Week | Origin, History, & Facts (2024)

week, period of seven days, a unit of time artificially devised with no astronomical basis. The week’s origin is generally associated with the ancient Jews and the biblical account of the Creation, according to which God laboured for six days and rested on the seventh. Evidence indicates, however, that the Jews may have borrowed the idea of the week from Mesopotamia, for the Sumerians and the Babylonians divided the year into weeks of seven days each, one of which they designated a day of recreation.

The Babylonians named each of the days after one of the five planetary bodies known to them (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) and after the Sun and the Moon, a custom later adopted by the Romans. For centuries the Romans used a period of eight days in civil practice, but in 321 CE Emperor Constantine established the seven-day week in the Roman calendar and designated Sunday as the first day of the week. Subsequent days bore the names Moon’s-day, Mars’s-day, Mercury’s-day, Jupiter’s-day, Venus’s-day, and Saturn’s-day. Constantine, a convert to Christianity, decreed that Sunday should be a day of rest and worship.

Week | Origin, History, & Facts (1)

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The days assigned by the Romans to the Sun, Moon, and Saturn were retained for the corresponding days of the week in English (Sunday, Monday, and Saturday) and several related languages. The Roman names for the other days of the week were retained in Romance languages. (For example, Friday, Venus’s-day is viernes in Spanish and vendredi in French.) The other weekday names in English are derived from Anglo-Saxon words for the gods of Teutonic mythology. Tuesday comes from Tiu, or Tiw, the Anglo-Saxon name for Tyr, the Norse god of war. Tyr was one of the sons of Odin, or Woden, the supreme deity after whom Wednesday was named. Similarly, Thursday originates from Thor’s-day, named in honour of Thor, the god of thunder. Friday was derived from Frigg’s-day, Frigg, the wife of Odin, representing love and beauty, in Norse mythology.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Erik Gregersen.

Week | Origin, History, & Facts (2024)

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Week | Origin, History, & Facts? ›

week, period of seven days, a unit of time artificially devised with no astronomical basis. The week's origin is generally associated with the ancient Jews and the biblical account of the Creation, according to which God laboured for six days and rested on the seventh.

How did the week originate? ›

The 7 days of the week were originally created by the Babylonians. The Babylonians divided the 28-day lunar cycle into four weeks, each consisting of seven days. The number seven was significant as it represented the seven major celestial bodies that had been observed by the Babylonians.

What is the origin of the word week days? ›

Sunday and Monday are named after the celestrial bodies, Sun and Moon, but the other days are named after Norse gods; Tyrs's day, (W)odin's day, Thor's day and Frigg's day. Saturday does not follow the same pattern, and the name actually means 'hot water day', which can be translated as 'washing day' or 'bathing day'.

What is historically the first day of the week? ›

The Gregorian calendar, currently used in most countries, is derived from the Hebrew calendar, where Sunday is considered the beginning of the week. Although in Judaism the Sabbath is on Saturday, while in Christianity it is on Sunday, Sunday is considered the beginning of the week in both religious traditions.

What is the history of one week? ›

In 321 CE, Emperor Constantine the Great officially decreed a seven-day week in the Roman Empire, including making Sunday a public holiday. This later spread across Europe, then the rest of the world. In English, the names of the days of the week are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Why is Monday called Monday? ›

How Monday got its name. The English name for Monday comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Mōnandæg, which loosely means “the moon's day.” Mōna is the word for moon in Old English. The second day of the week has been classified as the moon's day since Babylonian times.

Why is Thursday called Thursday? ›

It was named after the Norse god Thor. Thunor, Donar (German, Donnerstag) and Thor are derived from the name of the Germanic god of thunder, Thunraz, equivalent to Jupiter in the interpretatio romana. In most Romance languages, the day is named after the Roman god Jupiter, who was the god of sky and thunder.

Why is Tuesday called Tuesday? ›

The English name is derived from Middle English Tewesday, from Old English Tiwesdæg meaning "Tīw's Day", the day of Tiw or Týr, the god of single combat, law, and justice in Norse mythology. Tiw was equated with Mars in the interpretatio germanica, and the name of the day is a translation of Latin dies Martis.

Why is Friday called Friday? ›

The name Friday comes from the Old English frīġedæġ, meaning the "day of Frig", a result of an old convention associating the Nordic goddess Frigg with the Roman goddess Venus, with whom the day is associated in many cultures.

Did God name the days of the week? ›

The days of the week are named after the sun, the moon, and a collection of Norse and Roman gods. Each week has seven days because ancient Babylonians thought there were seven planets in the sky, with each one controlling a different day of the week here on earth.

Who invented the weeks and months? ›

The earliest calendars date back to the Bronze Age with civilisations in the near east region, such as the Babylonians and Persians, being among the first to record time by using natural cycles including days, lunar cycles (months), and solar cycles (years).

Who started counting time? ›

From the observation of the stars, the Egyptians have been the first to count annual periods and also the pioneers in creating 12 subdivisions of time based on seasons.

When were days and months invented? ›

The first historically attested and formulized calendars date to the Bronze Age, dependent on the development of writing in the ancient Near East. In 2000 AD, Victoria, Australia, a Wurdi Youang stone arrangement could date back more than 11,000 years.

How did Wednesday become a day of the week? ›

Tyr was one of the sons of Odin, or Woden, the supreme deity after whom Wednesday was named. Similarly, Thursday originates from Thor's-day, named in honour of Thor, the god of thunder. Friday was derived from Frigg's-day, Frigg, the wife of Odin, representing love and beauty, in Norse mythology.

What god is Wednesday named after? ›

In fact, the name Wednesday actually derives from two mighty but distinct gods. The Old English word for Wednesday indicates that the day was named for the Germanic god Woden. In Romance languages, the name is derived from the Roman god Mercury. (For example, Wednesday is mercredi in French and miercuri in Romanian.)

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