Words I Learned From The Revolutionary Calendar

revolutionary calendar

I always struggle with the Revolutionary Calendar. It’s a unique period of history for France, when they moved away from the Gregorian calendar utilised by the rest of the world and created their own. It was only used officially by the French government from 1793 to 1805 and then for just 18 days in 1871.

The new calendar was an attempt to remove all imperialism and religion from time, switching instead to a decimalised system, as had been already done with currency and measurements. Days were divided into ten hours of 100 minutes (equivalent to 144 minutes today) and the year was divided into twelve months of 30 days. At the end of these 360 days, five days were left over (six in leap years) which were left as public holidays before the cycle restarted.

When reading about the history of Paris, I’m often jolted out of concentration by the appearance of these strange months and days and so I thought it might make an interesting post. It’s also useful for me to go over them again!

The Revolutionary year officially starts on the autumn equinox. Below are the months of the Revolutionary Calendar. Each of them is named after a natural event (mostly weather) and while the month names are not actually words, I’ve put what they refer to in brackets below in case you’re interested. Some of the names are really lovely.

Vendémiaire (grape harvest) – starts 22,23 or 24 September

Brumaire (fog/mist) – starts 22, 23 or 24 October

Frimaire (frost) – starts 21, 22 or 23 November

Nivôse (snow) – starts 21, 22, or 23 December

Pluviôse (rain) – starts 20, 21, or 22 January

Ventôse (wind) – starts 19, 20, or 21 February

Germinal (germination) – starts 20 or 21 March

Floréal (flower) – starts 20 or 21 April

Priairial (prairie) – starts 20 or 21 May

Messidor (harvest) – starts 19 or 20 June

Thermidor (heat) – starts 19 or 20 July

Fructidor (fruit) – starts 18 or 19 August

For the first ten years of the Revolutionary Calendar, months were divided into three weeks of ten days. These were called décades. The days of the décades were simply numbered one to ten. Their names are below:

  1. Primidi
  2. Duodi
  3. Tridi
  4. Quartidi
  5. Quintidi
  6. Sextidi
  7. Septidi
  8. Octidi
  9. Nonidi
  10. Décadi

There’s an absolute tonne of stuff to read about the calendar – where it was adopted most fervently, where it was rejected, which aspects were embraced and which were shunned. It’s a fascinating experiment and reading about it has made me think about time in a slightly different way.

It’s strange to think of the hours we’re so used to as being an entirely societal construct. I expect it would be impossible for a European country to abandon the Gregorian calendar now – there must be a regulation about it somewhere deep in the EU guidelines anyway. But it is interesting to think about nevertheless.

One response to “Words I Learned From The Revolutionary Calendar

  1. It reminds me of how we in Australia maintain the four seasons despite not really having a proper spring or autumn. And how many aboriginal tribes divide the year up into many more seasons – like the French growth, harvest, storms, fog, etc. You’re starting a larger conversation here!

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