The Father of the Leap Year: Guest Post by Sue Barnard

Today, I’m delighted to welcome my Ocelot Press fellow author and friend, Sue Barnard, to the blog. Sue’s novels often take inspiration from classic works of literature, including Shakespeare. Her The Unkindest Cut of All is set in the present day, but takes Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, as its starting point. It’s our Book of the Month on Ocelot Press this month (which just happens to include the Ides of March).

Sue has written a fascinating post about one legacy of many the Romans left us.

Sue also has a competition for you to win a paperback copy of The Unkindest Cut of All. And the book is on special offer in Kindle format for a short time. Read more about these offers at the end of the post.

What did the Romans ever do for us?  Well, quite a lot, actually – but there’s one thing on the list which might come as a surprise: the leap year.  This can be attributed not just to the Romans in general, but to one Roman in particular: Julius Caesar.

The early Roman calendar had ten months in a year, rather than the twelve we know today.  These months were named after the Latin words for first, second, third etc, and began with what we now call March.  In fact a relic of this old calendar still survives; the months September, October, November and December (the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth months of the year we know today) are derived respectively from the Latin for seven, eight, nine and ten.

The Roman year had just over 300 days, and very quickly fell out of step with the solar year (the length of time it takes for the Earth to complete one full orbit around the Sun).  To compensate for this, two additional months – Ianuarius and Februarius – were added on to the end of the year – but even after this adjustment, the calendar year was still too short to coincide properly with the solar year.

In 46BC, Julius Caesar consulted with the astronomer Sosigenes and introduced reforms to the calendar which were designed to clear up the confusion.  This new system – the Julian calendar – came into effect in 45BC, and the year was made up of 365 days.  In addition, the beginning of the year was moved from March to January, and some of the months were renamed.  These included the month Quintilis (meaning fifth, but now the seventh month).  This was renamed Iulius, after Julius Caesar, and is what we now call July.

Although the new 365-day calendar was intended to synchronise the calendar year with the solar cycle, the actual length of the solar year is ever so slightly longer, at 365¼ days.  To compensate for this discrepancy, Caesar arranged for an extra day to be added every four years – a practice which still applies today.  The calendar was further revised by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century, but that’s another story entirely.  Be that as it may, the leap day survived the further change.

This is the reason why we have leap years.  And it’s all thanks to the mighty Caesar.

The Unkindest Cut of All


Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it.  So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing “prima donna” attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.

Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer.  But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.

Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar.  The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.

But tragedy is waiting in the wings.  And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable and fascinating nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth of what really happened…

The Unkindest Cut of All is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.  To celebrate it being the Ocelot Press Book of the Month, the Kindle edition is currently available at the special offer price of just 77p (or the equivalent in your local currency).  To find out more, click here.  

And here’s a special treat for anyone who orders the e-book during this month.  Post a screenshot of your Amazon order in the Ocelot Press Readers Group on Facebook, and you will be entered into a draw to win a signed copy of the paperback edition.  The draw will stay open until the end of March 2021.

Copyright © Sue Barnard, Vanessa Couchman 2021. All rights reserved.

Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

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