Public Lecture on "Historical chronology: Truth or fable?"

November 19, 2014, 18:30
Hörsaal 3 (HS 3), JKU Linz

Florin Diacu (University of Victoria): Historical chronology: Truth or fable?

We learn in school that Rome was founded in 753 BC, that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, and that the Turks reached the gates of Vienna in 1683. While the last date in this sequence is most surely correct, the further we step back in time, the more likely it is that we deal with approximations. But how is this possible? Haven’t historians always kept track of events? The answer is surprisingly “no.” Historical chronology, as we know it today, was founded by the time of the Gregorian calendar reform, towards the end of the 16th century. Until then it was far from clear when the events depicted in documents had taken place. The reason is simple: documents describe events in terms of various calendars and relative to unknown dates, such as “the battle took place 32 years after the death of Alexander.” Alexander who, and when did he die? Unfortunately, the span of our collective memory proves to be amazingly short.

In this talk we will discuss the intriguing aspects of how global historical chronology was created and the huge difficulties its founders encountered, how it survived in spite of ferocious opposition from historians and scientists, including Isaac Newton, and why it was and still is attacked by various figures, including cranks like Immanuel Velikovsky, and academics, such as the mathematician Anatoly Fomenko. We will emphasize the role mathematics and science play in historical chronology today, and why celestial mechanics was and remains fundamental in dating historical events.

Map & Directions to JKU
Campus Map Lecture Tract (Hörsaaltrakt)