Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why the "eighth month" is our tenth month...

Happy October! 

October woodland (2014)

The word October has its origin in the Latin root word octos which means "eight".  To the Romans October was known as October mensis, translated as "eighth month". 

Wait a minute?  When I look at the calendar it shows me that October is the tenth month of the year, not the eight.  What is going on here?

In the earliest Roman calendar, October was indeed the eight month of the year.  The original Roman calendar revolved largely around agricultural and religious cycles and began in March - the month that Spring arrives.  March is named for Mars (the god of war) and was the traditional beginning to not only the agricultural cycle (planting) but also the military campaigning season.  If we begin the calendar in March (Martius mensis) then October is really the 8th month of the year.  This calendar is attributed to Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome.

This first Roman calendar only had 10 named months.  The period from the end of December (decem for "ten") and the beginning of March did have names on this original calendar - there was not much going on in the realm of agriculture (or warfare) during this period.  Around the year 700 BC, the calendar was reformed by the Roman king Numa Pompilius who added the months of January and February and moved the beginning of the year from March to January.

Even though it was no longer the "eighth month", October retained its name, as did the months of Quintilis mensis (fifth month), Sextilis mensis (sixth month), September mensis (seventh month), November mensis (ninth month), and December mensis (tenth month).  Quintilis was later renamed in honor of Julius Caesar as Julius mensis, meaning the month of Julius", which became our month of July.  Sextilis was renamed after Augustus Caesar (the first Roman emperor) as Augustus mensis, the "month of Augustus". 

No comments:

Post a Comment