Time’s Truth

The year ended a couple of days ago. We completed a circle (factually an ellipse) around the sun in 365 days. The year 2020 will take 366 days for the same ellipse. Since we’re already brooding about time, let’s not forget the smaller divisions. They are even more intriguing. 60 seconds in a minute! It could have been 100! Why is it 24 hours and not 25?



So this time Feeds asks, “Why is the current time system, (i.e. 60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours, 7 days, 12 months) decided as such?

1. The reason behind the seconds, minutes and hours

Our super old Sumerian friends used numbers using base 12 (duodecimal) and base 60 (sexigesimal). Here’s an example to clarify the ‘base’ concept, ‘Imagine basic addition, you carry over the digits when the sum is equal to or more than 10. Change that 10 to 12. That’s how it works’. It is unclear as to why they chose this system, but here are a few theories:

  • Observed the three lines on your fingers? Count the total lines on all but the thumb. You get 12. It is hypothesized that 60 arose from using five fingers of one hand with the 12 segments of the other.
  • The Egyptians had a fetish for 12 too. For example, it was the number of lunar cycles in a year and the number of constellations in the Zodiac. Day and night were each divided into 12 periods, and voila! The 24 hour day was born.
  • Remember your old factors and multiples? The numbers 12, 24 and 60 have bazillion factors (2,3,4,6 etc.), which makes it easy to be divided in parts. That is why a circle is divided into 360 parts for each degree. In contrast to 12, the more obvious choice as per modern standards i.e. 10 has barely any factors. You’ll end up being frustrated in keeping score of time in decimals, when you wish to, say be gone for ‘a third’ of a day, or an hour.


2. The reason for the number of days in a week

Ancient Babylonians, ring any bells? That wizkid in your class compared to you! Well that’s how smart they were in comparison to the then world. They developed a horoscope around 500 BC where each day of the week was assigned to one of the classical celestial bodies visible to the naked eye. These mystical bodies were the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.

Seven is also important in Judaism, where folks believe the man above took seven days to finish creation.

However, a few hundred years later, it was the Romans who (history just wouldn’t let the gods alone) named the days after their (you guessed right) pagan gods.


3. The reason for the 12 months in a year

The original calendar by Roman king Romulus consisted of 10 months. Imagine celebrating Christmas in winters this year, in spring next year and in summers after that. That was what the poor Romans had to go through.

The second mindful Roman king, Pompilius, added two months at the end of the calendar to account for the missing days. He also introduced an intercalary month that occurred in certain years. This calendar too was unstable because the seasons and calendars did not match. Finally, Julius Caesar asserted his greatness ‘yet again’ and altered the calendar to make it as we have today. (Personal opinion: Brutus! you sucked big time)


All the various reasons derived their origins over different time periods, different parts of the world and with different mindsets. But, to come to think of it, time ruled us all. The least we did was to be ruled over in our own terms.

Shiwang Singh

Weird is my middle name. WiaN the pseudonym. Sometimes overdramatic, sometimes the one with bad humour. What lies within, take a guess.

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