12.1.17 What the Hail?

And so we come to the 12th month of the year. Which is named after the number 10…

In ancient Rome, the year was originally laid out as 10 months stretching from early spring to the winter solstice.The first 4 months were named after gods (Mars, Aphrodite, Maia and Juno) and the rest were just numbered from 5 to 10 (Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, December). After that, there was an unnamed winter period when most agriculture was idle, before starting all over again with Mars’ month.

Around 700 BC, the winter period was redefined as two new months, named for Janus, the god of new beginnings, and for Februa, the Roman festival of purification which took place at that time. But this still left about 10 undefined days before the year started again in Mars.

In 46 BC, Julius Caesar – being vain – wanted to create the world’s best calendar. So he divvied up those 10 undefined days across the 12-month calendar, and added a Leap Day every four years to keep things in sync with a solar year. In addition, Caeser –  being ambitious and impatient – moved the official beginning of the year to Janus 1st, the day the Senate took office. And this resulted in a calendar with the first 6 months named for something, and the last 6 months just keeping their old number-names, which were now all “off” by 2.

Quintilis and Sextilis got fixed after Julius Caesar died. He was succeeded by his adopted great-nephew, Augustus Caesar. Augustus declared his great-uncle a god, and renamed the month of Quintilis as July, in honor of Julius’ birthday in that month. Augustus Caesar proved to be an excellent leader, so after his death, he too was declared a god and the month of Sextilis was renamed August.

Lots of subsequent emperors tried to rename one or more of the last four months in their own honor. (Emperor Commodus tried to rename ALL twelve months in honor of himself, but he was an idiot, so nobody listened.) But in the end, none of these subsequent fixes stuck. Only the Caesars proved important enough to retain their permanent status of “Emperor of the Month.”

Which left the last four months of the year with numerically nonsensical nomenclature.

And for the last 2000 years, we’ve all been happy to just go along with it.

Welcome to December. Hail, stupidity!  Hail, acquiescence!

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