It is well known that in medieval Europe, March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, or December 25, were celebrated as new year, it wasn't until the reforms in 1752 that January 1st as New Year's day became widespread (i.e., the protestants didn't accept Pope Gregory's calendar until then. That is why George Washington had two different birthdays).

We also know that in Ancient Rome January 1st was beginning of the year, even before Julius Ceaser came along (With the 10 month calendrical system March was beginning of the year in Ancient Rome. Then it was changed to a 12 month calendar and January and Feb were introduced. According to Roman tradition Numa 715–673 BCE revised the calendar so that January replaced March as first month). The question is why and when was it changed back to March? The widespread assumption is (see here, here and here) that it was abolished in 567 AD by the Council of Tours, because it was considered pagan and un-christian like to celebrate January 1st as the beginning of the new year. I checked on wikipedia and wasn't able to verify that claim, which made me doubt its veracity. So what are the sources that it was abolished by the council of Tours, or is it just an uncorroborated theory?

Update: I just saw now here that some believe that March 25 was fixed in 1155 AD, and if the answer is correct, it is just an approximation based on Bond's Handy book. So again there seems to be no evidence that the Council of Tours had anything to do with this. So what's the source of this claim then? More importantly, what is the real reason Christians reverted back to March as first month, and not January as that date had already been fixed as the first month of the Julian calendar for hundreds of years?

  • 1
    January 1 was when the Consuls after who the year was designated were inaugurated but March was the start of the year for most purposes from the earliest days. It's important to remember that the Romans were much less tidy than us in many ways. I fear from the way you are asking the question, you are reading history with too-modern eyes. (See timeanddate.com/calendar/roman-calendar.html for some interesting details.)
    – Mark Olson
    Dec 27, 2022 at 20:43
  • @MarkOlson where did you see that March was the beginning of year for most purposes? From what I read, pretty much since January was introduced into the calendar (it used to be a 10 month calendar) it was the beginning of the year. March was only introduced much later by Christians. Also keep in mind that every ancient civilization had a calendar, and a specific month from whence the year started, surely the Romans had one too, I don't think the basic assumption is unfounded.
    – Bach
    Dec 27, 2022 at 20:52
  • 2
    @MarkOlson is correct, ancient civilisations did not have one single calendar or one singular way of reckoning the start of years, and the Romans in particular were remarkably untidy with both. For much of the old republic Roman consuls entered office on March 1 and thus the consular year began then. Across the Roman history, the beginning of the year were variously reckoned as 1 March (Romulan), 21 April (AUC), 29/30 August (Alexandrian), 23 September (Augustus' birthday), or 1 September (Byzantine), even after the adoption of the Julian calendar.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 28, 2022 at 5:58
  • 1
    @Bach As far as I know Prostestants were a minority in Europe in 1582 and so the Catholics who accepeted the Ggregorian Calendar were the majority west of Eastern Orthodox lands. Thus January 1 New Year became widespread long before 1752 (aA date which seems to reveal a british bias). Furthermore, some countries adopted January 1 as the new year before 1582, starting with the (very) Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the14th century, I think.
    – MAGolding
    Dec 28, 2022 at 15:31
  • @Semaphore actually Mark agrees that the consular year started on January 1st. According to Roman historian Livy the start of the consular year changed from March to January in 153 BC.
    – Bach
    Dec 28, 2022 at 15:47

1 Answer 1


Part One: It is Partially Confirmed.

I Found the 22nd canon of the Council of Tours of 567:

  1. Some still hold fast the old error, that they should honour the 1st of January. Others, on the festival of the See of Peter, present meat offerings to the dead, and partake of meats which have been offered to demons. Others reverence certain rocks, or trees, or fountains, etc. The priests should root out these heathenish superstitions.


I don't know if the "old error" of "honoring" the 1st of January means using it as the beginning of the year.

I also don't now how binding, if any, the 22nd canon of the Council of Tours in 567 was on Catholics outside of Gaul or for how long. I don't know how influential it was in the process of adopting Christian Holy days as the beginning of the year, even when those holy days were inside a month and resulted in splitting that month between two calendar years.

I suspect that a site about church history might have more information on the subject.

Part Two: Corrections to the Original Question.

The original question has inaccurate data about the history of the dates used for the beginning of the year in Europe.

it wasn't until the reforms in 1752 that January 1st as New Year's day became widespread (i.e., the protestants didn't accept Pope Gregory's calendar until then. That is why George Washington had two different birthdays).

The Roman Republic used different dates to start the one year terms of the Consuls. In 153 BC the consuls began their term on January 1, which remained the date for many centuries into the era of the empire.

January 1 was the start of the year in the Julian Calendar adopted in 45 BC. There were many local calendars used in the Roman Empire, and even when localities adopted the Julian calendar, they sometimes used different days as the start of the year. They also used various calendar eras to count the years from.

The Roman calendar began the year on 1 January, and this remained the start of the year after the Julian reform. However, even after local calendars were aligned to the Julian calendar, they started the new year on different dates. The Alexandrian calendar in Egypt started on 29 August (30 August after an Alexandrian leap year). Several local provincial calendars were aligned to start on the birthday of Augustus, 23 September. The indiction caused the Byzantine year, which used the Julian calendar, to begin on 1 September; this date is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church for the beginning of the liturgical year. When the Julian calendar was adopted in AD 988 by Vladimir I of Kiev, the year was numbered Anno Mundi 6496, beginning on 1 March, six months after the start of the Byzantine Anno Mundi year with the same number. In 1492 (AM 7000), Ivan III, according to church tradition, realigned the start of the year to 1 September, so that AM 7000 only lasted for six months in Russia, from 1 March to 31 August 1492.[84]

During the Middle Ages 1 January retained the name New Year's Day (or an equivalent name) in all western European countries (affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church), since the medieval calendar continued to display the months from January to December (in twelve columns containing 28 to 31 days each), just as the Romans had. However, most of those countries began their numbered year on 25 December (the Nativity of Jesus), 25 March (the Incarnation of Jesus), or even Easter, as in France (see the Liturgical year article for more details).


So far today I have been unable to find a source saying that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania adopted January 1 as the beginning of the year in 1362.

Most western European countries shifted the first day of their numbered year to 1 January while they were still using the Julian calendar, before they adopted the Gregorian calendar, many during the 16th century. The following table shows the years in which various countries adopted 1 January as the start of the year. Eastern European countries, with populations showing allegiance to the Orthodox Church, began the year on 1 September from about 988. The Rumi calendar used in the Ottoman Empire began the civil year on 1 March until 1918.


The table shows that during the 16th century there was a movement for some reason to make January 1 the beginning of the year. The table lists 10 states which adopted January 1 as the beginning of the year before the Gregorian calendar of 1582, starting with the Holy Roman Empire in 1544.

So the majority of Catholic and Protestant Europeans adopted January 1 as the beginning of the year before Great Britain did so in 1752, and the majority of Roman Catholic Europeans did so before the Gregorian Calendar was started in 1582.

  • 1
    +1. Thanks for your answer. From the 22nd canon it's clearly demonstrated that January 1st (as New Year) was considered paganistic and superstitious (probably bacause it was associated with the Roman god Janus). That's probably part of the reason January 1st was abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire, and other days with more religious significance took its place (March 25, or December 25, etc.). What remains to be explained is why in the fifteenth century January 1st was revived again. It's really fascinating.
    – Bach
    Dec 28, 2022 at 21:06
  • I'd be careful over-reading Canon 22. All it says is some "honour the 1st of January" and follows that by "Others on the festival of the See of Peter [June 29], present meat offerings to the dead, and partake of meats which have been offered to demons." The canon is condemning certain pagan practices, but I see nothing in what is written to say that it was the start of the year on that date which was being condemned. It was probably pagan rites which were conducted then. (Or maybe not. We need more data!)
    – Mark Olson
    Dec 29, 2022 at 1:19
  • @MarkOlson It clearly says "honour the 1st". It's referring to people who honor the day, like "honoring the Sabbath". It's not condemning a specific practice, but the idea that the day is celebrated at all. I don't see how else you would read this?! You're right that it doesn't say anything about New Year. But I would think this is most likely a reference to a New Year's celebration of some sort, since we know in Rome it was celebrated as such. If it was talking about a specific practice, or sacrifice to the gods (Janus perhaps?), we would expect it to be more specific.
    – Bach
    Dec 29, 2022 at 2:41
  • @Bach You may be right, but you're guessing based on an English translation -- who knows what nuances were lost and what was implicit and understood by the Council members? -- of a 7th century technical document. I decline to guess. I admit my ignorance and hope that someone with deeper knowledge than me may help us understand what the Council was saying.
    – Mark Olson
    Dec 29, 2022 at 14:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.