Not only is that a meaningful question, it has a perfectly good answer. Until Peter the Great’s calendar reform, Russia counted its years from the creation of the world, which the Russian Orthodox church reckoned as having happened in 5509 BC, and celebrated New Year’s Day on September 1; thus Peter was born in the year 7180, or 180 as they often referred to it (early 1672 by our calendar). Once Peter took full power he began making drastic changes in the Russian way of life to imitate the Western European countries, and along with cutting off beards and banning caftans he updated the calendar, decreeing in late 1699 (or early 208, as it then was) that January 1 would be the New Year, and it would be the beginning of the year 1700. So 7208, which had begun on Sept. 1, only ran for three months before giving way to the newfangled Western year 1700, producing documents with phrases like: “In the years 207 and 208 and in the present year of 1700…” I love this stuff.

What I don’t understand is why he didn’t go all the way and adopt the Gregorian calendar, which had been around for over a century and was used in the Western countries he wanted to emulate. For over two hundred years Russia remained 10 or 11 days behind, and Peter didn’t like being left behind. Strange.


  1. Adopting the Gregorian calendar would have entailed adopting the Gregorian Easter (at least, at that time it would have; some Orthodox churches have gone the hybrid route since), and that would have been Heterodoxy.

  2. Cuconnacht says

    And it would have involved submitting, in this one instance, to the judgment of the Pope, which I think is why Protestant Europe resisted the the calendar for a couple of centuries.

  3. Traditional Russian agriculture was built around feast days celebrated according to traditional calendar of Russian Orthodox Day.

    Moving to Gregorian calendar (ie, by 11 days) meant that all traditional calendar events and associated wealth of traditional knowledge (meteorological, for example) would become useless for agricultural purposes.

  4. SFReader: That seems improbable. The whole point of moving to the Gregorian calendar was to preserve the relations between specific dates and the Sun, from which the Julian calendar was slowly but steadily departing. No, the reason has to be religious: “better to be wrong with the Sun than right with the Pope”, as the English said during their period of resistance (1582-1752).

  5. It will start preserving later (at a rate of one day per century), but immediate effect would be total erasure of traditional agricultural calendar.

    Russian peasants were supposed to start sowing on “Spring” St.Nicolas Day (Никола вешний) which is celebrated on May 9 (May 22 according to Gregorian calendar), so moving to new calendar will result in harvest sown on May 9 and it will be lost to frost quite soon and everyone will starve.

  6. I’m guessing the peasants were not so wedded to tradition that they would starve themselves, however. Are there any records of such a famine?

  7. Russian Orthodox Church kept its old calendar despite Lenin’s decree, so there was no problem.

  8. The most impractical plan for introducing the Gregorian calendar must have been the Swedish one — drop all leap days from 1700 to 1740 inclusive, so their calendar was neither Julian nor Gregorian for 40 years. To top it all, there was a war on so only 1700 was dropped, and sometime after 1708 the whole thing was abandoned as impractical — Sweden went back on Julian with a double leap day in 1712. (Reminds me of when the Julian calender was started off with leap days every three years because of inclusive/exclusive confusion, and a few leap years had to be dropped just before 0 CE).

    As in Russia, one consideration in Sweden was that Bondepraktikan (der Mandlkalender) would become misleading with a change to Gregorian, but in 1753 Sweden did it anyway.

    (Denmark/Norway took the 11-day transition in 1700. I once had a reprint of the royal proclamation of the changeover — it wasn’t just a change of date, market days on the ‘lost’ dates had to be relocated, and others moved to make room, with important juridical implications since they were often the termination dates of contracts).

  9. In the UK and its colonies, 13 days were dropped in 1752. Tax day was formerly New Year’s Day, March 25, when the calendar year ended, and was relocated to April 7. In 1800, with another day’s drift, this was updated to April 6, but no further update was made in 1900. Private contracts were left alone, however, and most landlords (“the robbers who take all the rest”) charged a full quarter’s rent for fewer days than normal, whereas most people were paid weekly and got no benefit from it.

  10. There’s an entertaining discussion in Chapter 19 of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon (currently available here), beginning:

    In the bar of The George, what should he find, as the Topick of vehement Conversation, but Bradley again. “I don’t care how much glory he’s brought England, he’ll still have to pay for his Pints in here.”

    “Not likely now, is it? Poor Bugger.”

    “Howbeit,— he was in, don’t forget, with Macclesfield and that gang, that stole the Eleven Days right off the Calendar. God may wait, for the living God’s a Beast of Prey, Who waits, and may wait for years…yet at last, when least expected, He springs.”

    “Thank you, Rev,— now when do I get to sell Ale in your Chapel? Sunday be all right?”

    “Nay, attend him,— the Battle-fields we know, situated in Earth’s three Dimensions, have also their counterparts in Time,— and if the Popish gain advantage in Time’s Reckoning, they may easily carry the Day.”

    “Why, that they’ve had, the Day and the Night as well, since ’fifty-two, when we were all taken over onto Roman Whore’s Time, and lost eleven days’ worth of our own.”

    Mason pretends to examine his shoe-buckle, trying not to sigh too heavily. Of the many Classics of Idiocy, this Idiocy of the Eleven Days has join’d the select handful that may never be escap’d. Some have held this Grudge for ten years,— not so long, as Grudges go. Now that misfortune has overtaken Bradley’s life, do they feel aveng’d at last? He listens to the weary Hymn once more, as he has from his father, at this moment but walking-miles distant, still asleep, soon to wake—

  11. January First-of-May says

    Very funny – it’s been (nearly) a decade and a half and nobody seems to have noticed the obvious mathematical error: the year 7208 did not have three months, it had four – September, October, November, December.
    (Mind you, early Language Hat being what it is, for all I know, this had been extensively discussed on the original Blogger version and just didn’t happen to make it to the WordPress comments.)

    I happen to have a coin dated 208 (it actually says СH, the H being an archaic form of И), apparently having been minted in this little four-month year; I actually wrote a post about it recently on CCF.
    I’m not sure how much of the stuff in that post was actually true, however, and how much was basically made up on the spot for the rule of funny.
    (And due to a very unfortunate typo, one of the biggest jokes was lost – the first instance of “eighteenth” should read “seventeenth”.)

  12. Very funny – it’s been (nearly) a decade and a half and nobody seems to have noticed the obvious mathematical error: the year 7208 did not have three months, it had four – September, October, November, December.

    And me a former math major! I’m pretty sure nobody noticed this back in the day, so you get a gold star.

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