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It looks like Roman calendar makers just ran out of gas. They named the first eight months of the year for gods and goddesses, or for emperors with godly ambitions. But after that, all they could come up with were numbers indicating a month’s position in the year.

September, for example, means “seventh month.” We know that Star Date listeners are pretty bright, so you’ve no doubt noticed that September is actually the ninth month of the year. But in the original Roman calendar, the year began in March, and lasted only 10 months. January and February were added later.

In other cultures, the calendar year began at different times. In Egypt, for example, it started in July, when Sirius returned to view in the morning sky.

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. Just as important to the Egyptians, it returned to view about the same time as the Nile’s annual life-giving floods. Using Sirius as a marker, the Egyptians established the first known 365-day calendar. Later, they added leap days to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons.

Much later, the Romans were fussing with a calendar that was a mess. Its months didn’t add up to a full year, so extra days or months were added at whim. So in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar ordered up a new calendar. Rome adopted the 365-and-a-quarter-day year — perhaps influenced by the Egyptian calendar. But it kept the Roman names for the months — including September.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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