History, it's what this website is built on. Which is a silly thing to say, because everything has always been built on history. If we assume that time is linear, which we do because that's how things seem.
Everyone knows that we live in the year 2023. I prefer counting from the earliest known signs of human civilization, which would put us at 12,023. But, open your mind to the groundbreaking idea that a large part of Western History was a mere fabrication.
This is the story of the Phantom Time Hypothesis. First suggested by Heribert Illig in 1991, the idea is that a significant chunk of the Middle Ages were made up.
3 Very Holy Men
Once upon a time there were 2 emperors and a pope.
Emperor Constantine VII ruled the Byzantine Empire from 913 CE to 959 CE. This Constantine was an unrepentant history nerd. He spent more time studying history than ruling his own empire.
The Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, was neither holy nor Roman, at first. He was born in and ruled Germany, taking the throne in 983 CE. Otto succeeded in marching himself to Rome, in a failed attempt to save Pope John XV. He did succeed in settling in Rome and making it the heart of his empire. Emperor Otto ruled until 1002 CE.
Sylvester and Otto agreed on the need for a unified Roman Empire in Europe. When they first met, Sylvester was still Archbishop Gerbert. The 2 got along swimmingly, and before long, Otto was making use of Gerbert's skill as a letter writer. Otto appointed Gerbert as Pope as soon as the position opened up.
You'll notice a slight discrepancy in the timeline here. Constantine the VII was dead by the time Otto III became Emperor. You'll have to suspend your disbelief for a bit.
Heribert Illig's Theory
Heribert Illig was a German publicist. He studied German history in his youth, before coming to his controversial conclusion in 1991. So what is this Phantom Time Hypothesis all about?
According to Illig's theory, the current year is not 2023 (or whatever the year is that you are reading this in, what am I, psychic?). No, Heribert's calculations put us somewhere around 1723. Which explains the dud of an Apocalypse which was Y2K. Talk about a let-down.
Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, Heribert Illig published several papers on the inaccuracy of the historical chronology. His first target was Ancient Egypt. Someone call Zahi Hawass.
Eventually Illig published the claims he is most famous for. His paper, Das erfundene Mittelalter (The Invented Middle Ages), claims that the clock of history was artificially cranked ahead by 300 years.
You see there once was a little king called Otto III. He felt that the year current wasn't auspicious enough. So him, and his pocket-Pope, Sylvester II, conspired to change the date.
Otto III got together with Pope Sylvester II and Emperor Constantine VII (who should have been dead), and the three worked out a plan. They ordered their scribes to invent roughly 300 years of history. From 614-911 CE.
This means that everything that happened during this time is fake. That's right, historical sheeple, Charlemagne was nothing more than the Captain America of his time. Placing this legendary hero in one's own bloodline also makes for a convenient link to greatness.
The Pope in 1582, was a man named Gregory XIII. Greg didn't like that Easter fell on the wrong day each year. He came up with the new calendar, which would put things right.
4 October 1582 would be followed by 15 October. The new calendar was more mathematically sound, and introduced an improved method for calculating leap years. Overall it was a success. Easter jumped ten days ahead, making it fall on the right date. Everything was starlight and roses.
Not according to Heribert. He claims that in adding the ten-day jump, Pope Gregory XIII, Papa G, really messed up the timeline.
Evidence For and Against
Heribert Illig isn't taken seriously by historians. He's a maverick researcher who did his own research, and isn't afraid to stand up to Big History. Let's look at his evidence and make up our own minds.
His first assertion is that the Middle Ages were too boring. Not enough happened for Heribert to consider it real. This is also a convenient way of disregarding your cousin's baby shower. Too boring, didn't really happen.
The written record of the so-called Dark Ages, just seems fishy to Illig. So he looked at the archaeological record. Here he was disappointed too. According to Illig, it seems that there just weren't any buildings constructed during this period. Science and technology stagnated entirely.
The few pieces of archaeological evidence held up by historians as proof of their beloved Dark Ages is also wrong. Illig points to the inaccuracy of dendrochronology and radiometry as his best evidence to debunk the archaeological evidence.
Astronomy is a great way to solve chronological issues. Humans have always loved writing down their observations of the sky. When Astronomers compared the positions and timing of astronomical phenomena, like eclipses, to written records prior to the year 600 (which would have been distorted if Illig was right), they found that the ancients' records were accurate.
The 300-year gap that Heribert Illig thought was caused by the changing of the calendars and the meddling of Otto III, Sylvester II, and the corpse of Constantine VII, actually exists, kind of.
You see, between Julius Caesar's implementation of the Julian Calendar in 45 BCE and the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, roughly 370 years passed. This is the gap that Illig was seeing.
If Papa G (Gregory XIII) adjusted his Gregorian Calendar to the implementation of the Julian Calendar, we would have had a 300-year gap. Fortunately Greg was no chump. His main goal was to fix the date of Easter, and that date was set in 325 CE at the Council of Nicaea.
By far the most damning evidence against Heribert Illig's Phantom Time Hypothesis is the fact that it only affects Europe. The rest of the world's calendars continued right on through that patch of Phantom Time.
The Islamic world was birthed during this time, as their Great Prophet wrote their holy text in that gap. Which makes this an awkward point of the blinkered thinking so common in European and American pseudoscientists.
Another little spot with a richly documented history is China. They also accounted for the passage of roughly 300 years around the time when European history was allegedly fabricated.
I give the Phantom Time Hypothesis 5 stars for effort and imagination. Heribert Illig really came up with a fun thought experiment, and nothing more.