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
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.
That's it. If you're convinced already, you need not continue reading.
Except to collect responses for arguments that may come.
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.
Here are possible objections from people who don't give up quickly.
All the following is intended to deal with such objections.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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".
When talking about the age of people, we mostly speak about e.g. the 19th
(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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
Concerning the new millennium, e.g. the
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
that happened during the year 2000, happened towards the end of the 20th
century; concerning this fact there should be no tolerance for deviating
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.
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!
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.
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)
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
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.
websites that give a correct view of the facts (there are German
(This list is no longer maintained after 1/1/2001, so some links may
Royal Greenwich Observatory, Information Leaflet No. 52: The
Year AD 2000.
Official statement of the U.S. government: When
is the Millennium?
U.S. Naval Observatory, subject: When
Is the New Millennium?
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (Germany), subject: Gregorian
Munich Astro Archive, Astronomical Calendars, subject: Gregorian
Millennium Page of Billy
Enigmar Godfrey, a pioneer of the subject 1/1/2001, with links.
difference between the Millennium and year 2000.
Ian Chadwick, What's
so special about the year 2000? Very detailed and with many links.
Phil Konstantin, January
1, 2000 was NOT the first day of the new millennium. With many links.
column, Parade Magazine, December 22, 1996, subject: Year 2000.
Millennium 2001, Inc. offers clothing
with MillenniuM2001 logo.
to the next Millennium.
By the way, in each encyclopedia that mentions an end date at the headword
"millennium" or "century", you will find the date December 31, 2000 and
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
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.