Sundays were born 1,700 years ago (as we know them)

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Sundays were born 1,700 years ago (as we know them)




It was Emperor Constantine the Great who took the first official step to make Sundays what they are.


© BBC
It was Emperor Constantine the Great who took the first official step to make Sundays what they are.


1,700 ago, Sundays began to be what they are today in most countries of the world: a day of rest.

That is one of those data that, if you allow yourself to be carried away by curiosity, leads you to find out many other interesting questions.

Let’s start being exact: it all started on March 7, 321, that is, a millennium, seven centuries and a week ago.

A week that by then consisted of seven days. ¿Why precisely seven, not six, eight or even 10, like those of the ancient Egyptians or those of the French republican calendar that was used between 1792 and 1806?

Well, although it is a constant in almost all cultures, there is no good reason that justifies it; in fact, various thinkers throughout history have challenged that convention with philosophical, mathematical, and political arguments, but the seven-day week persists.

It is thought to have been conceived 4,000 years ago, when the Mesopotamians solved the problem of dividing the month into shorter periods.

Its duration was tied to the rotation of the Moon around the Earth, 29.5 days, so they simply rounded that number to 28 and divided it into four periods of seven days.

With that they established an artificial mathematical rhythm that made the organization of daily life more manageable: if you needed, for example, that the vendors go to the market eight times a month, you could set precise days that would be repeated regardless of the inaccuracies of nature.

The idea became particularly widespread after Babylonian culture became dominant around the 6th century BC.

Why Tuesday after Monday?

Centuries later, the Romans they named the days in honor of their gods and they organized them according to an elaborate system of planetary hours according to which each hour of the day was governed by a deity.

The one who ruled the first hour of a day gave him her name. It sounds tangled but the result will be extremely familiar:

  1. Dies Solaris / day of the Sun;
  2. Dies lunae / day of the Moon;
  3. Dies Martis / day of Mars;
  4. Wednesday / day of Mercury;
  5. Dies Jovis / Jupiter day;
  6. Dies Veneris / day of Venus;
  7. Dies Saturni / day of Saturn.



The gods of the seven days of the week, mosaic in the House of the Planetarium, 117-138, Italica, Santiponce, Andalusia, Spain. Roman civilization, 2nd century.


© Getty Images
The gods of the seven days of the week, mosaic in the House of the Planetarium, 117-138, Italica, Santiponce, Andalusia, Spain. Roman civilization, 2nd century.


In most Latin-based languages, the names of the days of the week still reveal this connection with the classical planets: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday … Saturday and Sunday? Do not.

Although “Saturday” begins as Saturn, it comes from the Hebrew word Sabbath or rest.

“Domingo” also has religious roots, only with a relatively more recent cult.

A break

In addition to the week with all its named and organized days, the brilliant concept of the “day of rest” had also existed for millennia, and the first to adopt the structure of the seven-day week with one of rest were probably the Jews.

Only that day was Saturday.

But that March 7, 321, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great issued an edict declaring that Sunday had to be the day of rest:

On the venerable day of Sol what the magistrates and the people who reside in the cities rest, and that all the workshops close.

In the field, however, that people who are engaged in agriculture can freely and legally continue with their tasks because it often happens that another day is not suitable for sowing grain or planting vineyards; lest by neglecting the propitious moment for such operations the bounty of heaven is lostgives.


Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was the official sun god of the late Roman Empire and patron of soldiers. On December 25, AD 274, the Roman Emperor Aurelian made it an official religion along with traditional Roman cults.


© BBC
Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) was the official sun god of the late Roman Empire and patron of soldiers. On December 25, AD 274, the Roman Emperor Aurelian made it an official religion along with traditional Roman cults.


Like all successful politicians, Constantine was a master of ambiguity, and his edict struck a fine balance between religious principles and economic pragmatism.

Although today he is remembered as the first Christian emperor, he was also associated with the cult of the Undefeated Sun, which appeared even on his coins.

Choosing Sunday as a day of rest made a lot of sense politically.

Although it was nominally a working day, there were already Christians throughout the empire who dedicated Sunday to religious worship, although those who lived in Rome or Alexandria tended to prefer Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

More importantly, most non-Christians considered Sunday a special day as it was usually payday.

And perhaps also crucial was that It was the special day of the Undefeated Sun, an official cult in the Empire since 274 that was particularly attractive to the senatorial upper classes.

In fact, Constantine himself, while actively promoting the Christian Church, throughout his life recognized Sol Invictus as a god.

He was only baptized into the Christian faith on his deathbed and to this day the debate continues as to whether he was a true convert or took advantage of the Church as a unifying force.

Not all Christians welcomed the edict of Constantine and centuries later there were still groups that preferred the Sabbath.

So much so that in the Synod of Laodicea, which took place around 363-364 AD, it includes a canon – the 29th – which states that “Christians were not to Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but to work on that day, rather than honor it as the Lord’s Day; and, if you can then, rest as Christians. ”

Those who claimed to follow Christ and did not obey would be considered “anathema,” that is, they would be cursed, excluded, and rejected as members of the community.

With the change of celebration from Saturday to Sunday, a new term was adopted, “the Lord’s Day” or Dies Dominicus, hence the word “Sunday”.

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