Excursion: The Sothic Cycle

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Dec 8, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    This article should be seen in connection with the article about the Egyptian Phoenix.
    Now we turn towards the second theme on this coin: The Sothic Cycle. Therefore back to this remarkable coin: LB, the 2nd year of the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 139), marks according to the Roman writer Censorinus the renewal of the Great Sothic Cycle, a cycle of 1461 years beginning always in the moment when the Sirius (Greek Sothis) rises from the horizon at the same point as the sun.

    The Egyxptian Calendar:
    In early times of the Egyptian calendar the lunar cycles were summarized from I to XII as lunar years and continously enumerated, careless of the course of the natural year. But because the strictly performed administration, already introduced in the 1st dynasty, needed a strict obedience of the dates of irrigation, tillage and appearance, the Egyptians introduced schematic months existing of 3 decades of days each which could counted easily with one's own fingers. The beginning of this fixed truncated year was proclaimed publicly and probably fell on the day of the opening of the upper floodgates of the flooding basins (around August 26. Gregorganian), when the height of the water-level, the water delivery and the enhancement of mud in Upper Egypt have reached their optimum (Pauly). So the Neilotic year was connected most closely to the inundation of the Nile.

    Besides this Neilotic year there was already early in 3rd century BC a year connected to the rise of the Sirius (in that time around the midsummer and the green coloration of the Nile). It was devided in three(!) seasons of equal length, so-called tetramenia: echet (inundation), projet (winter) and shomu (sommer). A date was written e.g. 'II echet, 2 decades + 4 days'. This year had 365 days where the last 5 days (epagomenes) were seen as sinister. Plutarch has delivered the following myth: God Set and Nut, the goddess of heaven, had clandestinely communed with each other. But the sun cursed Nut that her children should be borne neither in a month nor a year. Nut asked the wise Thot for advice. And Thot played a game of dice with the moon goddess and won the 72th part of each day of the 360 days year, making 5 days and these days were added to the year after the 12 months. Thus the solar year won 5 days more than the old year and the lunar year lost 5 days and came to 355 days. And so the 5 posthumous gods could enter the world.

    All other fixed year, the annee sacree, the canopic year, the Alexandrian year, the Coptic year, and others, are years derived from the Neilotic and Sothic year standing in a fixed relation to the original years (Pauly).

    Sothis (Egyptian spdt) originally was a female Egyptian deity embodying the bluish gleaming dog star Sirius (Canicula) which was called Sothis by the Greeks. Because Sothis could be seen directly before the beginning of the inundation of the Nile at the morning sky she was seen as bringer of the flooding of the Nile which was crucial for Egypt. The Egyptians made the rise of Sothis to the beginning of the year. But because the Egyptian calendar year defined by the rise of Sothis was about 1/4 of a day too short the rise of Sothis was wandering in about 1460 years once through the entire year. This is the so-called 'Sothis Cycle', a term from a later time; the ancient Egypts have not used it! Because according to the Roman writer Censorinus ('De Die Natali', AD 238) in AD 139 (see at our coin!) a new Sothis Cycle began we can consider by back-calculation c.2768 BC as probable date of the introduction of the Egyptian calendar (about the beginning of the 2nd dynasty).

    Already in the middle of the 3rd millenium BC the Egyptians probably recognized that their systematized calendar year of 365 days had an increasing discrepancy to the heliactic rise of the Sirius, the star which indiccated the inundation of the Nile. In this way the natural year of 365 1/4 days and a calendar year of 365 days were opposing each other. This discrepancy made in 4 years a difference of one day between natural year and calendar year until 1460 years later both years coincided again. This discrepancy was never corrected in the time of the Pharaohs. The attempt to introduce a 6th leap day (epagomenon) under Ptolemaios III failed and even after the finally calendar reform by Augustus the priests in the Egyptian temples stick to the old calendar still for a long time. It was probably the authority of the priesthood that inhibited a calendar reform. So the kings were forced to swear an oath before their coronation that they never would try to introduce leap days or months or to alter anything of the established year of 365 days!

    The ancient Egyptians celebrated hiliariously the day of the reappearance of Sirius over the morning horizon after an invisibility lasting about 65 to 70 days with the Sothis festival. The dates of the heliactic Sirius rise therefore represent an important pillar of the ancient Egyptian royal chronology and are in connection with the Sothis cycle of great historical importance.

    Please note: These can only be short remarks because this subject is very sophisticated especially because there were for a long time scholarly oppositions against the interpretation of the Sothis Cycle. Therefore for further studies I recommand the articles of Wikipedia which I have cited below.

    At least some notes on the conception of time:
    The Egyptian view of time was cyclical. Everything repeats itself again and again for eternal times. But this does not happen in a tiring circle as we know it from Buddhism, but rather as in a spiral: everything repeats itself, spring, summer, autumn, birth and death, a new king, but it is every time a new year and a new king, which brings new hope. I would like to call this a natural understanding of time.

    In contrast to this is our Christian conception of time, which is linear-eschatological. It goes straight towards a distant goal, the doom of this world on the last day (eschaton) and then the following Universal Judgment. This judgment over good and evil also existed in ancient Egypt, but not on the last day of the world, but with every human being after his death.

    I have added a picture that shows how the Egyptian priests observe the heliacal rise of Sirius (Sothis), the preacher of the Nile flood on whom Egypt's fate depended until the construction of the Aswan Dam. You can see the Sirius left beneath the Orion with its three girdle stars.

    (1) Der Kleine Pauly
    (2) James P.Allen, Middle Egyptian: An introduction to the language and culture of
    hieroglyphs, pp.104-106
    (3) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ägyptischer_Kalender
    (4) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sothis-Zyklus
    (5) http://www.astronomische-vereinigung-- -
    (6) augsburg.de/artikel/astronomiegeschichte/fruehe-kulturen/teil-2-aegypten/

    Best regards
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  3. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Thanks for the two articles, Jochen. Regarding this one, I feel I'm a little more enlightened, but still rather more mystified. I suppose it is as you say a sophisticated subject. Sorry for the condition of the next coin, but I notice this writeup lacking one. :shame:

    Antoninus Pius - Drachm Lot Isis Sothis 2048.jpg ANTONINUS PIUS
    AE Drachm. 16.68g, 32.6mm. EGYPT, Alexandria, RY 21 (AD 157/8). Emmett 1593.21; RPC Online Temp #15227. O: Laureate head with traces of drapery right. R: Isis-Sothis seated facing, head right, holding cornucopia and long scepter, riding (Sirius or Sothis) dog right; the dog looking back at Isis; below, L KA (date).
    Ex Robert L. Grover Collection of Roman-Egyptian Coinage, previously held by the Art Institute of Chicago (1982.1965)

    @TIF has one of these as well... I can't recall now how it looks, but she picked hers over mine, so I'm quite sure it's prettier. :D
  4. TIF

    TIF Well that didn't last long :D Supporter

    If you recall, we were alternating picks of the least worst coins rather than picking the best :D. Yours has more detail but corrosion pits; mine has less detail and has been stripped of patina but there aren't any pits. It was rather high in my picking order, which says something about the overall quality of those 80 coins! :yuck:

    EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius
    AE drachm, regnal year 21
    Obv: laureate bust right
    Rev: Isis-Sothis, seated facing and holding a cornucopia and scepter, riding a dog (Sirius?) right; the dog is looking back at Isis
    Ref: Dattari 2680; Emmett 1593.21
    Ex Robert L. Grover Collection of Roman-Egyptian Coinage, previously held by the Art Institute of Chicago
  5. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    I guess you could say between the two of us we have one half-decent example of the type? :cigar:
    furryfrog02 and TIF like this.
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    I'd love to get one of these Sothis coins...I'm also looking for one of those drachms with the zodiac pictured. Also, there is a painting in the temple of Esna that relates to the dating system you reference, which, as you point out is a bit complicated.
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