eli5: did people living in the past, eg. the 1500s, know they were living in the 1500s like we know we’re living in 2023 and the 2000s?


eli5: did people living in the past, eg. the 1500s, know they were living in the 1500s like we know we’re living in 2023 and the 2000s?

In: 1

Yes. That’s why we refer to human history as BCE and CE. BCE was before we all started using the same calendar system. CE is our current common era and the majority of people knew the year and century they were born in and lived in.

Yes, the people that were using (roughly) the same calendar as we use today knew it was the 1500s. Specifically these people mostly lived in Western Europe. Other people used different calendars and weren’t necessarily aware what calendar Europeans were using.

Yes people in the 16th century were aware of the year and their calendar.

The average person might have considered it less significant than the average person today, due to the fact that literacy was not as big a thing and that far more people were engaged in agriculture than today.

However the 1500s was also when the current Gregorian calendar was invented to replace the old Julian one. Since that invention came from the Pope and lots of people were heavily invested in not being catholic, the exact date actually became a thing people care very much about in those days.

The 16th century was also a good time for prophets of doom who were presaging the end of the world and the beginning of the end times. Knowing exactly which year it was, was required for knowing how much time was left. Lots of these apocalyptic scenarios were based on numerology and astrology and the fact that 15 centuries had passed since Jesus birth/death featured in a number of them.

In Europe – yes. In other countries – it depends, but mostly no.

Most Catholic countries at the time used Julian calendar with an assumed birth of Jesus Christ as a starting year. It is *almost* the same calendar we use today (we use the same starting year, but our current calendar differs by 13 days). So they knew they live in 1500s.

Orthodox countries, however, used Byzantine calendar. It was also a Julian calendar (the same days and months), but its year 1 was set at a “creation of the World by God”. People who lived in those countries thought they live in 7000s.

Asian and African countries used completely different calendars. Some of them use a different calendar even today.

You’ll notice that in the west we use “BC” and “AD” after years (also BCE and CE “Before Common Era” and “Common Era”, but they have the same years, so it’s inconsequential). “BC” means “Before Christ” and “AD” means “Anno Domini” which translates from latin to “Year of our Lord” (Jesus Christ).

This is the Gregorian calendar. It was devised in the 1500s to replace the Julian Clandar, which was in effect since 45(ish?) BC. But the concept of AD and BC years didn’t come about until the 500’s AD. We switch from Julian to Gregorian to account better for leap years (as a year is not exactly 365 days, more like 365.24 and change or something). Now, up until the Gregorian calendar, the year was usually correct, but the moth and day were off. By today’s standards, had we stuck with the Julian Calendar, it would be February 23, not March 6th.

Note, this applies to Western “Christian” nations. If you have any East Asian and especially Chinses friends, you’ll notice that their New Years falls around February. Japan, China, Korea, etc. Didn’t start using the Gregorian calendar until the late 1800s and early 1900s. Probably due to a combination of that European colonialism and the spreading of Christianity into the regionand in Japan’s specific case the Meiji Restoration. Before then, years were based on “Era.” Kind of like if you ever play an Elder Scrolls game, rather than a year, the date is given as like “230th year of the fourth era.” With usually an imperial dynasty or major historic event marking an era.

Nowadays, since we live in a globalized society, we all use the same calandar for convenience, but several countries and cultures maintain their old calendars for traditional holidays like Chinese New Year.