Friday, May 25, 2007

The Top Ten Conspiracy Theories, Number 6

Charlemagne never existed, is a fictional character

Phantom time hypothesis is a theory developed by Heribert Illig which suggests that the Early Middle Ages (614–911 CE) never occurred, meaning that all artifacts attributed to this time period were from other times, and all historical figures were outright fabrications.

One consequence of Illig's hypothesis is that Charlemagne never existed but is a fictional character. The vast majority of historians believe this theory to be complete fiction, as all cited evidence can be considered circumstantial.

The Phantom time hypothesis is a theory developed by Heribert Illig (born 1947 in Vohenstrauß) from 1991, which suggests that the Early Middle Ages (more precisely, the period 614–911 AD) never occurred, meaning that all artifacts attributed to this time period are from other times and that all historical figures from this time period are outright fabrications.

Other people who have written essays in support of the phantom time hypothesis include Hans-Ulrich Niemitz, Christoph Marx, Angelika Müller, Uwe Topper and Manfred Zeller. The vast majority of historians believe this theory to be incorrect, as all cited evidence can be considered circumstantial. As such, it is generally considered to be pseudohistory.

The basis of Illig's claims is the paucity of archaeological evidence that can be securely dated to this period; perceived inadequacies of radiometric and dendrochronological methods of dating this period, and the over-reliance of medieval historians on written sources. For Western Europe, Illig claims the presence of Romanesque architecture in the tenth century as evidence that less than half a millennium could have passed since the fall of the Roman Empire, and concludes that the entire Carolingian period, including the person of Charles the Great, is a forgery of medieval chroniclers, more precisely a conspiracy instigated by Otto III and Gerbert d'Aurillac.

The theory also stems from the belief that during the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Europe (1582 AD), while compensating for a ten day discrepancy in the old Julian calendar, many dates were falsely (or ineptly) recalculated as the new system created a thirteen day discrepancy. The original mathematical blemish was attributed to the Julian year being 1.3 minutes too long (which is commonly agreed as factual).

None of Illig's work has been translated into English, and his thesis has received little attention in the English-speaking world as a considerable body of evidence immediately refutes his hypothesis. Illig's theories have initially (1995 to 2000) received widespread academic criticism, but from ca. 2000, historians increasingly refused to address the issue because Illig proved unamenable to criticism and indulged in personal attacks on his critics instead (Matthiesen 2002).

The main arguments against his hypothesis are:

This hypothesis is considered by many to be thoroughly refuted by astronomical calculations based on ancient reports of eclipses. Eclipses allow the calculation of the historical rate of rotation of the Earth and match the predicted lengthening of the day due to tidal effects of the moon with high precision. Even millisecond errors in the calculation would have accumulated and resulted in the eclipse being observed thousands of kilometers away from the reported location. Many independent historical eclipse reports going back as far as 700 BC are in agreement with the traditional historical timeline.

Illig underestimates the archaeological evidence and also the research done on the literary sources from the period.

Dendrochronology, the method of scientific dating based on the analysis of tree ring patterns, refutes a gap of three centuries.

Illig's hypothesis requires a widespread collaboration involving not only the Occident, but also the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world, in order to fabricate all the synchronisms provided by the sources. Such a collaboration, however, would have been practically impossible to implement in the past.

Illig gives no credible motivation for the supposed fabrications, even assuming that they had been feasible. Niemitz suggests two possible motivations: the hypothesis that Otto III redefined the calendar to suit "his understanding of Christian millenarianism," and the hypothesis that Constantine VII's re-recording of historical texts involved altering dates. Neither of these hypotheses are considered to be very credible.

Illig's claims regarding the Gregorian Error assumed that Pope Gregory XIII's calculation of the inaccuracy in the Julian calendar, in 1582, was based on the time since the adoption of the Julian calendar, in 46 BC. In fact, Pope Gregory's calculation was based on the time since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Niemitz's response to this is that scholars in Caesar's time used the same date for the equinox that we do, so if the Gregorian calendar was based on the Julian calendar's state in 325, our current observation of the equinox would not match up as well as it does. This response would imply that the Gregorian calendar is only accurate by coincidence, because the alleged error made in the 4th century (not calculating by the equinox date from the beginning of the Julian calendar) is cancelled out by the alleged error made in the 16th century (the 'lost' three centuries).

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