Chronology

Chronology is a method of organising time and placing events in the order in which they occurred. Experts generally view the chronology of Ancient Egypt as settled; while it continue to be refined, some minor details still need to be resolved.

To be completed – this is a draft.

Ancient timekeeping

Dating events from long ago is a challenge. The accuracy of dates decreases as we look further back in time. At most, approximations can be made because precise chronological standards did not exist in the past. No methods were available to record dates contemporaneously, and there was no understanding of historical time. Timekeeping was not as exact as it is nowadays, but astronomy was crucial for many ancient civilizations as it helped them keep track of time. One of its most significant applications is using calendars in religious ceremonies, agriculture, and government affairs. It's important to question the reliability of historical documents, particularly those that record events that were documented decades or even centuries after they took place. It's possible that sources have been manipulated or misinterpreted to fit a particular narrative.

Techniques

There are several techinques used to synchronise chronologies of different cultures.

  • Dead-reckoning, the process of calculating the date by using a previously determined time, it is however subject to cumulative errors.
  • Synchronisms from the Near East.

Ancient calendars

There is no nearby civilisation that lasted even a small portion of the 3,000 years that the Egyptian kingdom lasted. But because Egypt interacted with other cultures on various occasions, we can discover chronological synchronisms. The different cultures obviously used their own calendars for measuring time, and for some, no such calendar has survived.

The Babylonian calendar

The Babylonian calendar was a lunisolar calendar with years consisting of 12 lunar months, each beginning when a new crescent moon was first sighted low on the western horizon at sunset, plus an intercalary month inserted as needed.

Ptolemy's Canon of Kings

Ptolemy of Alexandria, who flourished in the second century CE under Roman rule, compiled a list of kings noting the length of their reigns, most likely based on even older lists. This important list of Babylonian and Egyptian kings was used by ancient astronomers as a practical manner of dating astronomical events. Known as Ptolemy’s Canon, it has been preserved in multiple writing by succeeding authors, who often supplemented it with up-to-date knowledge from their own times. Historians generally regard the Canon to be accurate, and it forms the foundation of ancient chronology from 747 BCE forward, to which all other datings are synchronised.
J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Latinae 67 (Paris 1865) p. 493-494.

The Egyptian calendar

The Egyptians knew that the length of a solar year is 365 days, and that a lunar month is 29½ days. As a result, they devised a calendar with 365 days divided into 12 months of 30 days each, plus five intercalary days at the end of the year. Although it is now known that the solar year has 365.2422 days and the lunar month has 29.5306 days, the ancient Egyptians did not need or require this accuracy. Despite having no immediate significance, the fractions steadily accumulated over time, causing the calendar to become increasingly inaccurate over time.

To establish the Egyptian chronology, a connection with modern calendars must be established in order to situate events and pharaohs. The Egyptians did not use sequential numbering from a specific year; but rather numbered the year based on the reign of each pharaoh, i.e. Year 11 of Seti I, or Year 32 of Ramesses II. We could trust dates offered by scholars, but we need to dig deeper to ensure and check the veracity of the old dates. While synchronising an Egyptian year with a modern year may appear straightforward, it is actually quite challenging. This is due to the fact that the calendar we use today was not in use during Egyptian times, and there are other intermediaries that present their own challenges.

The Greek calendars

Each of the city-states in ancient Greece had their own calendar based on the cycle of the moon, dividing the year into 12 months. Syncronizing dates from this time is as can be expected relatively difficult. Thankfully, the Olympiad calendar is also available.

The Olympiad calendar

The Olympic Games were a series of athletic competetions between city-state representatives of Ancient Greece held every four years. Ancient historians referred to these games, using Olympiad for the period between two games (i.e. the fourth month in the third year of the 187th Olympiad). List of ancient Olympiads. Early historians sometimes used the names of Olympic victors as a method of dating events to a specific year.

The Julian calendar

The Julian calendar replaced the Egyptian calendar as the primary calendar of the Roman Empire in 45 BCE, and later most of the Western world. Basically it just added an extra “leap day” every four years. However, the Romans did not employ sequential numbering from a specific year; instead, identifying years in Roman times was made by naming the two consuls who served that year! The less used anno urbis conditae (AUC) referred to the number of years since the foundation of Rome.

The Gregorian calendar

The Gregorian calendar is now the de facto standard of the world, even if several other calendars still are in use locally. Historians use the Julian calendar for all dates before 1582.

Anno Domini

The Anno Domini (AD) term is used to number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It was developed by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in Rome in 525 AD (AUC 1278), as a result of his work on calculating the date of Easter, but was not widely used until the 9th century. He produced tables with a 19-year cycle for calculating Easter but also years since the birth of Christ.

The Byzantine calendar

Also called the Roman calendar, the Creation Era of Constantinople was the calendar used by the Eastern Orthodox Church from c. 691 to 1728 in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It was also the official calendar of the Byzantine Empire from 988 to 1453. The calendar was based on the Julian calendar, except that the year started on 1 September and the year number used an Anno Mundi epoch derived from the Septuagint version of the Bible.

Nineteen year cycle of Dionysius (Cyclus decemnovennalis Dionysii)
First Argumentum. On the years of Christ. If you want to find out which year it is since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, compute fifteen times 34, yielding 510; to these always add the correction 12, yielding 522; also add the indiction of the year you want, say in the consulship of Probus Junior, a 3, yielding 525 years altogether. These are the years since the incarnation of the Lord.

So, we have our first clue: Probus Junior was the consul of the Western Roman Empire in 525 AD. Using Dionysius Easter table, we can extrapolate by the data given that Probus was consul in Diocletian year 241. The Era of Roman Emperor Diocletian is reckoned from the beginning of the his reign. Using the numbers above, we can see that the first year of this era was 284 AD (525-241). Consulting the fasti (list of consuls) of the Chronograph of 354,

Classical antiquity dates

  • 773 BC - First Olympiad
  • 763 BC - A solar eclipse on June 15 is used to fix the chronology of the Ancient Near East. (Diod. 20.5.5)
  • 753 BC - Rome founded

The foundation of Egyptian chronology is provided by the very fragmentary Turin King List papyrus. Furthermore, temple and tomb inscriptions frequently include the date of the ruling pharaoh when it was made, but this only indicate a minimum duration of that reign. Labelled goods (wine jars etc.) often included a year of harvest. For instance, the Battle of Kadesh inscription begin with: “Year 5, third month of the harvest season, day 9, under the Majesty of Ramesses II ...”
The further back we go in time, the less reliable the dates become.

Ancient king lists

The tattered remains of the papyrus containing the Turin King List is without a doubt Ancient Egypt’s most important chronological source, even though it is full of gaps.

The Bible

The pharaohs of Moses and Joseph's time are not referenced by name in the Bible, even though Moses was a firsthand witness to what he wrote. The pharaohs named are:

  1. Shishak (1 Kings 11:40)
  2. Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9)
  3. Hophra (Jeremiah 44.30)
  4. Neco (2 Kings 23:29)

The Universal History of Eusebius

The second part of Eusebius’ Universal History, the Canons, puts the historical material into a parallel timeline, listing the reigning rulers of each nation side-by-side, for every year. Although the original is lost, Jerome's Latin translation written around 380 in Constantinople preserve the chonological tables.

Syncronizing events and calendars

First we need to select a pharaoh we want to find a direct chronological link to. Since ancient records are scarce at best, we are probably better off with a well-known pharaoh. The records of another culture must somehow date the record for it to be of use.

  1. Find a dated Egyptian record of an Egyptian king.
  2. Find a dated record from another culture of this same king.
  3. The two dates are in its own local format, we need to convert these to Julian dates.

The process of synchronising the two records is difficult. To connect an Egyptian date with a date found in other cultures is complicated as they used completely different calendars. Historians look for synchrony with contemporary cultures, such as Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, and Greek chronologies. Dated foreign writings that reference a pharaoh are very rare, which is furthermore complicated by the transliteration and translation of Egyptian names into the languages of those other cultures, as well as which titulary was used.

Perhaps it would be prudent to begin with the last ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, the obvious starting point of Egyptian chronology because her reign is closest to our own time, and her activities with prominent Romans are well-known.

We know from Plutarch’s Life of Antony that during Octavian's fifth consulship, which he shared with Antony, (Plut. Ant. 11; Plut. Ant. 30), Octavian defeated Cleopatra and Antony in Egypt. This was before he was given the title Augustus, which is clear as he was still known simply as (Imperator) Caesar.

The Fasti Capitolini has a lacuna for the years surrounding the fifth consulship of Octavian.

The Chronograph of 354 record the fifth consulship of Octavian as AUC 725, but with Appuleius.

The fasti of Hydatius also place the fifth consulship of Octavian in AUC 725, but with Pulchro (alt. Appuleius).

Olympiad 187.1: (Eusebius): Cleopatra and Antony kill themselves, and Egypt is made a Roman province, which Caius Cornelius Gallus first headed, about whom Virgil writes in the Eclogues. Until Cleopatra, the Ptolemies, who were called Lagids, reigned in Egypt for 295 years.

The Chronicon Paschale tells us that Augustus landed in Egypt AUC 727 (Anno Mundi 5477) and halted the reign of the Ptolemies, which had lasted 296 years. (p. 364)

Consulting the Canon of Kings, it tells us that the Ptolemies lasted 294 years.

As we have learned above, AUC 1278 = 525 AD. There are 553 years between AUC 725 and AUC 1278. Subtracting 525 AD from those 553 years yield -28. Since there was no year zero, we have to increase it by one, and thus we arrive at -29. In other words: 29 BC.

Thus we have established that Cleopatra died c. 29 BC. We now have a starting point, or baseline for the chronology of Ancient Egypt.

  1. Fasti Capitolini : Lacuna
  2. Fasti of Hydatius : AUC 725
  3. Chronograph of 354 : AUC 725
  4. The first king of Ptolemy’s Canon, Nabonassar, began on the first day of the month Thoth.
  5. Ptolemy’s Canon lists Emperor Augustus as reigning for 43 years, from 719-761 years after Nabonassar.
  6. Ptolemy’s Canon lists Cleopatra as reigning for 22 years, from 696-718 years after Nabonassar.
  7. Ptolemy’s Canon is not entirely accurate when compared to other sources.

Ptolemy’s Canon of Kings lists a total of 55 rulers, from the Babylonian king Nabonassar, to the Roman emperor Antoninus 907 years later. Cleopatra ruled for 22 years, during years 697-718 after Nabonassar, which is also noted as years 273-294 after the death of Alexander the Great.

It is well known that Julius Caesar died on the Ides of March in AUC 710. From this we can extrapolate the years of Cleopatra, AUC 702 = 51 BCE, and AUC 724 = 30 BCE. (The consuls for AUC 702 were Servius Sulpicius Rufus and Marcus Claudius Marcellus, and for AUC 702 Octavian and Marcus Tullius Cicero.) But hold on, we have not determined how we arrive at the BCE.


From the fasti consulares we get the corresponding Christian year, AD 284. Petavius proceeded in this manner in 1627.

Ideler, instead, made use of an astronomical observation which is dated synchronistically: 81 years from Diocletian = 1,112 years from Nabonassar (Canon of the Kings). The equation gives AD 284 as the first year of Diocletian’s rule.

In order to fix the first year of the emperor, Scaliger (De emendatione temporum, V) in 1582 established that the Coptic church, in continuing to calculate the era of Diocletian, equated AD 1582 (from 29 August) with the 1299th year of Diocletian.

In other words, all Roman dates, if they are complete and reliable, can be directly expressed in Julian years. All the other datings of ancient chronology are linked to our reckoning by direct or indirect synchronisms with Roman dates.

To arrive at