Scaliger’s Impact on Chronology

Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) is often today considered the father of modern/scientific chronology. Scaliger obtained this title for his works on chronology which were published in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He used and improved upon the methods that had been generated earlier in the 16th century.[1, p.158] He was more thorough and paid attention to more detail than anyone before him, which meant that his work provided more information than anyone else’s. For example, Mercator’s works included the month’s names for a total of 8 ancient calendars, while Scaliger’s works included details about the fundamentals for 50+ ancient calendars.[1, p.160]

Scaliger developed philological methods and astronomical methods in ways never before seen as is seen in the Julian Period that he created.[1, p.162] This provided a foundation upon which future chronologers could build by linking uncertain dates to Roman history and hence connecting those events to history with a higher level of certainty.

Scaliger was notably motivated by dispelling what he saw as historical misconceptions. In his De emenatione he criticized people for adding an extra 80 years to the world “in order to insert their imaginary kings of Persia…”.[1, p.166]

“Scaliger’s emphasis on the independent value of non-Biblical sources represents a vital departure from the chronological tradition. Earlier chronologers in his time, like the Fathers before them, did not see the study of chronology only as the assembly of correct information. Rather, they used chronology to discover in history the hand of God, by revealing a divine order in events.”
– Grafton (1975)[1, p.169]

The first edition of Scaliger’s De Emendatione Temporum was published in 1583.[2, p.120] The second edition was published in 1598 and was a revised and enlarged version of the first. Another edition of De Emendatione Temporum was published in 1629. Scaliger’s Thesaurus Temporum was published in 1606.[2, p.121]

“It was an auspicious time for the “father of chronology” to bring before the world of scholars a work on chronology of stupendous learning, in which numerous errors in ancient history were corrected.”
Ebeling (1937)[2, p.120]

Ebeling concluded that today’s definition for the word anachronism is mainly due to Scaliger.[2, p.121]

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[1] – Grafton, Anthony T. “Joseph Scaliger and Historical Chronology: The Rise and Fall of a Discipline.” History and Theory, vol. 14, no. 2, 1975, pp. 156–185. JSTOR, Accessed 23 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Ebeling, Herman L. “The Word Anachronism.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 52, no. 2, 1937, pp. 120–121. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

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