The month of the emperor

A great practice, now lost, in European culture has been that of renaming the months of the year. The month of August, since we’re approaching its height, was not always called August. In ancient Rome, it used to be called Sextilis, the sixth month; in Anglo-Saxon England, Weod-mōnaþ, literally ‘Weed month’. And many other cultures and languages which now use a form of the word August (Août, Agosto, etc) had employed a different word for it in the past. Under novel influences, words simply change. Architectural styles on famous landmarks used to change too, before we discovered another art, that of museification, the naughty sister of our historical consciousness. The past ceased to flow into the present, and we were left standing in a graveyard of artefacts, objects of study and admiration, but cut out from the world of the living. 

The ancient Roman months of Sextilis was renamed August in 8 BC by senatorial decree in honour of Octavian, the first Roman ’emperor’ and Augustus, since the month of August was, the senate ruled, ‘most fortunate to this empire’.

In 1793, the French revolutionaries proceded to a complete overhaul of the calendar, whereby the month of August (in fact the period between 18/19 August to 16/17 September) became known as Fructidor, the fruit season, from the Latin fructus for fruit. It was the West’s last attempt to rename the months of the year or reform the calendar more widely. An attempt as bold as it was unsuccessful. August was back, the emperor re-entered Rome. 

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