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For other uses, see Chronology (disambiguation). For specific lists of events, see Timeline.
Joseph Scaliger's De emendatione temporum (1583) began the modern science of chronology[1]

Chronology (from Latin chronologia, from Ancient Greek χρόνος, chronos, "time"; and -λογία, -logia) is the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence in time. Consider, for example, the use of a timeline or sequence of events. It is also "the determination of the actual temporal sequence of past events".[2]

Chronology is part of periodization. It is also part of the discipline of history, including earth history, the earth sciences, and study of the geologic time scale (see Prehistoric chronologies below).

Related fields[edit]

Chronology is the science of locating historical events in time. It relies upon chronometry, which is also known as timekeeping, and historiography, which examines the writing of history and the use of historical methods. Radiocarbon dating estimates the age of formerly living things by measuring the proportion of carbon-14 isotope in their carbon content. Dendrochronology estimates the age of trees by correlation of the various growth rings in their wood to known year-by-year reference sequences in the region to reflect year-to-year climatic variation. Dendrochronology is used in turn as a calibration reference for radiocarbon dating curves.

Calendar and era[edit]

Main article: Calendar

The familiar terms calendar and era (within the meaning of a coherent system of numbered calendar years) concern two complementary fundamental concepts of chronology. For example during eight centuries the calendar belonging to the Christian era, which era was taken in use in the 8th century by Bede, was the Julian calendar, but after the year 1582 it was the Gregorian calendar. Dionysius Exiguus (about the year 500) was the founder of that era, which is nowadays the most widespread dating system on earth.

Ab Urbe condita era[edit]

Main article: Ab urbe condita

Ab Urbe condita is Latin for "from the founding of the City (Rome)",[3] traditionally set in 753 BC. It was used to identify the Roman year by a few Roman historians. Modern historians use it much more frequently than the Romans themselves did; the dominant method of identifying Roman years was to name the two consuls who held office that year. Before the advent of the modern critical edition of historical Roman works, AUC was indiscriminately added to them by earlier editors, making it appear more widely used than it actually was.

It was used systematically for the first time only about the year 400, by the Iberian historian Orosius. Pope Boniface IV, in about the year 600, seems to have been the first who made a connection between these this era and Anno Domini. (AD 1 = AUC 754.)

Astronomical era[edit]

Dionysius Exiguus’ Anno Domini era (which contains only calendar years AD) was extended by Bede to the complete Christian era (which contains, in addition all calendar years BC, but no year zero). Ten centuries after Bede, the French astronomers Philippe de la Hire (in the year 1702) and Jacques Cassini (in the year 1740), purely to simplify certain calculations, put the Julian Dating System (proposed in the year 1583 by Joseph Scaliger) and with it an astronomical era into use, which contains a leap year zero, which precedes the year 1 (AD) but does not exactly coincide with the year 1 BC.

Prehistoric chronologies[edit]

While of critical importance to the historian, methods of determining chronology are used in most disciplines of science, especially astronomy, geology, paleontology and archaeology.

In the absence of written history, with its chronicles and king lists, late 19th century archaeologists found that they could develop relative chronologies based on pottery techniques and styles. In the field of Egyptology, William Flinders Petrie pioneered sequence dating to penetrate pre-dynastic Neolithic times, using groups of contemporary artefacts deposited together at a single time in graves and working backwards methodically from the earliest historical phases of Egypt. This method of dating is known as seriation.

Known wares discovered at strata in sometimes quite distant sites, the product of trade, helped extend the network of chronologies. Some cultures have retained the name applied to them in reference to characteristic forms, for lack of an idea of what they called themselves: "The Beaker People" in northern Europe during the 3rd millennium BCE, for example. The study of the means of placing pottery and other cultural artifacts into some kind of order proceeds in two phases, classification and typology: Classification creates categories for the purposes of description, and typology seeks to identify and analyse changes that allow artifacts to be placed into sequences.[4]

Laboratory techniques developed particularly after mid-20th century helped constantly revise and refine the chronologies developed for specific cultural areas. Unrelated dating methods help reinforce a chronology, an axiom of corroborative evidence. Ideally, archaeological materials used for dating a site should complement each other and provide a means of cross-checking. Conclusions drawn from just one unsupported technique are usually regarded as unreliable.

Chronological analysis[edit]

Several legendary sources tend to assign unrealistically long lifespans to pre-historical heroes and monarchs (e.g., Egyptian, Chinese, Hebrews, Japanese), if the number of years there reported are understood as years of more than 340 days. Though chronologies formulated before the 1960s are subject to serious skepticism today, more recent results are more robust than readily appears to journalists and enthusiastic amateurs.[clarification needed] Bayesian inference can be applied in the analysis of chronological information, including radiocarbon-derived dates.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richards, E. G. (1998). Mapping Time: The Calendar and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 0-19-286205-7. 
  2. ^ Memidex/WordNet, "chronology," memidex.com (accessed September 25, 2010).
  3. ^ Literally translated as "From the city having been founded".
  4. ^ Greene, Kevin (November 2007). Archaeology : An Introduction. University of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Chapter 4. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 


  • Hegewisch, D. H., & Marsh, J. (1837). Introduction to historical chronology. Burlington [Vt.]: C. Goodrich.
  • B. E. Tumanian, “Measurement of Time in Ancient and Medieval Armenia,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 5, 1974, pp. 91–98.
  • Kazarian, K. A., “History of Chronology by B. E. Tumanian,” Journal for the History of Astronomy, 4, 1973, p. 137
  • Porter, T. M., "The Dynamics of Progress: Time, Method, and Measure". The American Historical Review, 1991.

Further reading[edit]

Published in the 18th-19th century[edit]

  • Weeks, J. E. (1701). The gentleman's hour glass; or, An introduction to chronology; being a plain and compendious analysis of time. Dublin: James Hoey.
  • Hodgson, J., Hinton, J., & Wallis, J. (1747). An introduction to chronology:: containing an account of time; also of the most remarkable cycles, epoch's, era's, periods, and moveable feasts. To which is added, a brief account of the several methods proposed for the alteration of the style, the reforming the calendar, and fixing the true time of the celebration of Easter. London: Printed for J. Hinton, at the King's Arms in St Paul's Church-yard.
  • Smith, T. (1818). An introduction to chronology. New York: Samuel Wood.

Published in the 20th century[edit]

  • Keller, H. R. (1934). The dictionary of dates. New York: The Macmillan company.
  • Poole, R. L., & Poole, A. L. (1934). Studies in chronology and history. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Langer, W. L., & Gatzke, H. W. (1963). An encyclopedia of world history, ancient, medieval and modern, chronologically arranged. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Momigliano, A. "Pagan and Christian Historiography in the Fourth Century A.D." in A. Momigliano, ed., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century,The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1963, pp. 79–99
  • Williams, N., & Storey, R. L. (1966). Chronology of the modern world: 1763 to the present time. London: Barrie & Rockliffe.
  • Steinberg, S. H. (1967). Historical tables: 58 B.C.-A.D. 1965. London: Macmillan.
  • Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. (1975). Chronology of world history: a calendar of principal events from 3000 BC to AD 1973. London: Collings.
  • Neugebauer, O. (1975). A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy Springer-Verlag.
  • Bickerman, E. J. (1980). The Chronology of the Ancient World. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Whitrow, G. J. (1990). Time in history views of time from prehistory to the present day. Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Aitken, M. (1990). Science-Based Dating in Archaeology. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Richards, E. G. (1998). Mapping Time: The Calendar and History. Oxford University Press.

Published in the 21st century[edit]

  • Koselleck, R. "Time and History." The Practice of Conceptual History. Timing History, Spacing Concepts. Palo Alto: Standford University Press, 2002.
  • Ronald H. Fritze et al. (2004). "Chronologies, Calendars, and Lists of Rulers". Reference Sources in History: An Introductory Guide (2nd ed.). ABC-CLIO. pp. 4+. ISBN 978-0-87436-883-3. 
  • Daniel Rosenberg; Anthony Grafton (2009). Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 9781568987637{{inconsistent citations}} 

External links[edit]

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