era

era

[eer-uh, er-uh]
era, period of historic time. In geology, it is the name applied to large divisions of geological process, e.g., Paleozoic era (see geology). In chronology an era is a period reckoned from a fixed point in time, as before or after the birth of Christ—before Christ, B.C.; Anno Domini [year of the Lord], A.D. The points best known for Western history are the creation of the world (Jewish, equivalent to 3761 B.C.; Byzantine, 5508 B.C.); the founding of the city of Rome [753 B.C.; year marked A.U.C. for ab urbe condita (from the founding of the city)]; the Hegira, the flight of Muhammad from Mecca (A.D. 622; abbreviation A.H.); and the founding of the Olympic games in ancient Greece (776 B.C.; time in Olympiads). Some people use C.E. (originally, Christian era, now common era) and B.C.E. (before common era) in place of A.D. and B.C., respectively. Since in different calendars years are of different lengths and do not begin on the same day (see calendar), several factors have to be used in changing the year of one era to that of another, and even with conversion charts there are still difficulties. Because of poor time calculation in earlier times, there may be anomalies in dating. Thus, the beginning of the Christian era, originally fixed probably by Dionysius Exiguus, was set a little too late. Therefore the actual birth of Jesus must be dated a little earlier, probably in 4 B.C. The term epoch is often confused with era in writing.

An era is a commonly used word for long period of time. When used in science, for example geology, eras denote clearly defined periods of time of arbitrary but well defined length, such as for example the Mesozoic era from 252 Ma–66 Ma, delimited by a start event and an end event. When used in social history, eras may for example denote a period of some monarch's reign. In colloquial language, eras denote longer spans of time, before and after which the practices or fashions change to a significant degree.

Uses

In chronology, an era is the highest level for the organization of the measurement of time. A calendar era indicates a span of many years which are numbered beginning at a specific reference date (epoch), which often marks the origin of a political state or cosmology, dynasty, ruler, the birth of a leader, or another significant historical or mythological event; it is generally called after its focus accordingly as in Victorian era.

Regnal eras

The word era also denotes the units used under a different, more arbitrary system where time is not represented as an endless continuum with a single reference year, but each unit starts counting from one again, as if time starts again. Such rather impractical system — a nightmare for historians once a single piece of the puzzle is missing — is the use of regnal years, which often reflects the preponderance in public life of the absolute ruler in many ancient cultures, while such tradition sometimes outlives the political power of the throne. In East Asia, each emperor's reign may be subdivided into several reign periods, each being treated as a new era. The name of each was a motto or slogan chosen by the emperor. Different East Asian countries utilized slightly different systems, notably:

A similar practice survived in the United Kingdom until quite recently, but only for formal official writings: in daily life the ordinary year A.D. was used since long, but Acts of Parliament were dated according to the years of the reign of the current Monarch, so that "61 & 62 Vict c. 37" refers to the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 passed in the session of Parliament in the 61st/62nd year of the reign of Queen Victoria.

Geological era

In natural science, there is need for another time perspective, independent from human activity, and indeed spanning a far longer period (mainly prehistoric), where era refers to well-defined time spans which subdivide Eons.

Cosmology era

In astronomy the periods are even longer, to cover the entire existence of the universe (in the order of 13.7 billion years), but usually just denoted in numerical units, as there is no significant link to any earthly reality, our planet being astronomically insignificant (except as the only known observation point).

Colloquial "eras"

In common speech and various contexts, the term era is also used, by extension, for any (as a rule relatively long) period in history with a name, often relating to common characteristic(s), even if this is not the normal way to organize time. The most relevant type are politic periods, for example: the Roman era, the Elizabethan era, the Victorian era (dynastic criteria, only formally correct within the British realm/empire/Commonwealth) and the Soviet era, or comparable literary notions like the Biblical era.

The word era is also popularly used to denote the passing of — often shorter — periods that are only defined in terms of a specific discipline of sphere of life, such as the prominence of an artistic style, or more specifically in music, see Musical eras, described in History of music, such as the Big Band era, Disco era. An event such as the death of Frank Sinatra is poetically called the end of an era.

Etymology

The word has been in use in English since 1615, and is derived from Late Latin aera "an era or epoch from which time is reckoned," probably identical to Latin æra "counters used for calculation," plural of æs "brass, money". The Latin word's use in chronology seems to have begun in 5th century Visigothic Spain, where it appears in the History of Isidore of Seville, and in later texts. The Spanish era is calculated from 38 BC, perhaps because of a tax (cfr. indiction) levied in that year, or due to a miscalculation of the Battle of Actium, which occurred in 31 BC.

Like epoch, "era" in English originally meant "the starting point of an age"; the meaning "system of chronological notation" is c.1646; that of "historical period" is 1741.

See also

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