The New Millennium Started On 1/1/2001

Simple facts, described for everyone (from schoolgirl/-boy to professor)

--> Das Original dieser Seite wurde in Deutsch verfasst.

2000 is a very special number, and nearly everyone has celebrated the beginning of the year 2000 with enthusiasm. But one year later, we had cause for celebration again, because the new millennium really started on 1/1/2001. Thus, the 2nd millennium of our era lasted until December 31, 2000.

The facts that lead to this statement are very simple:

Each date contains numbers for the day, the month and the year. Years as well as months and days are counted beginning with 1.
The first decade ended at the end of the year 10, the first century at the end of the year 100, the first millennium at the end of the year 1000. Thus the second millennium ended at the end of the year 2000.
That's it. If you're convinced already, you need not continue reading. Except to collect responses for arguments that may come.

Here are possible objections from people who don't give up quickly. All the following is intended to deal with such objections.


?  Change from 1999 to 2000 and from "nineteenhundred..." to "twothousand..."  1
?  If you start counting at the year 0 ...  2
?  Comparing years of life with years of our era - graphic answer  3a
?  Comparing years of life with years of our era - theoretical answer  3b
?  On December 14, 1899, the German Bundesrat decided ...  4
?  Jesus Christ was born at least 2 years before year 1...  5
?  "The nineties" comprised the years 1990 through 1999 ...  6
?  The years 19xx belonged to the 20th century ...  7
?  What is with all the people who made expensive voyages?  8
?  We had one great celebration for 2000 and the millennium ...  9
   Websites that give a correct view of the facts  !

? The word millennium stands for a big change in the counting of years. This change happened when all four digits of the year got a new value by changing from 1999 to 2000. There was no big change from 2000 to 2001.
Nearly all living people have always spoken the actual year as "nineteenhundred...". From one moment to another, we started to say "twothousand...". This deep change was worth to be emphasized and celebrated.
1 Who will not agree to that? My opinion is that with the change to the year 2000, mankind had its greatest occasion for a gorgeous New Year's Eve party since 998 years. Many, many generations never had such a turn of the year!
We celebrated the change, but let's stay linguistically correct: We celebrated the change of the first digit. Or the change of all 4 digits. Or the change of the term for the hundreds. Too bad that there is no simple word for it. The simple word is not "millennium". The change that the word millennium implies is not identical with the change of all digits.
If we talk about the millennium, we use a well defined word that only makes sense if we relate it to our era. That leads us to the beginning of the year 2001, the start of the 3rd millennium of our era.
Is that something very special? Should we have celebrated it more than other turns of the year? That's up to everybody's own opinion. Not a few may have celebrated it as greatly as the year 2000.

? If you start counting at the year 0, the third millennium started with the year 2000. We count hours, minutes, miles and ages of people beginning at 0, why not calender years?
2 1582, the Gregorian Calendar was created which defines the chronology still in use today. Counting of the years "after the birth of Christ" (A.D.) was already established at that time - it was defined in A.D. 525 by Dionysius Exiguus. Before that, there was (besides others) the varronic era which started counting from the foundation of Rome. A.D. 1 is equivalent to the varronic year 754. The varronic year 1 became 753 B.C., i.e. there is no year 0, the year 1 B.C. being directly followed by A.D. 1.
At first sight, that could be interpreted as an error, e.g. because the roman numerals had no number 0. But it's not just so simple. There are good reasons to start certain countings with 1 instead of beginning from 0. Who on earth wants to have his birthday on May 0? If a counting has the effect to give sort of a name to a counted element, you avoid the number 0. Instead of cardinal counting, you use ordinal counting which is - within its rules - mathematically correct (see 3b). As a newborn child immediately is in its first year of life, our chronology starts with a 1st year instad of a year 0.
However, the lack of a year 0 was disturbing for the astronomers in their need for a continuously extendable time axis, so they invented (in contrast to our common chronology) the astronomical chronology. And there you have a year 0, which is equal to 1 B.C., there are even negative years, where the year -1 is equal to 2 B.C. and so on. Though, it would be far-fetched to say about the year 2000 enthusiasts that they all would use the astronomical chronology. Before that, you would have to teach children at school that Rome was founded in the year -752.
From the links below, you can see that the astronomers are very well at home within the Gregorian Calendar and have come to the right conclusions.
? From the day on when someone celebrates his 20th birthday, you say he is 20 years old, until the next birthday comes. It should be the same with the numbers of the years. I.e. on 1/1/2000 our era should have been 2000 years old and not only 1999.
There are two answers, one graphic and one theoretical. Both have the same result.
Sorry for the length of the answers, but these are the essentials of the "millennium question".
3a When talking about the age of people, we mostly speak about e.g. the 19th birthday (literally: 19th anniversary of birth) or say that someone is 19 years old. Rarely we talk about someone being within the 20th year of his life. And we hardly think about the fact that the big 20th birthday only comes after the end (!) of the 20th year of someone's life.
Just let's imagine that our era were a human being, with its birthday always on January 1. The counting of years of our era would then be equal to the years of its life. The first year of its life was the year 1, because there was no year 0. After its end, on New Year's Day of the year 2, was the 1st birthday of our era. Now it was 1 year old and had begun the 2nd year of its life. And now we simply go 1998 years further. New Year's Day of the year 2000 was its 1999th birthday. That means it was 1999 years old and its 2000th year of life had begun. Thus, its big 2000th birthday was after the end of the 2000th year of its life, that was on 1/1/2001.
Now we see clearly why we quickly come to wrong results when comparing the counting of years of people's lives with the counting of years of our era. The year of our era must only be compared with the rarely mentioned (running) year of life and not with the much more commonly used age in completed years.
Annotation: We must not stretch this imagination too wide. Today's definition of our chronology includes that the New Year's Day always is on January 1. Many centuries before, definitions were totally different. Thus, when speaking historically of the year 1, we must not take January 1 as beginning of the year. Above, we did this only to find the right year for the millennium. Because all people using our chronology have celebrated the millennium on January 1 of a year, we need not quarrel about the day.
3b When dealing with years, we have to distinguish between so-called cardinal counting and ordinal counting. Cardinal counting gives an amount of elements (1 element, 2 elements, 3 elements, ...), whereas the ordinal counting enumerates and thereby names each of the elements (the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd, ... or element 1, element 2, element 3). Cardinal counting gives the value 0 if there is not yet one complete element, whereas the first incomplete element already gets the ordinal number 1. This difference of 1 persists up however high the number. That sounds very theoretical, but in everyday life we unconciously use cardinal numbers (c.n.) and ordinal numbers (o.n.):
For measurement of time, e.g.: During the 90th minute (o.n.) of a soccer match, the stop-watch shows 89: ... (c.n.).
For age informations: The 20th year (o.n.) of someone's life begins with his 19th birthday (literally: 19th anniversary of birth, o.n.) and lasts until one day before his 20th birthday. During the whole 20th year of someone's life, you say he is 19 years old (c.n.). Or you give more exact informations and say e.g. 19 1/2 years (c.n.) or 19 years and 11 months (c.n.) or nearly 20 years old (c.n.). But you never would say he were 20 years old as long as he lives within the 20th year of his life.
Our chronology was defined as ordinal counting of years, months and days. Thus, a new century starts on 01/01/01. The ordinal counting of the days is still reflected in our language. But for the years, the accentuation of the ordinal counting (e.g. "in the 1600th year of the Lord" - anno domini 1600) has got lost in the last centuries. In former times as well as today, it seems to be difficult for people to consider the difference of 1 when determining the number of passed years (c.n.) out of the number of the year (o.n.), thus realizing that e.g. on July 1, 2000 only about 1999.5 years of our era had passed. But everyone realizes that on November 1 of a year only 10 months of that year have passed - is it because the numbers are smaller?
? On December 14, 1899 (!), the German Bundesrat decided that the 1/1/1900 had to be taken as the beginning of the 20th century. Thus its end as well as the end of the 2nd millennium must have been on December 31, 1999.
4 Already before the year 1700, people quarreled about when the new century would begin. Before each turn of the century, there were some intense confrontations between differing majorities. 100 years ago, nearly all official fixings were made for 1/1/1901, except in Germany, what was caused by a desire of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Ultimately, that was a redefinition of the term "century", in a way which could not last for long. E.g. the (German) dtv Brockhaus Lexikon writes about the term "century": ... the 20th century began on January 1, 1901 and will finish on December 31, 2000. (translated)
Concerning the new millennium, e.g. the U.S. government gives a statement referring to the U.S. Naval Observatory, with the result 1/1/2001. The German Bundestag did not have to decide about this question, because the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt has already given clear statements, with the same result, of course.
? Today's knowledge says that Jesus Christ was born at least 2 years before year 1. Those who celebrated the millennium at the end of 2000, were further in time from the real event.
5 Surely it's right to assume that the majority of those who enthusiastically dealt with the new millennium, wanted to relate it to our era, not to the exact day of the birth of Jesus Christ. Those who wanted to celebrate the 2000th birthday of Jesus Christ should really have done that during the nineties. But even the newest information about the birth year of Christ has a tolerance of more than one year and did not lead to a redefinition of chronology in any country of the world.
? If you talk about "the nineties", you mean the years 1990 through 1999. Thus, the new decade started in 2000, and the same applies to the new century and the new millennium.
6 Of course, nobody would say that the nineties would comprise the years 1991 through 2000. But the conclusion that the nineties were identical to a certain decade of our era (the 200th), would be taking a step too far. The first decade of our era comprised the years 1 through 10, the second the years 11 through 20, and so on as described above. So if you said: "In the twenties of our era, Jesus Christ began healing people", you would surely mean the years 20 through 29, because they all have a 2 at the decimal place and are all spoken "twenty-...". But the 3rd decade of our era comprised the years 21 through 30. Thus, these are independent expressions which - related to the beginning of our era - can not be identical.
Now that already hundreds of decades of our era have passed, it's just understandable that the relation of a decade to our era is not made correctly by any of us. A decade is a long period, but for a human being still easy to survey, and normally there is no reason to relate it to the beginning of our era. And so you correctly take the word "decade" as a synonym for any continuous period of 10 years, e.g. we all surely celebrated "the new decade" at the beginning of 1990. Why not? As long as nobody comes up with the beginning of our era ...
But if not hundreds of millennia of our era have passed and we talk about a very special event (because we can't experience it every couple of years), then we should know very well when we celebrate what. And nobody will call into question that the celebrated millenium should be related to the beginning of our era.
? The years 19xx belonged to the 20th century. Or, as a rule: If you want to know the century of a year number, add 1 to the term for the hundreds. By that, we see that the year 2000 already belonged to the 21st century. Thus, the 2nd millennium finished at the end of the year 1999.
7 That's a good rule, but it is only 99 % true. Every historian or mathematician will agree that the 1st century of our era comprised the years 1 through 100. Thus, the rule is not true for the year 100, because it did not belong to the 2nd century. The year 2000 was the last year of the 20th century, and the 21st century started with the year 2001, as well as the 3rd millennium of our era.
There is no problem if you apply the mentioned rule for global statements where 1 year makes no difference. Example: The electric telegraphy revolutionized the transmission of news during the 19th century.
But concerning exact, e.g. historical or statistical informations, it is necessary to resist against each single wrong use of century information. The British Queen Victoria died during the first days of the 20th century, that is on January 22, 1901. Before the end of the year 2000, nobody was able to give the number of deaths by traffic in Germany during the 20th century, because the 20th century finished not before December 31, 2000.
Concerning celebrations, we don't need to be punctilious. But exact informations in media or scientific publications really have to be exact. Everything that happened during the year 2000, happened towards the end of the 20th century; concerning this fact there should be no tolerance for deviating opinions.
? What is with all the people who made expensive voyages because of the millennium at the end of 1999? We never heard of a firm that was sentenced to repeat the "millennium voyage" one year later with the same people free of charge.
8 It's surely right to assume that sellers as well as buyers of goods and services related to the millennium initially believed that the new millennium would begin with the year 2000 (positive exceptions exist, e.g. Millennium 2001, Inc.). Probably, many people will have to live with the fact that they celebrated the change of all digits (2000) with the expenditure that was originally intended for the millennium.
However, facts can't be removed by economic considerations.
? It's all the dogmatism of boring know-alls! We had a great celebration when the year 2000 came, and what we celebrated was the millennium!
9 The start of the year 2000 for itself was already worth to be celebrated greatly. And that - without some reflection - the word "millennium" was taken as a synonym for it, is not a bad mistake, perhaps except for historians and mathematicians, if any of them should use this word this careless. If you know a historian or mathematician (or similar professions), simply talk with her/him about this. If you don't know one, a schoolgirl/-boy with interest for mathematics might be enough. The facts are (see above) quite simple.
At the end of 1999, you could already find many remarks to the correct date of the millennium. But the "millennium fever" had already broken out, and so the word "millennium" was often heard at that turn of the year.
Near the end of 2000, many people had got the information that the millennium was still forthcoming, and many people may have celebrated it accordingly.
Those who had this information before the beginning of 2000 (for what this web page was made available early enough), had the chance to celebrate the year 2000 for itself and to welcome the millennium one year later. Not a few may have celebrated the millennium twice, what tells us something good about their flexibility.
In 1999, I got to know an argument for celebrating the millennium at 1/1/2000, that seemed not too bad to me: "Imagine, during the year 2000, the 1/1/2000 proves to be the correct millenium date. If we had not celebrated the millennium then, we couldn't celebrate the millenium at all." Thus, those who celebrated twice, were on the secure side, what isn't wrong in other situations, too.

!English websites that give a correct view of the facts (there are German sites, too):
(This list is no longer maintained after 1/1/2001, so some links may be dead.)


Many thanks to Dr. Arndt Brendecke (historian at the University of Munich and author of the book "Die Jahrhundertwenden. Eine Geschichte ihrer Wahrnehmung und Wirkung", Campus Verlag 1999) for expert support during the completion of this page.
Many thanks to David Williams from Great Britain for corrections to the English translation of the first version. This text is for all English speaking people, so I left some Americanisms.

The original version of this text was written in 1999 and has been adapted to the view from the year 2000 (with supplements) and meanwhile to the view from the year 2001.

Feedback to this page is welcome to the author, Walter Schittek:
Please understand that I can't reply to each mail because I'm very busy within and without employment.