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Imperial Month

August 1, 2016

The modern calendar owes its existence to the most famous of all Roman leaders — Julius Caesar. In 46 B.C., he ordered the creation of a new, highly organized calendar to replace the messy system that was in use at the time. With a few minor corrections, we still use that same calendar today.

One correction is the names of the months of July and August. Under the old calendar, the year began with March. The two hot summer months were called Quintilis and Sextilis — names that mean the fifth and sixth months. But soon after the new calendar was introduced, the Roman Senate honored its benefactor by changing the name of Quintilis to July.

Then, in the year 8 B.C., the emperor Augustus Caesar decided that he should have his own month, so Sextilis was changed to August.

Scholars disagree on whether other changes were made when August was named. Some say that Sextilis originally contained only 30 days, but Augustus added a day so that his month would be as long as that of Julius Caesar.

Incidentally, August 1st is the date of an ancient English festival called Lammas. It’s a “cross-quarter” day — a day that’s roughly half-way between a solstice and an equinox. In some cultures, the cross-quarter days marked the beginnings of the seasons, not their mid-points as they do today. Lammas was a day for celebrating the first harvest — marking an important date on the summer calendar.

Tomorrow: Circling around a giant star.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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