Germanic calendar

The Germanic calendars were the regional calendars used amongst the early Germanic peoples, prior to the adoption of the Julian calendar in the Early Middle Ages.

The Germanic peoples had names for the months which varied by region and dialect, which were later replaced with local adaptations of the Roman month names. Records of Old English and Old High German month names date to the 8th and 9th centuries, respectively. Old Norse month names are attested from the 13th century. Like most pre-modern calendars, the reckoning used in early Germanic culture was likely lunisolar. As an example, the Runic calendar developed in medieval Sweden is lunisolar, fixing the beginning of the year at the first full moon after winter solstice.


As in all ancient calendars, the Germanic calendar before the adoption of the Julian one would have been lunisolar, the months corresponding to lunations. Tacitus in his Germania (ch. 11) writes that the Germanic peoples observed the lunar months.

The lunisolar calendar is reflected in the Germanic term *mēnōþ- "month" (Old English mōnaþ, Old Saxon mānuth, Old Norse mánaðr, and Old High German mānod,[1] Gothic mēnōþs,[1][2] ) being a derivation of the word for "moon", mēnô.

Days and weeks

Tacitus gives some indication of how the Germanic peoples of the first century reckoned the days. In contrast to Roman usage, they considered the day to begin at sunset, a system that in the Middle Ages came to be known as the "Florentine reckoning". The same system is also recorded for the Gauls in Caesar's Gallic Wars.

"They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. Instead of reckoning by days as we do, they reckon by nights, and in this manner fix both their ordinary and their legal appointments. Night they regard as bringing on day."[3]

The concept of the week, on the other hand, was adopted from the Romans, from about the first century, the various Germanic languages having adopted the Greco-Roman system of naming of the days of the week after the classical planets, inserting loan translations for the names of the planets, substituting the names of Germanic gods in a process known as interpretatio germanica.

Calendar terms

The month names do not coincide, thus it is not possible to postulate names of a Common Germanic stage, except possibly the name of a spring and a winter month, *austr- and *jehul-. The names of the seasons are also Common Germanic, *sumaraz, *harbistaz, *wintruz, and *wēr- for "spring" in north Germanic, but in west Germanic the term *langatīnaz was used. The Common Germanic terms for day, month and year were *dagaz, *mēnōþs (moon) and *jērą. The latter two continue Proto-Indo-European *me(n)ses-, *iero- while *dagaz is a Germanic innovation from a root meaning "to be hot, to burn".

A number of terms for measuring time can be reconstructed for the proto Germanic period.

Term Proto-
English West
Dutch Low
German Old
Icelandic Swedish Norwegian Danish
Nynorsk Bokmål
24-hour period
*dagaz dæġ,
day dei dag Dag Tag dagr,
dagur dag,
Night *nahts niht night nacht nacht Nacht Nacht nátt nótt natt natt natt nat
Week *wikǭ wice week wike week Wekke Woche vika vika vecka veke uke uge
Month *mēnōþs mōnaþ month moanne maand Mohnd Monat mánaðr mánuður månad månad måned måned
Year *jērą ġēar year jier jaar Johr Jahr ár ár år år år år
Time, Period, Interval *tīdiz tīd tide tiid tijd Tiet Zeit tíð tíð tid tid tid tid
Time, Period, Hour *tīmô tīma time tími tími timme time time time
Spring *langatīnaz lencten lent lente Lent Lenz
Spring *wēr- vár vor vår vår vår vår
Summer *sumaraz sumor summer simmer zomer Sommer Sommer sumar sumar sommar sommar/sumar sommer sommer
Autumn *harbistaz hærfest harvest hjerst herfst Harvst Herbst haustr haust höst haust høst høst
Winter *wintruz winter winter winter winter Winter Winter vintr/vetr vetur vinter vinter/vetter vinter vinter

Month names


The main source of reference for Old English month names comes from the Venerable Bede. He recorded the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon month names in his Latin work known as De temporum ratione (De mensibus Anglorum), written in 725.[4] This is the only testimony of a Germanic lunisolar system, with explicit mention of empirical intercalation, the intercalary month being inserted around midsummer.

Charlemagne (r. 768–814) recorded agricultural Old High German names for the Julian months.[5] These remained in use, with regional variants and innovations, until the end of the medieval period in German-speaking Europe and they persisted in popular or dialectal use into the 19th century. They probably also influenced Fabre d'Eglantine when he named the months of the French Republican Calendar.

The only agreement between the Old English and the Old High German (Carolingian) month names is the naming of May as "Easter month". Both traditions have a "holy month", the name of September in the Old English system and of December in the Old High German one.

A separate tradition of month names developed in 10th-century Iceland, see below.

Julian month Old English[6] Old High German
January Æfterra Gēola "After Yule", or "Second Yule" Wintar-mánód
February Sol-mōnaþ ('mud month,' Bede: "the month of cakes, which they offered in it to their gods." Either the cakes looked like they were made of mud due to their color and texture, or literally it was the month of mud due to wet English weather) Hornung[7]
March Hrēþ-mōnaþ "Month of the Goddess Hrēþ" or "Month of Wildness"[8] Lenzin-mānod "spring month"
April Easter-mōnaþ "Easter Month", "Month of the Goddess Ēostre" Ōstar-mānod "Easter month"; see also Ostara
May Þrimilce-mōnaþ "Month of Three Milkings"[9] Winni-mánód "pasture month"
June Ærra Līþa "Before Midsummer", or "First Summer" Brāh-mānod
Þrilīþa "Third (Mid)summer" (leap month)
July Æftera Līþa "After Midsummer", "Second Summer" Hewi-mānod "hay(making) month"
August Weod-mōnaþ "Plant month" Aran-mānod "harvest month"
September Hālig-mōnaþ "Holy Month" Witu-mānod "wood month"
October Winterfylleth "Winter full moon", according to Bede "because winter began on the first full moon of that month [of October]." Wīndume-mānod "vintage month"
November Blōt-mōnaþ "Blót Month", "Month of Sacrifice" Herbist-mānod "autumn month"
December Ærra Gēola "Before Yule", or "First Yule" Hailag-mānod "holy month"


The Old High German month names introduced by Charlemagne persisted in regional usage and survive in German dialectal usage. The Latin month names have been in predominant use throughout the medieval period, although the Summarium Heinrici, an 11th-century pedagogical compendium, in chapter II.15 De temporibus et mensibus et annis advocates use of the German month names rather than the more widespread Latin ones.[10]

In the late medieval to early modern period, dialectal or regional month names were adopted for the use in almanachs, and a number of variants or innovations developed in this context, comparable to the tradition of "Indian month names" which developed in American Farmers' Almanacs in the early 20th century.

Some of the Farmers' Almanacs' "Indian month names" are in fact derived from continental tradition.[11]

The Old English month names fell out of use entirely, being revived only in a fictional context in the Shire calendar constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien for use in his The Lord of the Rings.

Julian month Old High German German Dutch[12] West Frisian[13]
January Wintar-mánód "winter month" Wintermonat[14] louwmaand (Tanning Month) Foarmoanne (Fore Month)
February Hornung Hornung[15][14] sprokkelmaand (Month of Gathering), schrikkelmaand (Bisextile Month) Sellemoanne (Filthy/Unclean month)
March Lenzin-mānod Lenzmonat "spring month", Dörrmonat "dry month"[16] lentemaand ("spring month") Foarjiersmoanne ("spring month")
April Ōstar-mānod Ostermonat "Easter month"[17] grasmaand ("grass month" = French Republican Prairial) Gersmoanne ("grass month")
May Winni-mānod "pasture month" Wonnemonat "month of joy"[18] wonnemaand ("month of joy"), bloeimaand ("flower month" = French Republican Floréal'), Mariamaand ("Mary's month") Blommemoanne ("flower month")
June Brāh-mānod Brachmonat "fallow month"[19] zomermaand ("summer month"), braammaand, wedemaand ("woad month"), wiedemaand ("weed month") Simmermoanne ("summer month")
July Hewi-mānod Heumonat "hay(making) month"[20] vennemaand ("pasture month"), hooimaand ("hay month") Heamoanne ("Hay (making) month")
August Aran-mānod MHG arn-mânôt Erntemonat "harvest month" oogstmaand ("harvest month" , French Republican Messidor; the word oogst "harvest" itself comes from Latin Augustus), koornmaand ("corn month") Rispmoanne ("harvest month")
September Witu-mānod Herbstmonat "autumn month"[21] herfstmaand ("autumn month"), gerstmaand ("barley month"), evenemaand ("oats month") Hjerstmoanne ("autumn month")
October Wīndume-mānod Weinmonat, Weinmond "vintage month[22] Herbstmonat[21]

Gilbhart "Yellowing"[23]

wijnmaand ("wine month"), Wijnoogstmaand ("vintage month", = French Republican Vendémiaire), zaaimaand ("sowing month") Wynmoanne ("wine month")
November Herbist-mānod "autumn month" Wintermonat "winter month"[24][14] Herbstmonat[21] [25] slachtmaand ("slaughter month"), bloedmaand ("blood month"), nevelmaand, mistmaand ("fog month" = French Republican Brumaire), smeermaand ("month of pork feeding") Slachtmoanne ("slaughter month")
December Hailag-mānod "holy month", MHG heilmânôt Christmonat "Christ month", Heiligmonat "holy month"[14][25] wintermaand ("winter month"), midwintermaand ("Midwinter month"), sneeuwmaand ("snow month" = French Republican Nivôse), Kerstmismaand ("Christmas month"), Joelmaand ("Yule month"), wolfsmaand ("wolves' month"), donkere maand ("dark month") Wintermoanne ("winter month"), Joelmoanne ("Yule month")

Icelandic calendar

A special case is the Icelandic calendar developed in the 10th century, which inspired by the Julian calendar introduced a purely solar reckoning, with a year having a fixed number of weeks (52 weeks or 364 days). This necessitated the introduction of "leap weeks" instead of the Julian leap days.

The old Icelandic calendar is not in official use any more, but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it. It has 12 months, broken down into two groups of six often termed "winter months" and "summer months". The calendar is peculiar in that the months always start on the same day of week rather than on the same date. Hence Þorri always started on a Friday sometime between 9 and 15 January of the Julian calendar, Góa always starts on a Sunday between 8 and 14 February of the Julian calendar.

  1. Gormánuður (mid October – mid November, "slaughter month" or "Gór's month")
  2. Ýlir (mid November – mid December, "Yule month")
  3. Mörsugur (mid December – mid January, "fat sucking month")
  4. Þorri (mid January – mid February, "frozen snow month")
  5. Góa (mid February – mid March, "Góa's month", see Nór)
  6. Einmánuður (mid March – mid April, "lone" or "single month")
  1. Harpa (mid April – mid May) Harpa is a female name, probably a forgotten goddess. The first day of Harpa is celebrated as Sumardagurinn fyrsti, the First Day of Summer
  2. Skerpla (mid May – mid June, another forgotten goddess)
  3. Sólmánuður (mid June – mid July, "sun month")
  4. Heyannir (mid July – mid August, "hay business month")
  5. Tvímánuður (mid August – mid September, "two" or "second month")
  6. Haustmánuður (mid September – mid October, "autumn month")

See also

Notes and citations

  1. 1 2 Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: M [Old High German Dictionary: M] (PDF).
  2. Month, Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. Coeunt, nisi quid fortuitum et subitum inciderit, certis diebus, cum aut inchoatur luna aut impletur: nam agendis rebus hoc auspicatissimum initium credunt. Nec dierum numerum, ut nos, sed noctium computant. Sic constituunt, sic condicunt: nox ducere diem videtur.
  4. Beda Venerabilis, De Temporum Ratione, Chapter 15, "De mensibus Anglorum"
  5. Vita Karoli Magni, ch. 29: Mensibus etiam iuxta propriam linguam vocabula imposuit, cum ante id temporis apud Francos partim latine partim barbaris nominibus pronunciarentur. See also Julian Calendar: Month names
  6. Frank Merry Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, 1971, 97f.; M. P. Nilsson, Primitive Time-Reckoning. A Study in the Origins and Development of the Art of Counting Time among the Primitive and Early Culture Peoples, Lund, 1920; c.f. Stephanie Hollis, Michael Wright, Old English Prose of Secular Learning, Annotated Bibliographies of Old and Middle English literature vol. 4, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1992, p. 194.
  7. This name of February, the only name in the list without the "month" suffix, is explained by König, Festschrift Bergmann (1997), pp. 425 ff. as a collective of horn, taken to refer to the antlers shed by red deer during this time. Older explanations compare the name with Old Frisian horning (Anglo-Saxon hornung-sunu, Old Norse hornungr) meaning "bastard, illegitimate son", taken to imply a meaning of "disinherited" in reference to February being the shortest of months. Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: H [Old High German Dictionary: H] (PDF).
  8. Gerhard Köbler. Altenglisches Wörterbuch: H [Old English Dictionary: H] (PDF).
  9. Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: D [Old High German Dictionary: D] (PDF).
  10. Rolf Bergmann, Stefanie Stricker, Die althochdeutsche und altsächsische Glossographie: Ein Handbuch, Walter de Gruyter, 2009, p. 667.
  11. Mysteries of the Moon by Patricia Haddock ("Great Mysteries Series", Greenhaven Press, 1992) gave an extensive list of "Indian month names" along with the individual tribal groups they were supposedly associated with (repeated in The Moon Book by Kim Long, 1998, 102ff.) Haddock supposes that certain "Colonial American" moon names were adopted from Algonquian languages (which were formerly spoken in the territory of New England), while others are based in European tradition (e.g. the Colonial American names for the May moon, "Milk Moon", "Mother's Moon", "Hare Moon" have no parallels in the supposed native names, while the name of November, "Beaver Moon" is supposedly based in the Algonquin).
  12. these archaic or poetic Dutch names are recorded in the 18th century and were used in almanachs during the 19th century. Neue und volständige Hoogteutsche Grammatik of nieuwe en volmaakte onderwyzer in de hoogduitsche Spraak-Konst (1768), 173f.
  13. "Woordenboek der Friese taal". De Geïntegreerde Taalbank. Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  14. 1 2 3 4 In MHG, any of the months November, December, January and (more rarely) February was also given the name hartmân, hartmânot "hard month". Lexer, Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch s.v. "hart-mân"
  15. Hornung survived in southern German dialects, and in the 19th century was also used officially in Switzerland as a synonym of February. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Hornung".
  16. Middle High German lenzemânot, survived in modern German usage only in poetic or archaizing language, e.g. Schiller in a dedication: Mannheim den 14. des lenzmonats 1785. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Lenzmonat", "Dörrmonat".
  17. Middle High German ôstermânôt; occasional modern use in poetic language, Herder in dem blühnden ostermonat, da die erde neu sich kleidet. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Ostermonat".
  18. OHG winnimanoth "pasture month", from an old word winni "pasture". The name does not seem to survive into MHG, but is revived in the 16th century (from the Carolingian month list), but etymologized as wunnemânôt "month of joy" (Bas. Faber 1587: maius, der may, a frondibus Carolus Magnus den wonnemonat, id est mensem amoenitatis olim nuncupavit). This reinterpreted revived form becomes a popular poetic name of May in modern German. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Wonnemonat".
  19. remains in 15th to 16th century use, brachmonat, brachmon. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Brachmonat".
  20. remains in 16th century use (Luther: am zehenten tage des heumonds). Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Heumonat".
  21. 1 2 3 MHG herbestmânôt. Herbstmonat "autumn month" remains a productive compound which may refer to any month in autumn (September, October or November). Occasionally numbered as erster, anderer, dritter Herbstmonat. Herbstmond is revived as a name of September in 18th-century almanachs. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Herbstmonat", "Herbstmond".
  22. MGH winman, wynmanot MLG wijnmaand, survived into early modern use only in very rare Westphalian wynmaent. Weinlesemonat specifically as the translation of the Vendémiaire of the French Republican Calendar. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Weinmonat".
  23. a pseudo-archaic innovation of the early 20th century. O. Behaghel Zs. f. dt. Bildung 10 (1934) 76.
  24. A name of January in Alemannic and Frisian; in MHG more generally any month in winter. As a name of November (the first month of winter) in 12th-century glossaries, and more widely during the 14th to 18th centuries. Grimm, , Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Wintermonat".
  25. 1 2 MGH wolfmânôt for November or (more rarely) December. Benecke, Mittelhochdeutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "wolfmânôt".
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