Magazine article The Spectator

Why Start in January?

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Start in January?

Article excerpt

The ancients were an inquisitive lot, a characteristic shown to best effect in works like Aristotle's Problems ('Why do sex-maniacs' eyelashes fall out?') and Plutarch's Greek and Roman Questions. Among much else, Plutarch asked, 'Why do Romans adopt the month of January as the beginning of the new year?'

He began by doing the maths: July used to be called Quintilis, 'Fifth' (subsequently named after Julius Caesar) and August Sextilis, 'Sixth' (named after Augustus), while September to December covered the Roman numerals seven to ten. So, since the year contained only ten months, March must have been the first. He concluded that, to stay roughly in synch with the solar year, each month must have been lengthened. However, Plutarch reported, there was another analysis: perhaps the year did in fact have its full quotient of months, and January and February were the 11th and 12th.

But he was not happy with either of these proposals. True, he said, Romulus, the founder of Rome, was a son of the war-god Mars, and may therefore have wanted March (named after his father) to be the first month. …

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