Are we 15 years off?


I seem to recall reading, maybe 20 years ago, that some historian had made a disturbing discovery. According to him, the monks that kept track of the years in the Dark Ages lost count, so that our year numbers are actually lower than they should be. I never heard anything more on this; it may have been totally debunked. But does anybody know about this? I think I read it in the old Chicago Daily News in the late '70s.


Prior to the establishment of the BC/AD calendar, things get very difficult for historians, because, for some reason, human nature didn’t seem to readily catch on to the idea of simply giving years serial numbers. (The A.U.C. dating sometimes described as “the Roman calendar” was in fact used only about as often as the “In the n’th Year of the Independence of the United States” dating is today.) The official Roman calendar named years by “In the year that so-and-so and so-and-so were Consul”, and most of the barbarian successor states used “In the n’th Year of the Reign of King so-and-so” (which is still used for some official purposes in the UK). So, yes, the end result is that Dionysius Exiguus (roughly AD 500-560), working with the information available to him, got it wrong. (One theory is that he took a statement in the Gospels that “Jesus was 30” as being an exact number, when the author meant only that Jesus was in his thirties.)

But historians have known about this for centuries; it’s no big deal. 15 years is a pretty extreme value, but 4 BC would appear to be the latest possible date, inasmuch as Herod the Great died that year.

When Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) gave his famous dating of the Creation as 4004 BC, one reason for it was that it gave an even 4000 years before Christ; of course, by his calculation, Christ was supposed to return in 1997 (you have to add one to 1996 because there was no year zero), which He doesn’t seem to have done.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

OK, but I think we’re talking about two different things. The newspaper article I remember (and again, I’m not remembering it in anything approaching its entirety) was not about the incorrect calculation of Christ’s birth. Rather, someone else, applying serial numbers to years, made a clerical error, gave the then-current year a low value, and we’ve been repeating it ever since.

The reason I link to the Master’s column is that he mentioned an old European practice of counting years in cycles of 15. That number rings a faint bell with me – I think that was the time span mentioned in the newspaper. My mind wants to leap to the conclusion that this ancient accountant was trying to count the number of cycles since some known event (Nativity? Fall of Roem? Crowning of Charlemange?), low-balled it by one cycle, thus leading us to believe we are in 1999 when we are actually in 2014 (or 2018, adding the original error).

Antony Aveni’s remarkably well-researched “Empires of Time” is silent on the subject, leading me to believe it’s apocryphal, but I thought I’d lay it out there for the Millions.

I can’t remember exactly who and when, but maybe this may ring a bell for somebody else. I believe the “missing years” you are talking about where when the measurement of time was changed to the Gregorian calendar. They made a mistake and “forgot” to include some years.
Does anyone remember anything similar?

Some of that has been touched on in other strings (which I am certainly too lazy to look up and name.) I don’t remember anything about any fifteen-year groupings (not that I am more than an amateur on this subject.) Are you thinking of the Romans’ 15-days groupings?

areynaldos –

That could be it. I’m afraid I’m not remembering enough of the details, though.

putrid –

The relevant passage from Cecil’s column:

“Other systems of reckoning were also used from time to time. One of the odder ones, in common use during the middle ages, was called the indiction. It was a rotating 15 year cycle-- you got to 15, you started over again at 1. No doubt this bespeaks a rather static conception of history–none of this modern idea of progress, you know. But at least they weren’t bothered by people getting nostalgic for the Sixties.”

There was absolutely, positively, no such error when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, if only because there was no change of year in the first place when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced.

The 15-year cycle of the Induction is real enough, but the idea that such an error could have occurred is fairly unlikely, if only because it was never “the Dark Ages” everywhere. The Eastern Roman Empire stood, after all, until well into the Middle Ages, by which time such an error would have been utterly impossible, and, frankly, I cannot really believe that such an error occurred in, say, Rome.

There might easily have been such an error involving dates of some individual province, of course. Records for Britain in the 5th and 6th century, for example, are almost nonexistant, and the dates for the few events we know of can be plus-or-minus fifty years or so.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Yeah, but isn’t it true that the Declaration of Independence starts with the date, “July 4, 1776, plus or minus fifteen years” ?

Oh, crikey, now that you mention it, I even read that column. I guess that answers the question of whether I retain all the wisdom Cecil strives to impart to me.

By the way, the cycle of the Indiction was a fiscal one, established in the late Empire. Think of it as being like the USA 10-year Census, except, of course, that since the Census is taken in AD years divisible by 10, we never think of it as being independent.

The year of the Indiction was used as a supplement and check to the “in the n’th year of King so-and-so”.

The Julian Date (which has nothing to do with the Julian Calendar – just an unfortunate accident involving two different things being named in honor of two different men named Julius) was established by taking the zero points of the 28-year cycle of the Julian Calendar, the 19-year Metonic Cycle (the phases of the moon repeat each other almost exactly every 19 years), and the 15 years of the Indiction. That gave January 1, 4713 BC (projected backward on the Julian Calendar – the Gregorian Calendar wasn’t yet established) as day zero of the system, which continues to be used by astronomers and other people who want to do simple arithmetic with dates. (Today is Julian Day 2,451,478.)

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I must insist about the missing time when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. I read long time ago a question in a magazine that went like “What happened April 4th, 1654?”. Of course I’m making the date up, but the answer was “Nothing, because that date was skipped when the Gregorian calendar was introduced”.
Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t “missing years” but “missing months”… But still, I don’t remember the exact fact.

Areynaldos, I think you are right. I recall from History classes a few years ago something about the old Julian calendar system having not counted leap days or some such nonsense, so that when they went to the Gregorian calendar, they were off by quite a bit.

Aha! I found a link to a site that explains it all in detail: lays it all out plain. Click on “The Gregorian Reform” for the specifics.
Turns out it was only ten days missing, kind of disappointing. Before finding the site I had thought it was more than 100.

There are no “missing” days. The Julian Calendar had too many leap years, and the calendar was getting out of sync. with the seasons. When the Gregorian Calendar went in in Rome, in 1582, 10 days had to be skipped. When it went in in England in 1752, there had been a further incorrect leap year in 1700, and 11 days had to be skipped. The difference is now 13 days (1800 and 1900 were Julian leap years, but not Gregorian), and will remain so until 2100 (2000 is a leap year in both calendars).

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Another interesting link that I followed from missdavis102 is
Describes also what John W. Kennedy states… And as far as if there are “missing days” or “skipped days”… bah… no point here… the fact is some days in the calendar never existed (different ones between groups of countries, in some cases 10 days, in others 11, etc.)

Ok, now I see I was remembering wrong (in another string) about the 13 days; it’s the difference now, not when the US came on board. But the difference between “Old” Christmas and Christmas or “Old” [insert holiday here] and the current date is always 12 days. (Yes, the “Old” versions now differ from the Julian versions by one day.) Why the 12-days, seeing as how there was an 11-day difference when Britain changed over? If nobody knows what I am talking about, I will have to go try to scare up links to something. I read this stuff years ago in old British holiday books and only have my own non-attributed notes.

The difference may come because not all the countries adopted the “new” calendar at once. First the catholic countries adopted, followed by other European countries. Depending on the year they adopted the Gregorian calendar, they had to do different corrections. All the information is in the link previously mentioned. Interesting is that Turkey didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1927…

Turkey probably wasn’t on any version of the Xtian calendar until 1927. It was around then that Kemal Ataturk was forcibly upgrading Turkey into the modern world, and that involved adopting many Western forms.

The question of the date of Christmas is somewhat confused by the fact (which has nothing to do with the Julian/Gregorian issue) that Epiphany, the feast of the Wise Men coming to see the Infant Jesus, which has always been January 6, is celebrated in some cultures as the main holiday of the Incarnation, and in some of them is also identified as the Birth date.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Off the topic just a bit, but sincew we’re talking of dates regarding religion… I have a friend who is Seventh Day Adventist. We have had many lively discussions concerning the Sabbath, usually involving the question how do we actually “know” what day out of any consecutive seven is the “seventh” from the date of creation.
My argument: in the US, most calendars begin with Sunday at the left, but on several European calendars I’ve seen, Monday is at the left. According to that, in Europe (or France and Sweden, or those particular calendars anyway), Sunday would obviously be the seventh day of the week, whereas in the US Saturday is the seventh, and the Sabbath.
Her argument: Don’t question the ways of the Lord.
I don’t have any real facts to back up my opinion, but I feel like I’m right on principle, that there is no special sacred meaning attached to Saturday, or Sunday for that matter. Cogent reason for either side would be appreciated.

I know that’s how calendars are over there but it never occurred to me that that might be why. Is it really?

The seven day cycle doesn’t depend on which day is first on the calendar.

Since SDA beliefs are derived from Judaic ones (as are many Christian’s) they will worship on the same day the Jews do.

Even when there was no calendar, there were always faithful Jews, who could presumably count to 7.

Since different Jewish communities after the diasporra did not worship on different days, I think we can assume that they kept each other in sync.

In short, this is not a good argument to use on SDAs.

A better one would be questioning the accuracy of precisely following a cycle which begins at a supposed beginning of the world 6000 years ago, but was started a couple of millennia before the christian era, max.

That and the fact the world didn’t begin 6000 years ago. :slight_smile: