You are here


July 1, 2013

The world remembers Julius Caesar for many things — from his military campaigns, to his love affair with Cleopatra, to his dramatic death on the Ides of March. But perhaps his most lasting contribution was to establish the basic calendar that the western world has used for more than 2,000 years. In his honor, the Roman Senate named the seventh month in this calendar July.

Before Caesar, the Roman calendar was based on the cycles of the Moon. But such a calendar drifts with respect to the true seasons. Extra days were added to correct the difference, but by Caesar’s time, the calendar was a mess.

So Julius Caesar looked to his newly conquered province of Egypt. Thousands of years earlier, the Egyptians had devised a calendar based on Earth’s orbit around the Sun — the first 365-day solar calendar.

Caesar adopted this system, but he kept the names of the months from the Roman calendar. The seventh month was named Quintillis — a name that actually means fifth month, because in the original Roman calendar, the year began with March, not January.

After Caesar was assassinated, his successor, Augustus Caesar, thought having a month named for the emperor was a good idea. So Sextillis was changed to August in his honor. Later emperors tried the same trick, but with no luck. Senators realized that they’d eventually run out of months, so they stopped the practice. But the name of Julius Caesar lives on — in the seventh month of the year.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.