months of the Coptic calendar still carries the name of one of the deities or feasts of ancient Egypt. Without doubt, this reflects the conservatism that characterizes the inhabitants of the Nile Valley, who are reluctant to set aside their traditional way of life.

The year was divided into three seasons of equal length, each comprising four months. Possibly as early as the Ramesside period, each month came to be named for an important festival that was celebrated during that period of time. Documents from around the fifth century B.C., such as the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine, indicate that the great festivals held in honor of certain divinities gave their names to the month in which that particular celebration occurred, and an inscription from Pharaoh Shebaka (700 B.C.) reveals that this certainly was the practice during the Ethiopian era (Cerny, 1951, pp. 441-42).

Thanks to a hieratic ostracon in the British Museum (no. 5639a), Adolf Erman was able to identify the names of the festivals which are at the root of the names for the months of Thoout (Tut), Paopi (Babah), Athor (Hatur), Mekhir (Amshir), and Phamenoth (Baramhat). Some years later, Gardiner, working with two papyri from Turin, added the names for the festivals of the months Epep (Abib) and Mesore (Misra), while J. Cerny, using documents from the Cairo Museum and excavations of the Institut français at Dayr al-Madinah, found the names for the festivals of the months Pharmouthi (Baramudah) and Paoni (Ba’unah). Finally, thanks to a hieratic papyrus acquired by the Cairo Museum (no. 86637), which dates from the Ramesside period and contains the so-called Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days, Cerny (1943, pp. 173-81) was able to identify the festival for the first month of the winter season, Tobi (Tubah). END.

FROM: THE COPTIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, 1991, Aziz S. Atiya, University of Utah, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, Collier Macmillan Canada, Toronto, Maxwell Macmillan International, New York Oxford Singapore Sydney

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