Epoch (reference date)

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In the fields of chronology and periodization, an epoch means an instant in time chosen as the origin of a particular era. The "epoch" then serves as a reference point from which time is measured. Time measurement units are counted from the epoch so that the date and time of events can be specified unambiguously.

Events taking place before the epoch can be dated by counting negatively from the epoch, though in pragmatic periodization practice, epochs are defined for the past, and another epoch is used to start the next era, therefore serving as the ending of the older preceding era. The whole purpose and criteria of such definitions is to clarify and co-ordinate scholarship about a period, at times, across disciplines.

Epochs are generally chosen to be convenient or significant by a consensus of the time scale's initial users, or by authoritarian fiat. The epoch moment or date is usually defined by a specific clear event, condition, or criteria— the epoch event or epoch criteria —from which the period or era or age is usually characterized or described.

Examples:

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Calendars

Each calendar era starts from an arbitrary epoch, which is often chosen to commemorate an important historical or mythological event. For example, the epoch of the anno Domini calendar era (the civil calendar era used internationally and in many countries) is the traditionally-reckoned Incarnation of Jesus.[1] Many other current and historical calendar eras exist, each with its own epoch.

Asian national eras

  • The official Japanese system numbers years from the accession of the current emperor, regarding the calendar year during which the accession occurred as the first year.
  • A similar system existed in China before 1912, being based on the accession year of the emperor (1911 was thus the fourth year of the Xuantong period). With the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, the republican era was introduced. It is still very common in Taiwan to date events via the republican era. The People's Republic of China adopted the common era calendar in 1949 (the 38th year of the Chinese Republic).
  • In India, the Indian national calendar follows the Saka era
  • North Korea uses a system that starts in 1912 (= Juche 1), the year of the birth of their founder Kim Il-Sung. The year 2009 is "Juche 98". Juche means "autarky, self-reliance".
  • In Thailand in 1888 King Chulalongkorn decreed a National Thai Era dating from the founding of Bangkok on April 6, 1782. In 1912, New Year's Day was shifted to April 1. In 1941, Prime Minister Phibunsongkhram decided to count the years since 543 BC. This is the Thai solar calendar using the Thai Buddhist Era. Except for this era, it is the Gregorian calendar.

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