The thinking behind the new calendar was twofold. First that it should remove all religious references and second that time itself should embrace decimalisation. The result was a largely unworkable system.
Romme was born in the Auvergne region in 1750 and was educated in medicine and mathematics. He had travelled to Russia where he was the tutor to Pavel Stroganov of the beef dish fame.
He entered politics on his way to Paris, an odd choice for someone once described as ‘a small, awkward and clumsy man with an ill complexion, and a dull orator’.
But it is for the Republican Calendar that he is best remembered. In keeping with the prevailing decimalisation, each day was divided into ten hours and each decimal hour was made up of 100 decimal minutes, so each new hour equalled 144 minutes of the ones that people were used to.
Minutes were made up of 86.4 ‘old’ seconds, while each metric second was 13.6% shorter than its duodecimal equivalent.
Unsurprisingly, the idea didn’t catch on, even though clocks were made to display the new rational system of timekeeping, like the one above. Decimal time was officially suspended on 7 April 1795, although it continued to be used in some French cities until as late as 1801.
But if the telling the time was complicated, then so was keeping track of days under Romme’s Republican calendar. Weeks now had ten days instead of seven, unimaginatively named ‘primadi’ through to ‘décadi’, or first day to tenth.
Oddly, the calendar retained twelve months, although each was made up of 30 days. They were given new names based on nature or the prevailing weather conditions in Paris at that time of year, for example, this post would have appeared in the month of Brumaire from the French for fog.
Perhaps the oddest innovation was to give each and every day of the year its own name to replace the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. Days ending in zero were named after a tool, ending in five an animal, and flowers or minerals for the rest. For example, today’s date would have been Dentelaire from the Leadwort plant.
If you’ve done your sums, you’ll realise that the Republican calendar only had 360 days which would have been more than a little inconvenient, so Romme got round this by adding five or six national holidays at the end of the year that became known as ‘les jours complémentaires’.
The calendar experiment last for twelve years until it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806. As for Romme, he had been sentenced to the guillotine eleven years earlier, but managed to commit suicide by repeatedly stabbing himself with a smuggled knife on the steps of the courtroom.
Romme’s last words were ‘I die for the republic‘.