Sunday, February 01, 2009

February

The story goes that the Roman calendar had gone so badly out of touch with the natural solar calendar that Julius Caesar had to make the year 46 BC a total of 445 days long, the longest year in recorded history. In doing so, some other stories say, the great Caesar took days from February and added them to some of his other favourite months (such as Julius, the seventh month) in order to give them 31 instead of 30 days.

The truth is a lot kinder to that Caesar than all this sounds. What happened was that he actually extended many of the months and kept the rest the same length; the original Roman calendar had 355 days and some sort of random adjustment. When the soothsayers said, "Add 23 days," the calendar was given a 'leap month' to catch up with the sun and the seasons.

February used to be only 23 days long during leap years and 28 the rest of the time. Now, it's 28 days long and 29 during leap years. That's a gain of six days every four years! Which goes to show that the great Caesar was a pretty fair man when it came to adjusting the calendar, and not the evil manipulator who stole days from February to give to Julius, Augustus and the rest. In fact, in his time, Julius was actually called Quintilis ('fifth') and Augustus was Sextilis ('sixth'). The later Romans renamed the months a lot, but eventually, they left us with what we have today.

Happy February!

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