Historical Chronology: What is AD and BC?

19 Sep 2022  Read 1120 Views

While studying history, we often wondered what the terms AD (Anno Domini, which means “Year of our Lord”), BC (Before Christ), BCE(Before Common Era), and CE (Common Era) means. What are these terms, and what is the difference between them?

This article will answer all these questions. Every year in history has been assigned a number. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, it was just started that to assign the numbers to each of the years, they had to start from a single point in time. Obviously, if you started at a single point, you can then number every event in history based on how many years they were between that event and the chosen starting point of time. 

In order to understand past events, a dating system is very important. If one has to travel from ancient to modern history of India, it is considered significant to be clear with the dating methods like BC and AD. So, let's discuss the historical chronology so that if you are trying to cover Indian history for any competitive exam, it will get easy with the timeline.

Time Measurement based on Jesus' birth

The measurement of time is traditionally based on the birth of Jesus Christ:

  • For events before Jesus’ birth, type ‘BC’ (an abbreviation for ‘Before Christ’) after the year's number.

For example- in 48 BC

  • For events after Jesus’ birth, type ‘AD’ (an abbreviation for the Latin phrase anno domini, which means “Year of our Lord”) before the number of the year.

For example- AD 120

  • For those who prefer a non-religious version, the following alternatives are placed after the number of the year:

BCE (Before Common Era) = BC

For example- 48 BC becomes 48 BCE

CE (Common Era) = AD

For example- AD 120 becomes 120 CE

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History of BC, AD, BCE & CE

The still-in-use Hebrew calendar is founded on the idea of Anno Mundi ("in the year of the world"), which dates events from the moment of the earth's genesis as determined by scripture. Ancient societies like Mesopotamia and Egypt based their calendars on king reigns or the seasons' natural cycles as determined by the gods. For instance, one would use "five years from the reign of King Shulgi" to date an event in Mesopotamia and "three years after the last Opet Festival of Ramesses, who was the second of that name," or "In the 10th year of Ramesses' reign, who prevailed at Kadesh," to date an event in Egypt. The Romans carried on this dating practice by keeping track of the years in three distinct ways, depending on the era: starting with when Rome was founded, with which consuls were in charge, and with which emperors were in charge.

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During his rule, Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE), the months were renamed, and the calendar was reformatted (49-44 BCE). Until 1582 CE, when Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian Calendar, which is still in use today, this calendar was in use with occasional adjustments. In the early days of the faith, Christians employed Roman and Anno Mundi calendars. But around 525 CE, a Christian monk named Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470-544 CE) offered a novel idea in dating, laying the foundation for the subsequent BC/AD dating scheme.

To maintain the date of Easter, Dionysius created the idea of Anno Domini, or "in the year of our Lord." Christians of the powerful church of Alexandria were dating historical occurrences from the start of the Roman emperor Diocletian's (284 CE) rule, who persecuted adherents of the new faith at the time he was working on this subject. For all Christians to celebrate Easter on the same day, Dionysius sought to bring the eastern and western churches together.

At the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, Constantine the Great determined to pursue this objective, but it had not yet been accomplished. To accomplish this, Dionysius created his system of dating years, deriving the start of the current Christian period from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, replacing the Roman and Alexandrian systems. His decision also solved another issue that troubled him: dating events from an emperor's reign who had murdered so many Christians.

Difference between AD and BC

Anno Domini, a Latin phrase meaning "Year of our Lord," is used as a label for counting the years after the birth of Jesus Christ, and BC, which stands for calculating the years before Christ, are both standardized under the Julian and Georgian calendars.

The term "AD" (Anno Domini) refers to the calendar era that followed the birth of Jesus Christ. According to tradition, the year that is recognized as Christ's birth is designated as AD1, and the year preceding it is AD0. Although this form of the calendaring system was first invented in AD 525, it wasn't until AD 800 that it gained popularity. CE, often known as the Common Era, Christian Era, or Current Era, can be used to replace AD.

The term "Before Christ" (BC) refers to the period preceding the life of Jesus Christ. It is assumed that Bede lived in the eighth century and is where BC began (AD). Its Latin name, "ante vero incarnationis dominicae tempus," which is equivalent to the English phrase "before Christ," really means "the time before the Lord's true incarnation." Dionysius Exiguus used it.

Difference between CE and BCE

Compared to AD and BC, CE and BCE are acronyms with a shorter history. The terms "Common or Current Era" (CE) and "Before the Common (or Current Era)" (BCE) have been used since at least the early 1700s. Jewish intellectuals have consistently used these abbreviations for more than a century, although they only really gained widespread use in the final decades of the 20th Century. One of the reasons the CE and BCE have supplanted the BC/AD in many sectors, especially in science and academia, is that they are both religiously neutral.

Difference between AD and CE

While CE is used as an alternative to AD, the real distinction between AD and CE is that, when usage is taken into account, AD comes before the date, CE comes after the date, and both BC and BCE come after the date. For instance, 1492 CE rather than AD, and 1500 BC rather than 1500 BCE.

Additional notes regarding dates:

  • If there isn’t a ‘BC’ or ‘AD’ next to a date, it is probably AD

  • Before the birth of Christ, the number of years counts down, but after that, the year's count upwards

  • There is no year ‘0’: the year 1 BC is followed immediately by AD 1

  • ‘BP’ after a number stands for ‘Before the Present.’

  • ‘Circa’ means ‘around about’ and is a small ‘c.’ before the year. For example- c. 50 BC

About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 16 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

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