Common Era

The Common Era (CE), also known as the Christian Era and sometimes as the Current Era, is the period beginning with the year 1 onwards. The term is used for a system of reckoning years that is chronologically equivalent to the Anno Domini (AD) (Latin for "In the year of [our] Lord") system, but with less overt religious implications. Although "common era" was a term first used by some Christians in an age when Christianity was the common religion of the West, it is now a term preferred by some as a religiously neutral alternative. It has its equivalents in other languages. For example, Chinese uses a translation of the term, gōngyuán (公元), for date notation.


Chronology and notation

The calendar practice prompting the coining of the term "common era" is the system of numbering and naming years using the presumed (although incorrect) birth year of Jesus as a starting point. This system was devised by the monk Dionysius Exiguus about the year 525, and used the label Anno Domini or AD to identify the year. Two centuries later the monk Bede introduced the label BC to identify years in the era preceeding AD. The evidence suggests these terms did not come into widespread use for a few more centuries. The term "common era" refers to the time period since the year 1 described by the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582 to address the problem of the Julian calendar being out of synch with the seasons due to using too many leap days. The Gregorian calendar is the world's de facto standard calendar system.

Thus, according to this international standard, the French Revolution occurred in the year 1789, and human beings first walked on the Moon in the year 1969. Users of common era nomenclature consider these events to have occurred in years "of the common era".

When used as a replacement for BC/AD notation, the common era is abbreviated as CE and is the direct chronological equivalent of AD. Similarly, the time before the common era is written as BCE and is the direct chronological equivalent of BC. Both abbreviations are written following the year, thus Aristotle was born in 384 BCE (or 384 BC), and Genghis Khan died in 1227 CE (or AD 1227).

On (rare) occasions (, one may find the abbreviation "e.v." or "EV" instead of "CE"; this stands for "Era Vulgaris", the Latin translation of "Common Era".

See also: Anno Domini


According to Peter Daniels (a Cornell and Chicago trained linguist):

CE and BCE came into use in the last few decades, perhaps originally in Ancient Near Eastern studies, where (a) there are many Jewish scholars and (b) dating according to a Christian era is irrelevant. It is indeed a question of sensitivity.

However, the term "common era" has earlier antecedents. A 1716 book by English Bishop John Prideaux says, "The vulgar era, by which we now compute the years from his incarnation." In 1835, in his book Living Oracles, Alexander Campbell, wrote "The vulgar Era, or Anno Domini; the fourth year of Jesus Christ, the first of which was but eight days." In its article on Chronology, the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia uses the sentence: "Foremost among these (dating eras) is that which is now adopted by all civilized peoples and known as the Christian, Vulgar or Common Era, in the twentieth century of which we are now living."

"Vulgar" comes from the Latin word vulgāris (from vulgus, the common people), meant "of or belonging to the common people, everyday," and acknowledges that the date was commonly used, even by people who did not believe that Jesus was divine. By the late 1800s, however, vulgar had come to mean "crudely indecent" and the Latin word was replaced by its English equivalent, "common".

The first known Jewish use of this practice is from an inscription on a gravestone in a Jewish cemetery in Plymouth, England:

Here is buried his honour Judah ben his honour Joseph, a prince and honoured amongst philanthropists, who executed good deeds, died in his house in the City of Bath, Tuesday, and was buried here on Sunday, 19 Sivan in the year 5585. In memory of Lyon Joseph Esq (merchant of Falmouth, Cornwall). who died at Bath June AM 5585/VE 1825. Beloved and respected.

This inscription, like most, uses the Jewish calendar (5585), but ends by providing the common year (1825); presumably the "VE" means "Vulgar Era", and presumably VE was used instead of AD in order to avoid the Christian implications.


Jewish and Christian scholars have developed the BCE/CE terms for the benefit of cross-cultural dialogue.[1] ( Some Islamic scholars and others outside the Judeo-Christian religious traditions have used the system. Some Christians have used the term CE to mean 'Christian era' . Most non-religious academics in the fields of history, theology, archaeology and anthropology have also in recent decades begun using the system.

More visible uses of common era notation have recently surfaced at major museums in the English-speaking world: Canada's Royal Ontario Museum adopted BCE/CE in 2002 [2] (, and the Smithsonian Institution also prefers common era usage, though individual museums are not required to use it.[3] ( As well, many style guides now prefer or mandate its usage. [4] ([5] ([6] ([7] ([8] ( Some style guides for Christian churches even mandate its use; for example, that of Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.(pdf) (


Changing dates expressed in BC terminology to BCE has given rise to some opposition. Perhaps most notably, when BC was changed to BCE in one examination question in New South Wales, it prompted questions and protestations of offence in both chambers of the State Parliament, and an acceptance from the Education Minister that the change should not have been made. When the teaching of what BCE/CE meant was introduced into the English National Curriculum in 2002, it prompted confused letters to national newspapers.

Arguments against the common era designation include:

  • BC and AD have been used for such a length of time as to have become somewhat removed from their religious connotations.
  • The newer BCE/CE system has not been used widely enough so as to have become commonly understood.
  • The names for the months and days of the week derive respectively from Roman and Nordic religious traditions, so naming years based on the Christian tradition should not be seen as objectionable.
  • It downplays the prominence of Jesus in societies that have a largely Christian heritage.
  • Some object to the common era's retention of the year 1 as its epoch because it preserves a Christocentric worldview at the expense of a religiously neutral timekeeping system.


Supporters of common era notation promote it as a religiously neutral notation suited for cross-cultural use.

Arguments given for standardizing common era notation include:

  • The calendar used by the West has become a global standard. It should be religiously and culturally neutral out of consideration for those cultures compelled to use it out of necessity. [9] (
  • It has been largely used by academic and scientific communites for over a century now, and is not a completely unfamiliar dating system. [10] (
  • Dating years according to Christian theology has the potential to be culturally divisive in worldwide use. Dating months and days based on Roman and Norse gods, however, should not be a concern because the Roman and Norse religions are virtually extinct. [11] (
  • It promotes ecumenical standards and is interchangeable with Christian Era.

See also

External links



Controversy over use in schools

United Kingdom



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