The Classical Homeschooler
Time Is a Labyrinth,
Not a Line
Before computers helped standardize date keeping, humans recorded events
by calculating the time since the last Olympiad, the years since a king’s rule, the
decades since the last eclipse, or the centuries since a city was founded.
History timelines are great eaching tools. They provide a crisp visual to help us un- derstand the confused layers of cause and effect in history. Look
how the printing press led to a surge in
literacy. Observe how the automobile
steered people from cramped cities into
suburbia. Notice how soap increased life
spans and even freshened the air. History
really isn’t as simple as that. Many think
about history in terms of a straight path,
but relationships between world events
are more like ripples in a pond or links
in a spider web. To follow the paths of
history you must wander a labyrinth, not
walk a line.
Specific dates of even major historical
events are seldom known with certainty
as we travel back in time. Humans have
only recently all relied on a neat twelvemonth calendar and a new year each
January 1. Many nations still enjoy more
than one date-keeping system to accommodate new technology and tradition.
Before computers helped standardize
date keeping, humans recorded events
by calculating the time since the last
Olympiad, the years since a king’s rule,
the decades since the last eclipse, or the
centuries since a city was founded. Serious historians can’t just flip to a timeline when they want to talk about when
It can be difficult to mark a permanent
“X” on the timeline of history. Consider the
founding of Rome. According to Roman
mythology, Remus lost the bid to name
Rome;to;his twin;Romulus in;753 B.C.
The actual date of this fraternal squabble
was debated for centuries by the Romans
themselves. More than seven hundred
years after the event, some Romans favored
the theory that it all took place on April
21, soon before an eclipse that occurred
438 years after the fall of Troy.
1 An equally
compelling theory put Rome’s founding in
Roman historians shrugged and mostly
kept track of time by the name of the two
consuls in charge each year.