Happy 2058 of the Hispanic Era: why the Iberian Peninsula used another calendar for ten centuries

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Happy 2058 of the Hispanic Era: why the Iberian Peninsula used another calendar for ten centuries
Happy 2058 of the Hispanic Era: why the Iberian Peninsula used another calendar for ten centuries

In Spain, numerous medieval charters of the “Hispanic Era” have survived, documents in which the kings of the time gave certain norms and privileges to a population. But these documents have a peculiarity: they are dated several years after the death of the king who signed them. Are we facing a massive forgery of documents?

Not at all, the explanation is simpler and more interesting at the same time: you may not know it but, for 1000 years, Roman Hispania and the kingdoms that succeeded it were governed by their own calendar, unlike in the rest of Europe. The charters, in short, are well dated, but not based on the calendar in force today, but on the so-called “Hispanic Era”, whose year 1 coincides with our year 38 BC (or “before the Common Era”, as each one likes).

Why the 38 BC?

Many ancient calendars matched in terms of the number of days in the year (most had between 360 and 365 days plus the additional days that were added regularly), but something that was more difficult at that time was to focus on that to some method to count these years.

And is that any culture used another reference: In some cases the number of reigns of the monarch at that time was given, in others it was counted from the foundation of the kingdom or city. In other cases, as in the Greek cities, a periodic event such as the Olympic Games was used as a reference: in this way, a certain battle could have taken place in the “second year of the ninth Olympiad”.

Isidore of Seville wrote “History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi” using a chronology based on Hispanic-American times.

We don’t know how they counted the years of the indigenous people from the peninsula, but from the Roman conquest, the Hispanics adopted the roman calendar and they began to count the years according to the two official systems of the republic: the most practical and common, based on the year of the duty consul’s mandate (later it would be replaced by that of the emperor); and that of the semi-legendary foundation of Rome city, dated 754 BC.

The Hispanic era would have been used since then as a way to measure the course of the years in the hispanic countries

In other parts of the empire, however, the years were counted exactly when they were annexed to Rome: in the Decapolis (in what is now Jordan and the surrounding area), for example, in the years since its annexation conquered by Pompeius in 63 BC.

When the historians took on the task of reconstructing Spanish history and the reasons for their chronological peculiarity, they put forward a similar hypothesis: Augustus would have done this in 38 BC. and declared the final pacification from the province of Hispania and the Hispanic era would have been used since then as a way to measure the course of the years in the hispanic countries.

However, this hypothesis faces two serious problems:

  • Nothing special happened in Hispania that year justified a military milestone. Even worse, the Cantabrian Strip was still not under the rule of Rome, and the Cantabrian Wars would only end two decades later.
  • No document or inscription was used for this particular calendar in the following 4 centuries.
Alaric sacking Rome. You can blame this cheerful Visigoth girl from the "Hispanic Era".
Alaric sacking Rome. You can blame this cheerful Visigoth girl from the “Hispanic Era”.

The bishop and historian Isidoro of Seville, already offered in the Visigothic era an alternative explanation. One of his works states: The ephemeris on which the Hispanic Era was based was the celebration of the first count of Emperor Augustus in Hispania. However, we now know that this is impossible, as the census took place around 5 BC.

In short, Spain used a different calendar for the rest of the known world for 1,000 years, and we’re not sure why.

Why was it used?

Although we chose the reference of 38 BC. Can not illuminate, we can speculate why this calendar was suddenly used in the middle of the fifth century. The first reference to the “Hispanic era” is found in the chronicon of Bishop Hidacio, a story about the barbarian invasions that the peninsula suffered from a few decades ago.

The Visigoths already controlled much of it (with the permission of the Romans, who trusted that they would stop the spread of the barbarians even less gently), and Hidacio’s native Gallaecia remained in the hands of the Suevi.

In a nutshell: although Rome itself would need several more decades, its effective power is over Hispanic countries had wiped out; No one here was affected by the founding of Rome or the mandate of a Roman emperor (in fact, it was a long time ago that only the happiest emperors ruled for more than a year, with the excitement that counted data gave).

The Empire between 457 and 461, in free fall.
The Empire between 457 and 461, in free fall.

The adoption of a separate calendar, regardless of the criteria chosen for counting the years, only seems to respond to a withdrawal from Rome and the possible existence of a differentiated Hispanic identity (the peninsular troops had already proclaimed in 409 AD a certain Maximo as an ephemeral “emperor of Hispania”).

In every step, the new system was quickly adopted by the main institution of the time: the dioceses that began to date the official documents of their councils. But why didn’t the Hispanic bishops take the opportunity to adopt the calendar based on the date of birth of Jesus Christ?

Simple: no such date was known; it would not be until the sixth century when Abbot Dionysius the Little the mathematician and astronomer performed such a calculation on behalf of Pope Hormisdas (which failed for 4-7 years).

By when was it in effect?

It was Charlemagne, the King of the Franks, who was the first to decree Anno Domini (the current system of yearly counting) as an official calendar. But neither the popes of the time nor their Hispanic neighbors, recently invaded by the Muslims, followed their example.

The news may not even reach the besieged Kingdom of Asturias, and if it did, its kings would be little interested in suppressing one of the bonds they had with the Christians who remained in Al-Andalus, where the Hispanic Era continue to be used for the Mozarabic population called “Tarij as safari“.

Alfonso II was King of Asturias at the time when Charlemagne approved the birth of Jesus Christ as the chronological reference of his kingdom.
Alfonso II was King of Asturias at the time when Charlemagne approved the birth of Jesus Christ as the chronological reference of his kingdom.

The Hispanic Brand, the Pyrenean vassal area of ​​Charlemagne, into which many nobles of the Visigoth Hispania had fled, also ignored Charlemagne: his inheritance, the Kingdom of Aragon, did not take over Anno Domini as a calendar until 1349. Castilla would follow his courts by decision, in 1383. The two other heir kingdoms Visigoth-Hispania, Portugal and Navarre, gave up their use only in the following century.

But don’t we think that giving up the Hispanic era has ended the inequality of calendars in Europe, no.

By adopting the Anno Domini Some countries did it according to the birth of Christ, and other after “the Incarnation” (ie conception), beginning in these last years on March 25th and not on January 1st. Some even resorted to Anno Gratiae, which began the year with Easter Sunday (which, let us remember, is a variable date).

What the richest people studied in every country in the world
What the richest people studied in every country in the world

And once that problem was resolved, the papacy created another conflict, the Adoption of the Gregorian calendar, an improvement of the Julian calendar that It took two centuries to be accepted in countrys like England. Finally Russia to be what it is an orthodox christian power (and therefore independent of the Pope) he did not renounce the Byzantine calendar until 1699. This started on September 1st and added 5509 additional years as it counted the dates of the supposed creation of the world.

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