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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An era is a commonly used word for long period of time. When used in science, for example geology, eras denote clearly defined periods of time of arbitrary but well defined length, such as for example the Mesozoic era from 252 Ma–66 Ma, delimited by a start event and an end event. When used in social history, eras may for example denote a period of some monarch's reign. In colloquial language, eras denote longer spans of time, before and after which the practices or fashions change to a significant degree.



In chronology, an era is the highest level for the organization of the measurement of time. A calendar era indicates a span of many years which are numbered beginning at a specific reference date (epoch), which often marks the origin of a political state or cosmology, dynasty, ruler, the birth of a leader, or another significant historical or mythological event; it is generally called after its focus accordingly as in Victorian era.


Regnal eras

The word era also denotes the units used under a different, more arbitrary system where time is not represented as an endless continuum with a single reference year, but each unit starts counting from one again, as if time starts again. Such rather impractical system — a nightmare for historians once a single piece of the puzzle is missing — is the use of regnal years, which often reflects the preponderance in public life of the absolute ruler in many ancient cultures, while such tradition sometimes outlives the political power of the throne.

In East Asia, each emperor's reign may be subdivided into several reign periods, each being treated as a new era. The name of each was a motto or slogan chosen by the emperor. Different East Asian countries utilized slightly different systems, notably:

A similar practice survived in the United Kingdom until quite recently, but only for formal official writings: in daily life the ordinary year A.D. was used since long, but Acts of Parliament were dated according to the years of the reign of the current Monarch, so that "61 & 62 Vict c. 37" refers to the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 passed in the session of Parliament in the 61st/62nd year of the reign of Queen Victoria.

Geological era

In natural science, there is need for another time perspective, independent from human activity, and indeed spanning a far longer period (mainly prehistoric), where geologic era refers to well-defined time spans. The next-larger division of geologic time is the eon, but only the current eon, the Phanerozoic, is subdivided into eras.[1] There are currently three eras defined in the geological record; the following table lists them from youngest to oldest (BP is an abbreviation for "before present").

Era[2] Beginning (millions of years BP) End (millions of years BP)
Cenozoic era 70 0
Mesozoic era 225 70
Paleozoic era 570 225

Cosmological era

In astronomy the periods are even longer, to cover the entire existence of the universe (in the order of 13.7 billion years), but usually just denoted in numerical units, as there is no significant link to any earthly reality, our planet being astronomically insignificant (except as the only known observation point).

Religious era

The term Christian era refers to Anno Domini, the time when Jesus was born, while the expressions Jewish era and Islamic era indicates the time since those said religions began.

Colloquial "eras"

In common speech and various contexts, the term era is also used, by extension, for any (as a rule relatively long) period in history with a name, often relating to common characteristic(s), even if this is not the normal way to organize time. The most relevant type are politic periods, for example: the Roman era, the Elizabethan era, the Victorian era (dynastic criteria, only formally correct within the British realm/empire/Commonwealth) and the Soviet era, or comparable literary notions like the Biblical era.

The word era is also popularly used to denote the passing of — often shorter — periods that are only defined in terms of a specific discipline of sphere of life, such as the prominence of an artistic style, or more specifically in music, see musical eras, described in History of music, such as the Big Band era, Disco era. An event such as the death of Frank Sinatra is poetically called the end of an era.


The word has been in use in English since 1615, and is derived from Late Latin aera "an era or epoch from which time is reckoned," probably identical to Latin æra "counters used for calculation," plural of æs "brass, money".

The Latin word's use in chronology seems to have begun in 5th century Visigothic Spain, where it appears in the History of Isidore of Seville, and in later texts. The Spanish era is calculated from 38 BC, perhaps because of a tax (cfr. indiction) levied in that year, or due to a miscalculation of the Battle of Actium, which occurred in 31 BC.

Like epoch, "era" in English originally meant "the starting point of an age"; the meaning "system of chronological notation" is c.1646; that of "historical period" is 1741.


  1. ^ Short, N.M. (2009). "Geologic Time" in Remote Sensing Tutorial. NASA.
  2. ^ Lide, D. R. (1990). Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Boca Raton: CRC Press. p. 14-6.

See also


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also era, erä, eră, ēra, ERA, -era, and -erà


Proper noun

Era f

  1. Hera


Simple English

The English Wiktionary has a dictionary definition (meanings of a word) for:

An era is a very long time, probably millions of years. Scientists talk about eras like the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs lived on the Earth.

Earth's existence is separated by geologists into even longer times called eons. A number of eras make up an eon.

We are now in the Cenozoic Era of the Phanerozoic Eon. Cenozoic is from a Greek word meaning new life, that is, the time of the newest life on Earth.

The Phanerozoic Eon started about 545 million years ago. It is made up of the Paleozoic (from the Greek for "oldest life") Era, the Mesozoic ("middle life") Era and the Cenozoic Era.

The Paleozoic Era started about 545 million years ago, then the Cenozoic Era started about 248 million years ago. This was followed by our era, the Cenozoic Era, which started about 65 million years ago.


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