Counting Years

Rome was founded in 753 B.C. and we now live in 2012 A.D., so this year, Rome celebrates its 2765th birthday. Right?

I read it on several places yesterday, but it’s wrong. There’s no year zero. It happened 2764 years ago. The same mistake was made by those classicists who celebrated the battle of Marathon one year too early.

Another question: does it matter? I think most scholars will say that it doesn’t, if only because the year is legendary. But that is too simple. This is a type of mistake that non-specialists can recognize and do recognize. I remember that in September 2010, people in Athens were laughing at a newspaper that had made the error in print.

I am not terribly worried about the precise date on which Rome was founded or the battle of Marathon was fought. But what matters is that scholars, who are paid from public funds, must not give the impression that they do not take their jobs seriously. This means that mistakes, even the small ones, are never innocent.

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