AD/BC and CE/BCE are not the only ways to count years
The way we measure time has changed throughout history. AD and BC, as well as CE and BCE are the best-known ways of measuring time in the western world. However, this system has only existed since the Middle Ages. How did other people measure time before this?
Most ancient cultures chose to number their years, beginning from an event that was considered to be most significant in their history or religion. For example, the AD/BC and CE/BCE system is based around the supposed date of the birth of Jesus Christ, as this was considered to be a significant event.
However, other people groups believed different events and/or people had similar importance and based their systems around them. Below, we will take a look at how a number of different cultures counted their years in order to understand the variety of ways people have attempted to measure time.
The Roman calendar started counting years from the date that was thought to be the original year that the city of Rome was founded. This is why their system was also known as the ab urbe condita (AUC) system, since this is the Latin phrase that means 'from the founding of the city'.
The ancient Romans believed that a legendary figure called Romulus created Rome in 753 BC, and it was from this date that they started numbering their years. Therefore, even though we say that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, the Romans would have said he was killed in the year 710 AUC.
In ancient Greece, each of the individual city-states, like Athens, Sparta, and Thebes, had their own individual calendars, that often measured time differently from each other. This was extremely confusing, so they decided to find a single date they could all agree on. To do this, they used the Olympic Games to measure time.
The Olympic Games occurred every four years, beginning in 776 BC. Therefore, one set of four years was called an 'Olympiad'. They would number their years in groups of four so that all city-states could understand each other. For example, 44 BC would be considered the 184th Olympiad.
The Jewish calendar counts years from the moment that they believed the world was created by God. The date of creation was based upon the information presented in the Torah, a religious text that was believed to have been written in the time of Moses.
Using the information from this work, they calculated the year the world was created as 3761 BC. This year is known as anno mundi (meaning 'year of the world', and often just abbreviated to AM), and the Jewish calendar counts forward from this time. Therefore, 44 BC would be around 3717 AM.
A variety of different Chinese calendars have been developed over the last 2000 years, most of which consist of 12 months that are each 29 or 30 days long.
However, in all of these ancient counting systems, each year was numbered from the year that the current emperor had taken the throne. For example, they could say that an event happened in the third year of the Emperor Li. Unfortunately, what made this particularly confusing, is that when a new emperor took power, the calendar was reset to 'the first year' of the new emperor. As a result, it is often difficult to be precise about particular years in Chinese history.
There have been attempts at creating a more standard Chinese historical calendar to measure longer periods of time, such as decades, centuries and millennia. These calendars counted years from the reign of a significant historical figure, such as the Yellow Emperor or the birth of Confucius. However, none of these systems found wide acceptance.
The Muslim calendar is used by many Islamic nations around the world. The calendar was developed in the Hijra year, which is the year that the prophet Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina, which is equivalent to the year AD 622.
The Islamic calendar counts forward from this time, using a 'H' (for Hijra) or 'BH' (for 'Before Hijra). Therefore, the year 44 BC would be around 684 BH.
Plus, much more...
The selection of systems outlined above are just a small sample of different attempts that humans have made to measure time. Each culture has its own unique way of counting time, and it is fascinating to see how these systems evolved over time. It is amazing to think that there are so many different ways to measure time- each one with its own set of traditions and history.
The next time you hear someone talking about the year AD or BC, take a moment to appreciate the diversity of cultures that exists around the world.