Happy New Year (1/1/06)

So, today we mark the beginning of the new year, 2006. But what does that really mean the Ďnew year.í Why is January 1st the beginning of the new year? I know any day is pretty arbitrary, but whatís special about this day? And what about Ď2006.í Why 2006?

Well, I did some investigation. The original Roman calendar had ten months, which began at the vernal equinox (the first day of Spring). This was initially a lunar calendar and did not encompass 61 days of winter. So, in 753 BC, someone decided to fix that and added two months to the end of the year, and did a little manipulating of the other months. About 600 years later, these months (Januarius and Februarius) were moved to the beginning of the year, in order to coincide with the civil year in Rome, which was when newly elected consuls took office. This was largely a political move. So thatís essentially how January 1st came to be the first of the year. That was the time when Roman officials took office. Happy newÖyearÖ.

Then thereís 2006. And Iím sure that every one reading this can tell me that itís 2006 AD, or Anno Domini (the year of our lord). It essentially means that 2006 years have past since the birth of Jesus. But letís think about that for a moment. Anno Domini is a Latin term. Latin was spoken by the Romans. That last sentence is grammatically incorrect but I donít care. Anyways, nothing new there right? We all new that Anno Domini was Latin. Well, the Roman Church wasnít established until Emperor Constantine did in the year 337. So as a result, the term ĎAnno Dominií didnít exist until 337 years after Jesus was born. This raises three important questions. First, when did they begin the new year system (it obviously wasnít year 1, as there were no Christians at this time)? Two, how did they determine how long it had been since the life and death of Jesus? And third, how did they count years before then?

Well, the third question is the simplest to answer. The Romans (to say nothing of the rest of the world) counted based on the founding of Rome in 753 BC and counted from then. Also common was the term Anno Mundi (the year of the world) in which years were counted since the calculation of the time since the world was created. As you can imagine, this caused some conflicts.

As far as second question goes, the term ĎAnno Dominií was first used by Dionisius Exiguus in 525 AD. He calculated (somehow) that Jesusí birth was 525 years prior to that point. Funnily enough, nearly all modern biblical scholars believe him to be incorrect, and place his birth between 8 and 4 BC.

And that brings us to the first question asked: when was this system put into place? Well, the first person to genuinely use the system was Bede, an Anglo-Saxon historian in the year 731. However, it wasnít until Charlemagne gained power in the latter half of the 8th Century that its usage became widespread across Europe.

So happy New Year 2006 everyone! Even though it does seem odd to celebrate 2006 years since the transfer of power to newly elected Roman consuls when Jesus was somewhere around 6 years old. But hey, itís an excuse to drink, so itís good enough for me.