Common Era

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Common Era or Current Era (CE)[1] is one of the notation systems for the world's most widely used calendar era – an alternative to the Dionysian AD and BC system. The era preceding CE is known as before the Common Era or before the Current Era (BCE), while the Dionysian era distinguishes eras as AD (Template:Lang, "[the] year of [the] Lord")[2] and BC ("before Christ"). Since the two notation systems are numerically equivalent, "Template:Currentyear CE" corresponds to "AD Template:Currentyear" and "400 BCE" corresponds to "400 BC".[2][3][4]Template:Efn Both notations refer to the Gregorian calendar (and its predecessor, the Julian calendar). The year-numbering system utilized by the Gregorian calendar is used throughout the world today, and is an international standard for civil calendars.[5]

The expression has been traced back to 1615, when it first appeared in a book by Johannes Kepler as the Latin usage Template:Lang,[6][7] and to 1635 in English as "Vulgar Era".Template:Efn The term "Common Era" can be found in English as early as 1708,[8] and became more widely used in the mid-19th century by Jewish academics. In the later 20th century, the use of CE and BCE was popularized in academic and scientific publications, and more generally by authors and publishers wishing to emphasize secularism or sensitivity to non-Christians, by not explicitly referencing Jesus as "Christ" and Dominus ("Lord") through use of the abbreviationTemplate:Efn "AD".[9][10]



Template:See also The year numbering system used with Common Era notation was devised by the Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus in the year 525 to replace the Era of Martyrs system, because he did not wish to continue the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians.[11] He attempted to number years from an initial reference date ("epoch"), an event he referred to as the Incarnation of Jesus.[11][12][13] Dionysius labeled the column of the table in which he introduced the new era as "Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi".[14]

Numbering years in this manner became more widespread in Europe with its usage by Bede in England in 731. Bede also introduced the practice of dating years before what he supposed was the year of birth of Jesus,[15] and the practice of not using a year zero.Template:Efn In 1422, Portugal became the last Western Europe an country to switch to the system begun by Dionysius.[16]

Vulgar Era

File:Johannes Kepler 1610.jpg
Johannes Kepler first used "Vulgar Era" to distinguish dates on the Christian calendar from the regnal year typically used in national law.

The term "Common Era" is traced back in English to its appearance as "Vulgar Era"Template:Efn to distinguish dates on the Ecclesiastic calendar from those of the regnal year, the year of reign of a sovereign, typically used in national law.

The first use of the Latin term vulgaris aeraeTemplate:Efn discovered so far was in a 1615 book by Johannes Kepler.[7] Kepler uses it again in a 1616 table of ephemerides,[17] and again in 1617.[18] A 1635 English edition of that book has the title page in English – so far, the earliest-found usage of Vulgar Era in English.[19] A 1701 book edited by John LeClerc includes "Before Christ according to the Vulgar Æra, 6".[20] A 1716 book in English by Dean Humphrey Prideaux says, "before the beginning of the vulgar æra, by which we now compute the years from his incarnation."[21][22] A 1796 book uses the term "vulgar era of the nativity".[23]

The first so-far-discovered usage of "Christian Era" is as the Latin phrase aerae christianae on the title page of a 1584 theology book.[24] In 1649, the Latin phrase æræ Christianæ appeared in the title of an English almanac.[25] A 1652 ephemeris is the first instance so-far-found for English usage of "Christian Era".[26]

The English phrase "common Era" appears at least as early as 1708,[8] and in a 1715 book on astronomy is used interchangeably with "Christian Era" and "Vulgar Era".[27] A 1759 history book uses common æra in a generic sense, to refer to the common era of the Jews.[28] The first-so-far found usage of the phrase "before the common era" is in a 1770 work that also uses common era and vulgar era as synonyms, in a translation of a book originally written in German.[29] The 1797 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica uses the terms vulgar era and common era synonymously.[30] In 1835, in his book Living Oracles, Alexander Campbell, wrote: "The vulgar Era, or Anno Domini; the fourth year of Jesus Christ, the first of which was but eight days",[31] and also refers to the common era as a synonym for vulgar era with "the fact that our Lord was born on the 4th year before the vulgar era, called Anno Domini, thus making (for example) the 42d year from his birth to correspond with the 38th of the common era..."[32] The Catholic Encyclopedia (1909) in at least one article reports all three terms (Christian, Vulgar, Common Era) being commonly understood by the early 20th century.[33]

The phrase "common era", in lower case, also appeared in the 19th century in a generic sense, not necessarily to refer to the Christian Era, but to any system of dates in common use throughout a civilization. Thus, "the common era of the Jews",[34][35] "the common era of the Mahometans",[36] "common era of the world",[37] "the common era of the foundation of Rome".[38] When it did refer to the Christian Era, it was sometimes qualified, e.g., "common era of the Incarnation",[39] "common era of the Nativity",[40] or "common era of the birth of Christ".[41]

An adapted translation of Common Era into pseudo-Latin as Era Vulgaris (in Latin this means Common Mistress)[42] was adopted in the 20th century by some followers of Aleister Crowley, and thus the abbreviation "e.v." or "EV" may sometimes be seen as a replacement for AD.[43]

Contemporary usage

Some academics in the fields of theology, education and history have adopted CE and BCE notation, although there is some disagreement.[44]

More visible uses of Common Era notation have recently surfaced at major museums in the English-speaking world. Furthermore, several style guides now prefer or mandate its usage.[45] Even some style guides for Christian churches prefer its use: for example, the Episcopal Diocese Maryland Church News.[46]

In the United States, the usage of the BCE/CE notation in textbooks is growing.[47] Some publications have moved over to using it exclusively. For example, the 2007 World Almanac was the first edition to switch over to the BCE/CE usage, ending a 138-year usage of the traditional BC/AD dating notation. It is used by the College Board in its history tests,[48] and by the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Others have taken a different approach. The US-based History Channel uses BCE/CE notation in articles on non-Christian religious topics such as Jerusalem and Judaism.[49]

In 2002, England and Wales introduced the BCE/CE notation system into the official school curriculum.[50]

In June 2006, in the United States, the Kentucky State School Board reversed its decision to use BCE and CE in the state's new Program of Studies, leaving education of students about these concepts a matter of discretion at the local level.[51][52][53]

Also in 2011, media reports suggested that the BC/AD notation in Australian school textbooks would be replaced by BCE/CE notation.[54] The story became national news and drew opposition from some politicians and church leaders. Weeks after the story broke, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority denied the rumour and stated that the BC/AD notation would remain, with CE and BCE as an optional suggested learning activity.[55]

Conventions in style guides

The abbreviation BCE, just as with BC, always follows the year number. Unlike AD, which traditionally precedes the year number, CE always follows the year number (if context requires that it be written at all).[56] Thus, the current year is written as Template:Currentyear in both notations (or, if further clarity is needed, as Template:Currentyear CE, or as AD Template:Currentyear), and the year that Socrates died is represented as 399 BCE (the same year that is represented by 399 BC in the BC/AD notation). The abbreviations are sometimes written with small capital letters, or with periods (e.g., "B.C.E." or "C.E.").[57] Style guides for academic texts on religion generally prefer BCE/CE to BC/AD.[58]




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  12. Doggett, L.E., (1992), "Calendars" in Seidelmann, P.K., The Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac, Sausalito CA: University Science Books, 2.1
  13. Template:Cite book
  14. Pedersen, O., (1983), "The Ecclesiastical Calendar and the Life of the Church" in Coyne, G.V. et al. (Eds.) The Gregorian Reform of the Calendar, Vatican Observatory, p. 52.
  15. Bede wrote of the Incarnation of Jesus, but treated it as synonymous with birth. Blackburn, B & Holford-Strevens, L, (2003), The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 778.
  16. Template:Cite book
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  18. Template:Cite book Template:Cite book * Translation of title (per 1635 English edition): New Ephemerids for the Celestiall Motions, for the Yeeres of the Vulgar Era 1617–1636
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  22. Merriam Webster accepts the date of 1716, but does not give the source. Template:Cite web
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  24. Template:Cite web Template:Cite book
  25. Template:Cite web Template:Cite book
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  27. Template:Cite book Before Christ and Christian Era appear on the same page 252, while Vulgar Era appears on page 250
  28. Template:Cite book Template:Cite book In this case, their refers to the Jews.
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  33. "Foremost among these [various eras] is that which is now adopted by all civilized peoples and known as the Christian, Vulgar or Common Era, in the twentieth century of which we are now living".
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  42. C.f. every good Latin dictionary, e.g.,,, pons (English/German) Template:Webarchive, pons (German) or (German)
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  44. See, for example, the Society for Historical Archaeology states in its more recent style guide "Do not use C.E. (common era), B.P. (before present), or B.C.E.; convert these expressions to A.D. and B.C." (In section I 5 the Society explains how to use "years B.P." in connection with radiocarbon ages.) Template:Cite web whereas the American Anthropological Association style guide takes a different approach calling for "C.E." and "B.C.E." Template:Cite web
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  58. SBL Handbook of Style Society of Biblical Literature 1999 "8.1.2 ERAS – The preferred style is B.C.E. and C.E. (with periods). If you use A.D. and B.C., remember that A.D. precedes the date and B.C. follows it. (For the use of these abbreviations in titles, see §"

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External links

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