Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Congratulations, citizens, today is Day One on the French Republican calendar, one of the most interesting developments to come out of the desire to make order out of a previously arbitrary system of measurement. This desire also created the metric system, which is much more exact than any other system of measurement and which is still in use today.

During the French Revolution, the traditional system of patronage was overthrown and a number of artists (the most famous of which is David) and poets began to take an active role in participating in and shaping their government. One poet, Fabre d'Eglantine, was given the task of renaming French notions of time, or, in particular, days, weeks and the calendar year. Agronomist Charles Gilbert Romme and his team of astronomers, politicians, and mathematicians came up with the Republican calendar (i.e. a ten week day (based off the metric ten), with a ten-hour day, with a 100 decimal minute hour, with a 100 decimal second minute. An hour then becomes twice as long as a conventional hour, a minute becomes slightly longer than a conventional minute, and a second becomes slightly shorter than a conventional second. The More You Know!).

There were twelve months, comprised of three ten-day weeks (décades), with the tenth day, décadi, replacing Sunday as the day of rest and festivity. The five or six extra days left over when one approximates the solar year ended up at the very end of the year as holidays. Leap years became "Franciade" to commemorate how it had taken four years for the French Revolution to establish a republic. The leap year itself was called Sextile, because it contained a sixth complimentary day.

The names of the days of the week are pretty basic (Primidi, Duodi, etc.) but the names of the month are suitably Romantic and poetic, as the months, split up into four groups, rhyme three and three, to demonstrate the sonority of the seasons. The names of the months themselves are taken from nature (i.e. Brumaire is taken from the French 'brume', which means fog; ergo, Brumaire is the month of fog).

The months were:
1 Vendémiaire 7 Germinal
2 Brumaire 8 Floréal
3 Frimaire 9 Prairial
4 Nivôse 10 Messidor
5 Pluviôse 11 Thermidor
6 Ventôse 12 Fructidor

British detractors translated the months as Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.


  1. Yay for metric measurement but the rest of it, I think I'm glad it got buried.

  2. Me too. As pretty as the months are, I have no idea how I would be able to tell time... though apparently some people still follow the Republican calendar. I have no idea how that would work.

  3. I really tried to absorb all that at once! *ack. Well at least I have the ten day weeks down. I don't know if I would survive a ten day week....

  4. lol, don't worry! It's extremely hard to follow, particularly since there was no real year one. Year One begins on 22 September 1792, but the calendar wasn't created until 1793. I have no idea how people managed to use it.

  5. excuse my ignorance but when did France revert back to the Gregorian calendar?I find it hard to imagine changing the lengths of months and weeks during my lifetime, only to switch back to something used before. How confusing!

  6. It would be! Napoleon Ier decided that the Revolutionary Calendar was a. too confusing and b. no longer applicable in 1805, when Napoleon decided that he wanted to be Emperor.

    Though the Republican Calendar was not popular, the abandonment of it was even less so, since it was interpreted as a sign that Napoleon Bonaparte was going to make Louis XIV's absolute monarchy look like a hippie commune.

  7. Strangely I learnt about this years ago in a maths test, they asked us to figure out various issues with it...there were a lot. Though I was more interested in the history than the maths of course!

  8. Eeek, a ten day week. I don't think I would make it.