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Calendarium cracoviense, an almanac for the year 1474

An almanac (also spelled almanack and almanach) is an annual publication that includes information such as weather forecasts, farmers' planting dates, tide tables, and tabular information often arranged according to the calendar. Astronomical data and various statistics are found in almanacs, such as the times of the rising and setting of the sun and moon, eclipses, hours of full tide, church festivals, and so on.


The etymology of the word is unclear, but there are several theories:

  • It is suggested the word almanac derives from a Greek word meaning calendar. However, that word appears only once in antiquity, by Eusebius who quotes Porphyry as to the Coptic Egyptian use of astrological charts ("almenichiaká"). The earliest almanacs were calendars that included agricultural, astronomical, or meteorological data. But it is highly unlikely Roger Bacon received the word from this etymology: "Notwithstanding the suggestive sound and use of this word (of which however the real form is very uncertain), the difficulties of connecting it historically either with the Spanish Arabic manākh, or with med.L. almanach without Arabic intermediation, seem insurmountable."[1]
  • One suggestion is that alamanac was originally an Arabic word, al-manākh, meaning the climate, this refers to the natural change in weather. In the modern sense too an almanac, or almanakh, is the average weather forecast for a certain period of time that is characterized by relatively stable weather conditions covering a specific area, also called climate.
  • However, the earliest documented use of the word in any language is in Latin in 1267 by Roger Bacon, where it meant a set of tables detailing movements of heavenly bodies including the moon.
  • One etymology report says: "The ultimate source of the word is obscure. Its first syllable, al-, and its general relevance to medieval science and technology, strongly suggest an Arabic origin, but no convincing candidate has been found."[2]
  • Another report similarly says of Almanac: "First seen in Roger Bacon. Apparently from Spanish Arabic, al-manakh, but this is not an Arabic word [interpret: this is not a word found in Arabic texts]....The word remains a puzzle."[3]
  • The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles similarly says "the word has no etymon in Arabic" but indirect circumstantial evidence "points to a Spanish Arabic al-manākh".[4]
  • Aaron Rubin has proposed a theory wherein almanac derives from the Spanish word, 'alma', meaning the soul, which descended from the Latin word, 'anima'. The derivation of almanac from alma is a product of early medieval worldviews that held the celestial bodies to be the divine sources of the vital breath that engendered mortal life.

The reason why the proposed Arabic word is speculatively spelled al-manākh is that the spelling occurred as "almanach" as well as almanac (and Roger Bacon used both spellings). The earliest use of the word was in the context of astronomy calendars.

The prestige of the Tables of Toledo and other medieval Arabic astronomy works at the time of the word's emergence in the West, together with the absence of the word in Arabic, suggest it may have been invented in the West, and is pseudo-Arabic. At that time in the West, it would have been prestigious to attach an Arabic appellation to a set of astronomical tables. Also around that time, prompted by that motive, the Latin writer Pseudo-Geber wrote under an Arabic pseudonym. (The later alchemy word alkahest is known to be pseudo-Arabic.)

Early almanacs

An almanac is text listing a set of events forthcoming in the next year. A calendar, which is a system for time keeping, in written form is usually produced as a most simple almanac: it includes additional information about the day of the week on which a particular day falls, major holidays, the phases of the moon etc. The set of events noted in an almanac are selected in view of a more or less specific group of readers e.g. farmers, sailors, astronomers or others.

Hemerologies and parapegmata

The earlier texts considered to be almanacs have been found in the Near east, dating back to the middle of the second millennium BCE. They have been called generally hemerologies, from the Greek hēmerā, meaning 'day'. Among them is the so-called Babylonian Almanac, which lists favorable and unfavorable days with advice on what to do on each of them. Successive variants and versions aimed at different readership have been found.[5] Egyptians lists for good and bad moments, three times each day, have also been found. Many of these prognostics were connected with celestial events.[6][7] [8] The flooding of the Nile valley, a most important event in ancient Egypt, was expected to occur at the summer solstice but as the civil calendar had exactly 365 days, over the centuries the date was drifting in the calendar.[9] The first heliacal rising of Sirius was used for its prediction and this practice, the observation of some star and its connecting to some event apparently spread.

The Greek almanac, known as parapegma, has existed in the form an inscribed stone on which the days of the month were indicated by movable pegs inserted into bored holes, hence the name. There were also written texts and according to Diogenes Laërtius, Parapegma was the title of a book by Democritus.[10] Ptolemy, the Alexandrian astronomer (2nd century) wrote a treatise, Phaseis—"phases of fixed stars and collection of weather-changes" is the translation of its full title—the core of which is a parapegma, a list of dates of seasonally regular weather changes, first appearances and last appearances of stars or constellations at sunrise or sunset, and solar events such as solstices, all organized according to the solar year. With the astronomical computations were expected weather phenomena, composed as a digest of observations made by various authorities of the past. Parapegmata had been composed for centuries.

Ptolemy believed that astronomical phenomena caused the changes in seasonal weather; his explanation of why there was not an exact correlation of these events was that the physical influences of other heavenly bodies also came into play. Hence for him, weather prediction was a special division of astrology.[11]

Ephemerides, zijs and tables

The origins of the almanac can be connected to ancient Babylonian astronomy, when tables of planetary periods were produced in order to predict lunar and planetary phenomena.[12] Similar treatises called Zij were later composed in medieval Islamic astronomy. The modern almanac differs from Babylonian, Ptolemaic and Zij tables in the sense that "the entries found in the almanacs give directly the positions of the celestial bodies and need no further computation", in contrast to the more common "auxiliary astronomical tables" based on Ptolemy's Almagest. The earliest known almanac in this modern sense is the Almanac of Azarqueil written in 1088 by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī (Latinized as Arzachel) in Toledo, al-Andalus. The work provided the true daily positions of the sun, moon and planets for four years from 1088 to 1092, as well as many other related tables. A Latin translation and adaptation of the work appeared as the Tables of Toledo in the 12th century and the Alfonsine tables in the 13th century.[13][verification needed]

A page from the Almanac for the Hindu year 1871-72.

Medieval almanacs

After almanacs were devised, people still saw little difference between predicting the movements of the stars and tides, and predicting the future in the divination sense. Early almanacs therefore contained general horoscopes, as well as the more concrete information. In 1150 Solomon Jarchus created such an almanac considered to be among the first modern almanacs. Copies of 12th century almanacs are found in the British Museum, and in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1300, Petrus de Dacia created an almanac (Savilian Library, Oxford). This was the same year Roger Bacon, OFM, produced his as well. In 1327 Walter de Elvendene created an almanac and later on John Somers of Oxford, in 1380. In 1386 Nicholas de Lynne, Oxford produced an almanac. In 1457 the first printed almanac was published at Mainz, by Gutenberg (eight years before the famous Bible). Regio-Montanus produced an almanac in 1472 (Nuremberg, 1472), which was continued in print for several centuries in many editions. In 1497 the Sheapheard’s Kalendar, translated from French (Richard Pynson) became the first English printed almanac.

Early modern almanacs

By the second half of the 16th century, yearly almanacs were being produced in England by men such as Anthony Askham, Thomas Buckminster, John Dade and Gabriel Frende. In the 17th century, English almanacs were bestsellers, second only to the Bible; by the middle of the century, 400,000 almanacs were being produced annually (a complete listing can be found in the English Short Title Catalogue). Until its deregulation in 1775, the Stationers' Company maintained a lucrative monopoly over almanac publication in England.[14] Richard Allestree (who is not the same as this Richard Allestree) wrote one of the more popular English almanacs, producing yearly volumes from 1617 to 1643, but his is by no means the earliest or the longest-running almanac.

In British America, William Pierce of Harvard College published the first American almanac entitled, An Almanac for New England for the year 1639 Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard became the first center for the annual publication of almanacs with various editors including Samuel Danforth, Oakes, Cheever, Chauncey, Dudley, Foster, et alia. An almanac maker going under the pseudonym of Poor Richard, Knight of the Burnt Island began to publish Poor Robin's Almanack one of the first comic almanacs that parodied these horoscopes in its 1664 issue, saying "This month we may expect to hear of the Death of some Man, Woman, or Child, either in Kent or Christendom." Other noteworthy comic almanacs include those published from 1687-1702 by John Tully of Saybrook, Connecticut.

The most important early American almanacs were made from 1726-1775 by Nathaniel Ames of Dedham, Massachusetts. A few years later James Franklin began publishing the Rhode-Island Almanack beginning in 1728. Five years later his brother Benjamin Franklin began publishing Poor Richard's Almanack from 1733-1758. Benjamin Banneker improved on the Almanac from 1792-1797.

Contemporary almanacs

Currently published almanacs such as Whitaker's Almanack have expanded their scope and contents beyond that of their historical counterparts. Modern almanacs include a comprehensive presentation of statistical and descriptive data covering the entire world. Contents also include discussions of topical developments and a summary of recent historical events. Other currently published almanacs (ca. 2006) include TIME Almanac with Information Please, World Almanac and Book of Facts, The Farmer's Almanac and The Old Farmer's Almanac and The Almanac for Farmers & City Folk. In 2007, Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine launched a Canadian Almanac, written in Canada, with all-Canadian content.

Major topics covered by almanacs (reflected by their tables of contents) include: geography, government, demographics, agriculture, economics and business, health and medicine, religion, mass media, transportation, science and technology, sport, and awards/prizes.

Other examples include The Almanac of American Politics published by Columbia Books & Information Services, The Almanac of American Literature, and The Almanac of British Politics.

From 1985 to 1990, approximately 53% of all almanac sales sold in the United States were sold through the "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1985)" computer game pack that included a complimentary World Almanac and Book of Facts.

GPS almanac

The GPS almanac, as part of the data transmitted by each GPS satellite, contains coarse orbit and status information for all satellites in the constellation, an ionospheric model, and information to relate GPS derived time to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Hence the GPS almanac provide a similar goal as the ancient Babylonian almanac, to find celestial bodies.

List of almanacs by country of publication


See also

Almanac calculators


  1. Quote from the Oxford English Dictionary
  2. Quote from the book "Word Origins" by John Ayto (2005).
  3. Quote from An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, by Ernest Weekley (1921).
  4. "Almanac" in New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (which has an extra "note as to the origin and history of the word almanac").
  5. Livingstone, A. (1998) "The use of magic in the Assyrian and Babylonian hemerologies and menolgies." Studi epigrafici e linguistici sul Vicino Oriente antico 15 (1998) 59.
  6. Porceddu, S., Jetsu, L., Lyytinen, J., Kajatkari, P., Lehtinen, J., Markkanen, T, Toivari-Viitala, J. (2008). "Evidence of Periodicity in Ancient Egyptian Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days". Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 18 (3): 327–339. doi:10.1017/S0959774308000395.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Jetsu, L., Porceddu, S., Lyytinen, J., Kajatkari, P., Lehtinen, J., Markkanen, T, Toivari-Viitala, J. (2013). "Did the Ancient Egyptians Record the Period of the Eclipsing Binary Algol - The Raging One?". The Astrophysical Journal. 773 (1): A1 (14pp). arXiv:1204.6206. Bibcode:2013ApJ...773....1J. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/773/1/1.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Jetsu, L.; Porceddu, S. (2015). "Shifting Milestones of Natural Sciences: The Ancient Egyptian Discovery of Algol's Period Confirmed". PLOS ONE. 10(12): e.0144140 (23pp). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144140.CS1 maint: display-authors (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. The new year coincides with the summer solstice once in 1441 years, which is known as the sothic period.
  10. Lehoux D., Parapegmata, Astrolgy, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World, (thesis), National Library of Canada, 2000; includes a list of surviving parapegmata (plural of 'parapegma') and bibliography
  11. "Ptolemy's Astronomical Works (other than the Almagest)". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-04-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Glick, Livesey & Wallis 2005, p. 29
  13. Glick, Livesey & Wallis 2005, p. 30
  14. Lyons, Martyn. (2011). Books: A living history. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications. pp. 123

Further reading

  • T.J. Tomlin, A Divinity for All Persuasions: Almanacs and Early American Religious Life. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2014.

External links