My dictionary gives two translations for "week": septimāna and hebdomas (gen. hebdomadis, feminine). Is there a difference between these two words? Are there contexts where only one of them is valid?

The word septimana is more common in my experience and it looks like an original Latin word, whereas hebdomas looks like a Greek loan. Using a Greek loan instead of a more Latin word does already affect the tone, but I wonder if there are more nuance differences between these two words.

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    Just for context. In french weekly is said hebdomadaire, which (obviously) comes from hebdomas. While in italian week is said septimana. In Spanish is semana.
    – user923
    Oct 19, 2016 at 6:07
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    @Velvet, welcome to the site! I converted your answer to a comment because it does not really answer the question. It is a good comment, though. French has also the word "semaine" coming from septimana.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 19, 2016 at 7:27

2 Answers 2


A look at the corpus suggests that both words were in use at the same time. Varro uses both; the latest (classical) writer to use septimana is Tacitus, the latest to use hebdomas Aulus Gellius. Hebdomas occurs thirteen times to septimana's six, but half of those uses of hebdomas are in Aulus Gellius (many of them referring to Varro, but my quick look wasn't enough to tell me which of the two Varro used in the work Gellius is referring to).

For what it's worth, Cicero uses hebdomas once but he doesn't use septimana.

However, as @fdb points out (thanks for the correction!), classical authors who use the word septimana are not using it to mean "week"—it's only Christian Latin authors who give it that meaning.

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    None of the authors cited here uses "septimana" to mean "week". The question was explicitly about "translations of week". It is ony Chirstian authors who use it in this meaning.
    – fdb
    May 2, 2016 at 21:28
  • Ah! What do these authors mean when they say septimana? May 2, 2016 at 21:30
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    – fdb
    May 2, 2016 at 21:33
  • I have always thought that Romans never quite entertained structuring their time into seven-day weeks, the more common (and original) concept being an eight-day week (A-H), although the idea of a seven-day week was borrowed from Greece. Salzman 2013 argues that "the seven-day week with its day of rest did not become the basis for the Roman structuring of time" (p. 483).
    – Alex B.
    May 2, 2016 at 23:40
  • @AlexB. What word did they use to describe it (if they did)? May 2, 2016 at 23:51

The early Romans did not have a seven-day week. The earliest evidence for a seven-day planetary week (seven days each associated with one of the seven planets) is not until the 2nd century BC. A look at the references in Lewis/Short shows that neither the Latin word septimana, nor the Greek loan word hebdomas is ever used by any classical author to mean “week”. This usage begins with Christian authors.

Here is a summary of a recent academic colloquium on the origin of the week: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/calendars-ancient-medieval-project/2015/07/08/the-origins-of-the-seven-day-week/

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    Is there a difference between these two words after Christian authors introduced them in the sense of a week? (The question did not ask about classical usage.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 3, 2016 at 8:46

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