rōma  aeterna latīna ubīque

Latin Lives On…in our calendar.

              In early Rome, the passage of time was determined by the seasons of the agricultural year and the monthly cycles of the moon. Each month was divided into sections that coincided with three of the moon’s phases:   new, first-quarter, or full.  Each day of a Roman month was then referred to by terms that related it to one of the Latin names for these moon phases: Kalends, Nones or Ides.  

  Identifying the arrival of each moon phase was one of the most important duties of an early Roman priest (pontifex), who would  need to understand the night sky; when a thin lunar crescent was seen on the horizon, the priest would call out that the new moon had arrived and declare that the next month had started.  It is from the Latin verb  cal*are, meaning to make a religious proclamation, that the term kalends derived, and from that, our own English word “calendar”.

    The first formal Roman calendar is attributed to Romulus, the very founder of Rome itself in 753BC. Beginning in the spring,  in March, and ending in December with the autumn planting, the “Romulean” calendar lasted ten months (304 days);  six months had thirty days and four had thirty-one.  The winter months, when there was no agricultural work to be done,  were simply not counted. 

Calendar of Romulus

Martius (31 days)

Aprilis (30 days)

Maius (31 days)

Junius (30 days)

Quintilis (31 days)

Sextilis (30 days)

September (30 days)

October (31 days)

November (30 days)

December (30 days)

The remnants of Romulus’ first calendar still can be recognized in the ordinally numbered names of its final six months (fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, nineth, and tenth).  It was Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (715-673 BC), who divided the year into twelve lunar months.  He added fifty days  to the “Romulean” calendar and removed a day from each of its thirty-day months in order to create the two new winter months of  Januarius and Februarius, , both of which had twenty-eight days.

Calendar of Numa

This made a lunar year of 354 days but, because of superstitions about even numbers, the Romans added an extra day to January, making Numa’s calendar year 355 days long.

                     However, twelve lunar months are shorter than a solar year by about eleven days (365 vs 354/5). Without regularly inserting these missing days, a calendar cannot keep up with the astronomical year and its change of the seasons. Despite the Romans’  best efforts to insert missing days in an orderly fashion over several centuries, their calendar grew increasingly out of synch with nature.

                            By 46 BC, when Julius Caesar finally returned to Rome from his Egyptian campaign and was declared dictator, a three-month discrepancy existed between the real seasons and their supposed calendar date; harvest festivals were being celebrated long before the crops had been taken in. As a result of this confusion, Caesar proposed a new calendar based on the solar year, to which he  had been introduced by the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes during his time in Egypt.  To align this new calendar with the heavens, the year 46 BC was  lengthened  to 445 days, after which the new 365 day “Julian” calendar began on January 1, 45 BC.

       In recognition of these reforms, the old “Romulean” month of Quintilis was renamed “Julius” (July) after Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and later, in 8 BC, out of  gratitude for Augustus Caesar’s correction of an error in the quadrennial calculation of the “Julian” Leap Day, the Senate renamed the month of SextilisAugustus” (August) in his honor.  The “Julian” calendar remained in effect until 1582, when Pope Gregory further refined the calculation of leap years and created the calendar we know and use today.

Januarius (29 days)

Februarius (28 days)

Martius (31 days)

Aprilis (29 days)

Maius (31 days)

Junius (29 days)

Quintilis (31days)

Sextilis (29 days)

September (29 days)

October (31 days)

November (29 days)

December (29 days)

Latin Month

Comes From

Who or What?




 god of doors and new beginnings

This month opens the new year and looks back on the old.




This was the Roman month for  sacrifices to dead ancestors and rituals of purification.



god of War

Start of year for soldiers (no fighting during winter)



verb “to open”

Trees and plants open their leaves in this month.



native Italian goddess of Spring

Maia (meaning "the great one") is the Italic goddess of spring, the daughter of Faunus, and wife of Vulcan.



queen of the gods

She is the goddess of  married women.  Vesta, Rome’s virgin goddess, had a week-long festival in June.


Julius Caesar

1st dictator for life

He reorganized the Roman calendar.


Augustus Caesar

1st prīnceps(emperor)

The Senate thought him as important as J. Caesar!




Seventh month (counting from March)




Eighth month (counting from March)




Ninth month (counting from March)




Tenth month (counting from March)

Roman Calendars Inscribed in Stone               

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_calendar       http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/romancalendar.html

http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/roman/months.htm      http://www.romanoimpero.com/2010/02/calendario-orario-romano.html