Alexandre Cherman

The Year of Confusion

Before Julius Caesar seized the power, “declaring” himself emperor of Rome, he was already an important person in Roman hierarchy. And, before we proceed, the quotation marks in the last sentence must be explained, since there is a genuine historical debate if Caesar was an actual Emperor or just a Military Dictator.

Well, before “becoming” emperor, Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus, a title that we associate with the Pope, but that in those pre-Jesus Christ times (and, obviously, pre-Catholic Church as well) had also a religious implication. To all practical purposes, the position could be viewed as a “super-powered landlord”: someone responsible to fix all the problems of the average Roman citizen. And as Pontifex Maximus, Caesar was already contemplating on reforming the calendar. He just didn’t know how…

During his military campaign in Egypt, he learned about the local calendar, and found it very elegant. But before introducing a new way to measure time, he first had to make sure the seasons where in there right places. After years of calendar abuse, the seasons no longer started when they were supposed to. Or, using the terms from my last piece, before fixing the tracks, Julius Caesar needed to put the train in an upright position.

He did that in a completely arbitrary way, creating what is famous in Chronology as the “Year of Confusion”. The last year before the Julian calendar started had 445 days, divided in 15 months! Basically, Caesar unilaterally decided the year should not end, pushing the new year forward, until the seasons fell back into place (for example, Spring beginning in March).

Caesar added three months to that year: Mercedonius, a month that had already been used in previous intercalations, and two brand new months, created just for that year and never repeated since, Intercalaris I and II. And thus he created a very unique year, the Year of Confusion. ■