Tag Archives: Anno Domini

Everything AD does but backwards, in high heels

Long ago, in the dim misty recesses of history, there was a famous dance couple: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Their dance routines were stylish and glamorous—and captured in movie musicals so you can still watch them. Fred and Ginger made dancing look easy by putting in a lot of rehearsal time.

Ginger once joked that not only did she do everything Fred did, but she did it backwards, in high heels.

If you thought it was hard to figure out how the centuries are referred to in Anno Domini, how do we ever count back the centuries Before Christ? We live in the 2000s and call it the 21st Century. The 21st Century ad starts with 2001 and ends with 2100. How does that work in bc, where you count backwards?

Let’s pick a century. How about the 4th century? The 4th century Anno Domini started the first day of ad 301 and ended the last day of ad 400. It’s just the opposite in bc. The 4th century Before Christ started the first day of 400 bc and ended the last day of 301 bc.

Are you getting a headache yet?

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

What century is this anyway?

All the years in this century start with 20… So how come it’s called the 21st Century?

Well, first of all, not all the years start with 20… The very last year of this century, its 100th year, will be 2100.

It works just like your age. Are you 12 years old? That means you’re in your 13th year. When you’re in your 21st year, you’ll be 20 years old until the very last day—the day before your birthday. Then on that birthday you’ll be 21 years old and in your 22nd year.

Anno Domini is in its 21st century, and is 2019 years old. December 31, 2100 will be the last day of the 21st Century. On January 1, 2101, AD will be in its 22nd century.

The Venerable Bede

What about all those years before Jesus was born? Don’t they get numbered, too?

I thought that a derby and a brolly would make him look more English.

In ad 731, an English monk, the Venerable Bede, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He used the Anno Domini numbering system to date the years when events happened. Bede is considered to be the father of English history. Ecclesiastical means having to do with the Christian Church.

Bede’s History (5 volumes!) included events that happened before Christ was born. He numbered those years going backwards, starting with the year 1 Before Christ (bc for short). We still use bc and ad to number years. Lately it’s become fashionable among fancy-pants academic types to call Before Christ ‘Before Common Era’ and Anno Domini ‘Common Era.’ We use bc and ad in this history to honor the achievements of Bede and Dionysius.

‘Venerable’ means ‘honored’ or ‘revered.’

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.