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In the official acts of most of the countries of Christendom, and notably in England, the regnal year of the sovereign was always given and sometimes this was the only indication of the year.
As a continuous system of year enumeration the oldest era in practical use appears to have been that known as the "Era of the Martyrs" or "of Diocletian" () was in familiar use in Spain from the fifth century down to late in the Middle Ages.
The indiction was a cycle of fifteen years, the first of these cycles being conceived to have started at a point three years before the beginning of the present Christian Era.
It was usual to indicate only the position of the year in the current indiction, and no notice was taken of the number of cycles already completed.
It is only from about the year 679 that we are able to appeal to English charters of indisputable authenticity.
Before the Christian Era was generally adopted in the dating of documents various other systems were employed at different periods and in different countries.
The best known of these was the counting by "indictions".
In the course of the Middle Ages this principle was generally admitted, and we find, for example, that at Cologne in the twelfth century the validity of a certain instrument was contested because it lacked a date. now the Roman decrees lay down that letters which lack the day and the indiction have no binding force." (Westdeutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichte, I, 377.) But although this principle was recognized in theory it was not always carried out in practice.
"Those who have seen it say that the document which John brought does not bear the day or the indiction . Even down to the beginning of the twelfth century not only royal and imperial letters but even charters (), properly so called, were occasionally through the carelessness of officials sent out without a date.