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the calendar of the French Revolution

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‘the calendar of the French Revolution’ is one of a group of documents on Republican France

the calendar of the French Revolution

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the republican calendar
how the republican calendar worked
converting a date in the Republican Calendar into a date in the Gregorian Calendar
the origin and sources of the calendar
other reforms for time and measurement

 

 

the republican calendar

The Calendar of Reason / French Revolutionary Calendar / Republican Calendar started from 22 September 1792 (Gregorian calendar, the calendar that is currently in use). Note that the Republican calendar was not, in fact, introduced until 24 November 1793. It was abolished on 31 December 1805 by the new Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, but was used again during the Paris Commune in 1871.

how the republican calendar worked

  • Each year, there were twelve months of 30 days.
  • A month was divided into three décades of ten days, with the décade’s last day being a rest day. It was a criminal offence to close a shop on what before had been a Sunday. That there were only three rest days a month, instead of four, was unpopular amongst the population.
  • There were also five jours complémentaires [1] - supplementary days.
  • A leap year had a sixth jour complémentaire.

The months were called:

Monthin EnglishMonthin English
Vendémiairewine-harvestingGerminalplant germination
Brumiare foggyFloréalflowering
FrimiarefrostyPrairialmeadows
NivôsesnowyMessidorharvesting
PluviôserainyThermidorheat
VentosewindyFructidorfruit harvesting

The days in each décade were called
Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, Quintidi,
Sextidi, Septidi, Octidi, Nonidi, Decadi.

The five additional days - the jours complémentaires - came after the end of Fructidor. They were called:

  1. jour de la vertu (Virtue Day)
  2. jour du génie (Genius Day)
  3. jour du travail (Labour Day)
  4. jour de l’opinion (Reason Day)
  5. jour des récompenses (Rewards Day)

For the leap year, there was also:

  1. jour de la révolution (Revolution Day)

Further, each day of the year had its own name, being named after an animal, fruit, vegetable or farm implement. Children were meant to be given the name of the day on which they were born.

The first day of the Revolutionary Calendar was 1 Vendémaire of year 1 of the Republic (remember, that is 22 September 1792 in the Gregorian calendar).

Leap years were a particular problem to determine because there were two sometimes contradictory rules to obey:

  • The revolutionary year would start each year on the day of the autumnal equinox, and
  • every fourth year would be a leap year.

During the time that the Revolutionary Calendar existed, the leap years were in years 3, 7 and 11.

converting a date in the Republican Calendar into a date in the Gregorian Calendar

The Republican Calendar only ran for a bit over 14 years.

The easiest way to convert dates is to use the following list of when each Republican Year started:

Year 122 Sept. 1792Year 823 Sept. 1799
Year 222 Sept. 1793Year 923 Sept. 1800
Year 322 Sept. 1794Year 1023 Sept. 1801
Year 423 Sept. 1795Year 11 23 Sept. 1802
Year 522 Sept. 1796Year 1224 Sept. 1803
Year 622 Sept. 1797Year 1323 Sept. 1804
Year 722 Sept. 1798Year 1423 Sept. 1805

The Republican months were approximately equivalent to the Gregorian months as follows:

VendémiaireSept. - Oct.GerminalMar. - Apr.
BrumiareOct. - Nov.FloréalApr. - May
FrimiareNov. - Dec.PrairialMay - Jun.
NivôseDec. - Jan.MessidorJun. - Jul.
PluviôseJan. - Feb.ThermidorJul. - Aug.
VentôseFeb. - Mar.FructidorAug. - Sept.

 

the origin and sources of the republican calendar

Based on the calendar of the ancient Egyptians (still used by Eastern Orthodox churches), this calendar was designed to make a complete break with both the French aristocracy and their institutions, and also with the Catholic Church and its institutions, including the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian Calendar had been introduced by Pope Gregory, and adopted by France in 1752.

The start date of 22 September 1792 for the Republican Calendar was not only the autumn equinox for that year, but also marked the start of the new French Republic and the beginning of equality for all Frenchmen.

The calendar was developed by a sub-committee of the Committee of Public Instruction. Appointed in 1792, the subcommittee was composed of astronomers, mathematicians, poets and dramatists. By September 1793, the subcommittee published its results.

The British, being less poetic the the French Revolutionaries, renamed the new month names to be Wheezy, Sneezy, Freezy, Slippy, Drippy, Nippy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

other reforms for time and measurement

As well as reforming the calendar to be logical and secular, the Revolutionaries also tidied up time measurement and lengths and weights.

For time, they introduced a new clock of decimal time, with a day divided into ten hours, each with a hundred minutes, made up of a hundred seconds. This provided for 100,000 seconds during a day. Thus, 1 decimal second = 0.864 normal seconds, 100 decimal seconds = 1 normal minute, and so on.

For weights and lengths, the Revolutionaries introduced the metric system: metres and kilograms. The metric system is now used almost throughout the world, with the exception of the USA and the United Kingdom, which still use at least some of the Imperial measurement system.

end notes

  1. The jours complémentaires [additional days] were originally called sansculottides.

    Sans-culottes
    means without breeches. This label was applied by the richer classes in 18th century France, able to afford smart, fitted knee-breeches, to the poorer, working classes, in particular around Paris, who wore ill-fitting pantaloons. Specifically, the term sans culottes referred to “the ill-clad and ill-equipped volunteers of the French Revolutionary army”.

  2. The English relabelled the months as “Slippy, Nippy, Drippy, Freezy, Wheezy, Sneezy,Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Heary, Wheaty and Sweety”.

 





 

 

 

 


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