[click on the picture to get to the LONG list of particpants]
Janus, the two faced one, is probably the most hardworking deity in the Roman pantheon. Every religious ceremony invoked his name at the beginning to bless their contact with the other gods. He was like a spiritual receptionist, checking your credentials and quite prepared to call security if they didn’t come up to par. Patron of portals and doorways, deity of beginning and ending he was put in charge of the coldest darkest month of the year – January, though January was neither the beginning nor end of Roman year.
So that’s where January comes from. How about the other months?
Februaris was a purification festival, ancient even in Roman times, that was celebrated on February 13th and later incorporated the wildly bizarre Lupercalia festival that I have giggled about else where. January and February were the last 2 months to be added to the roman year. Until Numa Pompilus came up with his new fangled calendar in 713 BC the Romans had felt winter was so horrible it didn’t need months.
March was the first month of the year and named for Mars, the god of war, because in March it was traditional for armies to go about their business of making people miserable. That this was the time of year to celebrate tells you a lot of what you need to know about the Romans.
April is named from the verb apere – to open – and refers to the buds bursting on the trees. Alternatively – because nothing is ever simple – it could stem from the Etruscan term Apro, a corruption of the Greek Aphrodite and refer to it being spring and the sap rising and all that. Take your choice.
In May they celebrated the miaores – the older men, veteran soldiers, statesmen and scholar – and in June the juniors – the youngsters, promising youths who needed to be guided in the way of civilised manhood and prevented from doing anything too obnoxious, unless they were in Gaul or Britannia or doing it to a slave, in which case they could knock themselves out.
Still with me? Now it gets complicated.
July used to be called Quintilis – the fifth month – until the reform of the calendar in 45 BC. Since Julius Caesar had organised this and Quintilis was the month of his birth and he had a huge army at his beck and call, it didn’t take much to convince the Senatus Populusque Romanus to agree to change the name in his honour. This opened the way for Augustus, the first proper Roman emperor, to demand the same honour, and it was granted to him in 8 BC.
September, October, November and December retain their old numerical names, which is pretty boring. Nobody knows why no other Roman emperors demanded to have their own month. It’s not as though there weren’t plenty of other egotistical megalomaniacs. But perhaps they decided that it was bad luck? After all Julius ended up stabbed in the forum by a bunch of his best mates and Augustus – well he was married to Livia, one of the scariest women ever to live. A real cautionary tale.
Oh, just to muddy the waters – the Romans didn’t have the letter J. I should have been typing Ianuary, Iulius, iuniores etc and probably should have posted this yesterday 😛