The Phantom Time Hypothesis: The Greatest Fiction Ever Written?
Most researchers and scholars alike praise the importance of studying history. “The Phantom Time Hypothesis” contradicts the reliability of written history and asks key questions. What if it turned out that some of what we learned in Western schools was nothing but a fictional fabrication? What if 300 years of European medieval history was completely fabricated to portray a few rulers as favored children of God awaiting the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? “The Phantom Time Hypothesis” asserts that 297 years of history (614-911 AD) were completely fabricated by the Catholic church.
As outlandish and fantastic as these claims may seem, it is worth examining existing theories that favor these radical historical views. After all, history is always written from the perspective of the victor, and rarely by those defeated. Perhaps history is the greatest fiction ever written.
A Brief History of the Phantom Time Hypothesis
In 1994, the German historian Heribert Illig published a paper titled “Das erfundene Mittelalter: Die grösste Zeitfälschung der Geschichte” or “The Invented Middle Ages: The Greatest Forgery in History.” The paper claims that a conspiracy between the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, and the Catholic Pope Sylvester II resulted in a fabrication of history. Some people speculate that this conspiracy was motivated by a desire to pay for papers that would support their political agendas.
Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor. (Meister der Reichenauer Schule / Public domain )
This conspiracy theory centers on the claim that the Ano Domini calendar system was manipulated such that Otto III’s reign began in 1000 AD which suited the narrative of the start of a new Christian millennium. As a result of this adjustment, medieval chroniclers had to “write” 297 years of fictional history to hide the time manipulation. Illig’s theory also claims that the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII ordered his scribes and monks to rewrite and alter all the small texts and pieces from the Greek Maiuscula and previous history books to align with the Holy Roman Emperor’s desired timeline. But why they would work together for the benefit of only Otto III remains a mystery.
Illig believed that in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII abandoned the Julian calendar which had been in service since 45 BC in favor of the Gregorian Calendar (a system that is currently in use today). As a result of switching calendars, Pope Gregory XIII ordered his scribes to add 10 days to the new calendar so that Easter would fall on the correct date. This correction was officially set in motion on October 4, 1582 which was then corrected to be October 15, 1582. Though the Pope’s manipulation was successful, his time adjustment only accounted for 10 days. However, in the strictest technical terms the Gregorian chronology was behind by 13 days. Based on these two discrepancies, Illig calculated that 297 years disappeared from the overall timeline of European history.
Illig looked at three main points of evidence to prove that history had been manipulated. These included the lack of archaeological evidence from this time period which claimed that Roman architecture appeared long after the fall of Rome in 475 AD.
Doing the Math
Though outlandish to many historians and archaeologists alike, there is one more writer whose work hinges on these phantom 297 years. Soviet Union mathematics professor Dr. Anatoly Fermenko had a similar belief which he termed as the ‘New Chronology.’
Though Fermenko was given much credit for this concept, he based his work on the ideas of several other mathematicians and scholars who had theorized the possibility of a time fabrication in the Middle Ages. Fermenko believed that all of written human history only went back as far as 800 AD to 1000 AD. This meant that most known documented history began from 1000 AD-1500 AD. Therefore, human history was actually based on a few individuals that were either duplicated or renamed to contain similar origin stories.
Fermenko further explored the parallels that existed in certain dynasties and empires to prove the possibilities regarding the duplication of historical dynasties, kingdoms, and famous historical figures. One of his most famous comparisons was of the Kings of Israel (roughly 1040 BC – 44 AD), and the emperors of the late Western Roman Empire (300 AD- 476 AD). In his research, he revealed that his statistical methods showed strong correlations between the history and events that the leaders and reigns of certain rulers in these two regions faced, while in other periods, such correlations didn’t exist.
Illig’s questioning of Western history and chronological time has been ridiculed, disproven, and completely debunked on several occasions. However, the question remains why anyone would even suggest ideas that challenge the record of the past. Clearly, it is essential to maintain an open mind to determine what Western history would look like if Illig, Fermenko and others are right.
Historically, What does the Phantom Time Hypothesis Mean?
As mentioned above, the famous conspiracy regarding the Phantom Time Hypothesis, as well as the lesser-known Soviet New Chronology Hypothesis, makes incredible claims about the possibility of 297 years missing from Western history. Additionally, according to the New Chronology Hypothesis, it means that history never began until 800 AD. If the New Chronology hypothesis is correct, it would mean all of human history only goes back 1220 years. And if the Phantom Time Hypothesis is correct, it would mean that of those 1220 years, 297 years are missing. Consequently, by combining both the Phantom Time Hypothesis and the New Chronology Hypothesis, it would mean that it is not the year 2020. Does this explain why the world did not end in 2012 (Maya calender), or why Y2K did not disrupt all computers?
If the years 614 AD-911 AD never happened, then Charlemagne was utterly fabricated. Secondly, it means that Genghis Khan and Atilla the Hun were the same person paralleled through historical misnaming. Thirdly, it means that all ancient and medieval civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Trojans, the late Western Romans, and the Anglo Saxons occurred as an incredibly sped-up 300-year period free of historical blood baths.
So why would Illig and Fermenko suggest such theories, if they would result in the concentration of Western Civilization to a few hundred years? Could both Illig and Fermenko be creating these theories because of a clearer understanding of what the Dark Ages were?
What Were the Dark Ages?
It is commonly believed that the Dark Ages officially started in 476 AD right after the fall of the Roman Empire and continued until roughly 1500 AD. This is allegedly a 1000-year period of feudal terror, chaos, and constant hardship until the beginning of the European Renaissance and the discovery of the New World . However, this interpretation isn’t necessarily true.
Illustration of Petrarch's Triumph of Death. ( Public domain )
Various scholars have mentioned that the ‘Dark Ages’ was a term created by the Italian scholar Francesco Petrarch sometime between 1304 AD – 1374 AD. He described the drastic decay in the Latin literacy after the fall of the Roman Empire. Others, like the scholars Scot Emmet and Sarah Pruitt, believe that Petrarch’s term referred to the decay in Romano/European culture due to the lack of historical writing, wealth, changes in architecture, and technology.
After years of parroting Petrarch’s sentiment, the common view of Rome’s fall in 476 AD became synonymous with the invasions of evil outsiders hoping to destroy Western civilization. Contemporary research reveals that Rome’s Imperial governmental structure was already collapsing two centuries before the official ‘end’ in 476 AD. One fact to keep in mind that is brought up by Pruitt is that Francesco Petrarch was a Greco-Romanophile who,
“viewed Ancient Greece and Rome as the pinnacle of human achievement….and dismissed the era that followed as a dark and chaotic time in which no great leaders emerged, no scientific accomplishments were made, and no great art was produced…” (Pruitt 2016).
As most of humanity’s history proves, empires and regimes may crumble quickly but they never completely disappear. Countries and cultures merely evolve and adapt to the changing social, political, and environmental conditions.
An icon depicting Constantine I, accompanied by the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. ( Public domain )
With the rise of Christianity starting in the third century AD, the concept of a monotheistic god became more favorable with the late Romans, and eventually much of Europe. Because of the cultural adoption of Christianity over hundreds of years, the papacy slowly filled the void to become the centralizing force uniting most of Europe. The Christian church had more power than the kings and queens of Europe and regulated the balance of power among all of them to maintain control. But this did not necessarily mean that Roman civilization was completely eradicated from European culture during the Dark Ages. Instead, Roman civilization simply adapted to the changing times.
Another Dark Age misconception was that technological progress was wiped out. However, many scholars would agree that this was not the case. In fact, the advancement of technology remained slow but continued to progress. Though many building techniques relied on Roman design, the advancements happened incrementally through the building of Christian cathedrals and castles by adapting to better masonry techniques learned from trade and conflict with the Middle East during the Crusades . These technological advancements included algebra, using Arabic numerals for mathematical computation, better steel manufacturing, and medical breakthroughs such as bandages.
Additionally, farming techniques and record-keeping progressed thanks to the creation of paper, the windmill, the plow collar, stirrups, metal horseshoes, and the ability to pay for papers. These advancements far surpassed the technological achievements of Rome, and Europe slowly entered a new era of trade and prosperity around the 1000 AD.
Though ancient historians may have seen the end of Greco-Roman antiquity as the end of the world, it was far from true. So, if what was originally learned about the Dark Ages was not necessarily true, ie. all progress did not abruptly stop, then perhaps the Phantom Time Hypothesis, as well as Fermenko’s New Chronology Hypothesis, are correct. It all depends on how one reviews their findings.
Three Fundamental Pillars in the Phantom Time Hypothesis
The first pillar on which Illig’s theory is based is an absence of archaeological evidence between 614 AD – 911 AD. For archaeologists, there is a common belief that only 2% - 5% of the past can ever be discovered. In simple terms, the farther back one goes in history, the less evidence we have to go on. However, due to the advent of new technologies such as radiocarbon dating, a lot of artifacts can be accurately tested. This fact becomes even more impressive when faced with Fomenko’s ‘New Chronology’ hypothesis since he fundamentally discredited and refused to incorporate radiocarbon dating into his findings. Fomenko’s theory is purely based on historical evidence using mathematical principles regardless of what carbon dating reveals from sites in Israel, or anywhere else.
Illig’s second pillar lies in his discussion of why Roman architecture continued for hundreds of years after the Roman Empire fell apart in 476 AD. The question that is brought up has a straightforward explanation. In layman’s terms, Western civilization loved Roman culture and architecture and thus supported the idea that it continued.
Roman civilization did not end abruptly in 476 but slowly adapted and changed. Though power was not centralized, supposed barbarian kings and queens, which replaced Roman governors and emperors, still revered the ways of the ancient Romans and Greeks. Most of these supposed barbarian kings and queens adopted and maintained many aspects of Roman civilization, customs, and legal institutions. Many even considered themselves as continuing the Roman Empire in various ways.
This reverence for the older ways was honored in the minting of gold coins emblazoned with images of Constantinian emperors, the use of Roman names and titles, and even in the building monuments and pillars based on the architecture and art forms resembling Roman techniques. The adoration of the old ways appeared to become an ideal that future European leaders wished to uphold and reconstruct, as seen with the Frankish Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, who Illig believes never existed. Additionally, though it may appear that Roman architecture was maintained and created as in the past, this was simply not true. Though the exteriors of later architectural structures superficially appeared to be similar to Roman ones, they were built with significant technological advancements that far surpassed the Romans in many ways.
The third and most crucial pillar of Illig’s argument lies in the technical flaws in both the Julian calendar, which overestimated the length of a year by 11 minutes, and the Gregorian calendar, which was adjusted to add 10 days. Though the adjustments resulting from skipping leap years divisible by 100 and including years divisible by 400 was a method used to keep the Gregorian calendar on track, Illig still was convinced that the Christian Church had gotten it wrong.
However, Illig was wrong was in his analysis of the Julian calendar itself. The miscalculation was that the calendar drifted by ten days, but the 1582 recalculation actually shows that the count was off by 13 days. The reason for this miscalculation when the calendars were switched in 1582, was synching with the older calendar and not correcting the Julian calendar. Meaning the delays were consistently 13 days in both calendars, and not 10 days. This fabled Julian delay of 10 days was in fact a misinterpretation made by Illig in his translations of the event. Additionally, the Gregorian calendar was not reset to 45 BC, but reset to 325 AD to compensate for the 300 years of shifted dates.
The last and final fact that disproves both Illig and Fermenko are the sources they used to prove their points. Illig’s accounts, as well as Fermenko’s, do not seem to take into consideration the abundance of historical documents that exist from 611-914 AD. Such sources can be found in Anglo-Saxon English historical records, the Church’s historical Papal records, Byzantine historical archives, and most significantly, in non-European texts and artifacts from the Tang Dynasty as well as the middle eastern history, literature, and ethnographies written by Islamic scholars. If Charlemagne did not exist, Emperor Tang Tai Tsu did. An astrological event that was used to synch up a significant amount of European and non-European historical texts and chronologies was the ancient observations of Halley’s comet , which proved to be sighted in various documents in 760 AD, 837 AD, 912, AD, and 989 AD.
So, What Were Illig’s and Fermenko’s Motives?
So, what could have possibly been the motive behind Illig’s and Fermenko’s claims? For one thing, there might be some Eurocentric and Russo-centric bias at work. Starting with the most general assumption, the theories of these two men dismiss the cultures in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas as insignificant and complete historical fabrications. Moreover, it would also allow for both Europe and Russia to rewrite shameful periods in their histories. Creating a revised account would allow for a written history that only focused on the immense advancements of Western Europe and Russia.
- New Year, Old Calendar: The Origins and Controversy of the Gregorian Calendar
- Why Are There 365 Days in a Year? Organizing Dates with an Ancient Egyptian Calendar
- Coligny Calendar: The 1,800-Year-Old Lunisolar calendar banned by the Romans
Starting with the Eurocentric motives, it would mean that the early Middle Ages could be written as a time of greater development and progress. Between 614 AD and 911 AD, other cultures, such as Islamic culture as well as Tang Dynasty culture, experienced enormous advancements in culture, mathematics, and technology. During this same period, Europe’s development stagnated as there was no central ruling government after the fall of the Roman Empire. If the interpretation of these years in Illig’s and Fermenko’s theories were wrong, it would mean that Europe experienced the same advancements as the rest of the ancient world. Whether Illig was aware, consciously or subconsciously, of this possible outcome has yet to be discovered.
The motives for the Russo-centric scholars would be similar. It would conveniently place the start of human history on a similar timeline that coincided with the formation of the first villages near Kiev. It would also conveniently dismiss the rise of the Mongol Empire and give more credit to Attila the Hun, thus reconstructing Russian history as an always powerful and evolving culture. In the end, perhaps history is indeed the greatest fiction ever written.
Top image: The Phantom Time Hypothesis questions the motives and outcomes of Pope Gregory XIII's commission to reform the Julian calendar in 1582 Source: Scipio Turaminus / Public domain
By B.B. Wagner
Anonymous. 2020. Exploring why the Phantom Time Hypothesis is all wrong. https://www.medievalists.net/2020/04/why-phantom-time-hypothesis-wrong/.
Dunning, Brian. 2012. The Phantom time Hypothesis. October 16. https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4332?gclid=CjwKCAjwrvv3BRAJEiwAhwOdM92WwUq7ttfmqXBNZBMH5xpR0VauhvkeAXxB1LZbboY8TUe_assSyRoC_04QAvD_BwE.
London, Jerome. 2019. Phantom Time Hypothesis: Was a 300-year-Chunk of Europe’s ‘Dark Ages’ Completely Made up? April 15. https://thoughtcatalog.com/jeremy-london/2018/09/phantom-time-hypothesis....
Niemitz, Hanz-Ulrich Ph.D. 2000. Did the Early Middle Ages Really Exist? https://ecplanet.org/sites/ecplanet.com/files/Niemitz-1997.pdf.
Pruitt, Sarah. 2016. 6 reasons the Dark Ages weren’t so Dark. May 31. https://www.history.com/news/6-reasons-the-dark-ages-werent-so-dark.
Rex, Sorgatz, and Lorenzo Petrantoni. 2018. “The Phantom Time Hypothesis.” In Encyclopedia of Misinformation: a conpendium of imitations, spoofs, Delusions, Simultaitons, Counterfiets, imposters, illusions, Confabulations, Skullduggery, Frauds, Pseudoscience, Propaganda, Hoaxes, Flimflam, Pranks, Hornswoggle, Conspiracies and Misce , by Sorgatz Rex and Lorenzo Petrantoni. Cork: Abrams.
Scott, Emmet. 2014. Guide to the Phantom Dark Age. Algora Publishing.
There are many things I feel you misrepresented here but I am glad to see any discussion of this topic at all. Up until now, any mention of these concepts has been effectively censored by hostile mobs of comment writers. Revision of history and forging of historical documents, genealogies, etc. is not a new thing. Fomenko was right to say that we don't have any ancient written history. No originals have survived, all we have are copies. Why were the old libraries burned? Reconstructing accurate history is much more arduous and complex than is popularly known and real historians know this.
The refusal of both Scientists and Historians to accept ancient “histories” as anything but fictional myth is becoming ridiculous. The standard of validity in Archaeology, Anthropology and History is appalling – basically, I want everyone to believe my story. I read a book by Thomas Asbridge on the First Crusade where in the beginning pages he completely discounts the actual primary sources (the letters written to the pope asking for help by Turkish Christians) in favour of his own narrative. David Rohl at least makes a case for his alternative interpretations (even though I think he missed it). My daughter is in 2nd year Archaeology and the subjective marking of Anthropology Essays is a joke (I was a Science teacher for 23 years).
To discount Noah’s Flood as a real event, for example, which is a racial memory recorded by over 200 Ancient Cultures, most of whom have the basic details pat, is amazing. When 200 versions of the same story differ only in cultural biases and distance-effects, surely a logical person would conclude, something major actually happened?
We need to be WAY more careful in the things we allow others to tell us...