The Byzantine calendar, also called Roman calendar,[note 1] Creation Era of Constantinople or Era of the World (Ancient Greek: Ἔτη Γενέσεως Κόσμου κατὰ Ῥωμαίους, also Ἔτος Κτίσεως Κόσμου or Ἔτος Κόσμου, abbreviated as ε.Κ.; literal translation of Ancient Greek Roman year since the creation of the universe), was the calendar used by the Eastern Orthodox Church from c. 691 to 1728 in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.[note 2] It was also the official calendar of the Byzantine Empire from 988 to 1453 and of Kievan Rus' and Russia from c. 988 to 1700.[note 3] This calendar was used also in other areas of the Byzantine commonwealth such as in Serbia, where it is found in old Serbian legal documents such as Dušan's Code, thus being referred to as the Serbian Calendar as well. Since Byzantine is a historiographical term, the original name uses the adjective "Roman" as it was what the Eastern Roman Empire continued calling itself.[note 4]
The calendar was based on the Julian calendar, except that the year started on 1 September and the year number used an Anno Mundi epoch derived from the Septuagint version of the Bible. It placed the date of creation at 5509 years before the incarnation of Jesus, and was characterized by a certain tendency that had already been a tradition among Jews and early Christians to number the years from the calculated foundation of the world (Latin: Annus Mundi or Ab Origine Mundi— "AM").[note 5] Its Year One, marking the supposed date of creation, was September 1, 5509 BC, to August 31, 5508 BC. This would make the current year (AD 2022) 7531 (7530 before September 1; and 7531 after September 1).
The first appearance of the term is in the treatise of a monk and priest, Georgios (AD 638–39), who mentions all the main variants of the "World Era" in his work. Georgios argues that the main advantage of the World era is the common starting point of the astronomical lunar and solar cycles, and of the cycle of indictions, the usual dating system in Byzantium since the 6th century. He also regarded it as the most convenient for the Easter computus. Complex calculations of the 19-year lunar and 28-year solar cycles within this world era allowed scholars to discover the cosmic significance of certain historical dates, such as the birth or the crucifixion of Jesus.
This date underwent minor revisions before being finalized in the mid-7th century, although its precursors were developed c. AD 412. By the second half of the 7th century, the Creation Era was known in Western Europe, at least in Great Britain.[note 6] By the late 10th century (around AD 988), when the era appears in use on official government records, a unified system was widely recognized across the Eastern Roman world.
The era was ultimately calculated as starting on September 1, and Jesus was thought to have been born in the year 5509 since the creation of the world.[note 7] Historical time was thus calculated from the creation, and not from Christ's birth as it was in the west after the Anno Domini system adopted between the 6th and 9th centuries. The eastern Church avoided the use of the Anno Domini system of Dionysius Exiguus, since the date of Christ's birth was debated in Constantinople as late as the 14th century.
The Byzantine calendar was identical to the Julian calendar except that:
The leap day of the Byzantine calendar was obtained in an identical manner to the bissextile day of the original Roman version of the Julian calendar, by doubling the sixth day before the calends of March, i.e., by doubling 24 February.
The Byzantine World Era was gradually replaced in the Eastern Orthodox Church by the Christian Era (Anno Domini), which was utilized initially by Patriarch Theophanes I Karykes in 1597, afterwards by Patriarch Cyril Lucaris in 1626, and then formally established by the Church in 1728.[note 2] Meanwhile, as Russia received Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium, she inherited the Orthodox calendar based on the Byzantine Era (translated into Slavonic). After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the era continued to be used by Russia, which witnessed millennialist movements in Moscow in AD 1492 (7000 AM).[note 11] It was only in AD 1700 that the Byzantine calendar in Russia was changed to the Julian calendar by Peter the Great. It still forms the basis of traditional Orthodox calendars up to today. September AD 2000 began the year 7509 AM.[note 12]
Further information: Dating creation
The earliest extant Christian writings on the age of the world according to the biblical chronology are by Theophilus (AD 115–181) in his apologetic work To Autolycus, and by Julius Africanus (AD 200–245) in his Five Books of Chronology. Both of these early Christian writers, following the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, determined the age of the world to have been about 5,530 years at the birth of Christ.
Ben Zion Wacholder points out that the writings of the Church Fathers on this subject are of vital significance (even though he disagrees with their chronological system based on the authenticity of the Septuagint, as compared to that of the Masoretic Text), in that through the Christian chronographers a window to the earlier Hellenistic biblical chronographers[note 13] is preserved:
An immense intellectual effort was expended during the Hellenistic period by both Jews and pagans to date creation, the flood, exodus, building of the Temple... In the course of their studies, men such as Tatian of Antioch (flourished in 180), Clement of Alexandria (died before 215), Hippolytus of Rome (died in 235), Julius Africanus of Jerusalem (died after 240), Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine (260–340), and Pseudo-Justin frequently quoted their predecessors, the Graeco-Jewish biblical chronographers of the Hellenistic period, thereby allowing discernment of more distant scholarship.
The Hellenistic Jewish writer Demetrius the Chronographer (flourishing 221–204 BC) wrote On the Kings of Judea which dealt with biblical exegesis, mainly chronology; he computed the date of the flood and the birth of Abraham exactly as in the Septuagint,[note 14] and first established the Annus Adami (Era of Adam), the antecedent of the Hebrew World Era, and of the Alexandrian and Byzantine Creation Eras.
The Alexandrian Era (Greek: Κόσμου ἔτη κατ’ Ἀλεξανδρεῖς, Kósmou étē kat'Alexandreîs) developed in AD 412, was the precursor to the Byzantine Era. After the initial attempts by Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and others,[note 15] the Alexandrian computation of the date of creation was worked out to be 25 March 5493 BC.
The Alexandrine monk Panodorus reckoned 5904 years from Adam to the year AD 412. His years began with August 29, corresponding to the First of Thoth, the Egyptian new year. Annianos of Alexandria however, preferred the Annunciation style[clarification needed] as New Year's Day, 25 March, and shifted the Panodorus era by about six months, to begin on 25 March. This created the Alexandrian Era, whose first day was the first day of the proleptic[note 16] Alexandrian civil year in progress, 29 August 5493 BC, with the ecclesiastical year beginning on 25 March 5493 BC.
This system presents in a masterly sort of way the mystical coincidence of the three main dates of the world's history: the beginning of Creation, the incarnation, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. All these events happened, according to the Alexandrian chronology, on 25 March; furthermore, the first two events were separated by the period of exactly 5500 years; the first and the third one occurred on Sunday — the sacred day of the beginning of the Creation and its renovation through Christ.
Dionysius of Alexandria had earlier emphatically quoted mystical justifications for the choice of March 25 as the start of the year:
March 25 was considered to be the anniversary of Creation itself. It was the first day of the year in the medieval Julian calendar and the nominal vernal equinox (it had been the actual equinox at the time when the Julian calendar was originally designed). Considering that Christ was conceived at that date turned March 25 into the Feast of the Annunciation which had to be followed, nine months later, by the celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas, on December 25.
The Alexandrian Era of March 25, 5493 BC was adopted by church fathers such as Maximus the Confessor and Theophanes the Confessor, as well as chroniclers such as George Syncellus. Its striking mysticism made it popular in Byzantium, especially in monastic circles. However this masterpiece of Christian symbolism had two serious weak points: historical inaccuracy surrounding the date of the resurrection of Jesus as determined by its Easter computus,[note 17] and its contradiction to the chronology of the Gospel of St John regarding the date of the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday after the Passover.
A new variant of the World Era was suggested in the Chronicon Paschale, a valuable Byzantine universal chronicle of the world, composed about the year 630 AD by some representative of the Antiochian scholarly tradition. It had for its basis a chronological list of events extending from the creation of Adam to the year AD 627. The chronology of the writer is based on the figures of the Bible and begins with 21 March, 5507.
For its influence on Greek Christian chronology, and also because of its wide scope, the Chronicon Paschale takes its place beside Eusebius, and the chronicle of the monk Georgius Syncellus which was so important in the Middle Ages; but in respect of form it is inferior to these works.
By the late 10th century, the Byzantine Era, which had become fixed at September 1 5509 BC since at least the mid-7th century (differing by 16 years from the Alexandrian date, and 2 years from the Chronicon Paschale), had become the widely accepted calendar of choice par excellence for Chalcedonian Orthodoxy.
John Chrysostom says in his Homily "On the Cross and the Thief", that Christ "opened for us today Paradise, which had remained closed for some 5000 years."
Isaac the Syrian writes in a Homily that before Christ "for five thousand years five hundred and some years God left Adam (i.e. man) to labor on the earth."
Augustine of Hippo writes in the City of God (written AD 413–426):
Augustine goes on to say that the ancient Greek chronology "does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given in our documents (i.e. the Scriptures), which are truly sacred."
Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–235) maintained on Scriptural grounds that Jesus's birth took place in 5500 AM, and held that the birth of Christ took place on a passover day, deducing that its month-date was 25 March (see Alexandrian Era). He gave the following intervals:
In his Commentary on Daniel, one of his earlier writings, he proceeds to set out additional reasons for accepting the date of 5500 AM:
Around AD 202 Hippolytus held that Jesus was born in the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and that he was born in 5500AM.[note 18] In his Commentary on Daniel he did not need to establish the precise year of Jesus's birth; he is not concerned about the day of the week, the month-date, or even the year; it was sufficient for his purpose to show that Christ was born in the days of Augustus in 5500 AM.
Even the most mystical Fathers such as St. Isaac the Syrian accepted without question the common understanding of the Church that the world was created "more or less" in 5,500 BC. As Fr. Seraphim Rose points out:
For early Christians, the creation of the world was neither a matter of dogma nor a cosmological problem. As part of a history centered on Man, it was a divine act whose reality was beyond any doubt.[note 7]
In the Byzantine period, the day was divided into two 12-hour cycles fixed by the rising and setting of the sun.
Marcus Rautman points out that the seven-day week was known throughout the ancient world. The Roman Calendar had assigned one of the planetary deities to each day of the week. The Byzantines naturally avoided using these Latin names with their pagan echoes. They began their week with the "Lord's Day" (Kyriake), followed by an orderly succession of numbered days: Deutera ("2nd"), Trite ("3rd"), Tetarte ("4th"), and Pempte ("5th"), a day of "preparation" (Paraskeve), and finally Sabatton.
Each day was devoted to remembering one event of the life of Christ or the Theotokos or several martyrs or saints, whose observed feast days gradually eclipsed traditional festivals. Kyriake was seen as the day of resurrection of Christ and as both the first and eighth day of the week, in the same way that Christ was the alpha and omega of the cosmos, existing both before and after time. The second day of the week recognized angels, "the secondary luminaries as the first reflections of the primal outpouring of light", just as the sun and the moon had been observed during the Roman week. John the Baptist, the forerunner (Prodromos) of Christ, was honored on the third day. Both the second and third days were viewed as occasions for penitence. The fourth and sixth days were dedicated to the Cross. The fourth day to the Theotokos and her mourning of the loss of her son and the sixth day (the Paraskeue) as the day of the Crucifixion of the Lord, with holy songs sung and fasting in remembrance of these events. St. Nicholas was honored on the fifth day of the week, while the Sabatton day was set aside for the saints and all the deceased faithful. This order is still in use in the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches.
A special arrangement of the way in which the hymns were sung was set for each day of the eight-week cycle, the "Octoechos (liturgy)". This cycle begins on the first Sunday after Easter ("Thomas-Sunday") and contains the texts whose content represents the meaning of the days of the week. The hymns sung on these eight weeks were performed with the use of eight different modes also called Octoechoi.
As the Greek and Roman methods of computing time were connected with certain pagan rites and observances, Christians began at an early period to adopt the Hebrew practice of reckoning their years from the supposed period of the creation of the world.
Currently the two dominant dates for creation that exist using the biblical model are about 5500 BC and about 4000 BC. These are calculated from the genealogies in two versions of the Bible, with most of the difference arising from two versions of Genesis. The older dates of the Church Fathers in the Byzantine Era and in its precursor, the Alexandrian Era, are based on the Greek Septuagint. The later dates of the Ussher chronology and the Hebrew calendar are based on the Hebrew Masoretic Text.
The Fathers were well aware of the discrepancy of some hundreds of years between the Greek and Hebrew Old Testament chronology,[note 19] and it did not bother them; they did not quibble over years or worry that the standard calendar was precise "to the very year"; it is sufficient that what is involved is beyond any doubt a matter of some few thousands of years, involving the lifetimes of specific men, and it can in no way be interpreted as millions of years or whole ages and races of men.
To this day, traditional Orthodox Christians will use the Byzantine calculation of the World Era in conjunction with the Anno Domini (AD) year. Both dates appear on Orthodox cornerstones, ecclesiastical calendars and formal documents. The ecclesiastical new year is still observed on September 1 (or on the Gregorian Calendar's September 14 for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar). September 2022 marked the beginning of the year 7531 of this era.
Other Judeo-Christian eras
19th century and earlier