On https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus it says:

Born    Gaius Octavius
23 September 63 BC
Rome, Italy, Roman Republic
Died    19 August AD 14 (aged 75)
Nola, Italy, Roman Empire

On https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius it says:

Born    Kǒng Qiū
c. 551 BCE
Zou, State of Lu
(modern-day Nanxin [zh], Qufu, Shandong, China)

When talking about Augustus, the editor uses "BC".

When talking about Confucius, the editor uses "BCE".

Do I need to pay attention to this when writing things about ancient dates?

1 Answer 1


Short answer:

BC and BCE refer to the same periods. As Wikipedia pages are written by different authors, the exact usage of such details will vary. In most cases, the difference is meaningless.

Longer answer:

I'm summarizing what is thoroughly explained at Antidote and many other places. BC is an abbreviation for the phrase Before Christ. It is the "other half" of the Latin abbreviation AD, which is short for Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord, and refers to the period beginning with the year traditionally believed to be the year in which Jesus was born.

These designations were uncontroversial when English-speaking historians were primarily Christians writing for Christian audiences.

But times have changed, and English-speaking historians and readers include substantial numbers of non-Christians, including non-believers. So we now have the option of using the abbreviations BCE and CE, for Before the Common Era and Common Era respectively, which correspond exactly to the periods designated by BC and AD. Their advantage is that they show no preference to any religious or non-religious group.

I normally see BCE and CE being used by scholars and former students of history or anthropology classes. When BC and AD are used, it is likely out of stubbornness or simple unfamiliarity with the more recent convention. Publishers may also have in-house style preferences.* Wikipedia articles are written by people of all stripes, so we should expect inconsistency. Some inconsistency in this case is especially likely. The writers of the Augustus article probably approached it from a very Western perspective. In contrast, the writers of the Confucius article probably approached it from an Eastern—or simply more global—perspective.

* For example, The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (commonly used by scholars in the social sciences) offers this guidance:

When the date of original publication for a classical work is ancient, use the abbreviation “B.C.E.” (which stands for “before the common era”), and if that date is approximate, use the abbreviation “ca.” (which stands for “circa”; see Chapter 10, Example 36). Dates in the common era do not need to be noted as “C.E.” (“common era”) or “A.D.” (“anno Domini”).

Meanwhile, The 55th edition of The Associated Press Stylebook (commonly used by American journalists) writes this:

B.C. Acceptable in all references to a calendar year in the period before Christ.
A.D. Acceptable in all references for anno Domini: in the year of the Lord.

The AP stylebook says nothing about BCE and CE.


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