The validity of the European chronology
An astronomical approach to a wild idea

by Petra Ossowski Larsson & Lars-Åke Larsson
In a previous section we have shown how the Hollstein Roman time ring width data matches towards data of later time. The match shown implies a removal of 207 years from our current chronology, which means that we propose that there is a big error within our AD chronology between West Roman time and AD 1000.

Astronomers with an historical interest have spent quite a lot of job on connecting reported antique astronomical observations to back-calculated astronomical events and to a high extent they claim that they have succeeded (see e.g. ref 1)! A proposal to make any change in our chronology threatens to lay that work in ruins. Consequently, those who propose a change in chronology also have to supply at least some astronomically related motivation to support such a wild idea.

If we then maintain that our chronology is incorrect, but want to explain away a large group of seemingly correct observations we probably have to assume that the laboratory that made the observations has somewhat by accident been correctly positioned on the time scale!

That might be argued for the observations of the Babylonian astronomers and possibly also for parts of observations from Alexandria. A possible explanation might be that these to a high extent seemingly correct observations were registered according to a calendar that was not synchronized to our common AD calendar until after AD 1000, i.e. they have never been synchronized towards the Roman "Ab Urbe Condita" (A.U.C.) calendar or to the list of Roman consuls.

We may therefore divide antique celestial observations into four groups:

  1. Those of a "laboratory" like the Babylonian where astronomers have been working regularly with observations.
  2. Those mentioned "by the way" inside a story like in a text by Plutarch. We will label such reports as "civilian".
  3. "On demand observations" reporting solar eclipses e.g. when prominent persons died or during a determining battle.
  4. "Late on demand observations" inserted as back calculated astronomical data into faked documents or into copied old documents to make a story more probable, i.e. late falsifications.
We have found only a few civilian observations that are enough exact to be datable, i.e. connected to a back-calculated astronomical event. Please note, that these observations are exactly the ones which are today already used to synchronize our time towards the Roman time A.U.C. calendar.
Comments on observability
  • The most prominent celestial phenomenon is the solar eclipse, i.e. when the moon hides the sun. Such a phenomenon is dramatical when it is almost total and also occurs in the middle of the day to make full daylight almost go off. This means that the magnitude should be at least 95%. Eclipses of a lower magnitude are not very dramatic, though they might indeed be noted by a watchful person.
  • To make a lunar eclipse worth a notice, it has to be at least partial, i.e. the moon has to pass partly through the core shadow (the umbra) of the earth.
Observations by Pliny (23-79 AD) in Natural History, book II.
  1. ...the eclipse of both sun and moon within 15 days of each other has occured even in our time, in the year of the third consulship of the elder Emperor Vespasian and the second consulship of the younger.
  2. ...The eclipse of the sun which occurred the day before the calends of May, in the consulship of Vipstanus and Fonteius, not many years ago, was seen in Campania between the seventh and eighth hour of the day; the general Corbulo informs us, that it was seen in Armenia, between the tenth and eleventh hour.

For observation 1.) we are looking for an observable solar eclipse at 15 days distance from an observable lunar eclipse, presumably in Rome.

For observation 2.) we are looking for a solar eclipse occuring 12 years before observation 1.) at new moon in May and observable in Campania in the afternoon and in Armenia a somewhat before sunset (ref 5).

Note: Ref 3a, p 388: "inter horam diei decimam et undecimam", above translated as "between the tenth and eleventh hour". In Wikipedia of unknown reasons translated as "between the eleventh and twelfth hour".

The commonly agreed to datings and corresponding eclipses

The consul years above have been connected to:

  • AD 71 as the year of the third consulship of the elder Emperor Vespasian and the second consulship of the younger and
  • AD 59 as the consulship of Vipstanus and Fonteius
Note: A latin version of Pliny's Natural History printed in Paris in 1827 (ref 3a) lists these two years as AD 73 and AD 61. These AD numbers seem to be incorrectly calculated. Later documents use the year number AD 71 and AD 59.
The commonly agreed to solar eclipse corresponding to observation 1 above.
The commonly agreed to lunar eclipse corresponding to observation 1 above.
The solar eclipse with its magnitude of 80% is indeed observable.

The lunar eclipse is very partial. The moon just touches into the dark shadow of the earth. The eclipse is 16 days away from the solar eclipse and not 15 days as specified in Pliny's observation.

The commonly agreed to solar eclipse corresponding to observation 2 above.

Drawbacks of the commonly agreed to alternative:

  • 16 days between the solar and lunar eclipses instead of 15 as reported
  • a lunar eclipse with an umbral magnitude of only 0.4 which makes it not too apparent for a casual observation
Note: Ref 3a, p 260: "quindecim diebus". In French, two weeks are normally said to be fifteen days. So we might question the precision of an observation saying 15 days. Though we might wonder if 16 days is the same as 15 days.
Looking for alternative datings

With help of the NASA Eclipse Web Site (ref 4) we have created lists of eclipses from Rome and Naples in Italy and from Jerevan in Armenia covering the time AD 1 to AD 500.

From the Rome list we have considered all eclipses with a magnitude above 0.5 and an altitude above 5 degrees at maximum. For each such solar eclipse we have looked up a corresponding list of Lunar eclipses and selected all partial or total with an umbral magnitude above 0.1 and within an interval of 13 to 16 days before and after a solar eclipse. There are 38 solar eclipses in that time span which fulfill these conditions.

For each such a solar/lunar eclipse pair we have looked for a solar eclipse exactly 12 years before in both Jerevan and in Naples. There are three solar/lunar eclipse pairs that also have a solar eclipse 12 years before only in Armenia  and one that has such an eclipse only in Naples. There are six solar/eclipse pairs that have a solar eclipse 12 years before in both Armenia and Naples. Four of these are not at sunset in Armenia!

Remain two possible pairs of which one is the commonly agreed to - the solar eclipse of April 30 AD 59 - described above.

The other pair is:
the solar eclipse of 27 September year 303 with a lunar eclipse on 12 September with exactly a 15 days distance. The corresponding solar eclipse 12 years before occured on May 15 year 291.

Note: This selection of data was done with a small computer program especially written for this operation. The advantage of doing this extraction of data with a computer program is that the risk of making an error through an oversight is minimized provided that the program has been verified for correctness. (Actually the result was found "by hand" but was then verified with the program.)

A solar eclipse 232 years later than that commonly agreed to correspond towards observation 1) of Pliny.
A lunar eclipse 232 years later than that commonly agreed to correspond towards observation 1) of Pliny.
The lunar eclipse is actually total as seen with a naked eye. It must have been quite dramatical to see this in the evening sky.
A solar eclipse 232 years later than that commonly agreed to correspond towards observation 2) of Pliny.
Comments

Please note that the solar eclipse of 15 May 291 may very well correspond to the phrase "the day before the calends of May"! The day before the calends, means the day before the start of a new lunar cycle. As a solar eclipse implies that the moon is standing between the earth and the sun this also implies the start of a new lunar cycle.

With the problem of possibly having to remove some 200 years from our calendar, it is tempting to propose that Pliny actually lived in a time where he could observe the eclipses shown above.

The consulship of Vipstanus and Fonteius corresponds to AD 59, see above. To make AD 59 the same as year 291 we have to remove 232 years out of our current calendar! That would imply that Pliny lived in the years 255-311 instead as commonly agreed to in AD 23-79.

Observations by Plutarch (46-120 AD)
'Now, grant me that nothing that happens to the sun is so like its setting as a solar eclipse. You will if you call to mind this conjunction recently which, beginning just after noonday, made many stars shine out from many parts of the sky and tempered the air in the manner of twilight. If you do not recall it...'.

The citation is taken from Stephenson, ref 2. There is no information neither on where this eclipse was observed nor when it was observed.

What we are looking for is an - at least - annular solar eclipse with a maximum at noon over at least one of the urban centres of the antique world during the adult lifetime of Plutarch.

The commonly agreed to datings

Stephenson (ref 2) argues that the observation should be connected with the solar eclipse of 20th March AD 71 over Athens.

The commonly agreed to solar eclipse corresponding to the observation of Plutarch.
Because of the 23° east offset from Greenwich, the local time of the maximum of this eclipse can be calculated to 09:26 + 1:34= 11:00. From the picture we can also see that the altitude of the sun changed from 37.8° through 47.8° and ended at 50.7°. The text saying "beginning just after noonday" is then not a very exact description of the eclipse!

With a wild idea in mind we might question whether Plutarch actually was in Athens on 20th March AD 71, though Stephenson considers the above as a proof of that.

Looking for an alternative dating

If our alternative result from Pliny's observation is true, then Plutarch lived in the period 278 - 352.
With that in mind we would expect a major solar eclipse over the Mediterranian within that period.

The annular eclipse of July 17 of 334 was a dramatical event at noon (see the change of sun altitude above) occuring over Rome, Campania, southern Greece and Alexandria. It is actually a better match towards the observation of Plutarch provided the dating is not considered.
Moving Pliny and Plutarch on the time scale

If we shift the time by 232 years

  • Pliny then observed the eclipse of 303 being at the age of 48.
  • Plutarch then observed the eclipse of 334 being at the age of 56 when he was in southern Italy.
Conclusions

Together with Pliny's and Plutarch's observations, the eclipses found above represent a very spectacular solution to an argued chronology problem. Might be, there are too many fulfilled conditions to make this story just a matter of coincidence.

The chronology of the Coptic Church

By the way, check out the current year count of the Coptic Orthodox Church. What if they do not commemorate the beginning of the reign of emperor and persecutor Diocletian (Anno Martyrum), but the Passion of Jesus Christ (Anno Martyrium)?
Or perhaps Mary's death (Assumptio Mariae), especially as the Coptic Church celebrates New Year on August 29 (Julian calendar)?

Just another wild idea?
References:
1. Stephenson F.R.: Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, Cambridge 1997.
2. Stephenson, Fatoohi: The Total Solar Eclipse Described by Plutarch http://www.dur.ac.uk/Classics/histos/1998/stephenson.html
3a. Caii Plinii Secundi Historiæ naturalis libri xxxvii on Pliny on Google books
3b. Dito, old English version at Bill Thayer
4. Nasa Eclipse Website
5. Wikipedia on Planetary hours
March 9 2010. Petra Ossowski Larsson, Lars-Åke Larsson
Last update April 9 2010


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