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The ancient Egyptian civil calendar was a solar calendar used throughout its ancient history. The year followed three seasons divided into four months of 30 days. Hence, each season totalled 120 days. Five additional days followed the third season, known to the Greeks as epagomena, resulting in a 365-day calendar.

Despite their civil calendar, the ancient Egyptians did not follow our modern concept of linear history and did not count civil years. Instead, referring to the regnal years of the ruling pharaoh to keep record of the passing years.


Due to Egypt's arid climate, the Nile river meant everything to its civilization. Herodotus famously called Egypt "a gift of the river" Nile. The Nile's annual flooding organized the astronomical solar year into three broad natural seasons known to the Egyptians as:

  • Akhet (transliteration: ꜣḫt), the season of inundation, during which the Nile flood renders farming nearly useless. During this season the farmers were employed in construction projects.
  • Peret (transliteration: prt), the season of emergence, during which the flood resides and leaves behind a dark fertile soil which in turn allows farmers to sow their crops and assist the growth.
  • Shemu (transliteration: šmw), the season of harvest, during which the Nile waters are the lowest and crops become ready for harvest.

Shifting calendar[]

Since the astronomical solar year lasts nearly 1/4 of a day longer, throughout their long-standing history, the ancient Egyptians must have noticed that their civil calendar was drifting apart (by approximately one day every four years). As a result, Akhet, Peret and Shemu gradually no longer corresponded with the actual seasons. For reasons unknown, they never made the decision to correct their civil calendar.

New Year[]

Main article: Heliacal Sothis Rising.

Since prehistory, the ancient Egyptians realized that the first appearance of the star Sirius in the morning sky (called heliacal Sothis rising) coincides with the beginning of the season of inundation. Hence, it served as a marker for New Year's Day. Due to their 365-day calendar, the heliacal rising of Sirius fell on the same civil day for 4 years (a period known as a tetraëteris). It took a 1461 days Sothis Cycle for the heliacal rising to reoccur on civil new year's day (the first day of Akhet).

See also[]

  • Lunar calendar