OpEd, Politics

Know your months

By Lisok James Moses


Month of the year March

What is March?! Why is it March?! How is it March?!

Originally the first month of the year, the name March has been derived from a Roman pagan deity (god) named Mars – a Roman deity (god) of war and agriculture. Martius was ultimately the name of the first month in the original Roman calendar. Along with January, May and June, March is one of several months named after a god.

Added to the Gregorian calendar – a calendar that was introduced and decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar, which had been the most used calendar in Europe. The Gregorian calendar lasts for approximately 365.24 days; this means that most years have 365 days, with one extra day being added every fourth year unless the year is divisible by 100 but not 400 (for example, the year 2000 was a leap year, whereas 2100 and 2200 will not be).

Numa Pompilius, a Roman ruler is traditionally credited with adding January and February to the calendar, thus making March the third month of the year. Some cultures and religions still celebrate the start of the New Year on March 1. In Iran, New Year’s Day is celebrated on March 21.

In ancient Rome, March marked the start of the military campaign season. While it is tempting to connect the word march, as “march into battle,” with this month, to march comes from the Old French marchier, “to tread, move,” possibly from a Frankish (ancient Germanic language) root meaning “to mark, pace out,” related to mark. Normally Mars’s festivals at Rome occurred in the spring and the fall—the beginning and the end of both the agricultural and the military seasons. The month of March, which was named after him, was especially filled with festivals wholly or partially in his honour; the members of the ancient priesthood of the Salii who were particularly associated with Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, came out several times during the month to dance their ceremonial war dance in old-fashioned armour and chant a hymn to the gods. October was also an important month for Mars. At the festival of the October Horse on October 15, a two-horse chariot race was held in the Campus Martius, and on October 19 the Armilustrium marked the purification of the arms of war and their storage for the winter. The god was invoked in the ancient hymn of the Arval Brothers, whose religious duties had as their object to keep off enemies of all kinds from crops and herds.

Until the time of Augustus, Mars had only two temples in Rome: one was in the Campus Martius, the exercising ground of the army; the other was outside the Porta Capena. Within the city there was a sacrarium (“shrine,” or “sanctuary”) of Mars in the regia, originally the king’s house, in which the sacred spears of Mars were kept; upon the outbreak of war, the consul had to shake the spears saying, “Mars vigila” (“Mars, wake up!”).

Under Augustus the worship of Mars at Rome gained a new impetus; not only was he the traditional guardian of the military affairs of the Roman state but, as Mars Ultor (“Mars the Avenger”), he became the personal guardian of the emperor in his role as an avenger of Caesar. His worship at times rivaled that of Capitoline Jupiter, and at about AD 250 Mars became the most prominent of the di militares (“military gods”) worshipped by the Roman legions. In literature and art, he is hardly distinguished from the Greek Ares.


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