HISTORY OF 2011: A NEW DECADE?
As the chronometer clicked over from 2009 to 2010 last year, many heralded the end of the first decade of the millennium and the beginning of the next, regaling the best and worst at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
Except that it wasn’t.
Last year I argued that clicking over to 2010 did mark the end of a decade — indeed any year is the end of a 10 year period preceding it — and it certainly was the beginning of “the decade of 2010s” as any year is the start of a 10 year period following it. And of course, it was the end of the “aughts,” the ’00s in the same way as 1970 was the end of the ’60s. While this term is not used as commonly as at the beginning of the 1900s, we came to the end of “Aught 9.”
But it was not the ending of THE decade, at least not the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Why is that?
In the same way that the year 2000 was not the beginning of the 21st century, 2010 was not the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. I know what you’re thinking:
“But wait, didn’t every major capital city in the world had celebrations on December 31, 1999 to usher in the year 2000? Wasn’t the Eiffel Tower lit up like a Roman candle… or at least a French candle?”
True enough, but the calendar did not start with the Year 0, and so 2000 was not the beginning of the 21st century. That’s why Arthur C. Clarke entitled his science fiction epic 2001: a space odyssey. He wanted to mark the beginning of the Second Millennia, the correct start of the 21st century. You’re probably protesting:
“Then why did we make such a big deal out of the Year 2000?”
And well you might ask. Have you ever watched your odometer click over from 1999 to 2000? But that’s only part of the answer. At least equally powerful a motivation was that the year 2000 was the end of the Y2K scare, when we expected that a computer time coding issue would cause the end of civilization as we know it.
Officially, according to the current dating system — which has been in use for simply ages — dates started with Year 1 or AD 1, Anno Domini, (in the year of our Lord) which immediately followed 1 BC, or Before Christ. There was no Year 0. As one commenter pointed out, the Romans didn’t use Zero, it was introduced in Europe in the 10th century following the acceptance of the Arabic numbering system. The fact that Jesus was born neither in Year 0 nor Year 1 but at least 4 years earlier we’ve discussed previously. By now you’re probably thinking:
“Didn’t it seem odd to people at the time that one year it’s 1 BC, and the next year it’s AD 1?”
You would think so, except of course, they weren’t using the current Gregorian Calendar that we now use, rather the Julian Calendar, named after that famous Roman Julius Caesar who subsequently got a month named after him. The Romans counted from the “founding of the City (of Rome),” ab urbe condita or A.U.C, about 753 BC. So AD 1 would have been 754 A.U.C. (Although, just between you and me, the Romans preferred marking their calendars by what year it was under the reign of the current consul in government.)
Still with me?
So, when New Year’s Day came in 2010 it wasn’t the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. Instead, that will start in 2011, the eleventh year of the 3rd millenium.
In any event, will you be saying:
“Two thousand eleven” or Twenty-eleven”?
…or simply MMXI?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian