We all love a good conspiracy theory; it's always fun to learn about intricate webs of ideation and fabricated "facts" in order to understand some grander theory of politics, science, or history. But whether it's lizards in the royal family, Lyndon Johnson coordinating John F. Kennedy's fate, or the government hiring Stanley Kubrick to fake the Moon landing, even the most outlandish conspiracy theories have devoted believers. And that's certainly the case with the Phantom Time Hypothesis, first proposed by Heribert Illig in 1986.
This theory posits that the early Middle Ages simply never happened. Yes, that's right. Say goodbye to Charlemagne, Venerable Bede, and the Carolingian Renaissance because the period between 614 CE and 911 CE is entirely fabricated according to Illig. He calls this 300 year period the "Phantom Era" and justifies the conspiracy through an elaborate theory derived from Europe's transfer from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE.
When the Julian calendar was introduced in 45 BCE, it did not perfectly align with Earth's revolution around the Sun; instead, it had a standard 365 day year with a leap year every 4 years to account for an extra 6 hours every year. The standard leap year overcompensated, however, because it takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds for the Earth to orbit the Sun. The discrepancy eventually caused the recorded date to misalign from Earth's revolution and created a problem for Western European Christians: they were unable to determine the true date of Easter. To compensate for and fix the Julian calendar's problems, Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian calendar and dropped 10 days to synchronize the calendar with astronomical events.
The 10 dropped days are the point of contention for Illig and those who support the Phantom Time Hypothesis. Illig claims that for the two calendars to truly align with one another, Pope Gregory XIII had to have dropped 13 days rather than 10. Skipping 10 days would account for only 1,282 years, rather than the 1,627 years between the introduction of the Julian calendar and the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, someone in the years between the two points of time must have manufactured around 300 fake years.Article Image
Illig claims Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne may not have been a real person and was just a mythical figure like King Arthur. Over his 46 year reign, he was a lawmaker, scholar, theologist, general, founder of new legal and education systems, minister of agriculture, and an expert philologist - all while being illiterate. Illig concludes that to do all of this, he must have been fictionalized to at least some extent, if not wholly. One of Charlemagne's greatest achievements, the building of the Palatine Chapel at Aachen, is most in question by Illig (and supporters like Dr. Philipp Kneis).
The Carolingian-era stone chapel boasts a central octagon that's over 30 m (~98 ft) high, has 83 cm (~3 ft) thick walls at its weakest points, and features a dome that's 15 m (~49 ft) in diameter. It also includes suspended stone archways, which, according to the Phantom Time Hypothesis, could never have been built in the late 8th century. Illig says that architectural knowledge of this kind could have only come from a few certain sources - the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Franks - but all three had architectural differences.
The Romans built domes using concrete or volcanic pozzolan earth but stopped building anything that advanced by the 5th century CE. The Byzantines built their domes and arches from lighter materials, and thus had no knowledge of how to construct heavy stone architecture. The Franks built solely with wood. Instead, the Chapel must have been made when other Romanesque domes were built around Western Europe, circa 1100 CE.
To establish such an elaborate conspiracy and influence the whole world to follow along, most people would expect it'd need to be enacted by someone of great power with a malicious reason. According to Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz - an ardent supporter of the Phantom Time Hypothesis - the conspiracy was enacted by King Otto III. Niemitz himself suggests that Otto III crafted this conspiracy because it fit with his beliefs in Christian millenarianism.
Christian millenarianism is the theory that the Earth is currently only 6,000 years old, and the world will only exist for 6,000 or 7,000 years because God experiences 1,000 years comparable to how people experience a day, and God took seven days to create the world. Thus, God's seven days of creation last an equivalent of 7,000 years for human beings. Within the theory, Otto III might have totally fabricated the figure of Charlemagne in order to help cover his tracks.
Article ImageOnce this was established, according to Illig, people within both the Jewish and Islamic faith followed in adding 300 years. Not much explanation is given as to why, however, as Illig only states that this line of reasoning would explain why Christians in the West, Byzantines, and Jews introduced new calendars in the 10th century.
Most mainstream historians are unwilling to seriously entertain Illig's hypothesis. The Gregorian calendar was never meant to perfectly align with the Julian calendar. Instead, the intention of the calendar was to better determine the date for Easter, and it aligned with the year in which discrepancies over Easter were solved by the Council of Nicaea, 325 CE.
But there's a larger criticism to Illig's hypothesis: the theory itself relies on eurocentrism. It does not recognize, or even consider, the growth and development that happened in the rest of the world. More blatantly, this theory assumes that the Chinese, for example, would have willingly created a fake dynasty fashioned with false archives simply because some medieval European asked them to. Seems far-fetched to most.
Illig and others who hold to the Phantom Time Hypothesis have remained committed, despite scathing criticism. Illig has said, "German medievalists, after several failed attempts at refutation, are no longer willing to react to my arguments. Nevertheless, despite their attempts to ignore me, the debate continues."