I suspect historians have a more concise way of referencing [[the people alive in the 17th century]] than people alive in the 17th century. Do they call them 17th centurians, for example?
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Historians refer to them as the contemporaries/a contemporary of the x century, or the x century contemporaries/an x century contemporary.
contemporary: a person living around the same time.
To refer to people who lived in past centuries you may use the following expression: