, and used by the French government for about twelve years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days in 1871 in Paris.
Charles Gilbert Romme seconded by Claude Joseph Ferry and Charles-François Dupuis. They associated to their work the chemist Louis-Bernard Guyton-Morveau, the mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange, the astronomer Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, the mathematician Gaspard Monge, the astronomer and naval geographer Alexandre Guy Pingré, and the poet, actor and playwright Fabre d'Églantine, who invented the names of the months, with the help of André Thouin, gardener at the Jardin des Plantes of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. As the rapporteur of the commission, Charles-Gilbert Romme presented the new calendar to the Jacobin-controlled National Convention on September 23, 1793, which adopted it on October 24, 1793 and also extended it proleptically to its epoch of September 22, 1792. It is because of his position as rapporteur of the commission that the creation of the republican calendar is attributed to Romme.
Years appear in writing as Roman numerals (usually), with epoch September 22, 1792, the beginning of the 'Republican Era' (the day the French First Republic was proclaimed, one day after the Convention abolished the monarchy). As a result, Roman Numeral I indicates the first year of the republic, that is, the year before the calendar actually came into use. The first day of each year was that of the autumnal equinox. There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called décades. The tenth day, décadi, replaced Sunday as the day of rest and festivity. The five or six extra days needed to approximate the solar or tropical year were placed after the months at the end of each year. Each day was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes and each decimal minute had 100 decimal seconds. Thus an hour was more than twice as long as a conventional hour; a minute was slightly longer than a conventional minute; and a second was slightly shorter than a conventional second. Clocks were manufactured to display this decimal time, but it did not catch on and mandatory use was officially suspended April 7, 1795, although some cities continued to use decimal time as late as 1801.
A period of four years ending on a leap day was to be called a "Franciade." The name "Olympique" was originally proposed but changed to Franciade to commemorate the fact that it had taken the revolution four years to establish a republican government in France.
The leap year was called Sextile, an allusion to the "bissextile" leap years of the Julian and Gregorian calendars, because it contained a sixth complementary day.
The Concordat of 1801 re-established the Roman Catholic Church in France with effect from Easter Sunday, April 18, 1802, restoring the names of the days of the week with the ones they had in the Gregorian Calendar, while keeping the rest of the Republican Calendar, and fixing Sunday as the official day of rest and religious celebration.
Napoléon finally abolished the calendar with effect from January 1, 1806 (the day after 10 Nivôse an XIV), a little over twelve years after its introduction. However, it was used again during the brief Paris Commune, May 6-23, 1871 (16 Floréal–3 Prairial An LXXIX).
Many conversion tables and programs exist, largely created by genealogists. Some enthusiasts in France still use the calendar, more out of historical re-enactment than practicality.
Some legal texts that were adopted when the Republican Calendar was official are still in force in France and even Belgium (which was incorporated into the former) and have kept their original dates for citation purposes.
The name "French Revolutionary Calendar" refers to the fact that the calendar was created during the Revolution, but is somewhat of a misnomer. Indeed, there was initially a debate as to whether the calendar should celebrate the Revolution, i.e., 1789, or the Republic, i.e., 1792. Immediately following July 14, 1789, papers and pamphlets started calling 1789 year I of Liberty and the following years II and III. It was in 1792, with the practical problem of dating financial transactions, that the legislative assembly was confronted with the problem of the calendar. Originally, the choice of epoch was either January 1, 1789 or July 14, 1789. After some hesitation the assembly decided on January 2, 1792 that all official documents would use the "era of Liberty" and that the year IV of Liberty started on January 1, 1792. This usage was modified on September 22, 1792 when the Republic was proclaimed and the Convention decided that all public documents would be dated Year I of the French Republic. The decree of January 2, 1793 stipulated that the year II of the Republic began on January 1, 1793. The establishment of the Republic was also used for the final version of the calendar, therefore, the calendar commemorates the Republic, not the Revolution. In France, it is only known as the calendrier républicain.
|Click on a year number for a calendar sheet for the whole year. |
Criticism and shortcomings of the calendar
Leap years in the calendar are a point of great dispute, due to the contradicting statements in the establishing decree stating:
Each year starts at midnight, with the day when the true autumnal equinox falls for the observatory of Paris.
The period of four years, at the end of which this addition of one day is usually necessary, is called the Franciade...The fourth year of the Franciade is called Sextile.
These two specifications are incompatible, as leap years defined by the equinox do not recur on a regular four year schedule. Thus, the years III, VII, and XI were observed as leap years, and the years XV and XX were also planned as such, even though they were five years apart.
A fixed arithmetic rule for determining leap years was proposed in the name of the Committee of Public Education by Gilbert Romme on 19 Floréal An III (8 May 1795). The proposed rule was to determine leap years by applying the rules of the Gregorian calendar to the years of the French Republic (years IV, VIII, XII, etc. were to be leap years) except that year 4000 (the last year of ten 400-year periods) should be a common year instead of a leap year. Because this proposal was never adopted, the original astronomical rule continued, which excluded any other fixed arithmetic rule. The proposal was intended to avoid uncertain future leap years caused by the inaccurate astronomical knowledge of the 1790s (even today, this statement is still valid due to the uncertainty in ΔT). In particular, the committee noted that the true equinox of year 144 was predicted to occur at "11:59:40 p.m.", which was closer to midnight than its inherent 3 to 4 minute uncertainty.
The calendar was abolished because having a ten-day work week gave workers less rest (one day off every ten instead of one day off every seven); because the equinox was a mobile date to start every new year (a fantastic source of confusion for almost everybody); and because it was incompatible with the secular rhythms of trade fairs and agricultural markets.
Another criticism of the calendar was that despite the poetic names of its months, they are tied to the climate and agriculture of France and therefore not applicable to France's overseas territories.
Apparently, the designers of the calendar were unaware of the possibility of a lunisolar calendar as their proposals do not appear to make any mention lunar months, lunisolar calendars, or of the Metonic cycle. As a result the Republican calendar, just like the Julian and Gregorian calendars, has months whose lengths only have a vestigial relation to an actual physical phenomenon. This is inconsistent with Romme's assertion that the new calendar should be faithful to natural cycles and should not perpetuate past mistakes:
...reason demands that we follow nature rather than servilely continuing upon the erroneous path of our predecessors...
The proposal for the new calendar is a litany of criticism of previous efforts, the previous quote of Romme being representative. As another typical example is Romme's opinion about the nomenclature of the French Gregorian calendar:
This nomenclature is clearly a monument to servitude and ignorance, in which each successive civilization has left an imprint of its impoverishment. The astrological names of the days of the week and their cabalistic order which has been preserved since the first Egyptians and by the impostors which profited thereby and the blindness of men who continually preferred to suffer rather than change any of the idiotic habits of their fathers would dishonor our Revolution if we did not maintain the vigilance which has so successfully attacked all preconceptions.
This tone sets a high standard by which the Republican calendar might itself be judged.
Famous Republican Calendar dates
Perhaps the most famous date in this calendar was immortalised by Karl Marx in the title of his pamphlet, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoléon (1852). The 18 Brumaire An VIII (9 November 1799) is considered, by many historians, the end of the French Revolution.
Another famous revolutionary date is 9 Thermidor An II (July 27 1794), the date the Convention turned against Robespierre, who, along with others associated with the Mountain, was guillotined the following day. (See Glossary of the French Revolution for other significant dates under this calendar.)
Based on the above event, the term "Thermidorian" entered the Marxist vocabulary as referring to revolutionaries who destroy the revolution from the inside and turn against its true aims. For example, Trotsky and his followers used this term about Stalin.
Émile Zola's novel Germinal takes its name from the calendar, as does the dish, Lobster thermidor. The frigates of the Floréal class all bear names of Republican months.
The Convention of 9 Brumaire An III, October 30 1794, established the École Normale Supérieure. The date appears prominently on the entrance to the school.
The Republican calendar year began at the autumn equinox and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature:
- Vendémiaire (from Latin vindemia, "grape harvest") Starting Sept 22, 23 or 24
- Brumaire (from French brume, "fog") Starting Oct 22, 23 or 24
- Frimaire (From French frimas, "frost") Starting Nov 21, 22 or 23
- Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, "snowy") Starting Dec 21, 22 or 23
- Pluviôse (from Latin pluvius, "rainy") Starting Jan 20, 21 or 22
- Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, "windy") Starting Feb 19, 20 or 21
- Germinal (from Latin germen, "germination") Starting Mar 20 or 21
- Floréal (from Latin flos, "flower") Starting Apr 20 or 21
- Prairial (from French prairie, "pasture") Starting May 20 or 21
- Messidor (from Latin messis, "harvest") Starting Jun 19 or 20
- Thermidor (or Fervidor) (from Greek thermon, "summer heat") Starting Jul 19 or 20
- Fructidor (from Latin fructus, "fruit") Starting Aug 18 or 19
Note: Fervidor appeared on many printed calendars for Year II of the French Republic (September 22, 1793 - September 21, 1794).
The English translations stated above are approximate, as most of the month names were new words coined from French, Latin or Greek. The endings of the names are grouped by season.
In England, people mocked the Republican Calendar by calling the months: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety .
Ten days of the week
The month is divided into three décades or 'weeks' of ten days each, named simply:
- primidi (first day)
- duodi (second day)
- tridi (third day)
- quartidi (fourth day)
- quintidi (fifth day)
- sextidi (sixth day)
- septidi (seventh day)
- octidi (eighth day)
- nonidi (ninth day)
- décadi (tenth day)
Décades were abandoned in Floréal an X (April 1802).
Days of the year
Instead of most days having a saint as in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, each day has an animal (days ending in 5), a tool (days ending in 0) or else a plant or mineral (all other days) associated with it.
Five extra days — six in leap years — were national holidays at the end of every year. These were originally known as les sans-culottides (after sans-culottes), but after year III (1795) as les jours complémentaires:
Converting from the Gregorian Calendar
The calendar was abolished in the year XIV (1805). After this date, opinions seem to differ on the method by which the leap years would have been determined if the calendar were still in force. There are at least four hypotheses used to convert dates from the Gregorian calendar:
- The leap years would continue to vary in order to ensure that each year the autumnal equinox falls on 1 Vendémiaire, as was the case from year I to year XIV. This is the only method that was ever in legal effect, although it means that sometimes five years pass between leap years.
- The leap year would have jumped after year 15 to year 20, after which a leap year would have fallen on each year divisible by four (thus in 20, 24, 28…), except most century years, according to Romme's proposed fixed rules. This would have simplified conversions between the Republican and Gregorian calendars since the Republican leap day would usually follow a few months after 29 February, at the end of each year divisible by four, so that the date of the Republican New Year remains the same (September 22) in the Gregorian calendar for the entire third century of the Republican Era (1992-2091 CE).
- The leap years would have continued in a fixed rule every four years from the last one (thus years 15, 19, 23, 27…) with the leap day added before, rather than after, each year divisible by four, except most century years. This rule has the advantage that it is both simple to calculate and is continuous with every year in which the calendar was in official use during the First Republic. Concordances were printed in France, after the Republican Calendar was abandoned, using this rule to determine dates for long-term contracts.
- Beginning with year 20, years divisible by four would be leap years, except for years divisible by 128. Remark, that this rule was first proposed by von Mädler, not before the late 19th century. The date of the Republican New Year remains the same (September 23) in the Gregorian calendar every year from 129 to 256 (1920-2047 CE).
The following table shows when several years of the Republican Era begin on the Gregorian calendar, according to each of the four above methods:
* Leap year, extra day added at end of year
Another, modern civil calendar proposal also applies the 128-years rule, keeps the year numbering and the names of the months, but maintains the old roman New Year's Day, the lengths of month like the seven-days-week. .
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