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Months of the Year

We inherited our calendar from the Romans. Of course there have been changes over the centuries, but the ideas and structure have remained largely the same. In the original Roman calendar there were only 10 named months and two rather murkily defined months in the winter. The year then actually began in March, which is natural since this was when the flowers of spring and the renewal of agricultural activity began.

The months of the year came about as a way to mark time and break up the long seasons into manageable segments. The moon provided the time piece. A cycle of the moon was observable and regular. However, the moon had two aspects that would later cause problems for those who craved regularity and consistency over a long number of years. The problem is that the cycles of the moon are not an exact number of days and also do not evenly divide into a year. This meant there would be a lot of fiddling around with the calendar and its months over the centuries.

The first fiddler was Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (before the Republic), in about 700 B.C. he attempted to regularize the Roman calendar by defining the two bleak winter months, he called them Januarius, our January, and Februarius, our February. He also decided to change the beginning of the year from its ancient post in Marius, our March to January. Because the months were still not aligned quite right with the physical year, Numa also called for an Intercalaris which was an extra month in winter. This, however, proved to be impractical and a later calendar tinkerer Julius Caesar himself would delete it.

The calendar reforms of the first two Caesar's would last quite a long time. The numbers of days in April as well as many other months was changed, though May was left alone. June the month of the Queen of the Gods found herself increased to 30 days from 29. Julius Caesar decided that he himself warranted his own month so he named July after himself (through an act of the Roman Senate). His successor, Augustus had similar ideas of grandeur and named the subsequent month of August after himself (also via the sycophantic senate).

Yet the Romans retained the names for the remainder of the months as they had been designated, by the numbers. And so we have the subsequent months named for their position in the original calendar (which had been only ten months long, as you will remember) which began in March. So now because of the addition of January and February and January now the first month, the names of the last four months would forever be two months off from their designation. Thus we have September (sept is Latin for seven) as the ninth month of the calendar, October (oct equals eight) as the tenth month, November (nov = 9) is the eleventh month, and December (dec = 10) is the twelfth month.

Because the Julian Calendar was still not quite aligned with the Earth's revolution around the sun, Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 changed the calendar yet again. Readjusting the date and adding the leap year to the calendar. This proved accurate within a couple of seconds. And though it took several hundred years it was finally adopted in most of the Western world.

Next Page: Month of January

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