Still more ways of calculating time and scanning the periods of human history were developed in the first centuries. Among them was that which, wellknown in the pagan world, took its name from a particularly important historical event. In this case the term era was used from late Latin ra, number, figure. Years were counted from this event, so that earlier or later facts could be ordered chronologically. The expression era of Diocletian was particularly popular in the East: facts were ordered from the start of Diocletian’s reign 284. It was used in Egypt, where it particularly established itself, by Cyril of Alexandria in his Easter tables, but it also occurs in the West, in Ambrose Ep.
23 or, later, in Bede. From the 7th c. it became the era of the martyrs, in memory of the Christians who suffered the last and cruelest persecution under Diocletian. Much more famous and lasting was the Christian or vulgar era, introduced by the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus d. ca. 545. In compiling the table of Easter cycles which he made to continue Cyril of Alexandria’s work beyond 531, he computed the years no longer from Diocletian but from the birth of Jesus Christ which he fixed, erroneously, as 25 December in the year 753 from the foundation of Rome a choice which clearly expressed an essential moment of the previous models.
This way of summing up chronology gradually spread, first among chroniclers, then in public documents from the 7th c., in imperial documents from the 9th c., in pontifical acts from the mid-10th c. To mention just one more, the Byzantine era had considerable popularity from the 7th c., throughout the East and in S Italy. Roughly following a calculation known from earliest times, it fixed the creation of the world at 5508 BC, making 5509 the first year of the new era. A dating method starting from 38 BC was common in Spain; it became general in the 6th-7th c., in the Western provinces, through the Visigoths, who also used it in Africa and the part of Gaul which they occupied; for this reason it was called Gothic, but it is better known under the name Hispanic Spanish or Caesar era.
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