History of September: The Start of Fall


You may have noticed that September sounds like the Latin word for Seven. And you’d be perceptive — septem is the Latin word for seven, and this month used to be the seventh month of the ancient Roman calendar.

This Latin numbering follows with the year’s remaining months, as highlighted below: eight/oct, nine/nov, ten/dec.


A Little Calendar History

375px brogi, carlo (1850 1925) n. 8226 certosa di pavia medaglione sullo zoccolo della facciata

Romulus and his twin brother Remus from a 15th-century frieze

Legend has it that this calendar was started by Romulus, the founder and first king of Rome, around 753 BC. The months counted up as follows:

  1. Martius – 31 Days
  2. Aprilis – 30 Days
  3. Maius – 31 Days
  4. Iunius – 30 Days
  5. Quintilis – 31 Days
  6. Sextilis – 30 Days
  7. September – 30 Days
  8. October – 31 Days
  9. November – 30 Days
  10. December – 30 Days


It Doesn’t Add Up

This adds up to only 304 days, not enough to cover all four seasons without winter holidays. King Numa Pompilius reformed the calendar around 700 BC so that January and February were added to the beginning of the year.


Calendar Going Imperial

Julian Calendar

Julian Calendar

As I’ve written before, Quintiles was renamed July in honor of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, and Sextilis was renamed August in honor of Caesar Augustus in 8 BC.

Emperor Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius — made (in)famous by the movie Gladiator — tried to rename a month after himself, but this was repealed after his assassination in AD 192.

Changes to the Roman calendar could only be made by the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. When Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus, he reformed the calendar by eliminating the intercalary months previously used to “pad” the calendar to fit the 365 days in a solar year.


Calendar Reform

gregorius viii

Gregory VIII

The Julian Calendar reform began with Julius and was completed with Augustus. The Julian Calendar was used for millennia and a half until Pope Gregory XIII introduced what became known as the Gregorian (or Western or Christian) Calendar in 1582. We use the Gregorian Calendar not only in the West but also in other parts of the world.


September as the Start of Fall

september wpa poster

It used to be that September was the time of students’ return to school following harvest time. Indeed, during Charlemagne’s calendar, September was called “harvest month,” the Anglo-Saxons called it Gerstmonath or barley month, referring to its harvest, and the Swiss called it Herbstmonat or “harvest month.”


See you in September.


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.


  1. Carla on September 8, 2016 at 6:10 am

    Thank you, it was very informative. Just what i needed for my bible study. Carla E.

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