1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Annals
ANNALS (Annales, from annus, a year), a concise historical record in which events are arranged chronologically, year by year. The chief sources of information in regard to the annals of ancient Rome are two passages in Cicero (De Oratore, ii. 12. 52) and in Servius (ad Aen. i. 373) which have been the subject of much discussion. Cicero states that from the earliest period down to the pontificate of Publius Mucius Scaevola (c. 131 B.C.), 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, first, the name of the consuls and other magistrates, and then the noteworthy events that had occurred during the year (per singulos dies, as Servius says). These records were called in Cicero’s time the Annales Maximi. After the pontificate of Publius, the practice of compiling annals was carried on by various unofficial writers, of whom Cicero names Cato, Pictor and Piso. The Annales have been generally regarded as the same with the Commentarii Pontificum cited by Livy, but there seems reason to believe that the two were distinct, the Commentarii being fuller and more circumstantial. The nature of the distinction between annals and history is a subject that has received more attention from critics than its intrinsic importance deserves. The basis of discussion is furnished chiefly by the above-quoted passage from Cicero, and by the common division of the work of Tacitus into Annales and Historiae. Aulus Gellius, in the Noctes Atticae (v. 18), quotes the grammarian Verrius Flaccus, to the effect that history, according to its etymology (ἱστορεῖν, inspicere, to inquire in person), is a record of events that have come under the author’s own observation, while annals are a record of the events of earlier times arranged according to years. This view of the distinction seems to be borne out by the division of the work of Tacitus into the Historiae, relating the events of his own time, and the Annales, containing the history of earlier periods. It is more than questionable, however, whether Tacitus himself divided his work under these titles. The probability is, either that he called the whole Annales, or that he used neither designation. (See Tacitus, Cornelius.)
In the middle ages, when the order of the liturgical feasts was partly determined by the date of Easter, the custom was early established in the Western Church of drawing up tables to indicate that date 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 certain monks briefly noted the important events of the year. It was at the end of the 7th century and among the Anglo-Saxons that the compiling of these Annals was first begun. Introduced by missionaries on the continent, they were re-copied, augmented and continued, especially in the kingdom of Austrasia. In the 9th century, during the great movement termed the Carolingian Renaissance, these Annals became the usual form of contemporary history; it suffices to mention the Annales Einhardi, the Annales Laureshamenses (or “of Lorsch”), and the Annales S. Bertini, officially compiled in order to preserve the memory of the more interesting acts of Charlemagne, his ancestors and his successors. Arrived at this stage of development, the Annals now began to lose their primitive character, and henceforward became more and more indistinguishable from the Chronicles.
In modern literature the title annals has been given to a large number of standard works which adhere more or less strictly to the order of years. The best known are the Annales Ecclesiastici, written by Cardinal Baronius as a rejoinder to and refutation of the Historia ecclesiastica or “Centuries” of the Protestant theologians of Magdeburg (12 vols., published at Rome from 1788 to 1793; Baronius’s work stops at the year 1197). In the 19th century the annalistic form was once more employed, either to preserve year by year the memory of passing events (Annual Register, Annuaire de la Revue des deux mondes, &c.) or in writing the history of obscure medieval periods (Jahrbücher der deutschen Geschichte, Jahrbücher des deutschen Reiches, Richter’s Reichsannalen, &c.). (C. B.*)