July – the month of Julius

Julius Caesar was born in the month of Quintilis. It was renamed in his honour just before he was murdered.  A bold assertion = a better story? Evidence? I found some. Sources? Click on the links. 

Gaius Julius Caesar (sort of)
Gaius Julius Caesar (sort of)

On the winding trail I found out that the great man’s full name was Gaius Julius CaesarGaius was, apparently, a common first name and may have meant ‘to rejoice’. Julius shows that he belonged to the clan of the Julii. Julian might have meant ‘downy-bearded’ or be related to the worship of Jove. Caesar was the name of his family branch. The word ‘Caesar’ might have meant ‘hairy’ or it might have been derived from the word for ‘to cut’.

Both of these names were handed down, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that Julius Caesar was either downy-bearded, hairy or cut from his mother’s womb – unless these things tended to run in the family.  

The bearded summer giant sleeps
The bearded summer giant sleeps

Isn’t the word ‘Caesar’ a title? Yes and no. It’s a common misconception that Caesar meant Emperor in Julius Caesar’s own lifetime. It seems that his family name took on that meaning because of the association with great, even supreme, power. It was  such a prestigious ‘name’ to have that it was handed down and became a title.  

That he was born in the month of Quintilis appears to be a matter of record. As the name suggests it was the fifth month of the early Roman calendar and the first of the numbered months (followed by Sextilis, September, October, November and December). By the time Julius Caesar was born it was in effect the seventh month but no one had changed the name.

Julius Caesar had overseen the reform of the calendar in 46BCE but the names of the months had remained unchanged. Having numbered months (to my mind) left them as convenient place holders. Julius Caesar was the first historic personage to be honoured in this way in what has been handed down as the Julian and then the Gregorian calender. 

What arguments were made in favour of the name change from Quintilis to Julius when it was proposed in the Senate, I can only guess at without further research: it honours the whole clan, it also suggests the link to Jove. It sounds like a tremendous piece of flattery. 

It seems that the Senate voted for this in 44 BCE. The Encylopedia Britannica states that this happened ‘in Caesar’s lifetime’. So far, though I have read all around the internet, I have relied heavily on the Encyclopedia Britannica as a reliable linking source. Now, I have misgivings: one, because Julius Caesar was famously murdered in mid-March (if that can be believed) which means the name change by the Senate would have occurred early in the year and only shortly before he was stabbed to death in the Senate (emblematic of a dramatic reversal: tempting); two, because other sources suggest that it was proposed as a memorial to the dead Julius and was proposed by Mark Antony (which seems highly plausible, though I don’t know what the source’s sources were): three: because Ovid doesn’t have anything to say about it. 

Ovid has little to say at all about July because he gave up his project of writing down the Fasti when he had completed June. What we do have is his introduction to the work, in which he names the months. He says

Quintilis is the fifth (quintus) month from March,

And begins those that take their names from numerals.

It seems unlikely he would not have mentioned the change of name to honour Julius Caesar since his aim in writing was to get back into favour with the Caesar of the day. Unless it hadn’t yet happened! 

To which we can return, in August. 

As ever, the mists of time and the mesh of the interweb obscures what facts there are. It’s a bit like this photo: you only know the hill must be there because you’ve seen it before. 

Allington Hill invisible in a July mist
Allington Hill invisible in a July mist

4 thoughts on “July – the month of Julius

    1. Thank you, Cath. I’m glad that post is still serving its purpose. I enjoy thinking about how we name and measure time and but for JC yes we’d probably still be in a Q month now. Then again without JC we might have had quite other names for the months.


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