Letter: No Year Zero

Sir: It is frequently but falsely claimed that Dionysius Exiguus failed to put a "year 0" between 1BC and AD1 because the concept of zero didn't exist in European mathematics at the time when he lived, in the sixth century of the era he invented (letter, 11 January).

In his system, the years anno domini (in the Year of the Lord) were counted forwards from AD1, the year in which he calculated that Jesus was conceived and born. Subsequently the years ante Christum (Before Christ) were counted backwards from 1BC, the previous year. At no time was there any need or indeed room for a blank year in either direction. And later, when the zero was eventually introduced into Christendom, "AD0" would still have made no more sense than "0BC". What would be meant by "In the Year of the Lord nought", or "nought Before Christ"?

The same is true of all other eras counted from important events, such as the foundation of a city or the migration of a prophet.

So the presence or absence of zero has nothing to do with the millennium. Anyway the idea that it will mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus is absurd. Herod the Great died in 4BC; Dionysius Exiguus believed that Jesus was born in 1AD; the Census of Judaea was held in AD6. So the second millennium should end not in neither 1999 or 2000, but in 1997 or 2001 or 2006.

The whole thing is in fact numerological nonsense - but this is as good an excuse for a holiday as anything else.

NICOLAS WALTER

Rationalist Press Association

London N1

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