The year one. In retrospect it was a big date.It was year 754 to the Romans, and year 3761 to the Jews. Decisive years, like decisive battles , are an old favorite with historians. More often however, great historical processes begin altogether invisibly, and only much later, looking back, is it possible to pin the critical date down. Such a year is the Year One. Indeed, of all the great years in history it is the oddest because no one alive at the time, or for centuries thereafter, had any idea that this was the Year One at all. If they ever used such a date, they would have meant it by the year in which the world was created, not what we mean by A.D. 1.
How, for example, was a birth certificate, a marriage contract, a business agreement, dated in the Year One? There is no single answer to such a question since for most of the purposes of ordinary living, local dates were used. Elsewhere there were regnal years, or years of local officials, or of priesthoods. This may look like chaos to us, habituated as we are to a continuous, fixed calendar in use more or less all over the world, but it worked well enough. Only the learned were troubled, the men who wanted an exact answer to the question “Hoe long ago?” or who wished to synchronize events in Greek and Roman history. In those two systems the Year One was, respectively, 754 and the first year of the 195 th Olympiad. No system was official; every scholar and historian was free to choose whichever he preferred, singly or in combination.
aIt is therefore hardly surprising that it took the Christians a long time to think up and introduce a scheme of their own. The honor goes to Greek-speaking monk, Dionysius Exiguus, who lived in Rome in the first half of the sixth century. He calculated that Christ was born in 754 A.U.C., called that the first “year of our Lord,” and counted everything that preceded it as so many years before Christ. His calculation was slightly inaccurate. The only real evidence, in two of the Gospels is conflicting and irreconcilable, the dates being form 4 B.C. to 6 or 7 A.D. On neither account is A.D. 1 possible. Nevertheless, Dionysius’s chronological scheme spread gradually until it achieved near universality. The Year One- whatever it really was- became a great year, for many the greatest year in all history.
The Year One was an age of lavish living among relatively few men at one end of the scale, and extreme poverty among the many at the other end. The wealth of Herod the Great was a subject for never ending comment by the historian Josephus. But the linen weavers of Tarsus, skilled free craftsmen whose products were sought after throughout the Empire, could never afford the small fees charged for the acquisition of local citizenship in their own city.
Of course there were no Christians in Year One. Not even two hundred years later could anyone have foreseen how radically the balance was going to shift, that the invincible Roman empire would turn out to be transitory while the still negligible Christian sect would one day bid for universality. To emperors and ordinary non-Christians alike, Christianity was a nuisance and no more. Nevertheless, the victory of Augustus and the birth of Christ between them marked out paths for the future, the impact of which cannot possibly be overstated.