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French Revolutionary Calendar

The French Revolutionary Calendar is a calendar proposed during the French Revolution, and adopted by the French government for several years, until finally abolished by Napoléon partly to appease the Catholic Church, but mainly because he had crowned himself Emperor of the French in December 1804 and had created the new Empire's Nobility during the year 1805, which were both concepts that were incompatible with the fundamental tenets of this calendar.

It was designed by mathematician Gilbert Romme[?], although usually attributed to Fabre d'Églantine, who invented the names of the months and the days. The calendar was adopted by the Jacobin-controlled National Convention on October 24, 1793.

Years appear in writing as Roman numerals, counted from the beginning of the 'Republican Era', beginning on September 22, 1792 (the date of the official abolition of the monarchy and the nobility in France), so the calendar began a year before it was actually adopted.

Napoléon finally abolished official use of the calendar January 1, 1806 (in fact at midnight, the 10 nivôse year XIV aka December 31, 1805), thirteen years after its introduction.

The Revolutionary Calendar always started the year on the autumn equinox, had 12 months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature:


  • Vendémiaire[?] (from Latin vindemia "vintage") Starting Sept 22, 23 or 24
  • Brumaire (from French brume "mist") 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 pluviosus "rainy") Starting Jan 20, 21 or 22
  • Ventôse[?] (from Latin ventosus "windy") Starting Feb 19, 20 or 21
  • Germinal[?] (from Latin germen "seed") Starting Mar 20 or 21
  • Floréal[?] (from Latin flos "flower") Starting Apr 20 or 21
  • Prairial[?] (from French prairie "meadow") Starting May 20 or 21
  • Messidor[?] (from Latin messis "harvest") Starting Jun 19 or 20
  • Thermidor (from Greek thermos "hot") Starting Jul 19 or 20
  • Fructidor[?] (from Latin fructus "fruits") Starting Aug 18 or 19

Note that the English names are approximate, as most of the month names were new words coined from similar French, Latin or Greek words. The endings of the names are grouped by season.

The month divides into 3 "weeks" each of ten days, named simply:

  • primidi
  • duodi
  • tridi
  • quartidi
  • quintidi
  • sextidi
  • septidi
  • octidi
  • nonidi
  • décadi.

Instead of each day having a Saint as in the Catholic church's calendar, each day has a plant, a tool or an animal associated with it.

Five left-over days (six in leap years) were used as national holidays at the end of every year, at first known as Les Sans-Culottides, but after the year III (1795) as les jours complémentaires:

Leap years in the calendar are a point of great dispute, due to the contradicting statements requiring the year to start on the Autnumnal Equinox while adding a leap year every 4 years (like the Gregorian Calendar). Though the years III, VII, and XI were observed as leap years, and the years XV and XX were also planned as such, an algorithm for determining leap years after year XX was never developed, due to the abolition of the the calendar. As such, attempts to extend the calendar beyond year XIV often use differing methods of determining leap years, though most use some form of the Gregorian method (with or without the 4000-year rule). Alternative systems included a system that would have excluded leap years on years divisible by 128.

The calendar was abolished because the Catholic church strongly opposed it as an attempt to rid the calendar of all Christian influences, 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 an 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.

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), in which he made his famous observation: "History repeats itself - the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." He was comparing the regime of Napoléon Bonaparte with that of his unsuccessful nephew Louis Napoléon.

Emile Zola's novel Germinal takes its name from the calendar. And the food dish, "Lobster Thermidor" also comes from the calendar.

It is interesting to note that, in trying to remove religious influence from the calendar to make it "universal", it was in fact made particular to France, since the descriptive month names would range from slightly to completely inaccurate in other parts of the world.

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.

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