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Anno Domini

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Anno Domini inscription at Klagenfurt Cathedral, Austria

The terms anno Domini (AD) and before Christ (BC)[a] are used when designating years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The term anno Domini is Medieval Latin and means "in the year of the Lord"[1] but is often presented using "our Lord" instead of "the Lord",[2][3] taken from the full original phrase "anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi", which translates to "in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ". The form "BC" is specific to English, and equivalent abbreviations are used in other languages: the Latin form, rarely used in English, is ante Christum natum (ACN) or ante Christum (AC).

This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus, AD counting years from the start of this epoch and BC denoting years before the start of the era. There is no year zero in this scheme; thus the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC. This dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus but was not widely used until the 9th century.[4][5]

Terminology that is viewed by some as being more neutral and inclusive of non-Christian people is to call this the Common Era (abbreviated as CE), with the preceding years referred to as Before the Common Era (BCE). Astronomical year numbering and ISO 8601 avoid words or abbreviations related to Christianity, but use the same numbers for AD years (but not for BC years in the case of astronomical years; e.g., 1 BC is year 0, 45 BC is year −44).


Traditionally, English follows Latin usage by placing the "AD" abbreviation before the year number, though it is also found after the year.[6] In contrast, "BC" is always placed after the year number (for example: AD 70, but 70 BC), which preserves syntactic order. The abbreviation "AD" is also widely used after the number of a century or millennium, as in "fourth century AD" or "second millennium AD" (although conservative usage formerly rejected such expressions).[7] Since "BC" is the English abbreviation for Before Christ, it is sometimes incorrectly concluded that AD means After Death (i.e., after the death of Jesus), which would mean that the approximately 33 years commonly associated with the life of Jesus would be included in neither the BC nor the AD time scales.[8]


The anno Domini dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus to enumerate years in his Easter table. His system was to replace the Diocletian era that had been used in older Easter tables, as he did not wish to continue the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians.[9] The last year of the old table, Diocletian Anno Martyrium 247, was immediately followed by the first year of his table, anno Domini 532. When Dionysius devised his table, Julian calendar years were identified by naming the consuls who held office that year— Dionysius himself stated that the "present year" was "the consulship of Probus Junior", which was 525 years "since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ".[10] Thus, Dionysius implied that Jesus' incarnation occurred 525 years earlier, without stating the specific year during which his birth or conception occurred. "However, nowhere in his exposition of his table does Dionysius relate his epoch to any other dating system, whether consulate, Olympiad, year of the world, or regnal year of Augustus; much less does he explain or justify the underlying date."[11]

Bonnie J. Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens briefly present arguments for 2 BC, 1 BC, or AD 1 as the year Dionysius intended for the Nativity or incarnation. Among the sources of confusion are:[5]

  • In modern times, incarnation is synonymous with the conception, but some ancient writers, such as Bede, considered incarnation to be synonymous with the Nativity.
  • The civil or consular year began on 1 January, but the Diocletian year began on 29 August (30 August in the year before a Julian leap year).
  • There were inaccuracies in the lists of consuls.
  • There were confused summations of emperors' regnal years.

It is not known how Dionysius established the year of Jesus's birth. One major theory is that Dionysius based his calculation on the Gospel of Luke, which states that Jesus was "about thirty years old" shortly after "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar", and hence subtracted thirty years from that date, or that Dionysius counted back 532 years from the first year of his new table.[12][13][14] This method was probably the one used by ancient historians such as Tertullian, Eusebius or Epiphanius, all of whom agree that Jesus was born in 2 BC,[15] probably following this statement of Jesus' age (i.e. subtracting thirty years from AD 29).[16] Alternatively, Dionysius may have used an earlier unknown source. The Chronograph of 354 states that Jesus was born during the consulship of Caesar and Paullus (AD 1), but the logic behind this is also unknown.[17]

It has also been speculated by Georges Declercq[18] that Dionysius' desire to replace Diocletian years with a calendar based on the incarnation of Christ was intended to prevent people from believing the imminent end of the world. At the time, it was believed by some that the resurrection of the dead and end of the world would occur 500 years after the birth of Jesus. The old Anno Mundi calendar theoretically commenced with the creation of the world based on information in the Old Testament. It was believed that, based on the Anno Mundi calendar, Jesus was born in the year 5500 (5500 years after the world was created) with the year 6000 of the Anno Mundi calendar marking the end of the world.[19][14] Anno Mundi 6000 (approximately AD 500) was thus equated with the end of the world[18] but this date had already passed in the time of Dionysius. The "Historia Brittonum" attributed to Nennius written in the 9th century makes extensive use of the Anno Passionis (AP) dating system which was in common use as well as the newer AD dating system. The AP dating system took its start from 'The Year of The Passion'. It is generally accepted by experts there is a 27-year difference between AP and AD reference.[20]

The date of birth of Jesus of Nazareth is not stated in the gospels or in any secular text, but most scholars assume a date of birth between 6 BC and 4 BC.[21] The historical evidence is too fragmentary to allow a definitive dating,[22] but the date is estimated through two different approaches—one by analyzing references to known historical events mentioned in the Nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew and the second by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus.[23][24]


The Anglo-Saxon historian Bede, who was familiar with the work of Dionysius Exiguus, used anno Domini dating in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which he completed in AD 731. In the History he also used the Latin phrase ante [...] incarnationis dominicae tempus anno sexagesimo ("in the sixtieth year before the time of the Lord's incarnation"), which is equivalent to the English "before Christ", to identify years before the first year of this era.[25] Both Dionysius and Bede regarded anno Domini as beginning at the incarnation of Jesus Christ, but "the distinction between Incarnation and Nativity was not drawn until the late 9th century, when in some places the Incarnation epoch was identified with Christ's conception, i. e., the Annunciation on March 25" ("Annunciation style" dating).[26]

Statue of Charlemagne by Agostino Cornacchini (1725), at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. Charlemagne promoted the usage of the anno Domini epoch throughout the Carolingian Empire.

On the continent of Europe, anno Domini was introduced as the era of choice of the Carolingian Renaissance by the English cleric and scholar Alcuin in the late eighth century. Its endorsement by Emperor Charlemagne and his successors popularizing the use of the epoch and spreading it throughout the Carolingian Empire ultimately lies at the core of the system's prevalence. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, popes continued to date documents according to regnal years for some time, but usage of AD gradually became more common in Catholic countries from the 11th to the 14th centuries.[27] In 1422, Portugal became the last Western European country to switch to the system begun by Dionysius.[28] Eastern Orthodox countries only began to adopt AD instead of the Byzantine calendar in 1700 when Russia did so, with others adopting it in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Although anno Domini was in widespread use by the 9th century, the term "Before Christ" (or its equivalent) did not become common until much later. Bede used the expression "anno [...] ante incarnationem Dominicam" (in the year before the incarnation of the Lord) twice. "Anno ante Christi nativitatem" (in the year before the birth of Christ) is found in 1474 in a work by a German monk.[b] In 1627, the French Jesuit theologian Denis Pétau (Dionysius Petavius in Latin), with his work De doctrina temporum, popularized the usage ante Christum (Latin for "Before Christ") to mark years prior to AD.[29][30][31]

New year[edit]

When the reckoning from Jesus' incarnation began replacing the previous dating systems in western Europe, various people chose different Christian feast days to begin the year: Christmas, Annunciation, or Easter. Thus, depending on the time and place, the year number changed on different days in the year, which created slightly different styles in chronology:[32]

  • From 25 March 753 AUC (today in 1 BC), i.e., notionally from the incarnation of Jesus. That first "Annunciation style" appeared in Arles at the end of the 9th century then spread to Burgundy and northern Italy. It was not commonly used and was called calculus pisanus since it was adopted in Pisa and survived there until 1750.
  • From 25 December 753 AUC (today in 1 BC), i.e., notionally from the birth of Jesus. It was called "Nativity style" and had been spread by Bede together with the anno Domini in the early Middle Ages. That reckoning of the Year of Grace from Christmas was used in France, England and most of western Europe (except Spain) until the 12th century (when it was replaced by Annunciation style) and in Germany until the second quarter of the 13th century.
  • From 25 March 754 AUC (today in AD 1). That second "Annunciation style" may have originated in Fleury Abbey in the early 11th century, but it was spread by the Cistercians. Florence adopted that style in opposition to that of Pisa, so it got the name of calculus florentinus. It soon spread in France and also in England where it became common in the late 12th century and lasted until 1752.
  • From Easter, starting in 754 AUC (AD 1). That mos gallicanus (French custom) bound to a moveable feast was introduced in France by king Philip Augustus (r. 1180–1223), maybe to establish a new style in the provinces reconquered from England. However, it never spread beyond the ruling élite.

With these various styles, the same day could, in some cases, be dated in 1099, 1100 or 1101.

Other Christian and European eras[edit]

During the first six centuries of what would come to be known as the Christian era, European countries used various systems to count years. Systems in use included consular dating, imperial regnal year dating, and Creation dating.

Although the last non-imperial consul, Basilius, was appointed in 541 by Emperor Justinian I, later emperors through to Constans II (641–668) were appointed consuls on the first of January after their accession. All of these emperors, except Justinian, used imperial post-consular years for the years of their reign, along with their regnal years.[33] Long unused, this practice was not formally abolished until Novell XCIV of the law code of Leo VI did so in 888.

Another calculation had been developed by the Alexandrian monk Annianus around the year AD 400, placing the Annunciation on 25 March AD 9 (Julian)—eight to ten years after the date that Dionysius was to imply. Although this incarnation was popular during the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire, years numbered from it, an Era of Incarnation, were exclusively used and are still used in Ethiopia. This accounts for the seven- or eight-year discrepancy between the Gregorian and Ethiopian calendars.

Byzantine chroniclers like Maximus the Confessor, George Syncellus, and Theophanes dated their years from Annianus' creation of the world. This era, called Anno Mundi, "year of the world" (abbreviated AM), by modern scholars, began its first year on 25 March 5492 BC. Later Byzantine chroniclers used Anno Mundi years from 1 September 5509 BC, the Byzantine Era. No single Anno Mundi epoch was dominant throughout the Christian world. Eusebius of Caesarea in his Chronicle used an era beginning with the birth of Abraham, dated in 2016 BC (AD 1 = 2017 Anno Abrahami).[34]

Spain and Portugal continued to date by the Spanish Era (also called Era of the Caesars), which began counting from 38 BC, well into the Middle Ages. In 1422, Portugal became the last Catholic country to adopt the anno Domini system.[27]

The Era of Martyrs, which numbered years from the accession of Diocletian in 284, who launched the most severe persecution of Christians, was used by the Church of Alexandria and is still used, officially, by the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic churches. It was also used by the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches. Another system was to date from the crucifixion of Jesus, which as early as Hippolytus and Tertullian was believed to have occurred in the consulate of the Gemini (AD 29), which appears in some medieval manuscripts.

CE and BCE[edit]

Alternative names for the anno Domini era include vulgaris aerae (found 1615 in Latin),[35] "Vulgar Era" (in English, as early as 1635),[36][c] "Christian Era" (in English, in 1652),[37] "Common Era" (in English, 1708),[38] and "Current Era".[39] Since 1856,[40] the alternative abbreviations CE and BCE (sometimes written C.E. and B.C.E.) are sometimes used in place of AD and BC.

The "Common/Current Era" ("CE") terminology is often preferred by those who desire a term that does not explicitly make religious references but still uses the same epoch as the anno Domini notation.[41][42] For example, Cunningham and Starr (1998) write that "B.C.E./C.E. […] do not presuppose faith in Christ and hence are more appropriate for interfaith dialog than the conventional B.C./A.D."[43] Upon its foundation, the Republic of China adopted the Minguo Era but used the Western calendar for international purposes. The translated term was 西 (xī yuán; 'Western Era'). Later, in 1949, the People's Republic of China adopted 公元 (gōngyuán; 'Common Era') for all purposes domestic and foreign.

No year zero: start and end of a century[edit]

In the AD year numbering system, whether applied to the Julian or Gregorian calendars, AD 1 is immediately preceded by 1 BC, with nothing in between them (there was no year zero). There are debates as to whether a new decade, century, or millennium begins on a year ending in zero or one.[4]

For computational reasons, astronomical year numbering and the ISO 8601 standard designate years so that AD 1 = year 1, 1 BC = year 0, 2 BC = year −1, etc.[d] In common usage, ancient dates are expressed in the Julian calendar, but ISO 8601 uses the Gregorian calendar and astronomers may use a variety of time scales depending on the application. Thus dates using the year 0 or negative years may require further investigation before being converted to BC or AD.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The words anno and before are often capitalized, but this is considered incorrect by some and either not mentioned in major dictionaries or only listed as an alternative.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Werner Rolevinck in Fasciculus temporum (1474) used Anno ante xpi nativitatem (in the year before the birth of Christ) for all years between creation and Jesus. "xpi" comes from the Greek χρ (chr) in visually Latin letters, together with the Latin ending -i, thus abbreviating Christi ("of Christ"). This phrase appears upside down in the centre of recto folios (right hand pages). From Jesus to Pope Sixtus IV he usually used Anno Christi or its abbreviated form Anno xpi (on verso folios—left hand pages). He used Anno mundi alongside all of these terms for all years.
  3. ^ The word vulgar originally meant "of the ordinary people", distinguishing it from the regnal date (years since the coronation of the monarch).
  4. ^ To convert from a year BC to astronomical year numbering, reduce the absolute value of the year by 1, and prefix it with a negative sign (unless the result is zero). For years AD, omit the AD and prefix the number with a plus sign (plus sign is optional if it is clear from the context that the year is after the year 0).[44]



  1. ^ "anno Domini". Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 9 May 2024. Etymology: Medieval Latin, in the year of the Lord
  2. ^ "Anno Domini". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  3. ^ Blackburn & Holford-Strevens 2003, p. 782 "since AD stands for anno Domini, 'in the year of (Our) Lord'"
  4. ^ a b Teresi, Dick (July 1997). "Zero". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 5 June 2022.
  5. ^ a b Blackburn & Holford-Strevens 2003, pp. 778–79.
  6. ^ Chicago Manual of Style 2010, pp. 476–7; Goldstein 2007, p. 6.
  7. ^ Chicago Manual of Style, 1993, p. 304.
  8. ^ Ryan 2000, p. 15.
  9. ^ Blackburn & Holford-Strevens 2003, p. 767.
  10. ^ Nineteen year cycle of Dionysius Introduction and First Argumentum.
  11. ^ Blackburn & Holford-Strevens 2003, p. 778.
  12. ^ Teres, Gustav (October 1984). "Time computations and Dionysius Exiguus". Journal for the History of Astronomy. 15 (3): 177–88. Bibcode:1984JHA....15..177T. doi:10.1177/002182868401500302. S2CID 117094612.
  13. ^ Tøndering, Claus, "The Calendar FAQ: Counting years". Archived 24 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ a b Mosshammer, Alden A (2009). The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 254, 270, 328, 333, 345–47. ISBN 978-0191562365.
  15. ^ Beyer, David (1998). "Josephus Reexamined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius". In Vardaman, Jerry (ed.). Chronos, Kairos, Christos II: Chronological, Nativity, and Religious Studies in Memory of Ray Summers. Mercer University Press. pp. 85–96. ISBN 978-0-86554-582-3.
  16. ^ Finegan, Jack (2015). The Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Hendrickson Publishers. p. 345. ISBN 978-1-61970-641-5.
  17. ^ Mosshammer, Alden A (2009). The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 319–56. ISBN 978-0191562365.
  18. ^ a b Declercq, Georges(2000). "Anno Domini. The Origins of the Christian Era" Turnhout, Belgium, [page needed]
  19. ^ Wallraff, Martin: Julius Africanus und die Christliche Weltchronik. Walter de Gruyter, 2006
  20. ^ Halsall, Guy (2013). Worlds of Arthur: Facts & Fictions of The Dark Ages. Oxford University Press, pp 194 - 200
  21. ^ Dunn, James DG (2003). Jesus Remembered. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 324.
  22. ^ Doggett 1992, p579: "Although scholars generally believe that Christ was born some years before AD 1, the historical evidence is too sketchy to allow a definitive dating".
  23. ^ Paul L. Maier "The Date of the Nativity and Chronology of Jesus" in Chronos, kairos, Christos: nativity and chronological studies by Jerry Vardaman, Edwin M. Yamauchi 1989 ISBN 0-931464-50-1 pp. 113–29
  24. ^ New Testament History by Richard L. Niswonger 1992 ISBN 0-310-31201-9 pp. 121–24
  25. ^ Bede 731, Book 1, Chapter 2, first sentence.
  26. ^ Blackburn & Holford-Strevens 2003, p. 881.
  27. ^ a b Patrick, 1908
  28. ^ "General Chronology". New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. III. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1908. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
  29. ^ Steel, Duncan (2000). Marking time: the epic quest to invent the perfect calendar. Wiley. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-471-29827-4. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  30. ^ Hunt, Lynn Avery (2008). Measuring time, making history. Central European University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-963-9776-14-2. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  31. ^ Petau, Denis (1758). search for "ante Christum" in a 1748 reprint of a 1633 abridgement entitled Rationarium temporum by Denis Petau. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  32. ^ C. R. Cheney, A Handbook of Dates, for students of British history Archived 5 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Cambridge University Press, 1945–2000, pp. 8–14.
  33. ^ Roger S. Bagnall and Klaas A. Worp, Chronological Systems of Byzantine Egypt Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Leiden, Brill, 2004.[page needed]
  34. ^ Alfred von Gutschmid, Kleine Schriften, F. Ruehl, Leipzig, 1889, p. 433.
  35. ^ Johannes Kepler (1615). Joannis Keppleri Eclogae chronicae: ex epistolis doctissimorum aliquot virorum & suis mutuis, quibus examinantur tempora nobilissima: 1. Herodis Herodiadumque, 2. baptismi & ministerii Christi annorum non plus 2 1/4, 3. passionis, mortis et resurrectionis Dn. N. Iesu Christi, anno aerae nostrae vulgaris 31. non, ut vulgo 33., 4. belli Iudaici, quo funerata fuit cum Ierosolymis & Templo Synagoga Iudaica, sublatumque Vetus Testamentum. Inter alia & commentarius in locum Epiphanii obscurissimum de cyclo veteri Iudaeorum (in Latin). Francofurti : Tampach. OCLC 62188677. anno aerae nostrae vulgaris
  36. ^ Kepler, Johann; Vlacq, Adriaan (1635). Ephemerides of the Celestiall Motions, for the Yeers of the Vulgar Era 1633... Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  37. ^ Sliter, Robert (1652). A celestiall glasse, or, Ephemeris for the year of the Christian era 1652 being the bissextile or leap-year: contayning the lunations, planetary motions, configurations & ecclipses for this present year ... : with many other things very delightfull and necessary for most sorts of men: calculated exactly and composed for ... Rochester. London: Printed for the Company of Stationers.
  38. ^ The History of the Works of the Learned. Vol. 10. London: Printed for H. Rhodes. 1708. p. 513. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  39. ^ "History of Judaism 63BCE–1086CE". BBC Team. BBC. 8 February 2005. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2011. Year 1: CE – What is nowadays called the 'Current Era' traditionally begins with the birth of a Jewish teacher called Jesus. His followers came to believe he was the promised Messiah and later split away from Judaism to found Christianity
  40. ^ Raphall, Morris Jacob (1856). Post-Biblical History of The Jews. Moss & Brother. Retrieved 18 May 2011. CE BCE. The term common era does not appear in this book; the term Christian era [lowercase] does appear a number of times. Nowhere in the book is the abbreviation explained or expanded directly.
  41. ^ Robinson, B.A. (20 April 2009). "Justification of the use of "CE" & "BCE" to identify dates. Trends". ReligiousTolerance.org. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011.
  42. ^ Safire, William (17 August 1997). "On Language: B.C./A.D. or B.C.E./C.E.?". The New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on 12 June 2013.
  43. ^ Cunningham, Philip A., ed. (2004). Pondering the Passion : what's at stake for Christians and Jews?. Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 193. ISBN 978-0742532182.
  44. ^ Doggett, 1992, p. 579


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