X Close

Calendars in Antiquity and the Middle Ages


ERC Research Project


The seven-day week

The seven-day week in the Roman Empire and the Near East

Planetary week, Trajan’s Baths parapegma

In the course of the first centuries of our era, the seven-day week became increasingly widespread throughout the Roman world and the Near East, being widely shared by different religious and ethnic groups within the vast territory embraced by the Roman Empire. Regardless of the variety of calendars that they might have been using, Christians, Jews, and pagans all shared the week as a means of measurement and organisation of time during late Antiquity.

The process of diffusion and standardization of the seven-day week in the Roman Empire and the Near East started from around the beginning of the Christian era and culminated with the conversion of the Empire to Christianity. By the beginning of the third century, the habit of measuring time in cycles of seven days, each of them either numbered or dedicated to one of the seven planets, became universal or at least general all across the Roman Empire.

Earlier research into the origins of the seven-day week and the process of its diffusion and standardization in the Roman Empire and the Near East has been sporadic and unsystematic. As a result, the subject is still controversial and very poorly understood. Within the framework of this project, a comprehensive analysis of the epigraphic, documentary, and literary evidence in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other languages from late Antiquity will be carried out in order to gain a proper understanding of the history and development of the seven-day week.

Our main researcher in this area is Dr Ilaria Bultrighini.

Our research questions are:

1. What are the origins of the seven-day week in the Roman Empire? Was it in origin Jewish (or Biblical), or did it arise, by coincidence, from planetary astrology?

2. What meanings and functions were ascribed to the seven-day week by Jews, Christians, and pagans in the Roman Empire and the Near East?

3. How standard was the reckoning of the seven-day week? Did it employ the same or similar weekday names or numbers in different places and periods and among different social groups in Antiquity? Did the week begin universally on the same day?

4. How was the week reckoned in practice? How did people ensure that they did not lose count of the weekdays?