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  Wikipedia: Anno Domini

Wikipedia: Anno Domini
Anno Domini
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Anno Domini (Latin for In the Year of the Lord), or more completely Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (The Years of Our Lord Jesus Christ), commonly abbreviated "A.D.", refers to the conventional numbering of years in the Gregorian calendar. It defines an epoch based on the traditionally reckoned year of the birth of Jesus Christ. Years before the epoch were denoted A.C.N. (for Ante Christi Natus, Latin for "before the birth of Christ"), although B.C. ("Before Christ") is now usually used in English. The A.D. era is the only system in everyday use in the Western hemisphere, and the main system for commercial and scientific use in the rest of the world. Many non-Christians object to a system based upon an event in the Christian faith. Some use the same system, replacing Anno Domini with Common Era (abbreviated "C.E."). (CE has also been used as an abbreviation for Christian Era.)

These abbreviations are usually placed after the year number. In strict literal latin, the number should follow AD, but in practice, the number has generally come to be placed in front of the letters, e.g. "1 A.D" (there being no year 0), etc.

History of Dating in the Christian World

Anno Domini dating was not the initial choice of Christians in the Mediterranean world; actually, it was not adopted until after the end of the Roman Empire in the West. Like the other inhabitants of the Roman Empire, early Christians used one of several methods to indicate a specific year -- and it was not uncommon for more than one to be used in the same document. This redundancy, in fact, allows historians to construct parallel regnal lists for many kingdoms and polities by comparing chronicles from different regions which include the same rulers.

The earliest and most common practice was consular dating. This involved naming both consulares ordinares who had been appointed to this office on January 1 of the civil year. Sometimes one or both consuls might not be appointed until November or December of the previous year, and news of the appointment may not reach parts of the empire for several months into the current year; thus we find the occasional inscription where the year is defined as "after the consulate" of a pair of consuls.

One common method of dating -- which was not as common as thought by moderns -- was to indicate the year ab urbe condita, or "from the foundation of the City" (abbreviated A.U.C.), where "the City" meant Rome. This style was not in common use because of long standing disagreements over the exact year Rome was founded. However, with the Millenial Games celebrated by the emperor Philip, the year 753 BC came to be widely accepted. This style became more common in order to reinforce the ideology of the Eternal City in times when the political order appeared insecure.

Another system that is less commonly found than thought was to use the regnal year of the Roman emperor. At first, Augustus would indicate the year of his rule by counting how many times he had held the office of consul, and how many times the Roman Senate had granted him Tribunican powers, carefully observing the fiction that his powers came from these offices granted to him, rather than from his own person or the many legions under his control. His successors followed his practice until the memory of the Roman Republic faded (late in the 2nd century or early in the 3rd), when they openly began to use their regnal year.

Another common system was to use the tax indiction cycle (15 indictions make up a tax cycle, an indiction is near a year in duration, more or less). Documents and events begin to be dated by the year of the cycle (e.g., "fifth indiction", "tenth indiction") in the fourth century, and was used long after the tax was no longer collected. This system was used in Gaul, in Egypt until the Islamic conquest, and in the Byzantine Empire as late as the 8th century.

A great many local systems or eras were also important, for example the year from the foundation of one particular city, the regnal year of the neighboring Persian emperor, and eventually even the year of the reigning Caliph. The beginning of the notational year also varied from place to place, and was not largely standardized in Europe as January 1 until the 17th century. The most important of these include the Seleucid Era (in use until the 8th century), and the Spanish Era (in use in official documents in Aragon, Valencia, and in Castile, into the 14th century, and reportedly even later in Portugal).

After the Roman Empire

As the Roman Empire declined, imperial regnal year dating became sloppy, but remained the norm for 400 years in Christian Church circles. Use of consular dating ended when the emperor Justinian discontinued appointing consuls in the mid 6th century. The Papacy was in regular contact throughout the Middle Ages with envoys of the Byzantine world, and had a clear enough idea (sudden deaths and deposals intervening) of who was the Byzantine emperor at any one time.

The Anno Domini system was developed by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus (often described as a Scythian) in Rome around the middle of the 6th century, as an outcome of his work on calculating the date of Easter. Byzantine chroniclers like Theophanes continued to date each year in their world chronicles on a different and much more popular Judaeo-Christian basis — from the notional Creation of the World as calculated by Christian and Jewish scholars in the first 5 centuries of the Christian era. These eras, sometimes called Anno Mundi, "year of the world" (abbreviated A.M.), by modern scholars, had their own disagreements. The most popular formulation was that established by Eusebius of Caesarea, a historian at the time of Constantine I. The Latin translator Jerome had made a comparison of Eusebius with certain dates deduced from the Old Testament which helped popularize Eusebius's A.M. count in the West.

Accuracy of Dating

Almost all Biblical scholars believe that Dionysius was incorrect in his calculation, and that Christ was actually born between 30 B.C. and 4 B.C. The latest bound for the birth of Christ is the death of Herod the Great whose death has been established to occur at 4 B.C. This is not a very controversial point, as no Christian denomination's theology requires the date to be 1 B.C.

The Popularization of Anno Domini

The first historian or chronicler to use A.D. as his primary dating mechanism was Victor of Tonnenna, an African Chronicler of the 7th century. A few generations later, the Anglo-Saxon monk Bede, who was familiar with the work of Dionysus, also used A.D. dating in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, published around 730. Bede was different from historians working in more important places in two ways: First, he was in Northumbria, outside the bounds of the later Roman Empire. Unlike the Mediterranean-focused countries of Italy, France, and Spain, his people had little knowledge of or interest in who the Roman Emperor was in any particular year. Second, he was confronted with the problem of seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their overlapping regnal years. He had also previously written a chronicle going back to Creation, so he had the numbers at his fingertips. He adopted A.D. dating as a way of keeping track of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and trying to bring their dates into line with the fragmentary evidence he had for imperial regnal years.

It should be noted that technically for correctness, the "A.D." should appear before the year, e.g. A.D. 2001. This is in keeping with the original Latin meaning: "in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 2001". However in practice common usage places it ungrammatically at the end, which if taken literally would read "2001 in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ". Other era markings, B.C., C.E., and B.C.E. are placed after the year, e.g., 2001 C.E. They are also generally typeset in small caps.

On the continent of Europe, A.D. was first used as the dominant dating system by Charlemagne and his successors, having learned of it through the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin. It was this influence of the Royal Frankish court that popularized the usage and spread it east into German speaking territories. The Carolingian use of A.D. may well have had twin ideological reasons of breaking away from using the Byzantine era and defusing certain strains of apocalyptic thought.

Two lesser known systems competed for a while with the A.D. system. The earliest was the Era of the Martyrs, which numbered years from the ascension of Diocletian in 284, who launched the last yet most severe persecution of Christians. This system is still used officially by the Coptic and Ethiopian churches. The other system was to date from the Death of Jesus Christ, which as early as Hippolytus and Tertullian was believed to have occurred in the consulate of the Gemini (A.D. 29), which appears in the occasional medieval manuscript.

Attempts at Alternative Eras in the West

The French Revolution and the Italian fascists each seriously attempted to displace the A.D. system by instead dating from their own founding—a non-royal regnal year system. (See: French Revolutionary Calendar.) The Italian fascists actually used the standard system along with Roman numerals denoting the number of years since the establishment of the fascist government in 1922. Therefore, 1934, for example, was Year XII. Both attempts ultimately failed to replace the standard calendar.

Alternative Nomenclature for the Same Era

As a substitute for "Anno Domini", many people now use the abbreviation C.E. which is sometimes understood as meaning Common Era and sometimes as Christian Era. Correspondingly, as a substitute for "Before Christ", the abbreviation B.C.E. is used, which is understood either as Before the Common Era or Before the Christian Era. This terminology is preferred by some academics for various reasons, but probably mainly because it need not be interpreted as making religious reference.

The term "Common Era" has been in use since the late 19th century. Indeed, in its article on "Chronology", the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia uses the sentence: "Foremost among these [dating eras] is that which is now adopted by all civilized peoples and known as the Christian, Vulgar, or Common Era, in the twentieth century of which we are now living."

This terminology is seen by some Christians, and others, as a move by nonbelievers to make Christianity less visible. By contrast, many groups find the A.D. terminology to be objectionable for different reasons. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses find the terms B.C./A.D. objectionable because they imply that Christ was born on 1 A.D., whereas their theology requires a different date that they believe was prophesied in the book of Daniel. In addition, many Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christian or pro-secular persons object to the term A.D. because it implies that Christ is "the Lord."

See also

External links


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