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Seventh Month

September 1, 2012

The calendar makers of ancient Rome 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. Now 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 ancient 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. And more importantly to the Egyptians, it returned to view about the same time that the Nile began its annual life-giving floods. Using Sirius as a marker, the Egyptians established the first 365-day calendar. Later, they added leap days to keep the calendar in sync with the true seasons.

Much later, the Romans were fussing with a calendar that was a great big mess. Its months didn’t add up to a full year, so extra days or months were added at whim. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar ordered a reform of the calendar. Rome adopted the 365-and-a-quarter-day year of its newly conquered province of Egypt, but kept the Roman names for the months — including September, the seventh month that’s really the ninth.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012

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