Untimely Observations

Anno Domini


I am a child of the Cold War, so I spent most of my life in an epoch where the 'Year 2000' was synonymous with ‘The Future’—a time when, provided we averted a thermonuclear apocalypse, people would be wearing silver spacesuits and bases would have been long established on the moon.

When the year 2000 finally came, however, it was anti-climatic: I spent New Years Eve in the company of investment executives, whose host never cared to keep track of the time in order to witness the year change at its precise moment. I was the only one to notice the stroke of midnight while sitting at the dinner table. When the date changed, I elbowed my neighbour to point out that we had entered the year 2000, but she only gave me a brief, distracted, half-lidded glance and an indifferent “Ah, yea… Hm.”

Twenty years earlier I would have been exasperated, but by 1999, amidst the hype surrounding the so-called “millennium” (which was not due until the following year anyway, since there was no year zero), I had began to think about the dating system we currently use in the West.

Said system is Christian, and its purpose is to mark the Christian era, beginning with Christ, whose birth will be celebrated again later this week: A.D., Anno Domini, is ‘the Year of Our Lord’. As, until relatively not so long ago, practically every Westerner was a Christian, few if any had any reason to think critically about the date on the calendar.

It may surprise some to learn that the Anno Domini dating system is neither accurate nor 2011 years old.

Anno Domini was invented in 525 by a Scythian monk, Dionysius Exiguus, based in Rome. Existing Easter tables in use at the time counted the years from the accession of Diocletian. Dionysius devised the system wishing not to continue the memory of persecutor of Christians. Thus the system, which counted from the incarnation of Christ (without specifying whether this meant nativity or conception), was meant originally as a method of enumerating Easter tables. At the time the new table was devised, the Julian calendar identified the years by naming the consuls who held office that year from the 1 January, a system we now call ‘consular dating’.

Subsequent scholars have not been able to agree on Dionysius’ calculations, variously proposing the birth of Jesus to have occurred on dates ranging from 18 B.C. to A.D. 6, which means it is likely we are not in the year we think we are at all: what we will call 2012 may in fact be 2030, or 2007.

Moreover, it took centuries before Anno Domini was widely adopted as a de facto dating system. Consular dating persisted long after the office of consul had ceased to have meaning; by the time the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I abolished consular elections in 541, consulships existed purely to mark the beginning of a new year. Not long after, Justinian I required the use of the imperial regnal year, although in Greece, according to Edward Gibbon, ‘the imperfect mode of distinguishing each year by the name of a magistrate, was usefully supplied by the date of a permanent aera: the creation of the world [Anno Mundi], according to the Septuagint version’. This was what we call the Byzantine calendar.

Anno Domini was first adopted as a primary dating system by the 6th century North African chronicler Victor of Tunnuna. Bede, familiar with the work of Dyonisius, followed him in the 8th century, with his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, also introducing the B.C. formula and the omission of a year zero.

It was not until Alcuin of York (d. 804) adopted Dionysius’ invention in continental Europe that Anno Domini gained legal sanction and popularity: Alcuin was Charlemagne’s principal advisor in ecclesiastical affairs, and the institutional sanction afforded by Charlemagne and his successors ensured the system’s prevalence into modern times.

Outside the Carolingian Empire, however, adoption was slow, and both Spain and the East had alternative calendars: in Hispania (Spain), the Era of the Caesars was used until the 14th century, while Portugal did not begin using Anno Domini until 1422.

In the East, Alexandrian Christians used the Era of the Martyrs, numbering years from the accession of Diocletian, while Eastern Orthodox countries only began discontinuing use of the Byzantine calendar when Russia adopted Anno Domini in 1700, with other countries following in the 19th and 20th centuries.

With Dionysius’ methodology in mind, it may be asked why we do not number the years from 25 December. In fact, that was the custom until modern times: 1 January was always New Year's Day, but the year number always changed either on 25 December (the nativity of Christ), 25 March (the conception of Christ), or Easter. The year number was not synchronised with New Year's Day until the 17th century, although in Britain the practice persisted until she adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

Dominance of Darkness

The decline of Christianity across the West, as well as the adoption of the Gregorian calendar for civil matters by traditionally non-Christian peoples across the world, has led to a change of the nomenclature among some, with ‘Before Christ’ (B.C.) and ‘Anno Domini’ (A.D.) being dropped in favour of ‘Before Common Era’ (B.C.E.) and ‘Common Era’ (C.E.)

This may make sense for non-European cultures so long as the cognitive structures, systems, and practices of European man continue to define the dominant paradigm around the world. Should European man fail to reverse his global decline until he is reduced to an anthropological curiosity or relic, even the Common Era system may come to be seen as an irrelevant colonial residue in need of replacement.

Globalists and scientists would probably be attracted to a Human or Holocene Era system, which counts the years from the advent of the current geologic epoch, the Holocene. The Holocene Calendar adds 10,000 years to the present year. Proponents view this as a logical marker since the Holocene coincides roughly with the advent of human civilisation, in the shape of settlements, agriculture, and so on. They also prefer it on the basis that it is non-denominational and avoids the problem of earlier years having larger numbers when the event or individual in question span periods that traverse year 1.

However, this assumes a linear progression towards a universal human standard, where reason and global citizenship triumph over religion and ethnonationalism. The reality is that, with humans being tribal, control over the calendar, over the event from which we are to count our years and how we are to number or name them, has ethnic and political significance. A calendar is also an expression of power: hence, the French government of the First Republic adopting the ‘Republican Calendar’, forcing Lothrop Stoddard over a century later to include republican dates in The French Revolution in San Domingo’s bibliographical references. In a post-Christian, post-Caucasian world, it will be the dominant race that imposes its calendar, according to its dominant ideology of the moment, rather than a generic human dating system. The latter may in time be adopted by scientists, but that may be a possibility so long as there are scientists.

In the worst-case scenario, where humanity devolves into a primitive, ahistorical, illiterate state, enumerating the years may become an entirely forgotten practice, belonging to obsolete human adaptations long buried in the dust.

It may not come to that. Yet, it is possible that, provided European man succeeds in securing his continuance and prosperity as a unique biological category, whatever civilisation he creates after the collapse of Faustian (Christian) civilisation, will be founded on entirely different premises, even if rooted in the same millenarian tradition. Our descendants may find it quaint that we numbered our years the way we have been since Mediaeval times.