Byzantine Creation Era Calendar

According to the Church’s calendar, developed
during the Byzantine period and based on Biblical
chronologies, September 1/14 marks the beginning of the
ecclesiastical year. Specifically, September 1/14, 2016
marks the beginning of the year 7525 from the creation of
the world, God having created 5509 years before the
Nativity of Christ.

The article below, originally appearing on
OrthodoxWiki, offers a detailed look at the
development of the Church’s Byzantine Creation Era
calendar, and several of its predecessing calendars.

* * *

The Byzantine Creation Era, also “Creation Era of
Constantinople,” or “Era of the World”
(Greek: Έτη
Γενέσεως
Κόσμου
κατά
‘Ρωμαίους
also Έτος
Κτίσεως
Κόσμου or
Έτος
Κόσμου ) was the
Calendar officially used by the Eastern Orthodox Church
from ca. AD 691 to 1728 in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, by
the Byzantine Empire from AD 988 to 1453, and in Russia
from ca. AD 988 to 1700.

Derived from the Septuagint version of the Bible, it
placed the date of creation at 5,509 years before the
Incarnation, and was characterized by a certain tendency
which had already been a tradition amongst Hebrews and
Jews to number the years from the foundation of the world
(Latin: Annus Mundi/Ab Origine Mundi [AM]).[1] Its year one, the supposed date of
creation, was September 1, 5509 BC to August 31, 5508
BC.

History

It is not known who invented this era and when, however it
appears for the first time in the treatise of a certain
“monkand priest”, Georgios (AD 638-39), who
mentions all the main variants of the “World
Era” (Ére Mondiale) in his work.[2] Georgios makes it clear that the main
advantage of the Byzantine era is the common starting
point of the astronomical lunar and solar cycles, and
of the cycle of indictions, the usual dating system in
Byzantium since the sixth century. He also already
regards it as the most convenient for the Easter
computus. Complex calculations of the nineteen-year
lunar and twenty-eight-year solar cycles within this
world era allowed scholars to discover the cosmic
significance of certain historical dates, such as the
birth of Christ or the Crucifixion.[3]

This date underwent minor revisions before being finalized
in the mid-seventh century A.D., although its precursors
were developed circa AD 412. By the second half of the
seventh century the Creation Era was known in the far West
of Europe, in Britain.[4] By the late tenth century, around AD
988, when the Era appears in use on official government
records, a unified system was widely recognized across
the Eastern Roman world.

The era was ultimately calculated as starting on September
1st, and Jesus was thought to have been born in the year
5509 Annus Mundi (AM)—the year since the creation of
the world.[5] Thus historical time was calculated
from the creation, and not from Christ’s birth, as
in the west. The Eastern Church avoided the use of the
Anno Domini system of Dionysius Exiguus since the date
of Christ’s birth was debated in Constantinople as
late as the fourteenth century. Otherwise the Creation
Era was identical to the Julian Calendar except that:

  • the names of the months were transcribed from Latin
    into Greek,
  • the first day of the year was September 1,[6] so that both the ecclesiastical and
    civil calendar years ran from September 1 to August
    31, which to the present day is the Church year,
    and,
  • the date of creation, its year one, was September 1,
    5509 BC to August 31, 5508 BC.

The Byzantine World Era was gradually replaced in the
Orthodox Church by the Christian Era, which was utilized
initially by Patriarch Theophanes I Karykes in 1597,
afterwards by Patriarch Cyril Lucaris in 1626, and then
formally established by the Church in 1728.[7] Meanwhile as Russia received Orthodox
Christianity from Byzantium, she inherited the Orthodox
Calendar based on the Byzantine Era (translated into
Slavonic). After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire
in 1453, the era continued to be used by Russia, which
witnessed millennialist movements in Moscow in AD 1492
(7000 AM) due to the end of the Church calendar. It was
only in AD 1700 that the Byzantine Era in Russia was
changed to the Julian Calendar by Peter I.[8] It still forms the basis of
traditional Orthodox calendars up to today. September
AD 2000 began the year 7509 AM.[9]

Earliest Christian Sources on the Age of the
World

The earliest extant Christian writings on the age of the
world according to the Biblical chronology are by St.
Theophilus of Antioch (AD 115-181), the sixth bishop of
Antioch from the Apostles, in his apologetic work To
Autolycus
,[10] and by Julius Africanus (AD 200-245)
in his Five Books of Chronology. Both of these
early Christian writers, following the Septuagint
version of the Old Testament, determined the age of the
world to have been about 5,530 years at the birth of
Christ.[11]

Dr. Ben Zion Wacholder points out that the writings of the
Church Fathers on this subject are of vital significance
(even though he disagrees with their chronological system
based on the authenticity of the Septuagint, as compared
to that of the Hebrew text), in that through the Christian
chronographers a window to the earlier Hellenistic
Biblical chronographers [12]is preserved:

St. Hippolytus of Rome
St. Hippolytus of Rome
An immense intellectual effort was
expended during the Hellenistic period by both Jews
and pagans to date Creation, the flood, the exodus,
the building of the Temple… In the course of their
studies, men such as Tatian of Antioch (flourished in
180), Clement of Alexandria (died before 215), St.
Hippolytus of Rome (died in 235), Julius Africanus of
Jerusalem (died after 240), Eusebius of Caesarea in
Palestine (260-340), and Pseudo-Justin frequently
quoted their predecessors, the Graeco-Jewish Biblical
chronographers of the Hellenistic period, thereby
allowing discernment of more distant
scholarship.[13]

The Hellenistic Jewish writer Demetrius the Chronographer
(flourishing 221-204 B.C.) wrote On the Kings of
Judea
which dealt with Biblical exegesis, mainly
chronology; he computed the date of the flood and the
birth of Abraham exactly as in the Septuagint, and first
established the Annus Adami—Era of Adam, the
antecedent of the Hebrew World Era, and of the Alexandrian
and Byzantine Creation Eras.

Alexandrian Era

The “Alexandrian Era” (Greek:
Κόσμου
ἔτη κατ’
Ἀλεξανδρεῖς
) developed in AD 412, was the precursor to the Byzantine
Era. After the initial attempts by Hippolytus, Clement of
Alexandria and others,[14] the Alexandrian computation of the
date of creation was worked out to be March 25, 5493
BC.[15]

The Alexandrine monk Panodoros reckoned 5904 years from
Adam to the year AD 412. His years began with August 29,
corresponding to the First of Thoth, or the Egyptian new
year.[16] Bishop Annianos of Alexandria,
however, preferred the Annunciation style as New
Year’s Day, the 25th of March, and shifted the
Panodoros era by about six months, to begin on March
25. This created the Alexandrian Era, whose first day
was the first day of the proleptic[17] Alexandrian civil year in progress,
August 29, 5493 BC, with the ecclesiastical year
beginning on March 25, 5493 BC.

This system presents in a masterful way the mystical
coincidence of the three main dates of the world’s
history: the beginning of Creation, the Incarnation, and
the Resurrection of Christ. All these events happened,
according to the Alexandrian chronology, on the 25th of
March; furthermore, the first two events were separated by
the period of exactly 5500 years; the first and the third
one occurred on Sunday—the sacred day of the
beginning of the Creation and its renovation through
Christ.[18]

St. Dionysius of Alexandria had earlier emphatically
quoted mystical justifications for the choice of March 25
as the start of the year:

March 25 was considered to be the anniversary of Creation
itself. It was the first day of the year in the medieval
Julian calendar and the nominal vernal equinox (it had
been the actual equinox at the time when the Julian
calendar was originally designed). Considering that Christ
was conceived at that date turned March 25 into the Feast
of the Annunciation which had to be followed, nine months
later, by the celebration of the birth of Christ,
Christmas, on December 25.

The Alexandrian Era of March 25, 5493 BC was adopted by
Church Fathers such as St. Maximus
the Confessor and St. Theophanes the Confessor, as
well as chroniclers such as George Syncellus. Its striking
mysticism made it popular in Byzantium especially in
monastic circles. However, this masterpiece of Christian
symbolism had two serious weak points: historical
inaccuracy surrounding the date of the Resurrection as
determined by its Easter computes,[19] and its contradiction to the
chronology of the Gospel of St. John regarding the date
of the Crucifixion on Friday after the Passover.[20]

Chronicon Paschale

A new variant of the World Era was suggested in the
Chronicon Paschale, a valuable Byzantine
universal chronicle of the world, composed about the year
630 AD by some representative of the Antiochian scholarly
tradition.[21] It had for its basis a chronological
list of events extending from the creation of Adam to
the year A.D. 627. The chronology of the writer is
based on the figures of the Bible and begins with March
21, 5507.

For its influence on Greek Christian chronology, and also
because of its wide scope, the Chronicon Paschale
takes its place beside Eusebius, and the chronicle of the
monk Georgius Syncellus[22] which was so important in the Middle
Ages; but in respect of form it is inferior to these
works.[23]

By the late tenth century the Byzantine Era, having been
fixed at September 1, 5509 BC since the mid-seventh
century (differing by sixteen years from the Alexandrian
date, and two years from the Chronicon Paschale),
had become the widely accepted calendar of choice par
excellence
for Chalcedonian Orthodoxy.

Accounts in Church Fathers

St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom says clearly in his Homily
On the Cross and the Thief“, that
Christ:

“opened for us today Paradise, which had remained
closed for some 5000 years.”[24]

St. Isaac the Syrian

St. Isaac the Syrian writes in a Homily that before
Christ:

“For five thousand years five hundred and some years
God left Adam (i.e. man) to labor on the
earth.”[25]

St. Augustine

Blessed Augustine writes in the City of God
(written AD 413-426):

“Let us omit the conjectures of men who know not what
they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the
human race…They are deceived by those highly mendacious
documents which profess to give the history of many
thousands of years, though reckoning by the sacred
writings we find that not 6,000 years have
passed.”[26]

Augustine goes on to say that the ancient Greek chronology
“does not exceed the true account of the duration of
the world as it is given in our documents (i.e. the
Scriptures), which are truly sacred.”

St. Hippolytus

St. Hippolytus of Rome (ca.170-235) maintained on
Scriptural grounds that the Lord’s birth took place in
5500 AM, and held that the birth of Christ took place on a
Passover day, deducing that its date was March 25. He gave
the following intervals:

“…from Adam to the flood 2242 years, thence to
Abraham 1141 years, thence to the Exodus 430 years, thence
to the passover of Joshua 41 years, thence to the passover
of Hezekiah 864 years, thence to the passover of Josiah
114 years, thence to the passover of Ezra 107 years, and
thence to the birth of Christ 563 years.”

In his Commentary on Daniel, one of his earlier
writings, he proceeds to set out additional reasons for
accepting the date of 5500 AM:

First he quotes Exod. xxv. 10f. and pointing out that
the length, breadth and height of the ark of the covenant
amount in all to 5 1/2 cubits, says that these symbolize
the 5,500 years from Adam at the end of which the Saviour
was born. He then quotes from Jn. xix. 14 ‘it was
about the sixth hour ‘ and, understanding by that 5
1/2 hours, takes each hour to correspond to a thousand
years of the world’s life
…[27]

Around AD 202 Hippolytus held that the Lord was born in
the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus[28] and that he was born in 5500AM. In
his Commentary on Daniel he did not need to
establish the precise year of the Lord’s birth; he
is not concerned about the day of the week, the
month-date, or even the year; it was sufficient for his
purpose to show that Christ was born in the days of
Augustus in 5500 AM.

Quinisext Council

It is referred to indirectly in Canon III of the Quinisext
Council, which the Orthodox Churches consider as
ecumenical, its canons being added to the decrees of the
Fifth and Sixth Councils, as follows:

“… as of the fifteenth day of the month of January
last past, in the last fourth indiction, in the year six
thousand one hundred and ninety [6190]…”

Accounts in Byzantine Authors

From Justinian’s decree in AD 537 that all dates must
include the Indiction, the unification of the theological
date of Creation (as yet unfinalized) with the
administrative system of Indiction cycles became commonly
referred to amongst Byzantine authors, to whom the
Indiction was the standard measurement of time.

In Official Documents

As mentioned above, in the year AD 691 we find the
Creation Era in the Acts of the Trullanum Council
(so‐called Synodos Quinisexta).

We find the era also in the dating of the so-called
Letter of three Patriarchs to the emperor
Theophilos (April, indiction 14, 6344=836 AD).

By the tenth century the Byzantine Era is found in the
Novellas of A.D. 947, 962, 964, and most surely
of the year A.D. 988, all dated in this way, as well as
the Act of Patriarch Nicholaos II Chrysobergos in A.D.
987.[29]

John Skylitzes

John Skylitzes’ (ca.1081-1118) major work is the
Synopsis of Histories, which covers the reigns of
the Byzantine emperors from the death of Nicephorus I in
811 to the deposition of Michael IV in 1057; it continues
the chronicle of St. Theophanes the Confessor. Quoting
from him as an example of the common Byzantine dating
method, he refers to emperor Basil, writing that:

“In the year 6508 [1000], in the thirteenth
indiction, the emperor sent a great force against the
Bulgarian fortified positions (kastra) on the far side of
the Balkan (Haimos) mountains…”[30]

Niketas Choniates

Niketas Choniates (ca. 1155–1215), sometimes called
Acominatus, was a Byzantine Greek historian. His chief
work is his History, in twenty-one books, of the
period from 1118 to 1207. Again, an example of the dating
method can be seen as he refers to the fall of
Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade as follows:

“The queen of cities fell to the Latins on the
twelfth day of the month of April of the seventh indiction
in the year 6712 [1204].”[31]

Doukas

The historian Doukas, writing circa AD 1460, makes a
detailed account of the Creation Era. Although unrefined
in style, the history of Doukas is both judicious and
trustworthy, and it is the most valuable source for the
closing years of the Byzantine empire:

From Adam, the first man created by God, to Noah, at
whose time the flood took place, there were ten
generations. The first, which was from God, was that of
Adam. The second, after 230 years, was that of Seth
begotten of Adam. The third, 205 years after Seth, was
that of Enos begotten of Seth. The fourth, 190 years after
Enos, was that of Kainan begotten of Enos. The fifth, 170
years after Kainan, was that of Mahaleel begotten of
Kainan. The sixth, 165 years after Mahaleel, was that of
Jared begotten of Mahaleel. The seventh, 162 years after
Jared, was that of Enoch begotten of Jared. The eighth,
165 years after Enoch, was that of Methuselah begotten of
Enoch. The ninth, 167 years after Methuselah, was that of
Lamech begotten of Methuselah. The tenth, 188 years after
Lamech, was that of Noah. Noah was 600 years old when the
flood of water came upon the earth. Thus 2242 years may be
counted from Adam to the flood.

There are also ten generations from the flood to
Abraham numbering 1121 years. Abraham was seventy-five
years old when he moved to the land of Canaan from
Mesopotamia, and having resided there twenty-five years he
begat Isaac. Isaac begat two sons, Esau and Jacob. When
Jacob was 130 years old he went to Egypt with his twelve
sons and grandchildren, seventy-five in number. And
Abraham with his offspring dwelt in the land of Canaan 433
years, and having multiplied they numbered twelve tribes;
a multitude of 600,000 were reckoned from the twelve sons
of Jacob whose names are as follows: Ruben, Symeon, Levi,
Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Dan,
Joseph, and Benjamin.

The descendants of Levi were Moses
and Aaron; the latter was the first of the priesthood
while Moses was appointed to govern. In the eightieth year
of his life he walked through the Red Sea and led his
people out of Egypt. This Moses flourished in the time of
Inachos [son of Oceanus and King of Argos] who was the
first [Greek] king to reign. Thus the Jews are more
ancient than the Greeks.

Remaining in the wilderness forty years they were
governed for twenty-five years by Joshua, son of Nun, and
by the Judges for 454 years to the reign of Saul, the
first king installed by them. During the first year of his
reign the great David was born. Thus from Abraham to David
fourteen generations are numbered for a total of 1024
years. From David to the deportation to Babylon [586 BC]
there are fourteen generations totalling 609 years. From
the Babylonian Captivity to Christ there are fourteen
generations totalling 504 years.

By the sequence of Numbers we calculate the number of
5,500 years from the time of the first Adam to
Christ.”[32]

The Byzantine Mindset

Literal Creation Days

Even the most mystical Fathers such as St. Isaac
the Syrian accepted without question the common
understanding of the Church that the world was created
“more or less” in 5,500 BC. As Fr. Seraphim Rose
points out:

The Holy Fathers (probably unanimously) certainly have
no doubt that the chronology of the Old Testament, from
Adam onwards, is to be accepted “literally.”
They did not have the fundamentalist’s over-concern
for chronological precision, but even the most mystical
Fathers (St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Gregory Palamas, etc.)
were quite certain that Adam lived literally some 900
years, that there were some 5,500 years (“more or
less”) between the creation and the Birth of
Christ.
[33]

 

St. Basil the GreatSt. Basil the Great
The Church Fathers also consistently
affirm that each species of the animate creation came
into existence instantaneously, at the command of God,
with its seed within itself.[34] St. Basil
the Great for example takes this literal view in
the Hexæmeron, a work consisting of nine
homilies delivered by St. Basil on the cosmogony of the
opening chapters of Genesis, providing one of the most
detailed expositions of the six days of creation to
come down to us from the early Church. Basil writes in
Homily I that:

“Thus then, if it is said, In the beginning God
created,
it is to teach us that at the will of God
the world arose in less than an instant…”

Typical of the Christian conviction on this point, St.
Hilary of Poitiers also affirms that the Creation was
performed ex nihilo:

“For all things, as the Prophet says, were made out
of nothing; it was no transformation of existing things,
but the creation of the non-being into a perfect
form.”[35]

The prophet cited by St. Hilary was the mother of the
Maccabean martyrs, who said to one of her tortured sons,
I beseech you, my child, to look at heaven and earth
and see everything in them, and know that God made them
out of nothing; so also He made the race of man in this
way”
(2 Maccabees 7:28). This text from 2
Maccabees was the standard Biblical prooftext for the
Christian Church in respect to creation from nothingness.
We find the thesis in late Judaism, from which it passed
into the Christian faith as an essential teaching.[36]

In addition, the traditional Jewish understanding of the
creation “days” of Genesis is that they are
literal as well, as virtually all the Rabbis have
understood in commentaries from Talmudic, Midrashic and
Rabbinic sources.[37]

Hours of the Liturgical Day

In the Byzantine period the day was divided into two
twelve-hour cycles, fixed by the rising and setting of the
sun.

Following Roman custom, the Byzantines began their
calendrical day (nychthemeron) at midnight with the first
hour of day (hemera) coming at dawn. The third hour marked
midmorning, the sixth hour noon, and the ninth hour
midafternoon. Evening (hespera) began at the eleventh
hour, and with sunset came the first hour of night
(apodeipnon). The interval between sunset and sunrise
(nyx) was similarly divided into twelve hours as well as
the traditional “watches” (vigiliae) of Roman
times.
[38]

Days of the Liturgical Week

Dr. Marcus Rautman points out that the seven-day week was
known throughout the ancient world. The Roman Calendar had
assigned one of the planetary deities to each day of the
week. The Byzantines naturally avoided using these Latin
names with their pagan echoes. They began their week with
the “Lord’s Day” (Kyriake),
followed by an orderly succession of numbered days
(Deutera, Trite, Tetarte, and
Pempte), a day of “preparation”
(Paraskeve), and finally Sabatton.

Each day was devoted to remembering one or more
martyrs or saints, whose observed feast days gradually
eclipsed traditional festivals. Kyriake was seen as both
the first and eighth day of the week, in the same way that
Christ was the Alpha and Omega of the cosmos, existing
both before and after time. The second day of the week
recognized angels, “the secondary luminaries as the
first reflections of the primal outpouring of light,”
just as the sun and the moon had been observed during the
Roman week. John the Baptist, the Forerunner (Prodromos)
of Christ, was honored on the third day. Both the second
and third days were viewed as occasions for penitence. The
fourth and sixth days were dedicated to the Cross with
holy songs sung in remembrance of the Crucifixion. The
Virgin Mary was honored on the fifth day of the week,
while the seventh day was set aside for the martyrs of the
church
.[39]

Comparative List of Dates of Creation

Early Church Writers

  • 5537 BC[40]—Julius Africanus (AD
    200-245), Church historian.
  • 5529 BC[41]—St. Theophilus (AD 115-181),
    bishop of Antioch.
  • 5509 BC—Byzantine Creation Era or
    Creation Era of
    Constantinople.” (finalized in mid-seventh
    c. AD).
  • 5507 BC—Chronicon Paschale (ca. AD
    630), Byzantine universal chronicle of the world.
  • 5500 BC—St. Hippolytus of Rome. (ca. AD 234),
    presbyter, writer, martyr.
  • 5493 BC—Alexandrian Era (AD 412).
  • 5199 BC—Eusebius of Caesarea, bishop of Caesarea
    and Church historian (AD 324).

Later Estimates

  • 5199 BC—Mentioned in the Roman
    Martyrology
    ,[42] published by the authority of Pope
    Gregory XIII in 1584, later confirmed in 1630 under
    Pope Urban VIII.
  • 4963 BC—According to the Benedictine
    Chronology,[43] which is founded on the
    LXX,[44] the Creation of Adam is given this
    date (AD 1750).
  • 4004 BC[45]—Anglican Archbishop James
    Ussher (AD 1650).
  • 3952 BC—Venerable Bede (ca. AD 725), English
    Benedictine monk.
  • 3761 BC[46]—Hebrew Calendar
    [Judaism]—(ca. AD 222-276); or, (ca. AD
    358—Hillel World Era).
  • 3760 BC[47]—Era of Adam, starts with
    creation of Adam. This era was used prior to the
    Hillel Era.

Summary

As the Greek and Roman methods of computing time were
connected with certain pagan rites and observances,
Christians began at an early period to adopt the Hebrew
practice of reckoning their years from the supposed period
of the Creation of the world.[48]

Currently the two dominant dates for Creation that exist
using the Biblical model are about 5500 BC and about 4000
BC. These are calculated from the genealogies in two
versions of the Bible, with most of the difference arising
from two versions of Genesis. The older dates of the
Church Fathers in the Byzantine Era and in its precursor,
the Alexandrian Era, are based on the Greek Septuagint.
The later dates of Archbishop James Ussher and the Hebrew
Calendar are based on the Hebrew Masoretic text.

The Fathers were well aware of the discrepancy of some
hundreds of years between the Greek and Hebrew Old
Testament chronology,[49] and it did not bother them; they did
not quibble over years or worry that the standard
calendar was precise “to the very year;” it
is sufficient that what is involved is beyond any doubt
a matter of some few thousands of years, involving the
lifetimes of specific men, and it can in no way be
interpreted as millions of years or whole ages and
races of men.[50]

To this day, traditional Orthodox Christians will use the
Byzantine calculation of the World Era in conjunction with
the Anno Domini (AD) year. Both dates appear on Orthodox
cornerstones, ecclesiastical calendars and formal
documents. The ecclesiastical new year is still observed
on September 1 (or on the Gregorian Calendar’s
September 14 for those Churches which follow the Julian
Calendar). September 2016 marks the beginning of the year
7525 of this era.

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