Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

Novum Annum Laetum Omnibus Exopto!

(Happy New Year, Everyone!)

Ianuarius is the first month of our year, but the ancient Romans originally celebrated the New Year in March. In 153 B.C., they decided to move the beginning of the year to January because that was the month in which the consuls, their leaders, took office. Of course, on January 20th, our new President-elect, Barack Obama, will take the oath of office.

According to Murray's Manual of Mythology, Ianuarius was named for the ancient god Ianus, because "the beginning of everything was a matter of great importance to them, and Ianus was the god of a 'good beginning.'" Accordingly, the first day of January was an major holiday for the Romans.

The gates of temple which the Romans built in honor of Ianus held deep significance to his worshippers. The gates stood open when Rome was at war and were closed only in times of peace. There were only three times in the first 700 years that temple gates were closed: during the reign of Numa Pompilius, after the first Punic War, and during the reign of Augustus Caesar.

At first, the Roman year had only ten months, but this didn't work out too well with the solar calendar. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar added two new months. He named one after himself, Iulius. The other new month was eventually named for the previously mentioned Augustus. The full list of the months (menses) of the year (annus) in Latin are as follows: Ianuarius, Februarius, Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Iulius, Augustus, September, October, November, December.

To find out more about how the Ancient Romans celebrated the New Year, here's a classic feature Roman New Year.