History of July: Where Do We Get That Name?
The month of July was renamed for Julius Caesar, who was born in that month. Before that, it was called Quintilis in Latin, meaning the fifth month in the ancient Roman calendar. This was before January became the first month of the calendar year about the year 450 BC. We currently use the more contemporary Gregorian calendar — recent as in AD 1582 — which makes use of Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord” counting from the birth of Jesus. As we’ve previously discussed, in this calendar, Jesus was born curiously 4 to 6 years BC or “Before Christ.”
The Gregorian calendar was a reform of the Julian calendar, which was itself a reform of the previous Roman calendar. The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar himself in 46 BC, where he added — probably after returning from an African military campaign in late Quntilis (July) — an additional 67 days by putting two intercalary months between November and December, as Cicero tells us at the time. This took care of some of the leap year problems. The Romans, after his death, renamed Quintilis to Iulius (July) in honor of his birth month.
Though Julius Caesar is often called the first Emperor of Rome, that honor actually goes to Octavian or Augustus Caesar to whom Julius was a great uncle. Julius did, nevertheless, play an essential part in Rome’s transformation from a Republic to an Empire. He rose to the position of “perpetual dictator, ” and his conquest of Gaul and his invasion of Britain extended the Roman world to the North Sea.
His family Julia was the beginning, at the very height of Roman government, of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that lasted until the demise of Nero in AD 68. His family claimed ancient roots from Iulus, who was the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas of legend, the son of Venus, as described by the epic Latin poem The Aeneid, which tells of the origin of Rome, and is named earlier in Homer’s Iliad.
The idea that Julius Caesar was born by Caesarian section is colorful but inaccurate. The story dates back at least to the 10th century, but Julius wasn’t the first to take the cognomen Caesar, and it was unlikely that he was born by this method. During his day, the procedure was only performed on mothers who died during childbirth. We know that Aurelia, Caesar’s mother, lived long after he was born. The etymology of caesarian may well have come from cadere, “to cut.”
I was born by Caesarean section, but you really can’t tell… except that when I leave my house, I always go out the window. — Steven Wright
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian