History History of The Name of The Roman Months

History of The Name of The Roman Months

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We divide the time into several units, month is one of them which has been used for thousands of years. We always use their names, but do we know where these names came from? Let’s look carefully.

Detail from the ‘Kalendar of Johannes de Gamundia’. Woodcut, 1465–1475.

January

Jacobus Harrewyn (1660/1–1732/40)

Traditionally, the original Roman calendar consisted of 10 months totaling 304 days, winter being considered a month-less period. January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a month-less period. They were added by Numa Pompilius about 713 BC. January is named after the Roman god Janus. As you can see in this picture, he had two faces so that he could see the future and the past! Janus was also the god of doors.

According to Theodor Mommsen, 1 January became the first day of the year in 600 AUC of the Roman calendar (153 BC), due to disasters in the Lusitanian War.

February

John Samuel Agar (1773–1858), Februa in a shell, pulled by Pisces, represented by two fish. After Edward Francis Burney, from a series of the months. Stipple and etching, 1807.

February is named after an ancient Roman festival of purification called Februa held on February 15 (full moon) in the old lunar Roman calendar. February remained the last month of the calendar year until the time of the decemvirs (c. 450 BC), when it became the second month. At certain times February was truncated to 23 or 24 days, and a 27-day intercalary month, Intercalaris, was occasionally inserted immediately after February to realign the year with the seasons.

Having only 28 days in common years, February is the only month of the year that can pass without a single full moon.

March

Mars Ultor (by Mark Cartwright, CC BY-NC-SA)

The name of March comes from Martius, the first month of the earliest Roman calendar. March is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. The Roman calendar originally began in March, and the months of January and February were later added after the calendar reform.

April

Antoine Jules Pelletier (fl. c. 1848), A vase of flowers on a marble table. Watercolour, strengthened with gum, c. 1848.

The name April is derived from the Latin word appier, meaning ‘to open’ (the way flowers do in spring!). A flower donation is a beautifully detailed watercolor drawing of flowers by French artist Antony Jules Pelletier. Roman called the month Aprilis.

May

Christian Bernhard Rode (1725–1797), Allegorical representation of the month of May. The twins Castor (resting on a cloud) and Pollux (with a spear and shield) are watching a shepherdess. Etching, 1791

May is named after the Greek goddess Maia. This picture is a morphological representation of the month of May. The cast includes twin castors and polx as the Gemini sign begins in May.

June

Giulio Bonasone (1500/10–1574), The Triumph of Juno from the series Loves, Rages and Jealousies of Juno. Engraving, 1531–1576.

June is named after the Roman goddess Juno – the god of marriage and childbirth and the wife of Jupiter, the king of the gods. Here he was seated in a chariot.

July and August

Left: Marble head from a statue, probably of Julius Caesar. Roman, from the Sanctuary of Athena Polias at Priene, c. 50 BC. Right: Bronze head of the Roman emperor Augustus. From Meroë, Sudan, c. 27–25 BC.

July and August were named after two prominent figures of the ancient Roman world – Statesman Julius Caesar (above left, slightly damaged!) And Rome’s first emperor, Augustus.

September, October, November and December

September, October, November and December are named after the Roman numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10 – they were originally the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months of the Roman year! July and August were renamed after the Roman rulers, they were called Quintilis and Sextilis, meaning the fifth and sixth months.

Thomas Bewick (1753–1828), The moon in a design for a Half-Moon Tavern. Wood engraving, c. 1773.

So now you know where the names of the months have come from. Here is another fact – the word “month” is related to the moon itself. Initially it was measured how long it takes the Moon to complete one round of the Earth, so “Moon” and “month” come from the same origin.

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