Sunday, March 12, 2006

Revolutionary Time: the Franciade, Decimal Clockfaces, and the 9 Thermidor

The revolutionary calendar (or calendrier républicain) was designed by the politician and agronomist Charles Gilbert Romme, although it is usually attributed to Fabre d'Églantine, who invented the names of the months. The calendar was adopted by the Jacobin-controlled National Convention on 24 October 1793. Years appear in writing as Roman numerals (usually), counted from the beginning of the Republican Era, one day after the Convention abolished the monarchy and the day the French First Republic was proclaimed: 22 September 1792. (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 included the autumnal equinox. There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called décades. The five or six extra days needed to approximate the tropical year were placed after the months at the end of each year.

Daily time was ordained to be divided into new, rational measurements as well. Each day was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes and each decimal minute had 100 decimal seconds. But it was a colossal failure. Although clocks were manufactured to display decimal time, this did not catch on with the peuple. The attempt was officially abandoned in 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 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, "vintage") Starting September 22, 23 or 24
Brumaire (from French brume, "mist") Starting October 22, 23 or 24
Frimaire (From French frimas, "frost") Starting November 21, 22 or 23
Nivôse (from Latin Nivosus, "snowy") Starting December 21, 22 or 23
Pluviôse (from Latin pluviosus, "rainy") Starting January 20, 21 or 22
Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, "windy") Starting February 19, 20 or 21
Germinal (from Latin germen, "seed") Starting March 20 or 21
Floréal (from Latin flos, "flower") Starting April 20 or 21
Prairial (from French prairie, "meadow") Starting May 20 or 21
Messidor (from Latin messis, "harvest") Starting June 19 or 20
Thermidor (from Greek thermos, "hot") Starting July 19 or 20
Fructidor (from Latin fructus, "fruits") Starting August 18 or 19

Days had an animal, tool, or plant associated with them instead of saints. So, my birthday, February 17, would have officially been le 29 Pluviôse, with the patron entity chélidoineor celandine, a yellow poppy which is pretty but highly toxic throughout its roots, stem, leaves, and bloom. It was brought to North America by settlers who wanted to cure skin ailments, especially warts. All right.

In England, people against the Revolution mocked the calendar by calling the months: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

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.

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 (9 November 1799) is considered the end of French Revolution. Another famous revolutionary date is 9 Thermidor, the date the Convention turned against Robespierre, who was guillotined the following day.

Thomas Carlyle on the calendar, in The French Revolution, a History:
"As to the New Calendar, we may say here rather than elsewhere that speculative men have long been struck with the inequalities and incongruities of the Old Calendar; that a New one has long been as good as determined on. Marechal the Atheist, almost ten years ago, proposed a New Calendar, free at least from superstition: this the Paris Municipality would now adopt, in defect of a better; at all events, let us have either this of Marechal's or a better,--the New Era being come. Petitions, more than once, have been sent to that effect; and indeed, for a year past, all Public Bodies, Journalists, and Patriots in general, have dated First Year of the Republic. It is a subject not without difficulties. But the Convention has taken it up; and Romme, as we say, has been meditating it; not Marechal's New Calendar, but a better New one of Romme's and our own. Romme, aided by a Monge, a Lagrange and others, furnishes mathematics; Fabre d'Eglantine furnishes poetic nomenclature: and so, on the 5th of October 1793, after trouble enough, they bring forth this New Republican Calendar of theirs, in a complete state; and by Law, get it put in action."

also see:
Les Heures Révolutionnaires, by Yves Droz and Joseph Flores
Decimal Time History, by John D. Hynes

convert dates here


Anonymous Berlinerin said...

Wow, I didn't realize this sort of thing had been done before the Soviets.

1:12 PM  

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