Regnal year

A regnal year is a year of the reign of a sovereign, from the Latin regnum meaning kingdom, rule. Regnal years considered the date as an ordinal, not a cardinal number. For example, a monarch could have a first year of rule, a second year of rule, a third year of rule, and so on, but not a zeroth year of rule.

Applying this ancient epoch system to modern calculations of time, which include zero, is what led to the debate over when the third millennium began. Regnal years are "finite era names", contrary to "infinite era names" such as Christian era, Jimmu era, Juche era, and so on.

Early use

In ancient times, calendars were counted in terms of the number of years of the reign of the current monarch. Reckoning long periods of times required a king list. The oldest such reckoning is preserved in the Sumerian king list. Ancient Egyptian chronology was also dated using regnal years. The Zoroastrian calendar also operated with regnal years following the reform of Ardashir I in 3rd century.

The Canon of Kings is a list that dates the reigns of various Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, Egyptian, and Roman monarchs, that was used by ancient astronomers as a way to date astronomical phenomena. The Liberian Catalogue is a similar list of popes of Early Christianity, that was used to date early events in the religion's history.

Sinosphere era names

Regnal years were generally used for year marking in the Chinese cultural sphere before the advent of era names. In China, the first continuous use of era names was in 140 BC, during the rule of the Emperor Wu of Han.[1][2] Prior to that, years were usually marked as regnal years of the monarch.

Since 140 BC, era names served as titles for the purpose of numbering and identifying years. Era names were used for over two millennia by Chinese emperors and are still used in Japan.[3]

The Lanfang Republic era, Republic of Formosa era and Republic of China calendar are systems adapted from the traditional era name system, but they are not effectively era names. The Confucius era and Juche era are based on the year of birth of the thinker or eternal president. The Huangdi era, Dangun era and kōki were counted in terms of the number of years of the reign of the first monarch.

As a result of Chinese cultural influence, other polities in the SinosphereKorea, Vietnam and Japan—also adopted the concept of era name as a result of Chinese cultural influence.[2][3][4]

Abolished era names may be reused, for example as a means of claiming or denying political legitimacy. An example of this is, that when the Yongle emperor usurped the throne from his nephew he dated the year of his accession as "洪武三十五年", the 35th year of his father, the Hongwu Emperor's reign, i.e. 1402. Hongwu had in fact died in 1398, and the short reign of the Jianwen Emperor, who ruled between 1398 and 1402 was written out of the official record. However, they would sometimes still be used. 景初四年 (240) was used on Japanese bronze mirrors.[5] 廣德四年 (766) and 建中八年 (787) were used in a Western Regions tomb and a document.[6] Kuchlug did not change the era name.[clarification needed]

After the Ming Dynasty fell, the Joseon Dynasty still used Chongzhen, and the Kingdom of Tungning still used Yongli regnal years,[7] thus denying the legitimacy of the Qing dynasty, and showing continued allegiance to the Ming regime.

The short lived Daxi kingdom, post Zhang Xianzhong, used the Ganzhi calendar without era names. Overseas Chinese used Longfei (龍飛) or Tianyun (天運).[8]


Chinese era names (年號, niánhào) were used since 140 BC. Until 1367 AD several were used during each emperor's reign. From 1368 AD until 1912 AD only one era name was used by each emperor, who was posthumously known by his era name, which meant that the era name became equivalent to a regnal year. The tradition of Chinese era names survives in the Republic of China's Minguo calendar, with Minguo, the Chinese for Republic, taking the place of the era name.


The official Japanese system or Gengō (元号) numbers years from the accession of the current emperor, regarding the calendar year during which the accession occurred as the first year. The system was in use sporadically from 645 and continuously from 701. Until 1867 several era names were used during each emperor's reign. From 1868 only one has been used by each emperor. Since 1868 each emperor has been known posthumously by his era name.

The current emperor, Naruhito succeeded to the throne on 1 May 2019, after his father Akihito abdicated the throne, citing age and poor health.[9] The name of his era is Reiwa, which was formally announced by the Government of Japan a month before Naruhito succeeded the throne, on 1 April 2019. Therefore, 1 May 2019 is considered the beginning of the Reiwa 1.

The former emperor, Akihito, succeeded the throne on 7 January 1989 on the death of his father Emperor Shōwa, with the name Heisei decreed as the name of his regnal era by the Cabinet. Thus the year 1989 corresponds to Heisei 1 (平成元年, Heisei gannen, or "first year").

Era names of Modern Japan (from 1868 CE)
Gregorian yearEra nameEra name (Kanji)Emperor
1868 CEMeiji明治Meiji (Mutsuhito)
1912 CETaishō大正Taishō (Yoshihito)
1926 CEShōwa昭和Shōwa (Hirohito)
1989 CEHeisei平成Akihito
2019 CEReiwa令和Naruhito


The use of era names was common throughout the various historical states that occupied the Korean peninsula. Korean endemic eras were used from 391 to 1274 and from 1894 to 1910. During the later years of the Joseon Dynasty, years were also numbered from the founding of that dynasty in 1393. From 1952 until 1961, years were numbered in Dangi in South Korea, counting from the legendary founding of Gojoseon in 2333 BC.

During the Joseon Dynasty, Korea used Chinese era names as a demonstration of its respect and loyalty to Ming and Qing dynasty of China.[7] Even after the Ming Dynasty was replaced by Qing, Koreans continued to use the Ming era names, using the era name of the last Ming emperor, the Chongzhen Emperor, after his death in 1644,[7] and continued to do so for nearly 200 years.[citation needed] However, this was done mostly privately, because of the pressure exerted by the Qing government.[citation needed]

The tradition of Korean era names survives in the North Korean Juche calendar, with Juche year 1 being 1912 the year of the birth of Kim Il-sung.


The use of era names in Vietnamese history starts since the middle of the 6th century CE, when independent Vietnamese dynasties started to proclaim their own era names.[2][4][3] The titles were adopted in historical Vietnam for the purpose of year identification and numbering. It continued until 1945 when the reign of Nguyễn dynasty came to an end.




The Anka year (Odia: ଅଙ୍କ Aṅka) system is a unique regnal year system instituted by the Eastern Ganga kings for dating their reigns. It had a number of features that mark the regnal year different from that actual duration of the year elapsed during the reign. The system still survives today and is used in the Odia panjis to mark the titular regnal year of the King of Puri, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb of the Eastern Gangas of Puri, whose title carries the legacy of historical ruling monarchs of Odisha. It is also known as the Odisha style of dating.[10][11][12][13]


  • The Anka system always starts on the Odia fiscal new year called Sunia which falls on the 12th day of the bright fortnight of the month Bhadra (August-September) known as Bhādra Sukḷa Dwādasi. If the king accedes the throne for a few days before this date, then the first year of his reign would then just be a few days long.
  • Coins were minted on the date of the new year and hence the first coins were given the Anka year 2, the number 1 was not used.
  • All years ending in 6 were skipped. As in the Anka year 5 was followed by Anka year 7, Anka year 15 was followed by Anka year 17 and so on.
  • All years ending in 0 were also skipped, except for the Anka year 10.

Hence no Anka years exist for 1, 6, 16, 20, 26, 30, 36, 40, 46, 50, 56 and so on.

Timeline of actual Regnal year and Anka year (shown till regnal year 30)
Regnal year 123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930
Anka year 23457891011121314151718192122232425272829313233343537
Regnal & Anka year of Gajapati king of Puri
(titular reign since 7 July 1970)
Gregorian yearRegnal yearOdia yearAnka year
2021 CE50୧୪୨୮ ଉତ୍କଳାବ୍ଦ
1428 Utkaḷābda
୬୩ ଅଙ୍କ

Commonwealth realms

Regnal years continues to see limited use in the Commonwealth realms, a group of sixteen sovereign states that share the same monarch. The present conventions for regnal years in the Commonwealth realms originates with the Kingdom of England, which used regnal years to date its public documents. The start of a new regnal era in the English regnal dating system originally began on the date of the monarch's coronation. However, the system was changed in 1307 to begin on the date the monarch succeeds the throne, beginning with the ascension of Edward II.[14]

The regnal years used throughout the Commonwealth realms are identical to one another, as they share the same line of succession. The present monarch, Elizabeth II, became the sovereign on 6 February 1952, after the death of her father George VI. Thus, 6 February 1952 is considered the beginning of the year 1 Eliz. 2; with the last day of each Eliz. 2 regnal year being 5 February.

Gregorian yearRegnal yearMonarch
2021 CE69 Eliz. 2 – 70 Eliz. 2Elizabeth II


The regnal dating system is used in the numbering system for all Acts of the Parliament of Canada. All Acts are given an individual chapter number, assigned by its numeric order of when it received royal assent, along with the regnal year, and the name of the reigning Monarch of Canada.[15] The use of regnal years in legal citations is acceptable in Canadian legal practices, although usage of the Gregorian calendar is more common.[16]

The use of the regnal year was used throughout the legislative sessional volumes of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, until it was replaced by the calendar year in 1949. However, the regnal year continues to be used on the title pages of the legislature's sessional volumes.[16]

United Kingdom

The use of regnal years in the United Kingdom originated in England, a country of the United Kingdom. The regnal dating system was used to date documents of parliamentary sessions until 1963, when it began to date its documents using the Gregorian calendar.[14] The change to the Gregorian calendar was legislated under the Acts of Parliament Numbering and Citation Act 1962.

Similar practices

While not strictly a regnal year, time in the United States of America can be derived from the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776). For example, the U.S. Constitution is dated as signed in "the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth," and Presidential proclamations will often be ended "IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this [ordinal] day of [month], in the year of our Lord [year], and of the Independence of the United States of America the [year]." 2021 is the 246th year of the Independence of the United States of America on and after July 4 of that year. Time is also sometimes reckoned in terms (and sessions, if necessary) of Congress; e.g. House of Representatives Bill 2 of the 112th Congress is dated "112th CONGRESS, 1st Session".[17]


  1. Lü, Zongli (2003). Power of the words: Chen prophecy in Chinese politics, AD 265-618. ISBN 9783906769561.
  2. Sogner, Sølvi (2001). Making Sense of Global History: The 19th International Congress of the Historical Sciences, Oslo 2000, Commemorative Volume. ISBN 9788215001067.
  3. "Ancient tradition carries forward with Japan's new era". Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  4. "International Congress of Historical Sciences". International Congress of Historical Sciences. 19. 2000. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  5. 王勇著
  6. 长河落日圆——详议安史之乱[](2)
  7. 17、18世纪朝鲜使用中国年号问题
  8. 馬來西亞華人殯葬業的演變與挑戰中國長沙民政學院殯儀系主辦《現代殯葬教育十年慶典研討會》論文(上)
  9. "Emperor Akihito: Japanese monarch declares historic abdication". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 30 April 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  10. Griffiths, Arlo (2003), The Orissa Manuscripts of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā, Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 338, The Dating system found in the Manuscripts
  12. Pankaj Tandon (2012), Tentative Attributions of some Gold Fanams of the Eastern Gangas, BU, retrieved 25 January 2021
  13. Pankaj Tandon (2018), Coins of the Eastern Gangas ruler Anantavarman Chodaganga, BU, retrieved 25 January 2021
  14. Arnold-Baker, Charles (2015). The Companion to British History. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-3174-0039-4.
  15. Bishop, Olga B. (2016). Canadian Official Publications: Guides to Official Publications. Elsevier. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-4831-5523-4.
  16. Flaherty, David H. (1981). Essays in the History of Canadian Law, Volume 1. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 1-4875-9697-9.
  17. 112 H.R. 2