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French Revolutionary Calendar

The French Revolutionary Calendar is a calendar proposed during the French Revolution, and in use by the French government for 13 years from 1793. It was abolished by Napoléon partly to appease the Catholic Church, which opposed the calendar because it abolished the Sabbath, 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. These were both concepts that were incompatible with the fundamental tenets of this calendar.

It was designed by mathematician Gilbert Romme, although is 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). As a result the calendar began a year before it was actually adopted.

Napoléon finally abolished official use of the calendar on January 1, 1806 (in fact at midnight, the 10 nivôse year XIV aka December 31, 1805), thirteen years after its introduction. However, it was to be used again during the brief 1871 Paris Commune.

Revolutionary Calendar year began in autumn equinox and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature:


Winter: Spring: Summer: 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:

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. These were known at first as Les Sans-Culottides, and 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 Autumnal Equinox while adding a leap year every 4 years (like the Gregorian Calendar). The years III, VII, and XI were observed as leap years, and the years XV and XX were also planned as such. However, an algorithm for determining leap years after year XX was never developed. As such, attempts to extend the calendar beyond year XIV often use differing methods of determining leap years. Most such attempts use a form of the Gregorian method (with or without a proposed 4000-year rule in which every year divisible by 4000 would be a non-leap year). 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 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 work in which he made his famous observation: "History repeats itself - the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." Karl Marx was comparing the regime of Napoléon Bonaparte with that of his nephew Louis Napoléon.

Emile Zola's novel Germinal takes its name from the calendar, as does the dish, Lobster Thermidor.

It is notable that with the removal of religious influences this "universal" calendar was in fact made particular to France, since the descriptive month names would range from slightly to completely inaccurate when used in other climates.

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.

The legal texts that were adopted when the Revolutionary Calendar was official and are still in force in France have kept their original dates for citation purposes.

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