AskDefine | Define annals

Dictionary Definition



1 reports of the work of a society or learned body etc
2 a chronological account of events in successive years [syn: chronological record]

User Contributed Dictionary



Latin annalis (sc. liber), and more frequently in the plural annales (sc. libri), chronicles, from annus (year). Compare with annual.


IPA: WEAE /ˈæn.əlz/


  1. Plural of annal
  2. A relation of events in chronological order, each event being recorded under the year in which it happened. Annals the revolution. --Macaulay. The annals of our religion. --Rogers.
  3. Historical records; chronicles; history.
    The short and simple annals of the poor. --Gray.
    It was one of the most critical periods in our annals. --Burke.
  4. A periodic publication, containing records of discoveries, transactions of societies, etc.; as ``Annals of Science.''


Extensive Definition

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


Ancient Rome

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 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, 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 (ιστορειν, 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 Cornelius 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.


In 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 Irish that the compiling of these Annals was first begun – 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.
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 Royal Frankish Annals, the Annales Fuldenses, the Annales Bertiniani, the Annales Laureshamenses (or "of Lorsch"), 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, though the term was still used for many documents, such as the Annals of Waverley.

18th century to present

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 eccesiastica or "Centuries" of the Protestant theologians of Magdeburg (12 volumes, published in 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, etc.).

Other works

Other historical works known by the title Annals include:
Magazines and journals include:
annals in Danish: Annal
annals in German: Annalen
annals in Spanish: Anales
annals in Italian: Annali
annals in Hebrew: אנלים
annals in Latin: Annales
annals in Latvian: Annāles
annals in Hungarian: Annales
annals in Dutch: Annalen
annals in Norwegian: Annal
annals in Polish: Annały
annals in Russian: Анналы
annals in Simple English: Annals
annals in Slovak: Anál
annals in Finnish: Annaalit
annals in Ukrainian: Аннали

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Clio, Muse of history, account, adventures, autobiography, biographical sketch, biography, case history, catalog, check sheet, chronicle, chronicles, chronology, clock card, confessions, correspondence, curriculum vitae, date slip, datebook, daybook, diary, documentation, experiences, fortunes, hagiography, hagiology, historiography, history, inventory, journal, legend, letters, life, life and letters, life story, list, log, martyrology, memoir, memoirs, memorabilia, memorial, memorials, necrology, obituary, photobiography, pipe roll, profile, record, recording, register, registry, relic, remains, resume, roll, rolls, roster, rota, scroll, story, table, theory of history, time book, time chart, time scale, time schedule, time sheet, time study, timecard, timetable, token, trace, vestige
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