Monday, September 10, 2012

An Enterprising Monk: How Bede Changed Historical Dating for the Western World

Have you ever wondered why we started using A.D. and B.C. to reckon time? Have you ever wondered who was the historian behind it?

Today I have a post up at English Historical Fiction Authors entitled "Anno Domini and the Venerable Bede."

Over twenty centuries of history have this phrase appended to them, but it has only been fifteen centuries since the system of dating was first devised, and only twelve centuries since the work of the Venerable Bede made it common usage in the Western world. 
The Romans used the founding of Rome by the legendary figure Romulus, the year we now know as 753 B.C., as year one of their dating system. As the Roman Empire spread, this system of ordering time spread with it. If Rome still ruled the world, the date on this blog post would be the year 2765 ab urbe condita (and these paragraphs would probably be written in Latin). But Rome went the way of the tyrannosaurus rex, and somewhere in that muddle we know as the Middle Ages, someone decided that time needed to be re-ordered. Someone decided that the founding of a little city on the banks of the Tiber would no longer be the focal point of history.... (read more)


  1. learn something new every day so it's 2765 huh? - cool post, Rosanne :)

  2. Ah, gotta love Bede for all his shortcomings. He wrote another work called 'On the Reckoning of Time' in which he clearly states the earth is round 'like a ball' and this is the reason for differing lengths of day, so much for 'Dark Age' people knowing nothign about science.

    1. I got to translate part of the Ecclesiastical History from Latin when I was in college--lots of fun!

      Out of curiosity, what shortcomings are you referring to?

    2. Some people dont seem to like that he was biased against the 'Britons' and he was factually inaccurate in some places apparently. I think he did his best.

      Former mayor of London Ken Livingston's allaeged objection to Bede is one of the most amusing I think- that he didnt mention King Arthur and ignored 'our pagan past'. What I could say about his grasp of history from such a statement might not be very polite.

  3. Interesting. To me, one of the most interesting parts about the Ecclesiastical History is Bede's perspective on the Britons. His "bias" against them seems to stem from the fact that they refused to share the gospel with the Anglo-Saxon invaders. They wanted their conquerors to go to hell instead of turning to Christ(basically the same thing Jonah wanted for the Assyrians). Based on this behavior, Bede makes a value judgment about the Britons--and I can see why many modern historians wouldn't like it.

    As far as accuracy goes, I would say Bede is one of the most accurate medieval historians that we have. Like you said, he did his best.

    1. Yes I think I heard about that- perhaps if they had the Catholic church would not have reigned supreme who knows?

      I do like Bede in spite of the occasional error or misunderstanding, and I also think he he one of the most useful sources from that period, and he may well be more accurate than some people would like to admit.

      Besides, the pagan Saxons were probably illiterate, and Bede was a monk so his knowledge of them may have been limited, and his book was on church history, so why would be want to dwell on the 'glorious' pagan past anyway. So why do people bash him for not doing this.


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