At around noon on August 24, 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius began to erupt and spew ash and then pumice stones down on the towns below it. The eruption lasted well into the morning of August 25th. One of the towns demolished was Pompeii, but the cities of Herculaneum, Stabiae, Oplontis, and many others–some as far away as 73 km–were heavily hit by the volcanic blasts. I wrote this post reconstructing the hour-by-hour of the eruption over on the Forbes blog before I knew of the heartbreaking events in Amatrice. While it may not be the most sensitive post to read this morning, it is a reminder of the profound impact of natural disasters even today. BTW: Over at Bustle, they have a set of links to help you donate time, money, and blood to the victims of the Amatrice earthquake.
A short post in order to discuss a topic that comes up a lot when I blog and when I tweet: Why do I use BCE and CE (Before the Common Era and Common Era) instead of BC (Before Christ) and AD (anno domini–“in the year of [our] lord”)?
History of the Debate: The use of BC and AD only dates back to the 16th century, when Pope Gregory XIII decided to begin to date the years before Christ’s understood birth as BC and after it with AD. So, the great PG-13 (as I lovingly refer to him) reformed the calendar, which is why many of us in the West use his solar-based Gregorian Calendar and dating system. Alternatively, the Islamic or Hijri calendar commemorates the movement of Muhammed from Mecca to Medina. It is a lunar calendar set by the moon that begins on January 16, 622 CE. The ending is often abbreviated to H or AH for ‘anno Hegirae‘ (“in the year of the Hijri”). Moreover, Romans dated years according to the founding date of the city (ab urbe condita) in 753 BCE. As Christians, Muslims, early Romans, and many other civilizations indicate: time (or at least the organization of it) is a construct.
Many academics (and, increasingly, non-academics too) have begun to adopt BCE and CE rather than BC and AD, because it has a more secularized feel to it. However, because the two are essentially identical in terms of the dates they reference, there is a Christian connection inherent in both. Style books are similarly torn. The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t care what you do, as long as you are consistent, whereas the MLA likes BC and AD.
Addressing the Question: In order to try and remedy some of these misconceptions, I made this flowchart. Feel free to share (with attribution) on digital devices, print onto small business cards for use at conferences, disseminate at Thanksgiving, or ignore as you see fit. The choice is yours, and, well, that is really the whole point of this post.
Some of the B/CE inquiries I get on the blog or on social media are innocuous: People just genuinely want to know the correct way to denote a historical date. However, others ask the question because they believe my choice indicates something about me or about my religious affiliation. If I use CE, it must mean I am not Christian, right? Wrong. The answer is that I simply prefer to use CE and BCE, but if you want to use BC and AD, AUC, AH, or even a Star Trek stardate: That is totally okay with me. Just be consistent! <proverbial mic drop>
Over on the Forbes blog, I discuss the new version of Ben-Hur released last week. Rather than dissecting the film in terms of historical accuracy, I chose to take a look at the women who contributed to the story since its publication in 1880. Despite a lack of strong female characters in the plot, there were some strong women that helped to make the literary, theatrical, and cinematic version possible.
Over on my Forbes blog, I discuss how leaders use food as a political message, from Hannibal all the way to Donald Trump. Ever since I began doing a lot of writing and teaching about the ties between food and identity, I have gotten a little obsessed with what the candidates choose to eat on the campaign trail and the similarities to the dietary choices of Roman statesmen and emperors. Enjoy!
Over on my Forbes blog, I discuss how ancient Olympians made money from games that–at least technically–only gave out a corona of leaves and a palm frond to the victor. I also get into some financial subjects that, if you know me, I discuss a lot: how socio-economic privilege made athletic training and thus success easier for the wealthy than for, say, day-laborers, farmers, and lower-level artisans. Agents, sponsorships, training, and guild membership were all concerns for the ancient athlete, just as they are for the modern Olympian. That makes the modern offering of financial literacy programs and the implementation of GoFundMe pages all the more important among today’s athletes.
Over on my Forbes blog, I wrote about the messages behind athletic nudity from 720 BCE to the Rio Olympics. Ever since Orsippus stripped off that loincloth at the 15th Olympiad, there has been a message accompanying athletic nudity. As I explore, it is important to keep this in mind when evaluating the worth of the modern Olympics today. Where else can you appreciate such a spectrum of diverse, multi-national, strong, and often non-traditional body types?
Over on my Forbes blog, I have been writing about the history of iced beverages, particularly wine and beer. As many of you know, I have a keen interest in the history of brewing, and I will be writing more about this in the coming weeks. Right now, enjoy this ice cold survey of cellars, ice houses, and the luxury of a frosty beverage in antiquity.