September 01, 2015

1715: Bruce's Calendar

On September 17, 1715, in Moscow’s Sukharev Tower, home to the School of Mathematics and Navigation, an unusual book was put on public display: a calendar.

Three men, true children of the Petrine era, had devoted six years of their lives to developing it. The main force behind this compilation was James (Yakov) Bruce, the scion of a prominent Scottish family who was born in Moscow’s German Quarter (Немецкая слобода), where the future Peter the Great was first acquainted with European life and customs. A scholar, military leader, and naturalist, Bruce was thought by many in Moscow to be a sorcerer. His collaborators were the mathematician and geographer Vasily Kupriyanov, who was the Navigation School’s librarian, and Alexei Rostovtsev, an engraver.

What they created was not a calendar in the modern sense of the word. It was more like an almanac that contained a huge quantity of information of the sort that would have been useful and interesting to people in the eighteenth century. In addition to the days of the week, it offered a schedule for the rising and setting of the sun, weather forecasts and patterns, recipes, and much more. The first calendars, which were illustrated, and sprinkled with clever lines of verse, were engraved into 20 copper plates. This fabulous innovation was printed and presented to Muscovites, who by now were certain that Bruce was a sorcerer and that the Sukharev Tower, where he and his friends colluded, was a hotbed of black magic.

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