History, eschatology, and the development of the six ages of the world: Part II: from Tyconius to Bede

John Gallagher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sex aetates mundi was the central framework of Early Christian, Late Antique, and early medieval Christian eschatology and historiography. This article is the second part of a study of the development and history of this motif. Part I (published in Augustinianum 61, 1 [2021]) summarised the emergence of this framework in biblical and patristic writings up to the late fourth-century, concluding with the work of the North African theologian, Tyconius. The second part of this study investigates the treatment of this subject in the writings of Augustine of Hippo, Dionysius Exiguus, Isidore of Seville, and the Venerable Bede. The majority of the examination is devoted to tracing Augustine’s understanding of the six ages – which was strongly influenced by Tyconius – since Augustine is frequently credited with being the main proponent of this conceptualisation of sacred history. This investigation of Augustine’s writings is mostly focused on De civitate Dei, the work that addresses the six ages framework most thoroughly, but analyses references to this historiography throughout his corpus. The conclusion of this examination argues that Augustine engaged with this commonplace view of history, but only insofar as it points mankind towards reflection of the world to come. This study argues that Isidore is the scholar who should be credited with popularising this notion in the early medieval Latin West. How the developments in calendrical reckoning put forward by Dionysius Exiguus and Bede intersect with and influence the six ages model is also charted. Overall, this study provides an in-depth examination of the six ages of history model in the thought of the fathers of Late Antique and early medieval Latin exegesis, pinpointing key moments in the evolution of the sex aetates model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-380
Number of pages20
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


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