Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Calendar of the French Revolution

Happy Bastille Day, all. Vive la France!

The French Revolution in 1789 was supposed to create a new order in France. Out with aristocratic tyranny, in with republican democracy! Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Well, not quite. As part of the process of ousting monarchy, the French Revolution swept away many of the trappings of the Ancien Régime, or attempted to. One of the things they changed was the calendar.

Various versions of the revolutionary calendar existed from 1789 until 1792. But the dates were confusing. What was the start date, January 1, 1789, or July 14, 1789 (the storming of the Bastille)? Since financial transactions especially suffered from this confusion, the legislature made a final decision in 1792 when the French Republic was established. By naming 1792 Year One, the Calendar of the Revolution is in reality the Calendar of the Republic. In France, the same calendar is known as both calendrier républicain as well as the calendrier révolutionnaire.

The Calendar of the Revolution consisted of twelve months of thirty days each and started at the autumnal equinox. The months received new names derived from nature, the nature mainly the weather around Paris. The years are written in Roman numerals.

From Wikipedia:

Vendémiaire in French (from Latin vindemia, "grape harvest"), starting 22, 23 or 24 September
Brumaire (from French brume, "fog"), starting 22, 23 or 24 October
Frimaire (From French frimas, "frost"), starting 21, 22 or 23 November

Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, "snowy"), starting 21, 22 or 23 December
Pluviôse (from Latin pluvius, "rainy"), starting 20, 21 or 22 January
Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, "windy"), starting 19, 20 or 21 February

Germinal (from Latin germen, "germination"), starting 20 or 21 March
Floréal (from Latin flos, "flower"), starting 20 or 21 April
Prairial (from French prairie, "pasture"), starting 20 or 21 May

Messidor (from Latin messis, "harvest"), starting 19 or 20 June
Thermidor (or Fervidor) (from Greek thermon, "summer heat"), starting 19 or 20 July
Fructidor (from Latin fructus, "fruit"), starting 18 or 19 August

The calendar changes didn't end with the months. Within each month were three weeks of ten days apiece, called décades.

The year ended with five extra days to fill in the discrepancy between the order of the French calendar and the disorder of the physical year, which refused to use less than 365 days (or 366 days in leap years).

In the French Calendar of the Revolution, today, July 14, 2012 is 25 Messidor CCXX. A Gregorian-Revolutionary Calendar converter is here. (use Internet Explorer).

The adoption of the final form of the new calendar didn't end France's calendar woes. The French still had to communicate with the outside world which used the Gregorian calendar. The onus of translating between two calendars added another level of tedium and confusion to the dating of events.

The Calendar of the Revolution came to an end some thirteen years after its adoption, when Napoleon declared the day after 10 Nivôse An XIV as January 1, 1806.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

Picture is the Calendrier républicain de 1794 from Wikipedia

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