How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Talk about things that are not necessarily related to music or the guitar.
Posts: 107
Joined: Fri Nov 20, 2015 3:02 am
Location: Seattle

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by hpaulj » Wed Mar 01, 2017 7:40 pm

Choosing year 1 for the AD/BC calendar, new years day, and the date for Christmas are different things, and only poorly related.

In the Roman calendar as of Julius Caesar's time, the solstices and equinoxes fell on the 25th - Dec 25 shortest, June 25 longest etc. But an error in leap year counting produced a shift of about one day per century. By 4th C AD, the shortest day was Dec 21. By the time of Pope Gregory in the 15th c the error was 12 days. The Gregorian calendar eliminated that error, and corrected the leap year counting. So now we are stuck with Dec 21 as the approximate winter solstice.

As told in Eastern Orthodox churches, Theophany, Jan 6 was the 2nd most important church feast day, and it celebrated all the 'beginning' events (Pascha/Easter is the most important). Then following the example of Rome, the birth feast was split off, and celebrated 12 days earlier, on Dec 25, the traditional winter solstice. In the east Theophany remains important, but in the Roman church it just celebrates the Wise Men.

There are several church feast days defined by choosing Dec 25 as the birth date. 8 days later is his circumcision, Jan 1. March 25 was his conception (or Annunciation to Mary in Luke), Jun 25 is John the Baptist's birthday (6 mths older). These feast days were set sometime around 400ad.

The AD/BC counting was introduced in the 6th c. The claim that it is off by 4 years is based on fact that, by modern counting, Herod died in 4 BC. His death is the only Gospels event that can be tied to extra-Biblical evidence. Luke mentions a Roman governor and a census, but that governorship was 10 years after Herod, and there's no external evidence of that census. One of the Gospels says Jesus was 30 when he started his preaching and a timeline constructed from a different one indicates it was 3 yrs long. That does, roughly, put his death during the rule of Pontius Pilate (26-36AD).

The New Years WIki article says that various dates were used as New Years. March 1 was common, and some of the month names reflect that (Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec, 7,8,9,10). But Jan 1 was also common in Roman usage, but it was never prominent in Church liturgical calendar. As I wrote earlier March 25, Lady's Day (Annunciation) was used as New Years in the English speaking world until just before the American Revolution. George Washington was born in a 'conception date' Julian year, and died in a 'circumcision date' Gregorian year. discusses in detail how and why Dionysius came up with the AD counting in the 525AD. His main interest was in creating Easter date tables, not in setting Christmas or New Years. Choosing the date for Easter was controversial in the 4th c, and even now there's a difference between how Western (Roman) and Eastern churches set it.

The use of CE/BCE, common era, is just a way of saying that the year counting is based on common accepted usage, as opposed to the practice of one church's liturgical calendar. The numbers are the same.
Last edited by hpaulj on Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 2230
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2011 8:09 pm
Location: Southeastern U.S.

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by gitgeezer » Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:09 pm

I agree. Let’s not confuse the calendar system with the actual birth. Those are two separate issues. A lot of scholarly work has been done on the date of the birth, and scholars generally agree that the first AD day of the calendar was certainly not the birth date—probably off 4-6 years, maybe more. But that issue is now irrelevant to the calendar system. Even if the exact day of the birth could be determined, the calendar system would not change.

In an effort to avoid religious connotations, many scholars are now using BCE (before the common [or current] era) and CE (common [or current] era), though calendrically they mean the same as BC and AD.

To understand the first century numerically, it helps to put zeros in front of the days. Thus the first century proceeds as follows: 001, 002, 003 ... 098, 099, 100 (there is no year “0”). The second century proceeds as 101, 102, 103 ... 198, 199, 200, etc. Thus the number of the century is always 1 higher than the first or second digit of the years in the century, until the last year of the century when they finally agree.

I was working in Washington D.C. at the time of the great midnight celebration on the Mall when year 1999 changed to year 2000. The numbers were shown in high illuminated figures and a great cheer went up when 1999 changed to 2000. It was celebrated as the change from the 20th to the 21st century. The glory of the event was not diminished in the least by the fact that numerically it was wrong. The year 2000 was actually the last year of the 20th century, not the first year of the 21st. The first year of the 21st century was 2001.

User avatar
Stephen Kenyon
Posts: 1815
Joined: Sun Aug 04, 2013 11:26 am
Location: Dorchester, Dorset, England

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Wed Mar 01, 2017 11:36 pm

gitgeezer wrote:.... The year 2000 was actually the last year of the 20th century, not the first year of the 21st. The first year of the 21st century was 2001.
Yep, I distinctly remember having an early night in celebration and honour of mathematical accuracy. 31st December 1999 that is.
Simon Ambridge Series 40 (2005)
Trevor Semple Series 88 (1992)
Louis Panormo (1838)
Alexander Batov Baroque Guitar (2013)

User avatar
Posts: 389
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 3:59 pm
Location: Denver, Colorado

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by Jstanley01 » Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:56 am

There is no year zero for the same reason there's no day zero during a month, because dates are figured in cardinal numbers while birthdays are counted in ordinal numbers. The "First Year of Our Lord" began with his birth, and after living through that year, on his birthday he was a one-year-old. Similarly, today is not the zero-eth day of March, it's the first day of March. And yes, that means when you turn forty, for the entire year that you say, "I'm forty," you are actually living through your forty-first year. Sorry to be the bearer of the bad news... :(
Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. -W.C. Fields

Posts: 2230
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2011 8:09 pm
Location: Southeastern U.S.

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by gitgeezer » Thu Mar 02, 2017 11:36 am

So I suppose children have got it right when they say, "I'm nine, going on ten."

User avatar
Andrew Fryer
Posts: 2297
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:13 pm
Location: London SE5

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Thu Mar 02, 2017 11:46 am

Counting inclusively is always an irritant. Today is Thursday. Next thursday is in 8 days' time. Today is the first day, etc.
1975 Calatayud y Gisbert, Yamaha CG131S.

Posts: 1671
Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2012 3:29 am
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Re: How did they write down dates in "bc"?

Post by dory » Sun Mar 05, 2017 1:47 am

So I know about the Jewish calendar, and the Mayan calendar-- perhaps the most acvurate one we have had if I remember right. There still is an Arabic calendar. There was a Roman calendar that way preceded Christ. I presume there was a Chinese calenday and numerous other ones ( Mesopotamean, African, etc.) People seem to love determining dates. The only thing unique about the current "common era" calendar is how widespread its use is.

Return to “The Café”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: andreas777, chuckinphoenix, CommonCrawl [Bot], Erik Zurcher, Evocacion, Guero, Michael Butten, Smith and 14 guests