Socrates lived in the 4th century (B.C.). My kids live in the 21st century, and so forth.

What is the most concise way to reference a historical figure, like Livy, who lived from 59 B.C. to A.D. 17? It seems cumbersome to say he lived from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D.. I considered saying he lived at the turn of the 1st millennium but not sure if that is standard.

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    No, that’s definitely not standard. I can see why it would mean the right thing, but even so “at the turn of the first millennium” still intuitively sounds like he lived from AD 959 to 1017. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 8:51

1 Answer 1


How to properly reference the century one lived in when their lives cross from B.C. to A.D

Something seems wrong with this question. If someone's life spans over two different centuries, why would you ask how to reference "the century" one lived in?

Anyway, sorry if that was a petty quibble. I do understand your question. You can say Shakespeare lived during the 16th and 17 centuries, but what do you say when referring to a period overlapping both Common Era and before Common Era.

Well as far as I've seen writers probably either avoid it or have no reason for such an expression, as they will probably say something like "He lived from 59 BC to 17 AD."

However if you really want to use the construction "He lived during the X and Y centuries", though I'm not sure I'm recommend it, you could say:

  • "He lived during the first centuries BC and AD."


... writings of the two great Jewish scholars Hillel (1st century BC) and Philo of Alexandria (1st centuries BC and AD), and in the Analects of Confucius (6th and 5th Centuries BC).
Believers and Brothers: A History of Uneasy Relationship, 2009

In the 1st centuries BC and AD, terracotta lamps were mainly produced in Italy and were mass-exported.
Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, 2004

... the six Dacian Fortresses of the Orăștie Mountains, in Romania, were created in the 1st centuries BC and AD as protection against Roman conquest,...
Dacian Fortresses of the Orăștie Mountains (Wikipedia article)

Orlo bifido pans were common in the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., but their popularity declined thereafter;
Hellenistic Pottery: The Plain Wares, 2006

If you search yourself for this construction, there is no shortage of it in use, both generally on the net and in book publications. As I said though, I'm not particularly recommending it.

  • Regarding the first example, Hillel lived until 10 CE. In that case, why didn't the author write "1st centuries BC and AD" for him too? There seems to be a arbitrary authorial rule beyond technically in the first century CE/AD that is being applied for the construction, and it's not clear that someone only living until 17 AD would always be referred to as being in two centuries. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 3:27
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    @TaliesinMerlin That's true, some writers refer to one century where referring to two centuries is more accurate. I have no idea what the purpose behind this is. I can't speak for the Hillel case, but from reading other examples it seemed that mentioning only one century was enough of a broad-brush stroke to convey whatever needed conveying, ie., it seemed accurate enough. Though I can't surely know their reasons for doing this. I agree that a lot of it probably comes down to the discretion of the writer.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 3:39

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