In 46 bce Julius Caesar, with the advice of the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, created the Julian calendar by reforming the Roman calendar. The reforms included the following steps:
|Februarius||29 or 30|
To make the length of the calendar year the same as that of the tropical year, every four years an extra day was to be added to Februarius between its 23 and 24 days, giving it 30 days. This made the average length of the year 365¼ days, which was pretty close to the actual length of the tropical year at that time.
The new calendar confirmed the use of the era of the founding of the city, ab urbe condita, introduced by Varro in the 1st century bce. This was usually taken to be 753 bce.
In 44 bce, at the instance of Mark Antony, the month Quintilis was renamed Julius in honor of Julius Caesar.
At some later point, probably by the consuls Asinius Gallus and Marcius Censorinus in 7 bce, the month Sextilis was renamed Augustus in honor of Augustus Caesar, Julius Caesar's successor. Since it wouldn't do to have Augustus's month shorter than Julius's, a day was taken from Februarius and added to Augustus. Unfortunately, that led to three 31-day months in a row (Julius, Augustus, September), so the pattern of alternating 31 and 30 was shoved forward by a month, restarting in Augustus. September and November were each shortened by a day, and October and December lengthened. To this day the months retain the resulting numbers of days, preserving the strange midsummer blip introduced in homage to the first two Caesars.
|Name of Month||Number of Days|
|Februarius||28 or 29|
Later attempts by the emperors Caligula and Domitian to name months after themselves were annulled after their deaths. The emperor Tiberius, who opposed cults of personality, vetoed a proposal that September and October be renamed Tiberius and Livius after himself and his mother Livia.¹
The use of the Christian Era with the Julian calendar did not begin until the 8th century, and then only by scholars. Everyday use came centuries later.
The Julian calendar was gradually replaced for almost all purposes by the Gregorian calendar, beginning late in the 16th century.
1. Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Tiberius 26.
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Last revised: 16 November 2011.