The Fathers of Chronology

Who is the Father/Founder of Chronology? That really depends on who you ask. In this article, I explore some of the responses to that question. So far, I have 6 names on the list. Followed by the earliest reference to them as the father of chronology, they are:

Eratosthenes of Cyrene – since the 18th century

Joseph Justus Scaliger – ” ” 19th century

Maurus Dantine – since 2014

Kenneth A. Kitchen – ” ” October 9th, 2018

Onofrio Panvinio – ” ” 2019, but possibly since 1600

Dionysius Petavius – ” ” July 13th, 2020

The cover photo for this article shows Scaliger on the left in red and Panvinio on the right in black.

Eratosthenes of Cyrene

Britannica[1] and Eisenstein[9, p.45] identified Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c.285-194 BCE) as the “father of chronology”. Varona named him as the “father of chronology” because of his chronological innovation of compiling a history from the fall of Troy to the death of Alexander the Great.[2, p.393]

William Mitford commented in 1789 saying that Eratosthenes has a reputation as the “father of scientific chronology”.[3, p.159] I think Mitford cites Blair’s preface for the comment, but I am not sure which preface. I re-read the preface for Blair’s Chronological Tables, Revised and Enlarged but I didn’t see any mention of Eratosthenes. According to a search in the book, the first page to mention Eratosthenes is page 89, which is well beyond the preface.[4]

Who first called Eratosthenes of Cyrene the father of chronology? I currently do not know. The earliest mention I have found so far is by Mitford in the 18th century.

Joseph Justus Scaliger

Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) was identified by Neubauer[5, p.31] and by Jones[7, p.72] as the “father of modern chronology”. Bickerman identified Scaliger as the “founder of modern chronological sciences”, which is basically calling Scaliger the “father of modern/scientific chronology”.[8, p.88] Ebeling identified Scaliger as the “father of chronology”.[10, p.120]

“…Scaliger not only devised what became the modern discipline of chronology; he also opened its ancient Pandora’s box of intractable data about the early history of the world.”
– Anthony Grafton (2003)[22, p.84]

In the above quote by Anthony Grafton, he is basically saying that Scaliger is the father/founder of modern chronology.

Houlston and Stonemen identified Scaliger as gaining the title of “father of scientific chronology” due to his 1583 publication.[11, p.170] Zahm identified Scaliger as the “father of modern chronology”.[12, p.461] Mingjun identified Scaliger as the “founder of modern chronology”.[20, p.84]

Onofrio Panvinio

Onofrio Panvinio (1530-1568) was called the “father of chronology” by his contemporaries according to Stefan Bauer. The article quoting Bauer reported that Scaliger called Panvinio the “father of all history”,[13] but Bauer’s book itself says Scaliger repeatedly called Panvinio the “father of history” (‘pater historiae’).[14, pp.7-8] However, the Wikipedia page for Panvinio claims that it was Joseph’s father Julius Caesar who called Panvinio the “father of all history” (‘pater omnis historiae’).[15] I’m more inclined to believe Bauer over Wikipedia, but I’d like to review both of there sources before taking either of their claims more seriously. Bauer also claimed that Justus Lipsius, in 1600, called Panvinio the “true and principal father of history and chronology”.[14, p.8]

“In the rich and remarkably reliable historical documentation which he assembled, Panvinio also made small but decisive interventions, resorting to forgery to prove his points.”
– Bauer (2019)[14, p.3]

In 1613, Robert Bellarmine listed Panvinio “as the most important Italian scholar of chronology of the second half of the sixteenth century”. Bellarmine continued to list himself as the next most important Italian scholar of chronology.[14, p.8]

Panvinio does appear to me to be most famous for his efforts in developing church history.

Dionysius Petavius

Dionysius Petavius (1583-1652) was identified anonymously as the “founder of modern chronology” on July 13th, 2020.[21] That same article was posted anonymously on a different website and on an unknown date.[23] I think potentially this was a mistake because I’ve never seen Petavius called as such prior to this. Also there appears to be other mistakes in that article, such as apparently indirectly calling J. J. Scaliger a Jesuit.

Maurus Dantine

Maurus Dantine (1688-1746) was identified by Zaal Books as the “founder of chronology as a branch of history as science”. Basically calling him the “founder of scientific chronology”. The copyright on the page is 2014. This is the only source that I have found that names Dantine as such.[19] I emailed them to ask about the source for their information but the person who responded said that whoever it was that posted that information no longer works there.

Kenneth A. Kitchen

Kenneth A. Kitchen (1932-present) was identified by Dr. Falk as the “father of modern chronology”.[6] However, I think this identification is erroneous. The Wikipedia article for Kitchen has no mention of him being the “father of modern chronology” but it does mention that he was identified as “the very architect of Egyptian chronology” by Peter Martin, a journalist for The Sunday Times (known commonly as The Times). Wiki’s citation for that information was Peter Martin’s “How myth became reality” from October 13th, 2002.[16]

I emailed Dr. Falk on the 8th of November, 2020 to let him know I was wondering if he knew when Kitchen was first called the “father of modern chronology” or if he knew who first called Kitchen that. Dr. Falk responded within 24 hours and I think his response was helpful in figuring this out. He mentioned that quite some time had passed between when he looked up the information and when I was emailing about it, but he did say he thought it was in Peter Martin’s 2002 article, the same citation that Wikipedia provided.

The Times has that article on their website but you have to pay to view it, or sign up for the one time free trial.[17] I signed up for the free trial and gained access to it. If the paragraph starting with “Most of us…” is considered the first paragraph, then Martin mentioned Kitchen in the eleventh paragraph (“When Rohl first…”). Wikipedia correctly quoted Martin’s article. The third sentence in paragraph 11 begins with, “The very architect of Egyptian chronology” and then continues to name Kitchen as that architect. Nowhere in Martin’s article is Kitchen called the “father of modern chronology”.

The only other spot I found any of Martin’s 2002 article was on David Rohl’s blog.[18] The opening in Rohl’s post is not in Martin’s article on The Times website and the body has some differences but based on my very brief back and forth checking, I think the words are all the same. You can view it for free on Rohl’s website. Rohl’s reposting doesn’t identify Kitchen as the “father of modern chronology”, only as “The very architect of Egyptian chronology”.

In light of all the details above, it appears to me that Dr. Falk was the first person to call Kenneth A. Kitchen the “father of modern chronology” and he did this in 2018 when he published his article. I’m not sure exactly how Falk pulled “father of modern chronology” out of “the very architect of Egyptian chronology” but I am highly confident that this is the place he got the idea unless there is a different source that Falk used.

I did reach out to Dr. Falk again and he was kind enough to respond back to me on Monday, November 16th, 2020 saying that my post here is most likely correct. To say it concisely, Kenneth A. Kitchen was called the father of modern chronology by mistake.

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[1] – Accessed 6 Nov. 2020.

[2] – Patricia Varona. “Chronology and History in Byzantium” (2018). file:///C:/Users/carle/Downloads/16035-19553-1-PB.pdf. Accessed 6 Nov. 2020.

[3] – Mitford, William. “History of Greece” (1789). Accessed 7 Nov. 2020.

[4] – Blair, John. “Blair’s Chronological Tables, Revised and Enlarged” (1856). Accessed 7 Nov. 2020.

[5] – Neubauer, F. J.. “Chronology” (1946).….5…25N&defaultprint=YES&page_ind=6&filetype=.pdf. Accessed 7 Nov. 2020.

[6] – Falk, David A. “GROUNDHOG: LATEST BREAKTHROUGH IN CHRONOLOGY” (2018). Accessed 7 Nov. 2020.

[7] – Jones, Floyd Nolan. “The CHRONOLOGY of the OLD TESTAMENT: A Return to the Basics” (2019). Accessed 7 Nov. 2020.

[8] – Bickerman, E. J. “Chronology of the ancient world” (1980). Accessed 7 Nov. 2020.

[9] – Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. “Clio and Chronos an Essay on the Making and Breaking of History-Book Time.” History and Theory, vol. 6, 1966, pp. 36–64. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

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

[11] – Houlston and Stonemen. “The British Controversialist and Literary Magazine”, Volume 1, (1862). Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

[12] – Zahm, John Augustine. “From Berlin to Bagdad and Babylon” (1922). Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

[13] – Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

[14] – Bauer, Stefan. “The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform” (2019)*. Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

[15] – Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.

[16] – Accessed 9 Nov. 2020.

[17] – Martin, Peter. “How myth became history” (13 Oct. 2002). Accessed 9 Nov. 2020.

[18] – Accessed 9 Nov. 2020.

[19] – Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.

[20] – Lu, Mingjun. “The Chinese Impact upon English Renaissance Literature: A Globalization and Liberal Cosmopolitan Approach to Donne and Milton” (2016). Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.

[21] – Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.

[22] – Grafton, Anthony. “Dating History: The Renaissance & the Reformation of Chronology.” Daedalus, vol. 132, no. 2, 2003, pp. 74–85. Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.

[23] – Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.

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