Jump to content

Why do we still use BC and AD for numismatics?


kirispupis
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • Benefactor

This has been weighing on me for some time, and I've held back asking it until now because I feared the firestorm that it may bring. However, my hope is we're all adults here so we can discuss this objectively.

Why do pretty much all coin references, auction sites, sellers, etc. still use BC and AD instead of BCE and CE?

Now, before you get all hot-headed over my question, let me state my background. Being Jewish, I've always been a bit rankled about BC and AD because it's assuming a religious credence that I don't adhere to. Do I get bent out of shape over it or cry that I'm being discriminated against? No. I don't slam down a history book because it still uses these old terms nor do I send hate mail to individuals who use them.

That being said, I do appreciate it when I see BCE and CE, because it demonstrates more tolerance towards different religious beliefs. Of course, I'm no idiot and realize that they refer to the exact same religious event. However, it's certainly less jarring IMHO to use "common era" and "before common era" instead of "the year of the Lord" and "before Christ".

And so, when I see repeated use of BC and AD, I'm more curious as to their continuous use rather than offended. In my own spreadsheet, I change the dates as I add the listings, though there are probably a few I've missed. Of the slightly more than 300 coins I now own, I can't recall a single whose original attribution used BCE and CE.

Therefore, this is a question and not a complaint or a request to change: why hasn't the numismatic community moved to BCE and CE?

Adding a coin with a different date format for fun. Feel free to add your other coins with other formats.

331A1880-Edit.jpg.26831e216da18efb6f1f7c890351e2fc.jpg

Philip III Arrhidaios
AR Tetradrachm 319/318 BCE
16.95g, 26mm, 12h
Struck under Laomedon, in the types of Alexander III. Sidon, dated RY 15 of Abdalonymos = 319/8 BC. Head of Herakles to right, wearing lion skin headdress / Zeus Aëtophoros seated to left, holding sceptre; ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ to right, O (date) in left field, ΣI below throne.
Price P175; Newell, Dated 45; DCA 878
Ex Roma

Edited by kirispupis
  • Like 14
  • Thanks 2
  • Yes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • kirispupis changed the title to Why do we still use BC and AD for numismatics?

@kirispupis it sounds like your approach to this issue is totally rational and level-headed - respect for that!

That said, I prefer BC/AD because they have been in use forever and are more widely understood. I guess 2 additional points I'd offer:

  • As you noted, BC/AD and BCE/CE refer to the exact same delineating point in time, so I don't see any real difference
  • I think few people actually know what the BC/AD acronyms stand for - and even those who do rarely think about the underlying words. I mean BC is english and AD is Latin, it doesn't really make a lot of sense
  • So ultimately, BCE/CE are just "nicer" words to refer to the same thing, and no one knows the words anyway because they're hidden beneath an acronym. So I just err on the side of what I view as the easier and more functional solution: BC/AD 
Edited by jfp7375
  • Like 3
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

use whichever you feel comfortable with.....i have the ability to read it either way...^^   😛 (oh...and we dont wanna forget about the Muslim dates while were @ it  :D)

Edited by ominus1
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did all my data labels in BC/ AD😀 I think everyone should make their own choice. With Islamic coins its easier since they are all dated in AH.

Other cultures had their own dating like this coin from Eupator/ Bosphoran Kingdom. Dated ONV=BE459=261/2AD

Seljuks of Rum

AV Dinar AH 648 = 1250/51 AD

Qunya mint

 

4a05d0f1195e34ccb796b3427292ec06 (3).jpg

b68f3a57b065bfd0333832857418f331.jpg

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I use BC and AD, both in my own personal notes and in my writing because it's what I grew up using. I am not religious but it's what I've always used and I don't really see the point in correcting myself. If anything I don't always write "BC" at all on my tickets since my coins are all Roman Republic and all "BC" and it saves a little space.

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is an oddity in both notations: No year 0. 
Both counts go directly from year -1 to year +1

It would make most sense to use ISO 8601. It has a year zero and the years before the year 0 are simply written as minus. So e.g. the year -300.

But whether this will prevail against custom? I have my doubts.

Edited by shanxi
  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
35 minutes ago, Al Kowsky said:

We use BC & AD because they have been used much longer than BCE & CE 😛. Believe it or not, many people don't know the meaning of BCE & CE.

Interestingly, I was curious, so I looked up when both terms were used.

BC/AD - first proposed in 525

BCE/CE - unknown origin, but has been used since at least the early 1700's

Therefore, BC/AD is certainly much older, but BCE/CE isn't as young as most think.

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

From my perspective BC and AD are more technically accurate because they retain a description of what the people who developed the calendar were trying to do: orient a calendar using the life of Jesus as the anchor point. The use of C.E. (Common era) doesn’t bother me but it also doesn’t really convey any information about the counting system it uses. If society wants to dissociate from the religious aspect it makes far more sense to change the counting system all together than to just change the name. It would be like trying to think of a new name for the AH dating system... which I think most people would say makes no sense at all to do.

Besides, we use non-Christian religious terminology for calendar items all the time.  Tomorrow is Wednesday (I.E. Woden’s Day or Orin’s Day). I am not a follower of Odin but I don’t feel upset about the name any more than I feel upset that January is named for Janus.

I really don’t think it is problematic to use a religious milestone as an anchor for a dating system such as AD or AH. It is just a convention based on the historical development, which I think is cool to leave intact. I also respect that others feel differently and prefer CE.

Here is my earliest dated coin just for fun.

7B029A38-83E0-460F-B4F9-3F163D4B16C5.jpeg.b1c3dc538f587131d53bf545e0ef2d27.jpeg

Edited by Curtisimo
  • Like 8
  • Yes 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
On 11/22/2022 at 8:17 AM, Curtisimo said:

From my perspective BC and AD are more technically accurate because they retain a description of what the people who developed the calendar were trying to do: orient a calendar using the life of Jesus as the anchor point. The use of C.E. (Common era) doesn’t bother me at all but it also doesn’t really convey any information about the counting system it uses. If society wants to dissociate from the religious aspect it makes far more sense to change the counting system all together than to just change the name. It would be like trying think of a new name for the AH dating system... which I think most people would say makes no sense at all to do.

 

On 11/22/2022 at 7:51 AM, jfp7375 said:
  • As you noted, BC/AD and BCE/CE refer to the exact same delineating point in time, so I don't see any real difference
  • I think few people actually know what the BC/AD acronyms stand for - and even those who do rarely think about the underlying words. I mean BC is english and AD is Latin, it doesn't really make a lot of sense
  • So ultimately, BCE/CE are just "nicer" words to refer to the same thing, and no one knows the words anyway because they're hidden beneath an acronym. So I just err on the side of what I view as the easier and more functional solution: BC/AD 

I guess, consider it this way:

Imagine that, instead of BC/AD we used BCB/ECDT which stood for (and I'm not trying to offend, but make a point) (REMOVED) The majority of people, however, don't know what BCB and ECDT stand for, so they just use them. Of course, there are people who are curious and look up the abbreviations, and I could imagine certain Christians wouldn't appreciate them. I would expect there to be advocates for their removal.

Similarly, I hope some can see that using the terms "before Christ" and "the year of the Lord" can be a bit uncomfortable to those who aren't Christian or aren't religious.

However, I'm not trying to persuade others to use terms they're uncomfortable with and I was just trying to point out why some prefer BCE/CE - even though they refer to the same event.

Also, I correct myself on the earlier statement that no numismatists use CE/BCE. I just verified that David Hendin uses them, for obvious reasons.

Edited by kirispupis
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, kirispupis said:

Being Jewish

Shalom! 

 

1 hour ago, kirispupis said:

Now, before you get all hot-headed over my question, let me state my background. Being Jewish, I've always been a bit rankled about BC and AD because it's assuming a religious credence that I don't adhere to. Do I get bent out of shape over it or cry that I'm being discriminated against? No. I don't slam down a history book because it still uses these old terms nor do I send hate mail to individuals who use them.

There is a satirist in our country who once uttered a very beautiful sentence:

Tolerance is not tolerating the intolerance of others.


Why should I tolerate the intolerance of others out of tolerance? I therefore keep it like this - I tolerate everyone. I don't care whether someone writes AD or BC, BCE or CE or even v.Chr. or n.Chr. I don't mind if someone writes the year in Chinese, Aztec, Hindu or Jewish. I tolerate others if they want to write it how they want to write it.

But if I tolerate everyone - I also want my way of writing to be tolerated. After all, tolerance is not a one-way street - but tolerance is based on mutual tolerance. 

And mutual tolerance does not mean that one side restricts itself because of the other side's tolerance - but that both sides tolerate both views mutually (!).

That is my opinion 😉

  • Like 2
  • Yes 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

30 minutes ago, kirispupis said:

Imagine that, instead of BC/AD we used BCB/ECDT which stood for (and I'm not trying to offend, but make a point) "Before Christ the Bastard" and "Era of Christian Dominance and Torture". The majority of people, however, don't know what BCB and ECDT stand for, so they just use them. Of course, there are people who are curious and look up the abbreviations, and I could imagine certain Christians wouldn't appreciate them. I would expect there to be advocates for their removal.

With respect, this is a straw man argument because you are conflating the non-specific and non-datable actions of some individuals within a religious group with an actual historical figure whose life was important enough to influence history in a way that the people developing a calendar thought would be worth using as a reference point.

Now, if there was a calendar that was based on a specific horrific event such as dating things from the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, for example, then, yes. Change it.  Of course in that case we probably would find a new reference point all together and not just change the name.

There was no negative intent in the current dating system as far as I know.

30 minutes ago, kirispupis said:

Similarly, I hope some can see that using the terms "before Christ" and "the year of the Lord" can be a bit uncomfortable to those who aren't Christian or aren't religious.

I understand where you are coming from so I get why some people use CE.  However there doesn’t seem to me to be anything particularly exclusionary about calling a dating system what it honestly is. Does that mean there is also a problem using AH?

Edited by Curtisimo
  • Like 2
  • Yes 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

50 minutes ago, shanxi said:

There is an oddity in both notations: No year 0. 
Both counts go directly from year -1 to year +1

It would make most sense to use ISO 8601. It has a year zero and the years before the year 0 are simply written as minus. So e.g. the year -300.

But whether this will prevail against custom? I have my doubts.

How can there be a year zero? Count your fingers. If you begin with "finger zero", you will only count 'nine'. Zero is the point at which the count begins, not one of the the things counted.

  • Like 1
  • Smile 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 minutes ago, DLTcoins said:

How can there be a year zero?

If you want to calculate a year difference correctly, you need a year zero.

ISO 8601 is now widely used for technical applications, e.g. on the WWW, to avoid misinterpretation of numerical dates, but it's not common for private use.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601

 

Edited by shanxi
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1000% agree. I do my best to update the, IMO, outdated birth of Santa. We know Santa wasn't born even close to year 0.

Other than a few older folks and those into that religion, I would wager that more young people would be able to guess what CE is and what it stands for versus AD.

Though, I'm not saying I'm right. That's just one man's opinion. I think the best thing to do is go back and ask those back then what they think. 

"Hey Marcus! What do you prefer AD or CE?"

Screenshot_20221108_124715-removebg-preview.png.560695b9a9f488591a3fb2e15aefb803.png

Marcus Aurelius, "I prefer to count from the likely imaginary year that Rome was founded."

pffft, thanks for nothing Marcus Aurelius!

  • Like 4
  • Smile 1
  • Laugh 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As an atheist, I actually find myself using BC/AD over BCE and CE. I personally dislike the verbiage of BCE and CE; why is the birth of Christ considered the heralding in of the Common Era? If the Common Era refers to Christian dominance in the Western World, it should probably be anchored to when Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. Christ didn’t really become a “thing” until well after his birth so calling his birth the Common Era seems intellectually dishonest. So, BC and AD (again just my POV) make the most sense to use for why our calendar is what it is. 

I actually get around this entirely in my coinage (since they’re all Roman Imperial) by including the regnal years of the emperor/empress, and common sense indicates whether the dates are BC or AD based off the direction of the dates:

C6033461-49DD-44EB-8DA4-8F3D26FE1DE4.png.45630a8ceb4d29519ddd2c2aedf94226.png

  • Like 4
  • Yes 2
  • Clap 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, kirispupis said:

Also, I correct myself on the earlier statement that no numismatists use CE/BCE. I just verified that David Hendin uses them, for obvious reasons.

You’ll find that AMCC used CE/BCE, to avoid being discriminatory, as you discuss in the OP. 😊 (That’s Ancient and Medieval Coins Canada, I only managed 3 auctions, though.) I’m not religious myself, and as a result I do feel a tiny bit excluded when religious terminology is part of ordinary parlance, like when a Christian prayer is used in some public ceremony. (Rare now in Canada.)

59 minutes ago, Curtisimo said:

I understand where you are coming from so I get why some people use CE.  However there doesn’t seem to me to be anything particularly exclusionary about calling a dating system what it honestly is.

I think you have to ask those who feel excluded to know if a practice is exclusionary. Language is a public thing used by all, and so is preferably not exclusionary. (Also: if Christ existed [there’s the mythicist school of thought that says no], there’s little consensus on his actual birth year. The majority say 4 BCE. What’s that about “what it honestly is” again? 😆) (Not really a serious point! Well, only semi-serious.)

  • Like 5
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

4 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

...there’s little consensus on his actual birth year. The majority say 4 BCE..

Isn't that a consensus? 😜

I dislike the terms CE and BCE because I don't think there is any need for them. B.C. and A.D. worked just fine for over a thousand years so why should they be unacceptable now? Like it or not, Western civilization is largely built on Christianity, so it's no surprise that in the West we count the years from the birth of the founder of Christianity.

Also, I'm not sure what it even means to feel "excluded" by a dating system? Excluded how and from what?  

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
1 hour ago, Curtisimo said:

With respect, this is a straw man argument because you are conflating the non-specific and non-datable actions of some individuals within a religious group with an actual historical figure whose life was important enough to influence history in a way that the people developing a calendar thought would be worth using as a reference point.

Now, if there was a calendar that was based on a specific horrific event such as dating things from the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, for example, then, yes. Change it.  Of course in that case we probably would find a new reference point all together and not just change the name.

There was no negative intent in the current dating system as far as I know.

This is kind of where I was getting at. The thing is, and keep in mind that this is a friendly discussion and I'm just discussing a perspective and am in no way asking anyone to switch, the birth of Christ isn't exactly considered a positive event to everyone.

Certainly, the number of Jews and other non-Christians who have died under the banner of Christianity is higher than the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre.

It's a valid question then - why don't we use a completely different system altogether? Well, I'm also a pragmatist. I recall as a child New York State attempted to switch to the metric system. It caused all kinds of chaos even though the only real thing they did was place both mph and kph on the signs, and eventually the whole thing was scrapped at great expense. Therefore, I realized that a completely different system isn't doable, so I prefer to compromise by keeping the same system under a more neutral name.

  • Like 2
  • Cool Think 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, CPK said:

Isn't that a consensus? 😜

😆 Good one!

Actually, though, no. A majority is 50% plus 1. A consensus has gotta be at least 90%, probably higher.

4 minutes ago, CPK said:

I'm not sure what it even means to feel "excluded" by a dating system? Excluded how and from what?

I assume it makes sense how someone might feel excluded by a Christian prayer being used to open a session in the legislature? I use this example because this was recently abandoned here in BC.  It’s because it’s a public thing meant for all the residents of BC. “We” hereby solemnly open the legislature… except when that Christian prayer comes up, suddenly some of us don’t feel a part of that “we” any more.

Same thing with language. It’s a public thing used by all, and constantly modified by the language community for better communication, a common good. When bits of it don’t feel like it’s “our” language to some of us, that’s not great.

As @kirispupis notes, we’re not about to change the numbers we use as those are far too locked-in.*  However we could manage the switch to BCE/CE. It would tell kiris and me that it’s our language too. (I hasten to add that this is a much less important case than the legislature prayer. While I use CE/BCE myself, I hardly notice when someone uses BC/AD. Still, I would prefer the language to change.)

 

*The metric system is a bad example though… we managed to switch here in Canada! 😜

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
  • Yes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor
6 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

*The metric system is a bad example though… we managed to switch here in Canada! 😜

On a funny note, I switched my car to metric and it constantly annoys my wife and son when they borrow it (even though my wife is from a country that's long used metric). I find it an unintended benefit.

However, I complained to the manufacturer than when I switched the mph to kph setting, it would display my current speed as say 50 kph, but the speed limit as 30 mph on the HUD, which is incredibly annoying - so I had to switch the speed back and keep distance in kilometers. The manufacturer stated that the computer just displays what it reads on the signs and I replied that any programmer in junior high could add the code to convert the sign it read in mph to kph. I didn't convince them.

  • Laugh 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm glad that this discussion has stayed civil (so far). On some other forums, I've seen this same topic result in firestorms, locked threads, suspensions, bans, etc. It's another one of those topics with an almost infinite variety of positions and opinions, some stronger than others.

This is ultimately a topic on which a "one size fits all" position doesn't exist. At least, I haven't seen one. Levels of sensitivity exist all over the board.

In one sense, it's just a dating system. It was chosen by the prevailing power structure within a certain political context at a certain time. Muslims, Buddhists, Aztecs, and even the Khymer Rouge chose different reference points within their own contexts. And BC/AD has stuck, at least in the west, for various historical and political reasons, which either matter to a person or don't. Their historicity can be interesting and fascinating. So, in one sense, they're arbitrary, and a person can just use them without even thinking about them.

But it's also often hard to see perspectives outside of one's own. When I've brought this topic up with other people, I try to ask "would you be offended if Buddhists took over the western world and then changed 'year 0' to the "Birth of Buddha" and we started using 'BB' and 'AB'?" Honestly, many people don't know what to think, but more than half of the people I've asked this question to say something like "that would be strange." And why would it be strange? Because BC and AD are arguably not arbitrary dates, they have an extra level of meaning to which either one identifies with or one doesn't. If they were just arbitrary, then "year zero" could just move around and we could use simple mathematics to recalculate relative dates. We could use the birth of George Washington as "year zero," but even many people living in North America wouldn't care for that. What about changing "year zero" to the birth date of Ronald Reagan? Again, opinions would vary greatly.

Which date a society or a civilization chooses as "year zero" is rarely arbitrary or meaningless. They have a political and social context. Whether people like it or not, political and social contexts change over time. Not everyone identifies with a dating system based on a specific religious figure. Some do, of course, but some don't. It's not as simple as "it's been around a long time" or "it's what people are used to." More is going on with such a choice.

Given that, I use BC/AD and BCE/ACE interchangeably. Sometimes I try to gauge the context and audience. Neither bothers me personally, but I also don't forget that "BC" and "AD" are fundamentally religious terms with religious meaning. They communicate much, much, much more than a simple number date. How someone reacts to that remains a personal choice. Some will find it exclusionary. Some won't. Some will care. Some won't. It's a very complicated issue.

I would have no problem using something more neutral. But the terms have become so embedded that such a debate would probably end in interminable mosh pits. In the meantime, I use them without complaint, but also without ignorance of what they mean and can mean to others. I completely understand why some people don't like using them. I also understand why some people prefer them.

 

Edited by ewomack
  • Like 3
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

54 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

(Also: if Christ existed [there’s the mythicist school of thought that says no], there’s little consensus on his actual birth year. The majority say 4 BCE. What’s that about “what it honestly is” again? 😆) (Not really a serious point! Well, only semi-serious.)

To be fair I think you would have to stretch the limits of credulity into intellectual dishonesty to say that there is serious doubt within mainstream historical study that Jesus existed as an actually person. Plenty of room for debate about the details of his life but saying he didn’t exist is fringe in the extreme.

It’s also not important that they got the exact date, exactly right within the calendar.  That is just semantics. They were aiming for the era of his life because of its importance to shaping history and they got close enough.

54 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

I think you have to ask those who feel excluded to know if a practice is exclusionary. Language is a public thing used by all, and so is preferably not exclusionary

I get the point you are trying to make but feelings also have to be based in merit if you are going to convince OTHER people to act on them. There is already a convention by which people can use CE or AD interchangeably as they wish.  The question posed here is why AD is still used at all.  The answer is that it is still valid to do so. It is perfectly fine if someone uses CE but I use AD because I think it is more descriptive of the system and I don’t see it as harmful.

I think it is important to try not to let pro or anti religious bias harden our perspective on things like this. Relics of a Christian tradition aren’t automatically offensive just because people aren’t part of that religion as it exists today.

Think about it this way. For someone to say we all need to stop using AD implies that there is something inherently wrong with either the terminology or its basis. I see nothing wrong or offensive with basing a dating system on Jesus’s life or in a name that references that fact. 

 

Edited by Curtisimo
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am torn on the issue. On the one hand, I quite enjoy vestigial linguistic aspects of our society. I enjoy the fact we have Pagan/Norse days of the week, Roman months and Christian holidays, even if we aren't particularly culturally embedded in any of these ideas. It's a nice organic throwback to the foundations of our civilisation. 

On the other hand, I dislike how "unscientific" the BC/AD distinction is. As someone has already noted, it (probably) wasn't even the legitimate year of the birth of Christ and since the system is ultimately numerical in nature, it does make an objectively incorrect claim! I am also of the opinion that it hasn't aged particularly well, as belief in Christ as God and the resultant importance of his birth is gradually losing adherents in our society and it no longer seems reasonable to define an "age" by it. It appears to me to be something more than the mere nominalism of the days of the week for example, but perhaps this will fade with time.

But, my biggest gripe is with the proposed alternative BCE/BC. It simply rebrands the above distinction and therefore doesn't solve any of the problems I have with it. I suppose this is somewhat understandable, because we don't want to lose continuity with every piece of work that has used this dating system over the past 1500 years. However, what isn't understandable or forgivable is how similar the two acronyms BCE and CE are. At least BC and AD use totally different letters, this means that they are almost impossible to confuse when reading, and very difficult to be subject to error through typos. It is very easy to mistake CE and BCE when either reading or writing/typing. I think a better alternative should be proposed if BC/AD is done away with. Even just A for ante and P for post or something equally simple.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...