Ianuarius – new year, new month in Ancient Rome

January is the start of the New Year – but at one time, January was not even a twinkle in a Roman Emperor’s eye, because the Roman calendar only had ten months.

The original ten months of the Roman calendar were March (Martius), April (Aprilis), May (Maius), June (Junius), July (Quintilis), August (Sextilis), September (September), October (October), November (November) and December (December). The last six months of the year were named according to their numerical order in the calendar – July was, for example, the fifth month.

The period now occupied by January and February did exist but was unnamed – it is thought that the period was a fallow winter period when nothing much of note happened in the farming calendar.

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Winter skies over the Forum

However, around 700BC, King Numa Pompilius expanded the existing 304-day calendar and added January and February, taking the calendar to around 355 days.

It was not until 46AD that Emperor Julius Caesar reformed the calendar from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar we know today, so that it was aligned with the seasons.

Caesar added an extra day every four years to account for time changes as earth rotated on its axis. Before then, an extra month called Mercedonius was added to even out the calendar every few years.


January – Ianuarius in Latin – is named after the God Janus, whom we now take to represent being two-faced, but he was the god of beginnings and endings. Janus also means a door or a gateway, so we are literally all entering a New Year and a new phase of our lives.

Perhaps this will be the year you visit the Eternal City…

Buon viaggio!



Spanish Steps in winter


All images copyright A. Meredith

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