Were you one of those history students who had difficulty grasping the details of the Middle Ages? Perhaps that’s because the Middle Ages didn’t actually take place.
In 1986 Heribert Illig published Das erfundene Mittelalter (The Invented Middle Ages). He posits that a nearly-300 year period of time, AD 614–911, did not really take place and was, in fact, a conspiracy between the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, Pope Sylvester II, and possibly the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII. This concept is known as the Phantom Time Hypothesis.
The reason for this conspiracy? Illig believes these men really wanted their era to coincide with the year AD 1000 for psychological and public relations purposes. In order for this to happen, they had to cook up 297 years of fake history — the period of time we refer to as the Early Middle Ages.
What is Illig’s evidence for such a bold assertion? In his paper he cites the following:
- There just isn’t enough archaeological evidence from the disputed period of time to suit Illig’s tastes. He casts a jaundiced eye toward the evidence that does exist, noting deficiencies in dating methods and over-reliance on medieval historians as sources.
- The presence of Romanesque architecture in tenth-century Western Europe. Since the Roman Empire ended in AD 476, something must account for this style showing up so late.
- The Gregorian Calendar, introduced in AD 1582, was designed to fix the calendar drifting caused by the Julian Calendar. The Julian Calendar resulted in a one-day discrepancy every century. Illig maintains that by 1582 there should have been the need to adjust the calendar by thirteen days. Instead, a mere ten days discrepancy existed when the new calendar took effect. (The Julian calendar day Thursday, October 4, 1582 was followed by the first day of the Gregorian calendar, Friday, October 15, 1582). This, said Illig, was further evidence that history books recorded three hundred years that did not really happen.
Are you convinced?
Before you go off and proclaim yourself an enlightened citizen of the 18th century, consider the responses of Illig’s critics:
- The period of “Phantom Time” includes some truly significant events and people. Illig maintains that Charlemagne was a myth, created by the conspirators, but if that were true, they would have also had to convince the rest of the world — much of which had no interest in the Christian calendar year AD 1000. During this “Phantom Time” period, history records the life of Mohammad, the Chinese Tang Dynasty, and the Byzantine Empire.
- Someone forgot to inform the celestial bodies that 297 years should be missing. Solar eclipses reported by Pliny the Elder in AD 59 and by Photius in AD 418 establish pre-Phantom Time astronomical events that allow us to accurately predict subsequent eclipses. Eclipses since then have continued on schedule as if those 297 years actually took place. Other regular phenomena, such as Halley’s Comet, reoccur as if there were no gap in the years.
- The intent of the Gregorian Calendar was not to restore the date to its form at the time of the institution of reform the Julian calendar in 45 BC. Rather, the goal was to coincide with the calendar at the time of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, which had established the method for determining the date of Easter Sunday.
Now that you are armed with the facts, what year will you be celebrating on New Year’s Eve?
If that weren’t complicated enough, there are even more questions about the date, such as:
- In North Korea, it is the second century.
- Places where Christmas is celebrated on January 7.
- The Scottish island that keeps its own calendar.