July–The Month of Julius Caesar
This month was first called Quintilis, that is, the fifth month, which shows that the year began with March. In the year 44 B.C. the name was changed to Julius in honour of Julius Caesar, the founder of the Roman Empire. The month Quintilis was chosen as the one to be named after the Emperor Julius because his birthday was on the twelfth of that month After his death, the name Caesar became a title of the Roman Emperors, and we still have the word in the titles Kaiser of Germany, Czar (or Tsar) of Russia, and Kaisar-i-Hind (Emperor of India), one of the titles of our own king.
Julius Caesar was a very great soldier, and it was by skill as a general that he became the first emperor the Romans had. Until his time they had no supreme ruler, the chief office being that of consul. There were two consuls who had to be elected, and who only served for a certain length of time. The Romans hated the name of king, and Caesar, who seemed to have really wished for the title, was afraid to take it, in case it should turn the people against him. In 44 B.C. at the feast of the Lupercalia, held, as we have said, in February, the crown was actually offered to him by Marcus Antonius, a great Roman noble.
“You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse.”
Caesar made himself master of all Italy, conquered the whole of Gaul (i.e. France) and Spain, and won great victories in Greece, Egypt, and Africa. But he is famous not only as a soldier; he was a great statesman, a great orator, and a clever writer and historian. He formed several plans for the improvement of Roman life, and took a great interest in the building of public works. He reformed the calendar, as we have seen, and he wished to have the Roman law set out in a clear way, so that it could be easily understood; he had plans for draining marsh land near Rome in order to make the country more healthy, for enlarging the harbour of Ostia, a very important port near Rome, and for making a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth in Greece.
In the year 44 B.C., before he could carry out any of these very useful plans, he was killed in Rome by men who had once been his friends, but were now jealous of his power. Shakespeare describes this tragedy in his play Julius Caesar, and makes Marcus Antonius, when looking upon the murdered Caesar, say:
“Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times”.
Caesar is particularly interesting to us because he came to our island in the days of the Ancient Britons. In one of his books he tells us that there were great numbers of people, many buildings, and much cattle. There were trees of every kind, as in Gaul, except the beech and the fir.
“The hare, the hen, and the goose they do not think it right to eat, but they keep them for amusement and pleasure. Most of those living inland do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh, and are clothed in skins. All stain themselves with woad, which gives a blue colour, and makes them of more hideous appearance in battle. They have long hair, but shave every part of their body except the head and upper lip.”
At the time of Caesar’s invasion London was a stronghold of the Britons, and was very probably attacked and captured by Caesar. The first mention of London in history is in a book by a Roman historian named Tacitus, who, in describing what happened in the year A.D. 61, tells us that the Roman general leading the army here in Britain was unable to hold the town at the time of Boadicea’s revolt. London was then very largely destroyed, but the Romans rebuilt it and gave it a new name, Augusta, in honour of their Emperor Augustus. This shows that it was a place of great importance even in those early days.
The days from 3rd July to 11th August, ‘the hottest part of the year, were called by the Romans, “dog-days”, because they thought the great heat was due to Sirius, the dog-star. Sirius was a dog belonging to the giant Orion, who was a great hunter. Diana, the Goddess of the Moon, was also the Goddess of Hunting, and after she had driven her chariot with its white horses across the starlit sky, she spent the day hunting in the forests. Here she often met Orion, and soon fell in love with him. This angered her brother Apollo, the sun-god, who determined to put an end to their friendship. One day he called Diana to him, and began to talk about her skill as an archer. Pretending that he wished to test her skill, he asked her to shoot at a dark speck which could be seen floating far out at sea. Diana, all unsuspecting, at once drew her bow, and so strong and true was her aim that she hit the object, which disappeared beneath the waves. She then found that the dark speck was the head of Orion, who had been cooling himself in the sea after his hunting. She was filled with grief at his death, and vowed never to forget him, placed him and his dog Sirius in the sky. The constellation Orion can easily be found on a clear for the stars forming his belt and sword are unmistakable. Following behind the giant is the very bright star Sirius–“the scorching flames of fierce Orion’s hound”. Virgil in his Aeneid describes one of the heroes of Latium as being “as great as Orion, who, walking on foot through the deep waters of the very middle of the sea, making himself a path, yet rises above the billows with his shoulders; or carrying down an ancient ash from the summit of the mountains, has his feet on the earth, his head shrouded by the clouds of heaven”.
The Angles and Saxons had two names for this month of July: Hegmonath, the hay-month, and Maedmonath, the mead-month. A third name was sometimes given to it–the “latter mild month”, that is, the second warm month.