Tag Archives: Roman Calendar

The Ancient Roots of February, the Tiniest Month

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Folio 2, verso: February. Artist: Limbourg brothers (1385–1416).

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Folio 2, verso: February. Artist: Limbourg brothers (1385–1416).

Why does February have only 28 days? Why does this one lonely month remain truncated while the other 11 months bask in the fullness of their 30 or 31 days? We have to go all the way back to antiquity to find the answer to this puzzling question.

The roots of our modern calendar can be traced back to the Romans who apparently found calendar-making to be a fairly confusing business. We have few records about the original Roman calendar but legend says that Romulus, the first king of Rome, devised a 10 month lunar calendar that began in March and ended with December, with 6 months having 30 days and 4 having 31. There was no need for designating the extra months of what is now January and February since winter itself was unimportant to note by the Romans because there was no harvest during this time.[1] According to Livy’s The Early History of Rome, Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (715-673 BCE), wanted to make a calendar that would sync with the actual lunar year and so he added the months of January and February to account for the extra days.[2] The length of each month was changed so that October retained 31 days, the remaining months from the previous calendar had 29 days, and January and February each had 28 days. However, the Romans believed even numbers were bad luck and so they added a day to January to give it 29. Why didn’t they also add an extra day to February? No one is really sure of the answer to that question but because February still had only 28 days, it was considered unlucky and was devoted to purification rights and honoring the dead.[3] Continue reading