“Only a mastery of historical time could make it possible to set the events they described, the inventions they commemorated, and the philosophical systems they preserved on a single, coherent time line. No wonder, then, that chronology, the scholarly study of time past, attracted ambitious, hard-driving thinkers. …Luther and Melanchthon, Mercator and Ussher, Newton and Vico.”
– Anthony Grafton[3]

Chronology is the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence. It is one of the two “eyes” of history, along with geography. Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) is commonly considered the Father of Modern Chronology. Despite this, his works on chronology were updated and replaced by Denys Petau’s in the 17th century. Their two works have been the foundation for chronology through to this day.

“In fact, [chronologers] argued so vociferously, over everything from the dates of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to those of the consuls of ancient Rome, that their quarrels became proverbial. Everyone knew, one seventeenth-century expert wrote to a colleague, that chronologers, like clocks, never agreed.”
– Anthony Grafton[3]

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Chronology Definitions

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defined chronology as:[10]
“The science of time; the method of measuring, or computing time by regular divisions or periods, according to the revolutions of the sun, or moon; of ascertaining the true periods or years when past events or transactions took place; and arranging them in their proper order according to their dates.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defined it as:[11]
1 – “the science that deals with measuring time by regular divisions and that assigns to events their proper dates”
2 – “a chronological table, list, or account”
3 – “an arrangement (as of events) in order of occurrence” defined it as:[12]
1 – “the sequential order in which past events occur.”
2 – “a statement of this order.”
3 – “the science of arranging time in periods and ascertaining the dates and historical order of past events.”
4 – “a reference work organized according to the dates of events.”

Lexico defined it as:[13]
1 – “The arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence.”
2 – “A list which has a chronological arrangement.”
3 – “The study of historical records to establish the dates of past events.”

Chronology Etymology

Chrono-, “relating to time”.
-logy, “denoting a subject of study or interest”[1]

1585 – This is allegedly the first time the word chronology was used. It was used with the meaning listed above on point 1.[11]

1585-1595 – Alleged first recording of the word chronology. “chrono- + -logy”[12]

Etymonline reports the etymology for chronology as: “1590s, “the science of time,” from Middle French chronologie or directly from Modern Latin chronologia; see chrono- + -logy. Related: Chronologer (1570s). Meaning “particular statement of the supposed order of certain past events” is from 1610s.”[2]

“Late 16th century from modern Latin chronologia, from Greek khronos ‘time’ + -logia (see -logy).”[13]

Timeline of Chronologies

5th century BC – Greek scholars compiled lists of the Olympic victors and of the priestesses of Hera. They also applied astronomy in order to obtain dates for even earlier events.[3]

4th century BC – New types of chronologies were developed. Notably, scholars like Berossus and Manetho crafted chronologies to prove that their own nations were older than those of their masters.[3]

1st century BC – Romans are developing chronologies. Varro consults an astrologer to obtain the date of Rome’ founding.[3]

3rd-4th centuries AD – Christian scholars merge Greek, Roman, and Egyptian histories for a coherent chronology. Notable scholars include Jerome and Eusebius, who laid the foundations for chronology until the Renaissance scholars replaced them.[3]

18th century AD – “…commonly hailed as the era of the birth of modern historiography, is less noted as the age also of the demise of chronology as a traditional historical form.”[7]

20th century – Venance Grumel (1890-1967) became the “first historian to pay proper attention to the chronological methods that arose out of the traditions of Christian world chronography and Eastern reckoning (the computus)”.[4, p.13]

Foundations of Chronology

“Neither Bodin nor Mercator believed that chronology should rest on astronomical and historical evidence alone. For both men, the Bible, properly understood, provided almost all of the solid information about the first three millennia and more of human history.”
– Anthony Grafton[5, p.188]

Funck was the first to use Ptolemy’s astronomical data as the foundation for a chronology. Mercator and Crusius used astronomical eras in their chronologies. They believed the dates obtained from calculating eclipses provided a solid basis for dating historical events.[5, p.187-188]

“It is an agreed Point, that as Chronology is the Eye, the Light, the Life and Soul of History; so Astronomy is the Eye, the Light, the Life, and Soul of Chronology.”
– John Kennedy[6, p.4]

The following quote from Pattison is outdated. There were chronologers prior to Scaliger in the 16th century who attempted the same. Scaliger built upon the works of Mercator, Funck, Crusius, and Glareanus.

“Hitherto the utmost extent of chronological skill which historians had possessed or dreamed of had been to arrange past facts in a tabular series as an aid to memory. Of the mathematical principles on which the calculation of periods rests, the philologians understood nothing. The astronomers, on their side, had not yet undertaken to apply their data to the records of ancient times. Scaliger was the first of the philologians who made use of the improved astronomy of the sixteenth century to get a scientific basis for historical chronology.”
– Mark Pattison[5, p.188]

“There are two general branches in the science of Chronology – Mathematical (Theoretical, Astronomical), and Historical (Technical). Mathematical Chronology is that part of the science of mathematics which determines the laws to be used in measuring time. Technical or Historical Chronology, of which we treat here, has for its object the system of authenticating the dates given in the documents and of bringing the dates, if necessary, to their corresponding place in our system of computing time.”[8, pp.240-241]
The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 2, no. 2, 1916


Heinrich Glarean (Glareanus) (1488-1563)

Paulus Crusius (16th century)

Azariah de’ Rossi (c.1511-1578)

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594)

Johann Funck (1518-1566)[5, p.187]

Jean Bodin (c.1530-1596)[5, p.187]

Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609), De Emendatione Temporum (Paris, 1583)

James Ussher (1581-1656)[7]

Denis Pétau (1583-1652), De Doctrina Temporum (Paris, 1617), and Rationarium Temporum (Paris, 1633)

Sir John Marsham, 1st Baronet (1602-1685)[7]

Urbain Chevreau (1613-1701)[7]

Martino Martini (1614-1661)

Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704)[7]

Paul-Yves Pezron (1639-1706)[7]

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

Jacques-Bénigne Lignel Bossuet (1627-1704), Discours sur l’histoire universelle (1681)[9]

Charles Clémencet (1703-1778), L’Art de vérifier les dates (The Art of Checking Dates)(Paris, 1740)

William Hales (1747-1831)[7]

John Jackson (1752)[7]

John Kennedy (1753)[7]

Christian Ludwig Ideler (1766-1846), Handbuch der mathematischen und technischen Chronologie (“Handbook of mathematical and technical chronology,” 2 vols.; 2nd ed., 1883), re-edited as Lehrbuch der Chronologie (“Textbook of chronology,” 1831)

Experts in Chronology

Bonnie J. Blackburn (1939-present)[3]

Leofranc Holford-Strevens (1946-present)[3]

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[1] – Accessed 27 May 2019.

[2] – Accessed 27 May 2019.

[3] – Grafton, Anthony. “Dating History: The Renaissance & the Reformation of Chronology.” Daedalus, vol. 132, no. 2, 2003, pp. 74–85. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Sept. 2020.

[4] – Philipp & Nothaft. “Dating the Passion: The Life of Jesus and the Emergence of Scientific Chronology (200–1600)” (2011). Accessed 18 Sept. 2020.

[5] – Grafton, Anthony. “Mercator Maps Time”, Chapter 9 in “Nature Engaged” (2012). Accessed 19 Sept. 2020.

[6] – Kennedy, John. “An Examination of the Reverend Mr. Jackson’s Chronological Antiquities” (1753). Accessed 19 Sept. 2020.

[7] – Johnson, James William. “Chronological Writing: Its Concepts and Development.” History and Theory, vol. 2, no. 2, 1962, pp. 124–145. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

[8] – “Part I: The Auxiliary Sciences. II. Chronology.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 2, no. 2, 1916, pp. 240–243. JSTOR, Accessed 3 Oct. 2020.

[9] – Eriksen, Anne. “Time and Exemplarity.” 2017. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

[10] – Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

[11] – Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

[12] – Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

[13] – Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

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