Seleucid era

The Seleucid era ("SE") or Anno Graecorum (literally "year of the Greeks" or "Greek year"), sometimes denoted "AG," was a system of numbering years in use by the Seleucid Empire and other countries among the ancient Hellenistic civilizations. It is sometimes referred to as "the dominion of the Seleucidæ," or the Year of Alexander. The era dates from Seleucus I Nicator's re-conquest of Babylon in 312/11 BCE after his exile in Ptolemaic Egypt,[1] considered by Seleucus and his court to mark the founding of the Seleucid Empire. According to Jewish tradition, it was during the sixth year of Alexander the Great's reign (lege: possibly Alexander the Great's infant son, Alexander IV of Macedon) that they began to make use of this counting.[2] The introduction of the new era is mentioned in one of the Babylonian Chronicles, the Chronicle of the Diadochi.[3]

Two different variations of the Seleucid years existed, one where the year started in spring and another where it starts in autumn:

  1. The natives of the empire used the Babylonian calendar, in which the new year falls on 1 Nisanu (3 April in 311 BCE), so in this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds roughly to April 311 BC to March 310 BCE. This included the inhabitants of Coele-Syria, notably the Jews who call it the Era of Contracts (Hebrew: מניין שטרות, minyan shtarot).
  2. The Macedonian court adopted the Babylonian calendar (substituting the Macedonian month names) but reckoned the new year to be in the autumn (the exact date is unknown). In this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds to the period from autumn 312 BCE to summer 311 BCE. By the 7th century CE / 10th AG, the west Syrian Christians settled on 1 October-to-30 September.[4] Jews, however, reckon the start of each new Seleucid year with the lunar month Tishri.[5]

These differences in the beginning of the year means that dates differ by one if they fall between spring and autumn. Notably, the Jewish historical book 1 Maccabees generally uses the Babylonian and Judean year count (1 Maccabees 6:20, 1 Maccabees 7:1, 9:3, 10:1, etc.).[6] However, the book 2 Maccabees exclusively uses the Macedonian version of the calendar, likely because it was written in either Cyprus or Egypt.[7] (Both books are regarded as either canonical or deuterocanonical by certain Christian denominations.) Elias Bickerman gives this example:

For instance, the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus, approximately 15 December 164 BC, fell in the year 148 of the Seleucid Era according to Jewish (and Babylonian) calculation, but in the year 149 for the court.[8]

The Seleucid era was used as late as the 6th century CE, for instance in the Zabad trilingual inscription in Syria, dated the 24th of Gorpiaios, 823 (24 September, 512 CE),[9] and in the writings of John of Ephesus.[10] Syriac chroniclers continued to use it up to Michael the Syrian in the 12th century CE / 15th century AG.[4] It has been found on Central Asian tombstones of Christians belonging to the Church of the East well into the 14th century CE.[11]

The Seleucid era counting, or "era of contracts" (minyan sheṭarot), was used by Yemenite Jews in their legal deeds and contracts until modern times,[12] a practice derived from an ancient Jewish teaching in the Talmud, requiring all Diaspora Jews to uphold its practice.[13] For this reason, the Seleucid era counting is mentioned in the Book of Maccabees (I Macc. i. 11) and in the writings of the historian, Josephus. The Seleucid era counting fell into disuse among most Jewish communities, following Rabbi David ben Zimra's cancellation of the practice when he served as Chief Rabbi of Egypt.[14]


  1. ^ Denis C. Feeney, Caesar's Calendar, University of California Press, Berkeley 2007, p. 139.
  2. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10a), Rabbeinu Hananel's Commentary; RASHI's commentary on Babylonian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 9a); Sefer Hakabbalah of Rabbi Avraham ben David (Ravad); Midrash David on Mishnah Tractate Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6)
  3. ^ Babylonian Diadochi Chronicle (BCHP) 3; obverse, line 4.
  4. ^ a b Andrew Palmer (1993). The Seventh Century. Liverpool University Press. pp. xxxiv, xxxvii, lii–lviii.
  5. ^ Emil Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, vol. 1, Leipzig 1886–1890; 4th edition 1901–1909, pp. 36–46; Mishnah, Rosh HaShanah 1:1
  6. ^ Schürer, Emil (1890). A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. T&T Clark. pp. 36–44.
  7. ^ Bar-Kochva, Bezalel (1989). Judas Maccabaeus: The Jewish Struggle Against the Seleucids. Cambridge University Press. p. 543. ISBN 0521323525.
  8. ^ Bickerman, Elias J. (1943). "Notes on Seleucid and Parthian Chronology". Berytus. 8: 73–84.
  9. ^ M. A. Kugener, Nouvelle Note Sur L'Inscription Trilingue De Zébed, Rivista degli Studi Orientali (1907), pp. 577-586.
  10. ^ Peter Charanis, On the Question of the Hellenization of Sicily and Southern Italy During the Middle Ages, American Historical Review, 52:1 (1946), p. 82.
  11. ^ Syriac Gravestones from Central Asia
  12. ^ Sar-Shalom, Rahamim (1984). She'harim La'Luah Ha'ivry (Gates to the Hebrew Calendar) (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv. p. 164 (Seleucid era counting). OCLC 854906532.
  13. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 10a, which reads: “Said Rav Nahman: 'In the Diaspora, it is not permissible to count [the date in years] except only by the kings of the Grecians'.”
  14. ^ Chaim Yosef David Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim [Ma'arekhet Gedolim], ed. Yitzhak Isaac Ben-Yaaqov, (the Letters Daleth), Vienna 1864, s.v. מהר"ר דוד ן' זמרא, p. 19 (section 16 - ז) (Hebrew)


  • Robert Harry van Gent. The Babylonian Calendar. Has a date converter based on Parker & Dubberstein (1971).
  • Kosmin, Paul J. (2018). Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674976931.
  • Kosmin, Paul J. (7 May 2019). "A revolution in time". aeon. Retrieved 12 January 2020. Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again.
  • Strootman, Rolf (2015). "Seleucid Era". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Leiden: Brill. Retrieved 14 May 2021.