“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 Despite this, his works on chronology were updated and replaced by Denys Petau’s in the 17th century.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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Definitions and Etymology

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

“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]

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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]

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]

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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]

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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)

Martino Martini (1614-1661)

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

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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.

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