The History of BCE and CE: How Two Simple Letters Changed the Way We View Time

In the Latin alphabet, BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Latin for in the year of the Lord) have been used to mark time since roughly the 4th century C.E., but in many ways, these terms are more about religion than history. In fact, an organization called the International Commission on Civil Status recommended replacing BC and AD with two new terms in 1995: BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era). So why did they do this? What do BCE and CE actually mean? And when did they start using these terms instead of BC and AD?

World Timeline
World Timeline

Who created this time system?

The BC/AD time system was created by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in the year 525. He was trying to determine when Easter should be celebrated, and he decided to use the birth of Christ as his starting point. However, there were already people using a different system (the one we now use), so his system didn’t catch on right away. It wasn’t until after the fall of Rome that Dionysius’ system became popular.

When did it come into practice?

The practice of denoting years using BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, or Year of Our Lord) came into widespread use in the West around the eighth century. The system was devised by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus, who was tasked with creating a table of Easter dates.

Why did we use BC and AD before this?

The BC/AD system is based on the birth of Jesus Christ. This means that everything before Jesus was BC (before Christ) and everything after Jesus was AD (anno Domini, or in the year of our Lord). However, this system is flawed for a few reasons. First, it’s not an accurate representation of time. Second, it’s a Christian-centric way of looking at history, which can be exclusionary.

When did we switch to BCE and CE?

The switch from BC/AD to BCE/CE happened gradually over time, with different people in different parts of the world adopting the new system at different times. The main reason for the switch was to get rid of the religious connotations that came with using BC and AD. However, there were also practical reasons for making the change, such as simplifying calculations when working with large time periods. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that BCE and CE are here to stay.

Does the change really matter?

While it may seem like a small change, using BCE and CE instead of BC and AD can have a big impact on how we view history. For one, it’s more inclusive. BC and AD implies that Christianity is the only religion that matters, but BCE and CE are more neutral. Second, it’s more accurate. BC stands for before Christ, but nobody really knows when Jesus was born. And finally, it puts us all on the same timeline.

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