Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Phantom Menace

Above: Charlemagne bumming, because he never existed

I’ve just started a new book, ‘God’s War,’ a history of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman. It’s a hefty and daunting tome, clocking in at over 900 pages; I’ve committed myself to the introduction and the first few chapters to see if I really want to make the pledge to the whole thing.

It can be a tough slog – to set up the story, the book starts by going over European and Asian History for the 500 years prior to the first crusades in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. And that is precisely the time period that we all blanked out on in our World History Classes in high school and college. You’ve got the Greek and Roman Empires, and then a bunch of people hanging out in Europe until Michelangelo and Martin Luther. The years from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance are just a fog of inconsequence; if a country becomes prominent, a decade later it’s overthrown. Memorizing the important dates and people and such of that time is a tremendous mnemonic feat.

But there is another way to simplify things and get a better grasp of history. Thanks to Herebert Illig, we now have the wonderful idea that the early Middle Ages didn’t exist. It’s called Phantom Time Theory, and it states that the years 614 to 911 never happened:

‘…The Phantom time hypothesis is a theory developed by Heribert Illig (born 1947 in Vohenstrauß) in 1991. It proposes that there has been a systematic effort to make it appear that periods of history: specifically that of Europe during Early Middle Ages (AD 614–911) exist, when they do not. Illig believed that this was achieved through the alteration, misrepresentation and forgery of documentary and physical evidence…’

So it’s not 2008, but actually 1711. There is actually a known period of Phantom Time that definitively exists: the dates October 5th through October 14th, 1582 never existed, thanks to the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar. Those ten days were skipped to make up the problem of the Julian Calendar being off by 674 seconds per year; after a long period of time, that added up to many days, causing problems with when to harvest and such.

Mr. Illig’s hypothesis is actually based on that event. For ten days helps bring the calendar back in line with 1282 years of error, but:

‘…The ten days that were skipped in October 1582 corrected the mistake that had accumulated in the Julian Calendar over the previous 1,282 years. However, if you deduct these 1,282 years from 1582, you don't arrive in the year of Caesar's calendar reform, 45 BC, but in the year AD 300! If he had gone all the way back to Caesar, Pope Gregory would have had to skip 13 days. He did not do so, and yet: the astronomical situation and the calendar agreed. His jump was too short, yet he landed in the right place…’

Mr. Illig goes on to try to account for the missing 300 years, and comes up with the Early Middle Ages because, well, he can’t think of anything that happened then either:

‘…Now it was a question of making the first thesis plausible: Which period was superfluous? At first glance it was obvious that the Roman imperial era was very well documented. The Renaissance period before 1582 was also very well documented. Even the Romanesque and Gothic eras - looked at from an art-history perspective - are well documented, with thousands - even tens of thousands - of buildings. So almost automatically we hit upon the Early Middle Ages. Only here was there darkness. Only here did we find the technical term "Dark Ages"…’

In addition to helping ease my reading load, this theory also has very positive applications for the Republican Party. If it’s only 1711, that makes their platform of building a bridge to the 18th century much more relevant. Also, it becomes much harder to criticize them for eviscerating the U.S. Constitution if it isn’t even going to be ratified for another 77 years.

As for poor Charlemagne, he is explained away in a puff of logic:

‘…To sum up: archaeological testimony clearly contradicts the documents of that period. Since our calendar shows "slack", it is permitted to state: Charlemagne has no historical background. He is an invented figure. This conclusion is compelled by the lack of finds, to which I would add that there would be an absolute absence of finds if scholars did not strive so hard to attribute any available works of art or objects of daily use to the Carolingian era…’

Tant pis...