History of July: Where Do We Get That Name?


Gaius Julius Caesar


July was renamed for Julius Caesar, who was born that month. Before that, it was called Quintilis in Latin, meaning the fifth month in the ancient Roman calendar. But Marc Anthony changed the name to July after Caesar’s assassination. This was before January became the first month of the calendar year, about the year 450 BC. We currently use the more contemporary Gregorian calendar — recent, as in: since AD 1582. It uses Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord,” counting from the birth of Jesus. As we’ve previously discussed, in this calendar curiously, Jesus was born 4 to 6 years BC or “Before Christ.”


Calendar and Julius


Julian calendar in stone

The Gregorian calendar was a reform of the Julian calendar, which was a reform of the previous Roman calendar.

Julius Caesar himself introduced the Julian Calendar in 46 BC, where he added 67 additional days by putting two intercalary months between November and December; he probably did this after returning from an African military campaign in late Quntilis (July), according to Cicero. This took care of some of the leap-year problems.


Julius and the name Caesar

Though Julius Caesar is often called the first “Emperor of Rome,” that honor actually goes to Octavian or Augustus Caesar, to whom Julius was a great uncle. Part of the confusion about who was the first Emperor is that his cognomen of Caesar later became essentially a synonym for “Emperor.” The title “Caesar” was subsequently used throughout the Roman Empire, giving us the more modern cognates of Kaiser and Tsar.

His “family name,” or gens, was Julia. They held they descended from Julus, son of the legendary Trojan prince Aeneas from Greco-Roman mythology, who was himself reputedly the son of the goddess Venus. The Greek version of this story is in Homer‘s Illiad. The Roman version, Virgil‘s Aeneid, tells how Aeneas was the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the heroic founders of Rome.


Venus Appears to Aeneas, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

Julius Caesar played an essential part at the beginning of Rome’s transformation from a Republic to an Empire. He rose to the position of “perpetual dictator,” and his conquest of Gaul and his invasion of Britain extended the Roman world to the North Sea. He was a general, statesman, member of the First Triumvirate (with Crassus and Pompey), and “dictator for life,” dictator perpetuo.

His family Julia was the beginning, at the very height of Roman government, of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that lasted until the demise of Nero in AD 68.

Historical Trivia to impress your friends:

The “Julio-Claudian dynasty” comprised the first five Roman emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. This name comes from the two families who composed this Imperial dynasty: the Julii Caesares and Claudii Nerones. The “Flavian dynasty,” from AD 69 and 96, succeeded them, involving the reigns of Vespasian and his two sons Titus and Domitian.


Caesarian-Section for Caesar?

That Julius Caesar was born by Caesarian section is colorful but inaccurate. The story dates back at least to the 10th century, but Julius wasn’t the first to take the cognomen Caesar, and it was unlikely that he was born by this method. During his day, the procedure was only performed on mothers who died during childbirth. We know that Aurelia, Caesar’s mother, lived long after his birth. The etymology of caesarian may well have come from cadere, “to cut.”

I was born by Caesarean section, but you really can’t tell…
except that when I leave my house, I always go out the window.
–Steven Wright


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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