Help Me Understand Anno Domini and its use in Antiquity

So when we review history and historic events that involve the Julian and Gregorian calendars, we are all used to the A.D. and B.C. standards that serve as a demarcation for the epoch.

I also understand that there was no “zero year” after 1 B.C. and that it just became 1 A.D. But my question is how these calendars and dates were viewed in there time. Did the people living in the B.C. years just use the number in their expressions of the year? i.e. in 1 B.C. they just referred to the year as 1?

And what was the following year called by those living in 1 A.D.?

I have to assume that all this was categorization was done many decades/centuries later as “Before Christ” surely was not adopted immediately so I really wonder what historians and common people of the time called the years up to, at and following the new epoch.

Thanks for any clarification.

How can you call it B.C. when it was B.C.?

Dating in those days was from the founding of Rome, or the start of a certain kings reign, or something like that. Each area had its own system. There was no global dating system.

American Indians use the same system or at least initials. However, for them the letters stand for Before Columbus and All Downhill.

I thought my question made clear that I understood that, but perhaps not. Yes of course it could not be called B.C.

My question is what the common man or even historians would say or record when logging a date. Did they use some regional format lost to history? Did they just record the numeral? Did they even understand the concept of a numeral year and calendaring system?

I completely understand that the date as we know it now would be unknown to the people of the time. Even as the epoch changed there was certainly no understanding of the format that “we were counting down to zero and now are counting forward” because the whole format was created after the fact.

However I am curious what format was used in its time. What would a historian have logged in (what we now call) 1 B.C. and then the next year in 1 A.D. as some event was recorded?

Anno Domini steals from the common naming systems of the time - “in the 10th year of the reign of King Jones…” Japan to some extent still does this, the years are numbered by the reign of the Emperor of the day - although they have since adopted the AD/BC calendar to be understood in the rest of the world, too. However, tradition is strong too - my father has a chess set he got as a graduation gift from my grandfather, and it is labelled with month, day, and the year of George VI’s reign.

Since monarchs are very localized, the church found the AD numbering simpler when trying to cover the civilized world. The current thought though is that most likely, they date is off by 4 years (depending on who you believe and why) since the numbering was not formally used until a few huundred years after year 1.

So the people around 1 AD/BC did not have anything to get confused about.

As silenus said, dates were counted from notable events, such as the beginning of the reign of a king or emperor. Rome counted at first from the founding of the Republic, then began using the regnal years of the emperors. Other areas and regions would use other dating systems. The Roman systems were the closest to a universal system at the time because they held the most real estate under their polity.

And the BC/AD system didn’t come into being until around 525, when Dionysius Exiguus created it. And even then it wasn’t really widely used until Bede included it in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.

It was basically a hodgepodge of local systems. Using rulers was common, so Roman authors often used the names of the two consuls to distinguish the year. Or for example from the Gospel of Luke “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…”, reference the emperor.

Greeks used a hodgepodge of names as to who held what office that year, or gave the “Olympiad” year, which stated at the date of the first olympics in 776 BC and counted in four year blocks. So Jesus was born in the first year of the 194th Olympiad.

Usually “The fifth year of the reign of Phil” or “The Spring after Louis fell into that dungheap.” That is, from the reign of the local leader, or measured from some event of local importance.

It did not matter that those frog-faced heathen over the hill call it “The Year of the Fruitbat” because we only deal with them at Midsummer Market.

So, you’re telling me is those rare Roman coins I bought with the dates of 64 BC might not be legit???

Some good clarification in here, thank you.

Must have been very confusing for locals of the time before 525 :smiley:

Probably not really. Communication outside of the region you lived in was rare back then for the common people, and our modern adherence to the minutiae of the calendar and the clock was almost unknown. You didn’t really NEED to know what year it was on the other side of the border, unless you lived very close to the border yourself.

Exactly. You hit on the key without knowing it, rich. “Local.” The overwhelming majority of people lived their entire lives within 7 miles of the place they were born. Their only contact with outsiders of any sort was the odd merchant or invading army. It wasn’t until you got the big trading companies of the Renaissance that you had regular contact with people who used a different dating system.

Here is the Straight Dope on the question. What year numbering system was used in the time of Christ? - The Straight Dope

As Cecil notes, Romans would have used anno urbis conditae.

I will also mention the famous story “The Tale of Abu Hasan and the Fart” because it turns out fart jokes are also historical.

Many places in Europe still had a single person who ran the whole village or valley’s “big city errands”, well into the 20th century. Any festival, market or other gathering which got people from more than one location mingling was, among other things, a high occasion for matchmaking, being when you could meet people who weren’t too close to marry.

Previous thread on the subject.

Don’t get them started on train schedules and time zones.

This is still true in some places. Just yesterday, I attended a talk by an anthropologist and a civil engineer who discussed a small water development project (by Engineers without Borders) in a remote indigenous village in Guatemala. As part of their initial assessment, they had asked the villagers when the existing water pipes had been installed. People told them different things, from “eight years” to “forty years.” It turned out that they weren’t “guessing” or “bullshitting”, but rather that they all had genuine memories of the event – they just weren’t used to caring about keeping track of the years as they go by (at least not outside of a few specific contexts).

Anno Domini ascended when Johnny Hart died.

After scanning the thread for mention of Julian Day and not seeing it, I thought this concept might help in the discussion.

Interesting bit of calendar trivia I recently learned: George Eastman was a big supporter of calendar reform and pushed for a thirteen month calendar. It obviously didn’t become popular with the public but Eastman was able to order its use by Kodak. And surprisingly, while Eastman himself died in 1932, Kodak continued using his thirteen month calendar for internal records until 1989.