Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Rock visionary Steve Miller once wrote that "Time keeps on slipping into the future." He couldn't have been more correct. Time is, in fact, barreling like a son of a gun toward the end of the millennium, a mere three years into the future. The countdown has begun, and Something Big is going to happen.

California will fall into the sea. Jesus will reappear. The polar ice cap will melt. The ultimate war between good and evil will be waged. I will turn 37.

The media are making sure that you are aware of these horrible, fantastic potentialities; the year 2000 is already a major cover story. I'm certainly no one to debate the logic of Steve Miller (See? Just then a little bit more time slipped by, and you know where it went), but instead of jumping on the bandwagon and writing about 2000, I thought we could spend the immediate future delving into the past. Instead of trying to predict what will happen three years down the road, I believe that we can be better served by examining, and learning from, events of the past.

Well, I don't really believe that, but it's a plausible lead-in to our journey back in time. From the modern comfort of 1997, still brand-spanking-new with that sexy showroom smell in the interior, we will venture back not just a few decades, but in increments of literally hundreds of years! My in-depth research has revealed many fascinating occurrences during the past 1,997 years of human activity, so settle back, relax, imagine calendar pages flying past as your vision becomes blurred and the mysterious, ethereal whine of a theremin sci-fi soundtrack fills your ears.

A.D. 97: Well, this is certainly a long time ago. In Rome, a guy named Emperor Nerva is in charge. He helps the poor, cuts everybody a lower tax rate, tolerates the Christians; he's a sweetheart. But by 97, he's 62, he can't handle the uppity Praetorian Guard--his personal bodyguards--and figures he better let somebody with a stronger hand take over before he gets et tu, Bruted. So this year he brings in general Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, 44, adopts the guy, gives him the reins, and kicks back to enjoy his golden years. Which last for all of a couple months, as he goes toes up next year. So much for 97.

197: Silkworms are brought from Korea to China and then Japan, resulting in some really glamorous outfits, and exciting, sensual undergarments.

Also in China, the Yellow Turban Rebellion is in full swing (it lasts until 204), and get this: The whole mess is started by a traveling magician named Chang Chueh, who supposedly heals thousands during an epidemic by giving them his special magical water, which makes folks treat him like a god.

Sensing a good thing, Chang hands out yellow turbans, and gets his people to rebel against the corrupt, wicked eunuchs who are the brains behind the Han Dynasty, the actual emperor being nothing more than a beard. And, in Chinese-facial-hair terms, a wispy one at that. Anarchy reigns for a while, but it is ultimately sayonara to the Han Dynasty.

The only other action this year is when D. Clodius Albinus, Rome's British delegate, is offed February 19 in the Battle of Lyons. Oh well.

297: A slow year. The Romans wrestle Armenia from the Persians. That's about it.

397: Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, the forward-thinking talent that put church singing on the map in a Christian way, joins the Big Choir in the Sky.

Spotlight on Scotland--the Picts, ancient dwellers of the land that would give us golf and Dinty Moore, are evangelized by Scottish apostle Ninian. He's dedicated; it took the man 15 years of study in Rome to get consecrated. Good job, Nin!

497: Say hello to fashion. The Anglo-Saxons doff their skins and step into smart shirts, tunics and coats. Also, Clovis, King of Franks, is in office. I knew a black guy named Clovis who actually sold ballpark franks at Camden Yards in Baltimore. True story.

597: Boring year. Saint Augustine founds a monastery in Canterbury. But you probably remember that from high school history class.

697: Kiss Byzantine rule goodbye in North Africa, courtesy of the Arabs. In other news, foxy Japanese empress Jito steps down at age 32, and who do they get to run the show? A 14-year-old! He's Emperor Momu, the grandson of the late Emperor Tenmu, and he lasts 'til 707. Proving that Tenmu will not get you 20. Ha!

797: Joan Crawford's got nothing on this mommy dearest: Byzantine Empress Irene blinds her son Constantine, assumes power, gets the Greek Church to canonize her and proposes to Charlemagne. Meanwhile in France, they're installing horse-changing posts for royal messengers. Finally.

897: Dateline Japan: Emperor Uda calls it quits at the ripe old age of 30 and passes the baton to his son Daigo, who's 12. He's got a country before he's got acne. How about that!

997: Did someone say Vikings? They did in England, where the Nordic bad boys attacked Sussex, Kent, Hants and Dorset.

1097: Trust me on this one, just more dull history.
1197: You like blood, violence, action? Who doesn't, and if the name Genghis Khan (distant relative of Chaka) means anything to you, we're talking jackpot. Genghis and his Mongol horde are going at it hard and heavy, having started their ass-kicking sweep across Asia in 1175--the party lasts until 1218. When the dust and boiling oil settle, Genghis and company have created an empire that stretches from the Pacific to the Black Sea. "I will carry slaughter and cause devastation to my enemy . . . so my name will live," says Khan, in between savageries. You just read it, so I guess he was right.

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