form of historical representation

Annals (Latin Annales, from annus, a year) are a short form of historical writing which record events chronologically, year by year.



Ancient Rome


Cicero ( in De Oratore, ii. 12. 52) tells that from the earliest period down to the pontificate of Publius Mucius Scaevola (c. 131 BC), it was usual for the pontifex maximus to record on a white tablet (album), which was exhibited in an open place at his house, so that the people might read it. On this tablet were written down (according to Cicero) the name of the consuls and other magistrates, and then the important events of the year.

In Cicero's time these records were called Annales Maximi. The practice of writing annals was carried on by several unofficial writers. Cicero speaks of Cato, Pictor and Piso.



In the Middle Ages in the Western Church there were written tables to show that date of Easter for a certain number of years or even centuries. These Paschal tables were thin books in which each annual date was separated from the next by a more or less considerable blank space. In these spaces some monks wrote down the important events of the year. The writing of these Annals was begun at the end of the 7th century and among the Irish – see the Annals of the Four Masters, the Annals of Ulster, the Annals of Innisfallen and the Annales Cambriae or Annals of Wales, one of the earliest sources for King Arthur. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is also in annalistic, year-by-year form.

In the 9th century, during the Carolingian Renaissance, these Annals became the usual form of contemporary history. There were the Annales Einhardi, the Annales Laureshamenses (or "of Lorsch"), and the Annales S. Bertini. They were written officially in order to preserve the memory of the more interesting acts of Charlemagne, his ancestors and his successors. At this stage, the Annals now began to lose their primitive character, and became more and more Chronicles. But the term was still used for many documents, such as the Annals of Waverley.

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