What word was used in the ancient Rome to describe the time — and festivities if any — when one year ends and another begins? The literal translation of "new year", annus novus, can be suitable for modern use, but I do not think it was the ancient choice of words.

I am looking for an event that was considered to mark or celebrate the change of a year, not an event that took place then by chance.

Please indicate when the named time period was. The year can be considered to start from the beginning of January or March, and I want to avoid ambiguity between the two.

The closest hit I could find in the Wikipedia list of Roman festivals is Feriae Marti, but there are very few details so I cannot be sure.

  • Calendae Ianuarii/Martii don't seem to fit your definition. Am I right?
    – Rafael
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 18:01
  • @Rafael You are right. Comparing to English, I am not looking for "first of January" or "31st of December" but for "New Year's Day" or "New Year's Eve".
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 21:42
  • 2
    May I point out that ianuarius, martius and the rest are adjectives? Thus kalendae ianuariae, martius mensis etc?
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 15:45

1 Answer 1


The best indication is Ovid's Fasti, I, 63 et seqq.:

Ecce tibi faustum, Germanice, nuntiat annum / Inque meo primus carmine Ianus adest. / Iane biceps, anni tacite labentis origo, / solus de superis qui tua terga vides / . . .

The festival itself was Kalendae Ianuariae, the very day which we call New Year's Day. Earlier, at Fasti I.39, Ovid explains that the first month had at first been that of Mars and the second of Venus, chosen and named by Quirinus (sc. Romulus), but that Numa had prefixed two months, the first being that of Ianus. So, if Ovid had it right — and I've never seen any argument about it — this had been the situation right from the Regal Period.

From 153 BC onwards, the consuls took office on the Kalends of January, which gives a special status to the date. Suetonius at Cal. 42 has strenas ineunte anno recipere, indicating a religious significance by giving some physical token.

Feriae Marti is simply 'Festivals for Mars', which in March (the Kalends apart), were Equirria (14th),Agonalia (17th) and Tubilustrium (23rd). As for novus annus, it does have a classical antecedent where Ovid has this at Fasti, I, 149:

"dic, age, frigoribus quare novus incipit annus, / qui melius per ver incipiendus erat.

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