What is the earliest written date found?

When I say "date" I primarily mean a date in the Gregorian calendar (perhaps the calendar-year is most interesting). It could also be interesting to know about other (perhaps earlier) written dates in other calendars. Here "written" can mean any means of "externalizing" the information of a point in a calendar in some way; possibly in context to some volume of literature, a letter, a stone, head stone, ... anything really.

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    Make up your mind, either ask about "any calendar" or about a specific calendar.
    – o0'.
    Aug 11, 2015 at 8:33
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    Are you asking for the earliest record of a date, or the earliest date ever written about?
    – Semaphore
    Aug 11, 2015 at 9:36
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    I'm confused. The earliest possible date in the Gregorian calendar is 1582; the earliest possible date in the Julian calendar would be in 1 Ianuarius 1 (45 BCE). So there is a 17 century spread of what you mean by the "earliest date". I'm also confused because for most of that period people would have expressed the date as something like "the first year of the reign of Charles the Bald". Modern practice is to translate that to 823 CE, but contemporaries would have been confused. If you can clarify the question, I'm sure we can get you an answer.
    – MCW
    Aug 11, 2015 at 11:22
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    Well, I am not a historian or have any deep knowledge in calendars. I believe I was quite careful in specifying my question. Your long comment above is very interesting indeed. You are most welcome elaborate on it in a answer. Of course I am mostly interested in a date I can relate to. So you would not expect to find a written date (Gregorian) specifying an actual calendar-year prior to 823 CE? Aug 11, 2015 at 11:39
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    The reason why I am asking this question is because I... seek a connection with the past. Perhaps knowing that some wrote a date down eons ago in a system we can relate today, will make it possible for to "connect" with that time so long ago. I believe there is a coin with the year 1234 written using Arabic numerals. Not sure if this the Julian or Gregorian calendar. Anyway, it is fascinating that we can read that date exactly today. . Anything older than that? For instance, have anyone ever found a date written with 3 digits in the year given (Arabic numerals)? Aug 11, 2015 at 12:57

3 Answers 3


You question is all over the place, it's difficult to understand what you are asking.

Based on what you've stated in your question and in comments I am interpreting your question as being “when were the European equivalent of Arabic numbers used with a common era calendar system to write dates similar to how they are written now?”

At the same time you appear to be trying to authenticate a coil dated 1234 using Arabic numerals.

If you are trying to establish the authenticity of a coin, supposedly dated 1234, forget the Gregorian calendar. It was introduced in 1582 and it is a refinement of the Julian calendar.

The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and took effect in 45 BC.

Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, also known as Dennis the Short, is credited as

the inventor of the Anno Domini era, which is used to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the Julian calendar. He used it to identify the several Easters in his Easter table, but did not use it to date any historical event. When he devised his table, Julian calendar years were identified by naming the consuls who held office that year – he himself stated that the "present year" was "the consulship of Probus Junior", which he also stated was 525 years "since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ".

That statement was made in 525 AD, the number zero had at that stage not been devised; it was introduced in India around 600 AD. Latin was the language of officials in western Europe and Greek was the language of officials in eastern Europe under Byzantine influence. If the year 525 was not written out in words it would have been written in either Roman or Greek numerals (DXXV or Φκε respectively).

The first mention and representation of Hindu-Arabic numerals (from one to nine, without zero), in Europe, is in the Codex Vigilanus, written in 976 AD.

In 999 AD Pope Sylvester II introduced an abacus based on the Hindu-Arabic numbers one to nine.

In his 1202 AD book Liber Abaci,

Leonardo Fibonacci brought this system to Europe. His book Liber Abaci introduced Arabic numerals, the use of zero, and the decimal place system to the Latin world. The numeral system came to be called "Arabic" by the Europeans. It was used in European mathematics from the 12th century, and entered common use from the 15th century to replace Roman numerals.

The familiar shape of the Western Arabic glyphs as now used with the Latin alphabet (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) are the product of the late 15th to early 16th century, when they enter early typesetting.

Fibonacci's introduction of the system to Europe was restricted to learned circles. The credit for first establishing widespread understanding and usage of the decimal positional notation among the general population goes to Adam Ries, an author of the German Renaissance, whose 1522 Rechenung auff der linihen und federn was targeted at the apprentices of businessmen and craftsmen.

Not knowing anything more about the coin you are trying to date. If the coin is of European origin it seems unlikely the coin or the date are genuine given the history of Arabic numbers and their European equivalents.

If however, the coin is of middle eastern origin, it may well be genuine. The year 2015 AD, or CE as some people prefer, is the same as 1436 or 1437 in the Islamic calendar or 1393 or 1394 in the Iranian calendar.

Using the Islamic calendar, the year 1234 using Arabic numerals would be 1813 AD/CE (2015 - 1436 + 1234) and from the Iranian calendar the year would be 1856 AD/CE (2015 - 1393 + 1234).

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    Thanks for your detailed answer. I know my question could have been more precise. You have helped me realize that it is probably much more complicated to answer that I originally thought. The coin I refer to was just an example - I am not seeking to date any coin. The coin is the "1234 Roskilde Dennier" - apparently one of the earliest dated coins not using Islamic script (top of p. 243 in "The Early Dated Coins of Europe, 1234-1500", preview available at books.google.com/books?id=yNbb2SLi1RIC). On it is Roman numerals (ANNO DOMINI MCCXXXIIII). Aug 12, 2015 at 8:18
  • The calculations in the last paragraph are not correct, because the islamic calendar year is less long than the gregorian year. Islamic 1234 would actually be 1818 or 1819: calcuworld.com/calendar-calculators/islamic-calendar-converter
    – Evargalo
    Mar 5, 2020 at 10:54

Concerning Dates Written in Arabic Numerals

Arabic numerals were not adopted until the 12th century in Europe. Obviously there are a lot of Arab coins (dinars/dirhams etc) with low date numbers using Arabic numerals.

Concerning Dates in General

For Julian dates, the dates in Livy are the most famous for sure. There are, I believe, no ancient manuscripts of Livy, but there is an ancient epitome found on papyrus in Egypt which dates to Roman times.

Livy gives the date of a lunar eclipse as occurring the night before 4 September 168 B.C. (using consular years). This date has been equated to 21 June 168 B.C. in our proleptic calendar. This and one other date of Livy are considered crucial for chronology and on it are founded a lot of ancient date synchronisms. Recently doubt has been cast on it however because a papyrus called Oxyrhynchus LXI 4175 has a series of dates from the 1st century BC in Latin and Greek which seem to show that the date synchronisms for Livy are incorrect.

This is what Book 44 of Livy says:

[Note that Paullus was consul in 168 BC]

At the beginning of the following year, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Caius Licinius, the consuls, having commenced their administration on the ides of March, the senators were impatient to hear what propositions were to be laid before them, particularly with respect to Macedonia, by the consul to whose lot that province had fallen.... When the camp had been thoroughly fortified, Caius Sulpicius Gallus, a military tribune of the second legion, who had been praetor the year before, with the consul's permission collected the soldiers in assembly, and gave them notice, lest they should any of them consider the matter as a prodigy, that, “on the following night, the moon would be eclipsed, from the second hour to the fourth.” [6] He mentioned that, “as this happened in the course of nature, at stated times, it could be known, and foretold. [7] As, therefore, they did not wonder at the regular rising and setting of the sun and moon, or at the moon's sometimes shining with a full orb, and sometimes in its wane, showing only small horns, so neither ought they to construe as a portent, its being obscured when covered with the shadow of the earth.” [8] When on the night preceding the day before the nones of September, at the hour mentioned, the eclipse took place, the Roman soldiers thought the wisdom of Gallus almost divine; but the Macedonians were shocked, as at a dismal prodigy, foreboding the fall of their kingdom and the ruin of their nation; nor did their soothsayers explain it otherwise.

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    But that wouldn't answer OP's request for a date recorded in the Gregorian calendar - that date is recorded in AUC, which was the contemporary custom.
    – MCW
    Aug 11, 2015 at 13:57
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    Based on my knowledge, the practice of dating years since the founding of Rome did not even begin until the 1st century BC, and was not common until partway through the Principate. The perception of its more widespread use is an anachronism perpetuated by later historians, and Livy would have indicated the consular year, as indeed he does in the example you have quoted. I am not sure where you get the assertion that "of course he gave the year AUC".
    – Patrick N
    Aug 11, 2015 at 14:51
  • @MarkC.Wallace I think the OP doesn't realize that the Gregorian calendar was devised in 1582. My interpretation of his question is that he is interested in an ancient date that is in the Julian calendar (which is similar to the Gregorian calendar). His asking for a "Gregorian" date, just means, in my estimation, that he does not want a "wierd" date, like a Mayan date that he would not be able to understand. Aug 11, 2015 at 14:55
  • @Patrick I updated the answer to refer to consular dates. Aug 11, 2015 at 14:57
  • @TylerDurden I was not aware of the exact year, but I am aware that the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the late 1500s. In Denmark we switched from the Julian to Gregorian in the year 1700 where we skipped 11 days. You assumption is correct though, I seek no weird dates that I do not understand. Anyway, I should have been more specific in the question. Aug 12, 2015 at 16:29

What about Chinese or Japanese those cultures have been alive much longer than European. I know they've dated tsunami's and earthquakes. I'm far from an expert but you can't discount their more accurate calendars going further back. I know we've dated tsunami's in Alaska by using Japanese records.

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    I'm not sure if this is a question or an answer. Something to back up "those cultures have been alive much longer than European" would be nice. Aug 8, 2017 at 17:53
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    Not responsive to OP question, which is limited to Gregorian calendar.
    – MCW
    Aug 8, 2017 at 17:55

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