Names of the Months
The months are the division of the solar year in twelve periods. According to Hesiod, the Greeks divided the year in twelve months with a great variety of names among the different city-states of ancient Greece. After the prevalence of the Roman Empire, a unified calendar was established and thus the names of the months – with slight changes, as for instance the duration of each month that has changes many times up to date (for instance August had previously 30 days until the time of Augustus Caesar where it became 31 days long etc).
According to the tradition, the first Roman calendar was drawn by Romulus himself (founder of Rome, around 8th century BC). The Roman calendar was initially consisted by 10 months, starting from March and finishing in December, with an obvious blank period of around two months. Pompilius Nouma (second king of Rome, 715-673 BC) filled the blank winter period by adding two more months (January & February) in the Roman calendar and then, Tarquinius Priscus (fifth king of Rome, 616-597 BC) transferred the beginning of the year from March to January. In around 44 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar (Julian calendar) by issuing the duration of 365,25 days of the tropical year. The Roman Senate decided to name the fifth month (Quintilis = fifth) after him – Julius (July). In around 8 BC, Caesar Augustus continued Julius Caesars’ reform – he also gave his name – Augustus – to the sixth month (Sextilis) and removed one day from February adding it to August (total of 31 days), so «his» month would not have the less number of days compared to «Julius Caesar’s month». Finally in 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII issued the new calendar, accepting the most «exact» duration of the tropical year, meaning the duration of 365,2422 days.
January – Janus’ month
Roman “Januarius” was initially part of the two-month period during winter with no specific name, until the time of Tarquinius Priscus, who transferred the beginning of the year from March to January and named this month Januarius (January), after the Roman god Janus, protector of doors and god of all beginnings. This two-faced god (one face looking forward and the other backward) was, according to the myth, king of Latium. He accepted Saturnus (Greek Cronus) when he was expelled from Uranus and for his help Cronus granted him the gift of “double-knowledge”, meaning the knowledge of both the past and the future. Janus was a great god of the Roman pantheon – at times of war the doors of his temple were always wide open, indicating that the god went to war. The gates of his temple were closing in times of peace, when the god had returned to the city, having conserved its safety.
February – purification month (Februa)
Roman “Februarius” was named after “Februa”, the Roman festival of purification and forgiveness for sins, which was held on February 15th (the word derives from the latin verb februare = to purify). During this festival people and houses were cleansed and thus prepared for the entrance of the spring and the awakening of nature.
It has to be mentioned here that Pompilius Nouma issued also another month between February and March, which was called mensis Intercalaris (= inter + calendar month) or Mercedonius. The Romans were adding this month in leap years (every two or three years, when it was needed) at the end of February, in order to length the year and ensure the best possible correspondence of the months with the seasons. This month was abolished by Julius Caesar, by accepting the duration of 365,25 days of the tropical year and changing the duration of most months.
March – Mars’ month
Roman “Martius”, initially the first month of the year, was named (by Romulus himself, according to Plutarch) after Mars (Greek Ares), Roman god of war and father – by Rea Silvia – of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. Mars was not only the god of war, but also god of vegetation and growth, a characteristic that doesn’t appear in the Greek god Ares and it is probably given to him by his connection to the god Quirinus, ancient war god of the Savini. Mars is the equivalent of the Greek god of war, Ares, son of Zeus (Jupiter) and Hera (Juno). The month Martius (March)
was named in his honor because it is the first month of spring, when all nature is blooming, but also because the warfare that was ceased during winter started again in March, so this month signified the beginning or the continuance of an expedition or war.
April – Aphrodite’s month
Roman “Aprilius”, second month of the initial Roman year, was dedicated to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the Roman Venus, by paraphrasing aphro- to apro-. Aphrodite (Roman Venus) was the mother of Aeneas, by Anchises, hero of the Trozian war and father of Iulus (Askanius) and ancestor of Remus and Romulus. Julius Caesar, who was claiming that his family, the Julii, were deriving directly from Iulus, son of Aeneas, established the worship of the goddess in Rome. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, but also of fertility, harmony in marital relations and protectress of birth. She was born through the foams when the blood of castrated Uranus fell in the sea.
According to others, the name derives from the latin verb aperire, which means to open and it is connected with the blooming of the flowers in spring.
May – Maia’s month
“Maius” was dedicated to Maia, goddess of spring and growth, daughter of the Titan Atlas and mother of the god Hermes (Mercury) by Zeus (Jupiter).
June – Juno’s month
“Junius” was dedicated to the goddess Juno (Greek Hera), wife of Jupiter (Zeus) and queen of the Gods. Hera, daughter of the Titans Saturnus (Cronus) and Rea, was sister and wife of Jupiter (Zeus), queen of the gods. Juno was worshiped as goddess of marriage and protectress of women and the couples’ fertility and birth. Along with Jupiter (Zeus) and Minerva (Athena) they constitute the Trinity of the Capitoline, that protects the Roman State.
July – Julius Caesar’s month
“Julius” was named from the Roman Senate after Julius Caesar, as above mentioned. July was previously called Quintilis, which means “fifth”, as July was the fifth month of the early Roman calendar.
August – Augustus Caesar’s month
“Augustus” was named after Augustus Caesar, as above mentioned. Initially it was called Sextilis, which means sixth in latin, as August was the sixth month after March.
September – the seventh month
“September” took its name by septem, the latin word for number seven, as it was the seventh month of the early Roman calendar.
October – the eighth month
“October” took its name by octo, the latin word for number eight, as it was the eighth month of the early Roman calendar.
November – the ninth month
“November” took its name by nove, the latin word for number nine, as it was the ninth month of the early Roman calendar.
December – the tenth month
“December” took its name by decern, the latin word for number ten, as it was the tenth month of the early Roman calendar.
Posted by Mina Jones
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