What is an Anachronism?

To answer the question ‘What is an Anachronism?’ we first need a good understanding of the origins of the word anachronism.

The word anachronism is derived from the Greek words ana, meaning against, and chronos meaning time. Anachronism therefore means against time, or in the wrong time period.


Anachronisms are generally the result of poor research and can be found in books, movies or pictures. However, sometimes they are used on purpose to create a comic scene.

In the picture below, the telephone is an anachronism because it was not invented during the time of the ancient Greeks. It is likely that the artist has drawn this on purpose to create a funny cartoon.

What is an anachronism?  - Greek with telephone

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

What is an Anachronism? Julius Caesar example

The play ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare contains an obvious anachronism in act 2 scene 1: 

Brutus says – “Peace! Count the clock.”
Cassius replies – “The clock has stricken three.”

The play is set in Rome in the year 44 BCE. The Romans told the time with sundials when the weather was sunny and used water clocks when there was no sun. 

Clocks that are able to make sounds use some kind of mechanism to do so.

The first mechanical clocks were not invented until the 14th century so it would be impossible for Cassius to hear a clock strike the hour.


The White Queen – BBC Mini-series

Anachronism - The Whte Queen MiniseriesIn 2013, eagle-eyed viewers spotted an anachronism in the BBC drama ‘The White Queen’.

The mini-series was about the life of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen consort to Edward IV who was King of England 1461-1483.

At least one of Elizabeth’s dresses was fastened with a zip. The zip fastener was invented in 1851 long after the time of Elizabeth Woodville. 

The wardrobe department at the BBC either hoped that the anachronism would not be noticed or had failed to research 15th century costume.


Citation Information for What is an Anachronism?:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020 – 2022). What is an Anachronism?. Available: https://www.historykeyskills.com/anachronism/. Last accessed July 22nd, 2024