What’s a Parapegma?

Dah, dah, da dah, Dah, dah, da dah. Like in The Twilight Zone, a distinctive voice alerts you that you entering an arena of life that is true and real, but confusing to the average mind.

What you are viewing is a mysterious artifact from antiquity. Look closely and you’ll notice the signs of the zodiac and the faces of the Roman gods. What does all this mean? The value of this reconstructed artifact depends greatly upon its place in time. A resident of ancient Rome might instantly recognize it as timekeeping device. An archaeologist would assign it’s worth by how well it fits into his collection of similar items. And a Dayologist appreciates the design elements because they relate to the eighty-four personalities types in Dayology Typology System.

This artifact was discovered in the ruins of The Trajan’s Baths, an elaborate bathing complex located on the Oppian Hill in Rome. The public facility was  constructed in 79-81 A.D. and operated into the early 5th century. The impressive structure was designed by Apollodorus of Damascus and included seven massive cisterns, a fountain room, two libraries, a series of gardens and an art museum complete with decorative frescoes and mosaics.

Robert Leo Odem the author of Sunday in Roman Paganism (page 95) states that this parapegma was found in the baths built by emperor Titus. He presents the detailed descriptions of G.A. Guattani, an Italian archaeologist who fortunately had the opportunity to examine the actual item. The history of this particular style of parapegma is also discussed by Daryn Lehoux in Astronomy, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World. (page 168-70). Here it is said that the artifact was discovered in the early nineteenth century and is called the Thermae Traiani Parapegma or the Astrological Parapegma, indicating the common use of the starry art.

An impressive reconstruction of the
Tragan- Baths as it existed long ago.
See Wikipedia – Baths of Trajan.

What remains of the magnificent bathing
complex once attended by the
citizens of Rome.

The clay tablet mounted on the wall was identified as a parapegma or a stick calendar. It features pegs which are moved from day to day and month to month. The holes for the month are located on the left and right margins. The holes for the twelve sun signs are found around the zodiac circle. And from above on Mount Olympus the seven gods are looking down. Left to right, they are: Saturn, the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus. And beneath each god is its very own hole for a movable peg tracing out the days of the week. The presence of the holes near the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the thirty days of the month show that the holes beneath of the seven gods appear to be the twelve months and their individual quota of days.

A schematic diagram portraying
the twelve signs of the zodiac
and the seven gods.

And finally, if the face of Saturn, which appears in the first position and left-hand side, is moved to right side and the end of the list, then the rulers appear in the same order of that most of the world calendars use today. That would be, SUN-Sunday, MOON-Monday, MARS-Tuesday, MERCURY-Wednesday, JUPITER-Thursday, VENUS-Friday, and SATURN-Saturday. Most of the world uses Sunday or Monday as our first day of the week, but the ancients must have had their own reasons for giving Saturday that honor. We will save that equally interesting story for when we deal with another mystifying and magical use of time, The Planetary Hours.