Searcher The Millennium Issue Volume 8, Number 1 • January 2000

Web-only supplement to The Millennium Issue

On October 23, 999 A.D., Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert of Aurillac) ordered King Olaf Trygvesson of Norway to revoke the use of runic letters, a pagan alphabet, and adopt the Latin or Roman alphabet.  Obedience was a condition for Norway’s recognition as a Christian nation.

In 1 A.D., the city of Rome had a population of around one million.  By 1000 A.D., the population had shrunk to 50,000.

In the 990s, a quarrel broke out between the leading clerics of Rheims, high point of learning in Christian Europe, and Roman archbishops.  The French clerics condemned the Vatican practice of erasing ancient manuscripts containing Greek and Roman literature of the sciences and humanities.  The Vatican clergy used the recovered sheets to record the lives of saints.  The French intellectuals claimed that without the knowledge of the classics, “a man is incapable of being even a doorkeeper.”  Rome disagreed.

Beginning in the 800s, the monastery of Santa Maria de Rispoll in Spain translated Arabic scholarship into Latin.  The Mozarabic monks sent their translations north to the abbeys of Cluny and St. Gall.

In the late 900s, no public libraries existed in Christian Europe, while Moorish Spain had more than 70, as well as 17 universities in comparison to Christian Europe’s two.

Between 961 and 976 A.D., Caliph Al Hakkam II established the central library of Cordoba with a collection of over 400,000 books.

In the 980s, Al Mansor, ruler of Moorish Spain, combated an Islamic heresy called Mu’tazilism, which asserted the primacy of reason and the free will over predestination, by ordering the identification of all “dangerous” works found in the Cordoba library of his predecessor, the largest library in Europe.  Almost one-tenth of the collection was destroyed, over 40,000 manuscripts.

In 1000 A.D., Leif Ericson discovered North America at Vinland (A.K.A. Newfoundland).  The news did not get around.

Natural vegetable dyes could produce bright colors - reds, greens, and yellows.  But the button had not yet been invented.  People fastened clothes with clasps and thongs.

By 1000 A.D., England had around one million inhabitants.  Most adults died in their forties.  Fifty year olds were considered long lived. Girls married in their early teens.  A boy of twelve was old enough to swear allegiance to the king.

The Venerable Bede popularized the use of the Anno Domini (“Year of our Lord”) system in his famous treatise, De Temporum Ratione (“On the Reckoning of Time”), written in 725 A.D, and used it throughout his monumental Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731).  The original suggestion for dating the Christian era from the birth of Christ came from the sixth century  Easter calculations of Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little).  Dionysius’ calculations were a little off — for one thing he lacked the zero — and Jesus Christ was actually born in 4 B.C., by current calculations.

Alternative calendars date time differently.  In the Jewish calendar, this is 5760; in the Buddhist, 2544; in the Moslem, 1420.

When Neil Armstong set foot on the moon in 1969, all the words of his first statement — “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” — were current in the Old English language of the year 1000. The English language in the year 1000 came from a merger of original Englisc and Norse from the Danish or Viking colonists.  The merging of the two traditions led to elimination of complicated word endings, e.g. in the standard use of the “s” for pluralization.  Also, unlike every other major European language, English has no masculine and feminine division of nouns.  Today’s and tomorrow’s searchers might sigh with gratitude over these early developments, were it not for the masses of synonyms the merger also introduced.  In 1066, with the Norman Conquest, French and Latin synonyms would further multiply the future size of Roget’s Thesaurus, the Boolean nests of professional searchers, and the challenge of automating concept formation.

In the year 1000, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, established by King Alfred the Great, had recorded English history for just over a century.  Monasteries from all over the kingdom worked on the compilation.

“The modern chronicler of, say, sexual behaviour at the end of the second millennium already has thirty-six cartons of documents to cover the highjinks of the President of the United States alone — which is thirty or more than the storage space occupied by the modern transcripts of everything surviving in Englisc.” [Lacy and Danziger, The Year 1000, 1998]

A Burgundian monk, Ralph Glaber, wrote a history in which he warned of the apocalyptic destruction posed by the year 1000.  As one piece of evidence, he reported on a comet that appeared in 989:

“It appeared in the month of September; not long after nightfall, and remained visible for nearly three months.  It shone so brightly that its light seemed to fill the greater part of the sky, then it vanished at cock’s crow.  But whether it is a new star which God launches into space, or whether He merely increases the normal brightness of another star, only He can decide....What appears established with the greatest degree of certainty is that this phenomenon in the sky never appears to men without being the sure sign of some mysterious and terrible event.”

Today we call it Halley’s comet.

People of the First Millennium worried about the arrival of the Second Millennium had two sources of concern.  Apocalyptic warnings posited two candidate years — 1000, the millennial anniversary of the Birth of Christ, or 1033, the millennial anniversary of Christ’s Death. In 1030, heresy broke out among the Lombards.  Horrendous famines forced many people across Europe into cannibalism.  “Uh-oh,” alarmists must have thought.

The year 1000 saw the introduction of the zero, mathematical infinity, and Hindu-Arabic numerals into Christian Europe, all with the active support of Pope Sylvester II.  The Arabic numerals, first found in a Western document in 976, worked with the new calculating device called the abacus. The abacus, the first computer, revolutionized business and science.  Rather than the familiar counting frame and beads associated with the abacus today, the early version used in Western Europe had a checkered table with counters — hence the “government counting house” or treasury became the Exchequer in England.

Calculating with Roman numerals was very difficult and cumbersome for everyone, but probably more difficult in England than elsewhere.  The Anglo-Saxons used an older style of Roman numbering.  For them, the year 999 was written DCCCCLXXXXIIIJ.  (Think how glad they must have been to see the arrival of the year “M”.)  The scholar Alcuin considered 9000 — i.e., MMMMMMMMM — as the highest number possible for serious figuring   England did not see the introduction of the abacus until after 1066.  It took centuries for Arabic numerals to replace the Roman throughout Europe.

If Third Millennium “newbies” look back on the year 1000 A.D., what would each pick as the most unexpected absence?  Two possible candidates are Last Names and the Period.  As the Second Millennium began, generations of people lived and died in the same small geographic space.  Everyone who needed to know who they were, did.  Most individuals did not have Last Names.  As for the Period — known to the Third Millennium as the Dot — that punctuation symbol received its current dominance from Aldus Manutius the Younger, who set the standard for separating sentences in a manual for typographers issued in 1566.

— bq
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