How did the Romans reckon high noon? Well, it’s complicated…

June 12, 2018

In THE DEADLIEST SPORT, Miriam describes what it was like to enter the claustrophobic lanes of the Rhakotis quarter, the underbelly of the city:

   

The stench sharpening as we lurched westward toward the Kibotos, the bearers negotiated the gloomy back alleys lined with flat-faced, weather-beaten houses fronted with deeply stained mud bricks and bowed doors propped open with debris. Noah used to call these dwellings boxes of misery. Forlorn even at high noon, pigeons roosting in their lightless windows, they wouldn’t let even a blade of light cut between them.

   

But how did the Romans reckon high noon? Well, that calculation depended on the latitude and the time of year. The latitude of your location wouldn’t change, but the time of year would. So, let’s focus on that.

   

We inherited from the Romans the notion that a day is divided into 24 hours. But unlike the Romans, the length of a modern hour is fixed regardless of the season and time of day. But because the Romans insisted that there be 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness in each day, the length of a night hour and the length of a day hour varied throughout the year.

   

So, in the summer season, when the period of daylight is long, the length of an hour lengthened accordingly. In contrast, during the winter season, when the period of daylight is short, the length of an hour shortened so all 12 hours could squeeze into that period. And so, for a Mediterranean latitude, the length of one hour would vary from 45 minutes on the winter solstice to 75 minutes on the summer solstice.

  

Like I said. It’s complicated. Even with a sundial, there was no way to reckon the precise time of day.



 

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