Anglo-Saxon monk and scholar, Bede, known as:
THE VENERABLE BEDE (672/3–735)
Bede was the author of many works of various type – biblical commentaries, saints' ‘Lives’, homilies, hymns; educational, scientific and historical texts. Into this last category falls the work for which he is best known today: the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People). Bede dedicated the work to Ceolwulf
, king of Northumbria (729–737), indeed, he had submitted a draft for the king's criticism prior to finalising it. It is clear that Bede was anxious to record only information which he considered to have reliable origins, and his scrupulous approach has lead to him being referred to as ‘the Father of English History’. In the Preface, he writes:
“... to the end that I may remove all occasion of doubting what I have written, both from yourself [Ceolwulf] and other readers or hearers of this history, I will take care briefly to intimate from what authors I chiefly learned the same.
My principal authority and aid in this work was the learned and reverend Abbot Albinus
; who, educated in the Church of Canterbury by those venerable and learned men, Archbishop Theodore
of blessed memory, and the Abbot Hadrian
, transmitted to me by Nothhelm, the pious priest of the Church of London, either in writing, or by word of mouth of the same Nothhelm
, all that he thought worthy of memory, that had been done in the province of Kent, or the adjacent parts, by the disciples of the blessed Pope Gregory
, as he had learned the same either from written records, or the traditions of his ancestors. The same Nothhelm, afterwards going to Rome, having, with leave of the present Pope Gregory
, searched into the archives of the holy Roman Church, found there some epistles of the blessed Pope Gregory, and other popes; and returning home, by the advice of the aforesaid most reverend father Albinus, brought them to me, to be inserted in my history. Thus, from the beginning
of this volume to the time when the English nation received the faith of Christ, have we collected the writings of our predecessors, and from them gathered matter for our history; but from that time till the present, what was transacted in the Church of Canterbury, by the disciples of St Gregory
or their successors, and under what kings the same happened, has been conveyed to us by Nothhelm through the industry of the aforesaid Abbot Albinus. They also partly informed me by what bishops and under what kings the provinces of the East and West Saxons, as also of the East Angles, and of the Northumbrians, received the faith of Christ. In short I was chiefly encouraged to undertake this work by the persuasions of the same Albinus. In like manner, Daniel, the most reverend bishop of the West Saxons, who is still living, communicated to me in writing some things relating to the Ecclesiastical History of that province, and the next adjoining to it of the South Saxons, as also of the Isle of Wight. But how, by the pious ministry of Cedd and Chad
, the province of the Mercians was brought to the faith of Christ, which they knew not before, and how that of the East Saxons recovered the same, after having expelled it, and how those fathers lived and died, we learned from the brethren of the monastery, which was built by them, and is called Lastingham. What ecclesiastical transactions took place in the province of the East Angles, was partly made known to us from the writings and tradition of our ancestors, and partly by relation of the most reverend Abbot Esi. What was done towards promoting the faith, and what was the sacerdotal succession in the province of Lindsey, we had either from the letters of the most reverend prelate Cyneberht, or by word of mouth from other persons of good credit. But what was done in the Church throughout the province of the Northumbrians, from the time when they received the faith of Christ till this present, I received not from any particular author, but by the faithful testimony of innumerable witnesses, who might know or remember the same; besides what I had of my own knowledge. Wherein it is to be observed, that what I have written concerning our most holy father, Bishop Cuthbert
, either in this volume, or in my treatise on his life and actions, I partly took, and faithfully copied from what I found written of him by the brethren of the Church of Lindisfarne; but at the same time took care to add such things as I could myself have knowledge of by the faithful testimony of such as knew him. And I humbly entreat the reader, that if he shall in this that we have written find anything not delivered according to the truth, he will not impute the same to me, who, as the true rule of history requires, have laboured sincerely to commit to writing such things as I could gather from common report, for the instruction of posterity.”
Bede championed the use of Christ's incarnation as a method of dating
events, and, despite the incompleteness of it's record, his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ remains an indispensable source of early Anglo-Saxon history. In a short biographical section, at the end of the work, he writes:
“Thus much of the Ecclesiastical History of Britain, and more especially of the English nation, as far as I could learn either from the writings of the ancients, or the tradition of our ancestors, or of my own knowledge, has, with the help of God, been digested by me, Bede, the servant of God, and priest of the monastery of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, which is at Wearmouth and Jarrow; who being born in the territory of that same monastery, was given, at seven years of age, to be educated by the most reverend Abbot Benedict
, and afterwards by Ceolfrith; and spending all the remaining time of my life in that monastery, I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing. In the nineteenth year of my age, I received deacon's orders; in the thirtieth, those of the priesthood, both of them by the ministry of the most reverend Bishop John
, and by order of the Abbot Ceolfrith.”
‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book V Chapter 24
Bede completed the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ in 731, and implies that he was in his “59th
year” at the time. He had concluded with a set of brief annals reprising the events already covered at length. Preserved in a group of eight manuscripts (of the 12th century and later) is a ‘Continuation’ of the annals from 732–766. The entry for 735 ends: “... and the priest Bede died.”
The oldest surviving copy of the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ appears to be the Moore Manuscript
, which was probably made at Wearmouth-Jarrow
in 737. This copy, however, seems to have been hastily produced. A more careful product of the monastery, made not later than 747, is to be found in St Petersburg, National Library of Russia MS lat Q v I 18.
It is apparent from a letter, written by Cuthbert – a pupil of Bede's, and future (by 764) abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow
– that Bede died on Wednesday 25th May 735. Cuthbert's description of Bede's last days concludes:
“And thus on the pavement of his little cell, singing: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,’ when he had named the Holy Ghost, he breathed his last, and so departed to the heavenly kingdom. All who were present at the death of the blessed father, said they had never seen any other person expire with so much devotion, and in so tranquil a frame of mind.”
‘Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede’ by J.A. Giles
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by J.A. Giles
Using the year of Christ's incarnation as a method of dating was not originated by Bede – the individual usually accorded that honour is a monk resident in Rome, one Dionysius Exiguus, in 525 – but Bede's adoption of the system ensured its popularity.
Dionysius Exiguus was continuing an existing Easter Table
. The years in this Table were defined in Anni Diocletiani (Years of Diocletian) – years since Emperor Diocletian's accession – and, as it stood, it concluded in the 247th year of Diocletian:
“... we, starting from the 248th [year] of the same tyrant – a better [word] than prince – do not wish to bind to our circles
the memory of this impious man and persecutor, but choose rather to count the time of the years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the beginning of our hope will appear better known to us, and the cause of the restoration of mankind, i.e. the passion of our Redeemer, may shine forth more clearly.”
Dionysius Exiguus ‘On Easter’ Preface
Dionysius says that he was working on the Easter Table during “the consulship of Probus Junior” – the ‘consular year’, beginning 1st January, was a normal Roman method of dating – and that this was “525 ... years since the incarnation of the Lord”. His extension to the Table begins, not as the 248th Year of Diocletian, but, as Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi
(Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ) 532. Dionysius does not, however, explain the reasoning behind his conclusion that the year of Probus' consulship equated to Anno Domini
525. According to the ‘Gospel of Matthew’ (2:1), Jesus was born “in the days of King Herod”. Using Dionysius' datum, though, Herod seems to have died four years before Jesus' birth (i.e. in 4BC
). Anyway, it was through Dionysius' Easter Table that Bede became aware of Anno Domini dating. He adopted it, accepting its apparently inaccurate basis, for his ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’, and the rest, as they say, is history.*
Bede had to reconcile the various methods of recording the date he was presented with. The Indiction, a legacy of the Roman Empire, is a fifteen-year
cycle, starting from 1st September 312. A year is defined within a cycle (i.e. the first year, second year and so on, up to fifteenth – and then the cycle repeats), but the cycle itself is not identified in any way – so knowing the Indiction year is helpful only if there are other clues to enable the cycle to be located on the A.D. timeline. Commonly, events would be related to the ‘regnal year’ of a particular king. To arrive at an A.D. date for an event, therefore, requires that the year in which the king's reign began be calculated from an already established date.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are inconsistencies with Bede's dating references. For instance, he dates the death of the Northumbrian king, Oswald, in battle against the Mercian king, Penda, to 5th August 642 (III, 9; V, 24): “Oswald being translated to the heavenly kingdom, his brother Oswiu, a young man of about 30 years of age, succeeded him on the throne of his earthly kingdom, and held it 28 years” (III, 14). Bede reports that Oswiu, “in the thirteenth year of his reign, on the 17th of the Kalends of December [15th of November]” (III, 24), in the year 655 (V, 24), killed Penda, at the battle of the river Winwæd. Arithmetic suggests that in November 655 Oswiu would actually be in his fourteenth year. Bede, however, doesn't state when he considered the year to start. R.L. Poole
proposed that, taking his cue from the Indiction, Bede chose to begin the year on 1st September (i.e. four months before current practice).*
This means that on every occasion where Bede specifies an A.D. date between September and December, one year has to be deducted from that date – so, in the above example, Penda would have been killed on 15th November 654 by modern reckoning, which would place the event happily in Oswiu's thirteenth year. Dr Poole's theory was adopted by Frank Stenton in his classic work ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ (the last edition of which was published, posthumously, in 1971). Most recent scholars, however, tend to accept Bede's dates at face value, in the belief that he began his year either at Christmas or on 1st January.*
The homilist Ælfric, writing at the end of the 10th century, says
that 1st January was often, in the tradition of “the old Romans”, considered to be the start of the year: “not for any religious reason, but from old custom”. In the Christian Calendar, 1st January is the Feast of the Circumcision. It is understandable that the day of Jesus' birth would be seen as being more appropriate, so 25th December, Christmas Day – also the year's natural turning-point: midwinter – was, likewise, widely regarded as the start for the year. However, the Feast of the Annunciation (25th March), which marks the conception of Jesus, came to be considered even more appropriate, and in England, for instance, by the late 12th century, the succeeding 25th March (even though logic would dictate that it should be the preceding March – as indeed was espoused elsewhere) was in common use as the beginning of the year.
During much of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’
Christmas seems to mark the beginning of the year, though there are times when it is clear that September
and the Annunciation are being used (the latter as early as the mid-11th
Different conventions were adopted across Europe:
"If we suppose a traveller to set out from Venice on 1 March 1245, the first day of the Venetian year, he would find himself in 1244 when he reached Florence; and if after a short stay he went on to Pisa, the year 1246 would already have begun there. Continuing his journey westward, he would find himself again in 1245 when he entered Provence, and on arriving in France before Easter (16 April) he would be once more in 1244."
R.L. Poole ‘Medieval Reckonings of Time’, 1918
Following the calendrical reforms authorised by Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582, there began the process of fixing 1st January as the beginning of the year. Scotland fell into line on 1st January 1600, but in England, Wales and Ireland, the change was not effected until 1st January 1752.
Ælfric ‘Catholic Homilies’ by Benjamin Thorpe
Dionysius Exiguus ‘On Easter’ by Roger Pearse
Clement of Alexandria ‘Stromata’ by William Wilson
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by J.A. Giles
Benedict Biscop founded, and was first abbot of, the ‘twin monasteries’ of Wearmouth and Jarrow. He was a Northumbrian nobleman – he was actually called Biscop Baducing – in the service of King Oswiu
The main source of Benedict Biscop's story is the ‘Historia Abbatum’ (History of the Abbots
of Wearmouth and Jarrow), written by Bede between 716 and 731, but Benedict's secular name is supplied by Eddius Stephanus
, in his ‘Life’ of Wilfrid, written around 710–20.
In 652/3, at the age of about 25, Benedict realised that, rather than serve an earthly king, his true vocation was to:
“... serve under the true King, and earn an everlasting kingdom in the heavenly city.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 1
He decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome:
“... to visit and worship in the body the resting places of the remains of the holy Apostles, towards whom he had always been inflamed with holy love.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 2
In Kent, he met Wilfrid
, who was about 18 years old, and the pair set off for the Continent together. At Lyon, however, they parted company, and Benedict proceeded to Rome alone (he would, of course, have had an entourage). That was the first of six visits Benedict would make to Rome.
“When he returned home, he did not cease to love and venerate, and to preach to all he could the precepts of ecclesiastical life which he had seen.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 2
Benedict's second visit to Rome was probably in about 664. It was instigated by Oswiu's son, Alhfrith. He, too, desired “to worship at the gates of the holy Apostles”, and chose Benedict as his companion. Oswiu, however, forbade Alhfrith to make the journey, so Benedict travelled alone. After a few months in Rome, Benedict went to the monastery at Lérins (an island in the Mediterranean, near Cannes), and became a monk. He spent two years there (probably adopting the name Benedict at this time) before returning to Rome. Whilst he was in Rome, archbishop of Canterbury elect, Wigheard, arrived (667), to be consecrated by the pope. Unfortunately, Wigheard promptly died of the plague, so Pope Vitalian consecrated Theodore, a monk from Tarsus, in Wigheard's stead. Vitalian's first choice for the post was actually one Hadrian, abbot of a monastery near Naples. Though Hadrian declined the offer, Vitalian insisted that he accompany Theodore to England anyway. Vitalian also instructed Benedict to go with Theodore:
“... to be to him an interpreter and guide, both on the journey thither, and afterwards, upon his arrival, when he should begin to preach.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 3
On 27th May 668, the party set off set off. The journey was not without incident. Theodore and Benedict arrived in Canterbury a year after they had set off. Hadrian was still delayed in Gaul – he was suspected of being an agent of the Byzantine emperor, working against Frankish interests. Pending Hadrian's arrival, Theodore made Benedict abbot of the monastery of St Peter and St Paul. It was two years later that Hadrian took up the post, and Benedict, again, journeyed to Rome. He:
“... brought back a large number of books on sacred literature, which he had either bought at a price or received as gifts from his friends.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 4
He intended to go to Cenwalh
, king of Wessex, “whose friendship and services he had already more than once experienced”, but Cenwalh had died suddenly, so Benedict returned to Northumbria. He told Ecgfrith
, king of Northumbria, all that he had achieved since he was last there, and showed him the relics and books he had collected. The king gave him the land on which to build a monastery dedicated to St Peter: Wearmouth. Construction began in 674.
“After the interval of a year, Benedict crossed the sea into Gaul, and no sooner asked than he obtained and carried back with him some masons to build him a church in the Roman style, which he had always admired. So much zeal did he show from his love to Saint Peter, in whose honour he was building it, that within a year from the time of laying the foundation, you might have seen the roof on and the solemnity of the mass celebrated therein. When the work was drawing to completion, he sent messengers to Gaul to fetch makers of glass, (more properly artificers,) who were at this time unknown in Britain, that they might glaze the windows of his church, with the cloisters and dining-rooms.
This was done, and they came, and not only finished the work required, but taught the English nation their handicraft, which was well adapted for enclosing the lanterns of the church, and for the vessels required for various uses. All other things necessary for the service of the church and the altar, the sacred vessels, and the vestments, because they could not be procured in England, he took especial care to buy and bring home from foreign parts.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 5
Benedict made another journey to Rome, returning with more books and relics, sacred pictures, and one John (precentor of St Peter's, Rome) to instruct the Wearmouth monks in singing and Roman practice generally. Ecgfrith was impressed, and gave Benedict a further parcel of land, at Jarrow, some 7 miles north-west of Wearmouth, on which to build another monastery, this time dedicated to St Paul. Benedict did so:
“... with this condition, that the same concord and unity should exist for ever between the two; so that, for instance, as the body cannot be separated from the head, nor the head forget the body by which it lives, in the same manner no man should ever try to divide these two monasteries, which had been united under the names of the first of the Apostles.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 7
Jarrow was founded in 681. To lighten his load and to act for him in his absences, Benedict appointed two co-abbots
at Wearmouth, and Ceolfrith
at Jarrow. In 685, Benedict undertook what was to be his final journey to Rome. Once more he returned laden with books and pictures. In his absence, however, Britain had suffered an outbreak of the plague. Many monks had died. Eosterwine was among the dead, and Ceolfrith had appointed Sigfrith as his replacement.
There are similarities between the ‘Historia Abbatum’, by Bede, and a ‘Life’ of Ceolfrith, by an anonymous monk of Wearmouth-Jarrow, which make it clear that one work drew on the other – but which drew on which is a matter of opinion. At any rate, the anonymous ‘Life’ contains the following passage (§14): “But in the monastery which Ceolfrith ruled [Jarrow], all those who could read or preach or were able to sing the antiphons and responsories were carried off by the plague except the abbot [i.e. Ceolfrith] himself and one small boy, who has been brought up and taught by him and who until the present day holds the rank of a priest in the same monastery and commends the abbot's laudable actions in words and writings to all who wish to know them. Because of the plague the abbot was very sorrowful and ordered the previous custom to be interrupted and that the whole psalter except at Lauds and Vespers should be recited without antiphons. But when this was done for the space of only one week with many tears and laments, he felt unable to bear it any longer so he decided that the psalms with antiphons should be resumed as before. With everyone trying their best, he completed this by himself but with the help of the boy mentioned above, with no small labour, until he trained sufficient companions in the work of God or else obtained them from elsewhere.” It is generally believed that the “small boy” was Bede.
Soon after his return from Rome, the sickness – a creeping paralysis – which would eventually kill Benedict, manifested itself. Sigfrith, too, was sick, with a lung complaint. Both men suffered long illnesses. When they were too weak to carry out their duties, and it was clear that death was near, Benedict appointed Ceolfrith abbot of both monasteries. Two months later, Sigfrith died. After a further four months, on 12th January 689, Benedict died. In 716, aged 74, Ceolfrith resigned and set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. He died en route, at Langres.
Bede ‘Historia Abbatum’ by J.A. Giles
Anonymous ‘Life of Ceolfrith’ by D.H. Farmer
Albinus was abbot of the monastery of St Peter and St Paul (later known as St Augustine's), Canterbury.
Theodore was consecrated archbishop, in Rome, in 668, and took up his post at Canterbury in 669. He was an elderly monk from Tarsus, and was actually fourth choice for the position. Nevertheless, he had a long and successful tenure – dying in 690, aged 88. (At that time, there was only one archbishop in England – York did not become a permanent archbishopric until 735.)
Hadrian was from Africa, but he was abbot of a monastery near Naples when he refused the pope's offer of the archbishopric of Canterbury, because he believed:
“... he was unworthy of so great a dignity ...”
‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book IV Chapter 1
The English choice for the position, Wigheard, had, in 667, been despatched to Rome for consecration, but he, and almost all of his companions, died of the plague shortly after their arrival. It was at Hadrian's suggestion that Theodore, who was from Tarsus but was living in Rome, was chosen – in fact, Theodore was his second suggestion, his first being too ill to accept the position. Pope Vitalian (657–72) insisted that Hadrian should accompany Theodore to England – Hadrian was more familiar with the routes across Gaul and had enough resources to provide their escort, and Vitalian knew that he could rely on Hadrian to:
“... take special care that Theodore should not, according to the custom of the Greeks, introduce anything contrary to the true [i.e. as promulgated by Rome] faith into the Church where he presided.”
‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book IV Chapter 1
Archbishop Theodore appointed Hadrian abbot of the monastery of St Peter and St Paul, in Canterbury. The two of them made a formidable team, reviving Christianity in England. Frank Stenton, in his ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ (Third Edition, 1971) writes:
“Theodore owed the completeness of his achievement in England to the constant support of a man at least his equal in learning, who was insistent, like himself, on the adoption of Roman usage and the recognition of Roman authority.”
Hadrian probably died in 709, and was succeeded by Albinus.
Nothhelm became archbishop of Canterbury in 735, and died in 739.
Pope Gregory I, ‘the Great’ (590–604). In 597, a team of missionaries, despatched by Gregory and lead by Augustine, landed on the Isle of Thanet:
“... to preach the word of God to the English nation.”
‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book I Chapter 23
St Augustine was the first archbishop of Canterbury (more correctly, he was archbishop of the English). In 601, Gregory sent a second group of missionaries to assist Augustine.
Presumably, meaning Gregory II (715–731), who, incidentally, had previously been in charge of the papal library. However, Gregory II was buried on 11th February 731, and, since the final historical event recorded by Bede is the consecration of Tatwine as archbishop of Canterbury, which occurred on 10th June 731, Gregory II would have been dead by the time the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ was completed. Gregory II was succeeded by Gregory III (731–741).
Bede begins with Julius Caesar's expeditions to Britain.
This is, of course, Pope Gregory I.
Cedd and Chad were brothers. Both were bishops. They had two other brothers who were priests.
Bede wrote two ‘Lives’, one in verse and one in prose, of St Cuthbert, based on an earlier ‘Life’ by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert was a bishop – bishop of Lindisfarne – for only the last two years of his life. He had previously been prior of the monastery there, but “for many years” lived as a hermit on Farne Island. He returned to his hermitage on Farne to die, in 687.
John of Beverley. Bishop of Hexham 687–706, and then bishop of York. He died in 721, but had retired before that time.
The Moore MS (Cambridge University Library Kk 5 16) is named after John Moore, bishop of Ely (d.1714). Following the bishop's death, his library (of some 29,000 books and 1,700 manuscripts) was purchased by King George I (for 6,000 guineas), and, in 1715, presented to the University of Cambridge.
The Moore MS has a short ‘Continuation’ of just four annals (731–4).
Sometimes called ‘Lives of the Abbots’.
“He [Eosterwine] was a man of noble birth; but he did not make that, like some men, a cause of boasting and despising others, but a motive for exercising nobility of mind also, as becomes a servant of the Lord. He was the cousin of his own abbot Benedict; and yet such was the singleness of mind in both, such their contempt for human grandeur, that the one, on entering the monastery, did not expect any notice of honour or relationship to be taken of him more than of others, and Benedict himself never thought of offering any; but the young man, faring like the rest, took pleasure in undergoing the usual course of monastic discipline in every respect.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 8
“Ceolfrith, whom Benedict made abbot, had been his most zealous assistant from the first foundation of the former monastery [Wearmouth], and had gone with him at the proper time to Rome, for the sake of acquiring instruction, and offering up his prayers.”
‘Historia Abbatum’ Chapter 7
Anno Domini (Year of Our Lord) is generally abbreviated as AD or A.D. preceding the year, e.g. AD2010. People sensitive to the Christian overtones of AD sometimes use the abbreviation CE, for Common Era, instead, e.g. 2010CE. Of course, for most purposes it is not necessary to use either abbreviation, it being obvious that AD/CE is meant.
A table in which the date of Easter, for a number of consecutive years, has been calculated.
BC or B.C. is the abbreviation of Before Christ. Sometimes the abbreviation BCE, for Before Common Era, is used instead. There is no ‘year zero’ – the year after 1BC is AD1.
‘Catholic Homilies’ Series I, VI: ‘The Octaves and Circumcision of Our Lord’. Ælfric's two series of ‘Catholic Homilies’, written in Old English, were dedicated to Sigeric, archbishop of Canterbury 990–94.
Circles = cycles. Dionysius' calculation of Easter (a process called ‘computus’) is based on the Metonic Cycle, whereby the phases of the Moon repeat on the same dates every nineteen years. In fact, the Metonic Cycle is not exact, accumulating an error of about a couple of hours with each cycle. Dionysius calculated Easter for a period of five Metonic Cycles, i.e. 95 years.
Though Dionysius Exiguus is generally credited with ‘inventing’ AD dating, the notion didn't just pop into his head out of a clear blue sky. More than three hundred years previously, round about the year 200, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens) wrote.
“From Julius Caesar, therefore, to the death of Commodus, are two hundred and thirty-six years, six months. And the whole from Romulus, who founded Rome, till the death of Commodus, amounts to nine hundred and fifty-three years, six months. And our Lord was born in the twenty-eighth year, when first the census was ordered to be taken in the reign of Augustus. And to prove that this is true, it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: “And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias.” And again in the same book: “And Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old,” and so on. And that it was necessary for Him to preach only a year, this also is written: “He has sent Me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord .” This both the prophet spoke, and the Gospel. Accordingly, in fifteen years of Tiberius and fifteen years of Augustus; so were completed the thirty years till the time He suffered. And from the time that He suffered till the destruction of Jerusalem are forty-two years and three months; and from the destruction of Jerusalem to the death of Commodus, a hundred and twenty-eight years, ten months, and three days. From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus [on 31st December AD192] are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years, one month, thirteen days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon
. And the followers of Basilides
hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings.
And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month Tubi
; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month. And treating of His passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the twenty-fifth of Phamenoth
; and others the twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi
and others say that on the nineteenth of Pharmuthi the Saviour suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi.”
‘Stromata’ Book I Chapter 21
Basilides: Gnostic teacher, flourished in Alexandria about 120–140.
The Egyptian calendar was reformed by, Roman emperor, Augustus, in order to keep it in synch with the Julian calendar. The result is called the ‘Alexandrian calendar’. The first day of the year equates to the 29th August (or to the 30th in the year before a Julian leap-year) in the Julian calendar. Pachon is the 9th month of the Alexandrian calendar. “In the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon” equates to 20th May 2BC.
Tubi (Tybi) is the 5th month of the Alexandrian calendar. “The fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month Tubi” equates to 10th January AD29.
Phamenoth is the 7th month of the Alexandrian calendar. “In the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the twenty-fifth of Phamenoth” equates to 21st March AD30.
Pharmuthi (Pharmouthi) is the 8th month of the Alexandrian calendar. “The twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi” equates to 20th April.
A collection of papers written by Dr Poole was published under the title ‘Studies in Chronology and History’ in 1934.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reckons years in terms of ‘winters’. It seems reasonable to speculate that, in pagan and pre-literate times, a king's reign was counted in a similar way – that is, each time he celebrated a midwinter as king, a regnal year was notched up on a tally-stick, hence the round-numbered reign lengths typically found in king-lists. In which case, it would be reasonable for Bede to follow suit, and count the first A.D. regnal year of a king as the first whole year following his accession, regardless of the actual date in the previous year he became king (the whole of that previous year being credited to his predecessor). By this token, despite the fact that he succeeded his brother in August 642, Oswiu's first regnal year would be the whole of 643, and Penda's death on 15th November 655 would be in Oswiu's thirteenth year, just as Bede says. However, neither the use of this system, nor Poole's theory, fully explains all of Bede's inconsistent dating references.
It was long established custom that the Indiction year started on 1st September (this is generally known as the ‘Greek Indiction’). The papacy used this method of dating, so Bede would have been familiar with it. However, in his work ‘‘De Temporum Ratione’ (On the Reckoning of Time), which was written in 725 (i.e. before the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’), Bede states, with no further explanation: “Indictions begin on the 8th of the Kalends of October [i.e. 24th September] and end on the same day.”(§48). Bede's source for this assertion is not evident, and it may be his own idea (consequently, it is frequently called the ‘Bedan Indiction’). Subsequently, the Bedan Indiction seeped into usage. The papacy retained the Greek Indiction until the end of the 11th century. There then followed an indecisive period, but from the pontificate of Alexander III (1159–1181) the Bedan Indiction was consistently used. At any rate, if he considered the Indiction year to begin on the 24th September, it raises the possibility that Bede also began his A.D. year on the 24th September.
In the second half of the 9th century, Viking pirates organized themselves into large armies of conquest. Reporting their activities, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ adopts the convention of beginning its annals in the autumn, seemingly because this best reflected the Vikings' pattern of behaviour. Dorothy Whitelock, in her edition of the ‘Chronicle’ (1961), presumes the 24th September, the Bedan Indiction, was being used. However, Kenneth Harrison (‘The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to A.D.900’, 1976) argues that the Indiction had passed out of use in England by this time, and that it is a mistake to attach a specific start-of-year-date to these annals.