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MIKE KEELER: An Imperial Summer

As we move from July into August, all thoughts turn to beaches, barbeque, beer… and the Roman Empire.

Here’s why. In ancient Rome, the year was originally laid out as ten months stretching from early spring to the winter solstice. The first four months were named after gods, starting with – of course – war (Mars), followed by – of course – love (Aphrodite), and then spring growth (Maia) and then power and sovereignty (Juno). After those four monthly themes, apparently nothing else really mattered, because the rest of the months were just numbered (Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, December). After that, there was a nondescript winter period, before starting again with Mars’ month.

In 46 BC, Julius Caesar improved things by defining the winter period as two new months, the first named for Janus, the god of new beginnings, and the second for Februa, the Roman festival of purification. He also moved the beginning of the year to Janus 1st, the day the Senate took office. To make things more logical, he staggered the number of days within each month, starting with 31 in Martius, 30 in Aprilus, etc. throughout the year, with February taking the remaining 28 days (except for Leap Years) for a total of 365 days.

It was a great achievement, but Julius enjoyed his new calendar for only a year before he was assassinated.

Julius had no sons, and his heir was his adopted grand-nephew named Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, more commonly known as Octavian. He succeeded Julius as part of a triumvirate with Lepidus and Marc Antony, but he outlasted both of them, and eventually was declared the first Emperor of Rome. Wielding that power, one of the things he did was declare his great-uncle a god, and renamed the month of Quintilis as Julius in his honor.

Octavian also did a few other noteworthy things, like expanding the empire and establishing the Pax Romana. He did such a good job that the Senate awarded him the honorific ‘Augustus’ – meaning ‘Great’ – and upon his death, ‘Augustus Caesar’ was declared a god just like his great-uncle, and the month of Sextilis was renamed Augustus. In order to recognize Julius and Augustus equally, both of their months were given 31 days.

From that point on, every Roman leader wanted to be ‘Emperor of the Month.’ Nero renamed April as Neroneus; Domitian renamed October as Domitianus; Caligula renamed September as Germanicus. Emperor Commodus went off the deep end and renamed ALL TWELVE months in honor of himself, but he was a numbnut and nobody took him seriously.

In the end, none of these changes lasted. Yep, the ultimate measure of fame is staying power. And for the last 2000 years, nobody’s been able to knock Julius and Augustus off their calendar pedestals, or climb up there with them.

So, as you celebrate summer, raise your glass and pay your respects.

Say it with me: “Hail Caesars!”

The only two mortals who achieved the ultimate celebrity status: Permanent Pinu

Mike Keeler

– Mike Keeler

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