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The early Middle Ages were a fabrication, they didn't exist...
...and we're living in the year 1707?

 5:15 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

I don't know if anyone else here is interested in this kind of esoteric academic debate, but - with an open mind - I find this sort of thing fascinating.

Four months ago I was travelling in Bulgaria with a former course colleague who I studied Russian with at university. (He also studied History, while I studied German). He mentioned to me something about a theory by a German historian which suggested that some eight hundred years ago monks had re-written historical chronicles and invented three hundred years... possibly to avoid the millenium and all the apocalyptic consequences that might ensue.

Then, just recently, I mentioned the theory in passing to a German friend and her brother who were staying over in London. They seemed quite familiar with the hypothesis. Apparently, while the theory has been attacked quite vociferously it has proven remarkably resilient. Many potential sources of historical evidence appear to have a 297 year gap somewhere around 600 AD to 900 AD: there is a general absence of documents; architecture, farming methods and language don't seem to change over three centuries; in short there is little or no evidence (documentary or otherwise) for the "Dark Ages"...

But the traditional explanation that the lights went out on western Europe after the fall of the western Roman Empire fails to explain why the chapel at Charlemagne's capital, Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen), built around 800AD is some centuries more advanced than it should be, nor does it explain why the Julian calendar was only wrong by ten days when it was changed to the Gregorian calendar by Pope Gregory in 1582. (If it had been in use for nearly 1600 years it should have been out by 13 days). The ten day inaccuracy suggests that the Julian calendar had only been in use from the fourth century - which is evidently not the case.

These are just two examples, both of which, I'm sure could be explained away with sufficient thought and research, but apparently there are tens if not hundreds of instances where it appears far more likely that at some point, for some reason, the dateline was shunted forward by 297 years, than it is that production of all potential sources of historical evidence ceased for three centuries.

For English language readers, this is an interesting introduction which covers these two examples (and a lot more besides) in more detail: [cl.cam.ac.uk ]

Otherwise, if you read German, there are several (much criticised) papers and books available by some of the researchers who are looking at this controversial theory: Uwe Topper, Herbert Illig, Hans-Ulrich Niemitz. There seems to be a lot of mixed opinion about the material on amazon.de.



 5:37 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

It's certainly an interesting idea. For example, if you consult something like a list of the Kings of England [britannia.com], they tend to start with the house of Wessex and Egbert in 802AD, but if you look at, for example, the Kings of Northumbria [britannia.com], the entire period in question is covered. Are all these kings therefore an invention?

You can take it from another angle via starcharts, and step away from the western European perspective and look at the work of the early Chinese astronomers to get a more independent view.

The 297-year jump is a nice little theory, but there remains a large glut of evidence standing against it. Certainly the departure of the Romans from Britain in 410AD (and from much of the rest of continental Europe too), and the subsequent arrival of the Saxons, Angles and the rest of the "barbarian" tribes shattered the continuity in terms of historical record-keeping, but it is hard to swallow such a change in the date. There is certainly little evidence of the dark ages, but there is even less evidence of the abolition of 297 years. The 3 day difference with the Julian calendar is a red herring too, because you can't be sure that the start was well-calculated.

All IMHO, of course!


 6:03 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hard to swallow? Yes it is, and I have to say that I am quite sceptical at this juncture.

I'm sure the researchers who concern themselves with this idea know the best way to put it to rest would be to get hold of evidence of a continuous timeline from elsewhere in the world (say India or China) but they either haven't had much luck yet, or they are making enough money to offset the damage to their academic reputations (but I doubt it).

What's curious is that whenever the researchers look to architecture, archaeology, linguistics, dendrochronology, or whatever, there doesn't seem to be anything to backup the traditionally accepted timeline... it's not so much that there's a lack of evidence for a three hundred year gap - it's that there's a lack of real evidence for those three hundred years in the first place.

As for the invention of monarchs... Herbert Illig who seems somewhat more radical in his proposals than Uwe Topper is apparently confident that Charlemagne is a mythic invention by Emperor Otto III. I think in the case of your list of Northumbrian kings the proponents of the theory would argue it's more a case of the dates being adjusted rather than of personages being invented.

I agree, it seems extraordinary that some sort of invention of 300 years could be accepted by so many different cultures across a very wide geographical area - this is the issue which makes me most sceptical - though Niemitz writes at one point:

Moreover, the Parsees - the Zarathustra worshippers - in India have been debating their own chronology furiously since messengers from Iran in the 18th century told them that they made a mistake in counting the years since their flight from the homeland... Even modern encyclopaedias vary in the assertions between the 7th and 10th century for the event.

It is also intriguing, if what Niemitz claims is true, that outside western Europe, Byzantine society left no written documents or archaeological remains between 600 AD and 900 AD.


 8:34 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Well, they were called the "Dark Ages" for a reason... not much scholarly pursuit going on at the time. Perhaps it's a bit like dark matter? hehe

But really, that would be astounding. Historical revisionism of a magnitude never before imagined... Couldn't some combination of carbon dating and study of historical records in the far east put it to rest fairly easily though? Or is carbon dating only accurate on things older than that?


 10:23 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Well, if you subscribe to the "bilderberg" theory of socio-economic steering (I'm not saying I do or don't....), this wouldn't be a stretch at all....


 11:31 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Sounds like an attempt to erase the fact that europeans were living like savages while the rest of the world (middle east, africa, asia, meso-america) had flourishing arts and culture.

Kind of like the reverse of the Chariots of the Gods theories where europeans degrade the accomplishments of the above mentioned cultures by suggesting they were done by aliens. LOL.

[edited by: lawman at 5:43 am (utc) on Aug. 20, 2004]
[edit reason] spelling [/edit]


 11:59 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Of course everybody knows Pope Gregory XIII (the Gregorian Calendar dude) made 10 days disappear from the calendar in 1582 to take of calendric inacuracies introduced by Julius Ceaser.


According to Stephen J Gould's book "Questioning the Millennium" we are still going to have to make another adjustment in 5000 some odd years, but I'm no where near capable of exlaining it.

[edited by: lawman at 5:44 am (utc) on Aug. 20, 2004]
[edit reason] link [/edit]


 3:06 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)


This is not the best-written article I've ever read. You'd have thought that someone with a PhD wouldhave known how to construct an argument, particlularly since he was working on it for at least eight years. Presumably he isn't planning to submit this as part of his Habilitation :)

The danger sign, as always with this sort of thing, is the lack of names of those he is challenging. Phrases such as "some historians", "it has been argued", etc litter the text. These phrases send alerts to my bs-detector. A serious argument, on the other hand, is one that names the guilty and makes it clear who's blood is being spilled on the carpet.

The main problem is that Niemitz doesn't understand the historical status of the "Julian" calendar. Since this is fundamental to the point he is trying to make, his error is somewhat basic. He reveals his error on page 2 of the document, when he claims that "300 phantom years have crept into the accepted chronology", and asks "why didn't anyone notice it". Well, perhaps the answer is that it is Niemitz that has calculated wrongly and that the "phantom years" are the result of his calculation error.

He calculates the number of phantome years from the number of days by which Pope Gregory had to adjust the calendar in 1582AD - ten - and calculates the number of years it takes the Julian calendar to produce this error - 1257 (nothing wrong so far) - and then subtracts the 1257 from 1582, proudly proclaiming:

1582 - 1257 = 325
The year in which the "Gregorian" calendar began minus the years necessary to produce 10 days of error in the Julian calendar equals the beginning of the Julian calendar.)

and he then goes on to announce

It seems, unbelievably, that Caesar introduced his calendar in 325 AD.

Well, no.

Those who can see the error in this will include:

  • Those who know what the Julian calendar is.
  • Those who know something of the history of the period and region, for whom the year 325AD will stand out as though flashing in neon.

First, the Julian calendar. This was the first solar calendar system to include a "leap year" to account for the fact that the Earth takes slightly longer thna 365 days to orbit the Sun. Under the Julian system, every fourth year contains 366 days.

The Julian calendar has nothing to do with the numbering of years in the Christian Era. Julius Caesar numbered years ab urbe condita ("from the founding of the city [of Rome]" or AUC), not from the birth of Christ (who, in any case, was born after Caesar died).

The introduction of the Christian Era numbering for years concerns the celebration of Easter. This is where the "phantom" 325 years come in.

Easter is the annual celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, an important event for the Christian religion. There was considerable debate in the early Church about when this feast should be held, partly because the gospels of Matthew, mark and Luke give a different date for the Resurrection from the Gospel of John.

The date of Easter was sorted out by the Council of Nicaea, which decreed that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday following the Full Moon that fell on the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox they took as occurring on March 21st.

The problem with this is how to calculate it. The lunar year is not the same as the solar year, so the date of the Full Moon after the equinox is not the same each year, and, in any case, the equinox can also fluctuate by a day each way.

The problem was solved by Dionysius Exiguus (aka "Dennis the Little" - really, I'm not making this up :)), who came up with a formula at the request of Pope John I. The seed for the formula was the number of the year. And to give this number this number a more "Christian" feel, Dionysius gave the number 1 to the year in which he believed Christ to have been born: 754 AUC. (As it happened, he was wrong, but that's neither here nor there for this story.)

If you take 754AUC as 1AD, then the year that the Coucil of Nicaea took place was 325AD. That is, the year in which the measured Christian calendar, running, at this time, on the Julian system, and the "real" year were syncronised. To get them back together you had to adjust the measured calendar by ten days.

Quod est demonstrandum, as Dionysius might have said. These are real, not phantom years, and they occurred somehwat earlier than Niemitz suggested. A pity he didn't do a bit of reading and get his thoughts clear before putting pen to paper.

This does, however, have something to do with IT. Those of us who are, or, like me, have been, programmers will be all too familiar with the experience of entities being confused and run together in specifications. This just goes to show it can also happen elsewhere.


 8:56 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

The date of Easter was sorted out by the Council of Nicaea, which decreed that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday following the Full Moon that fell on the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox they took as occurring on March 21st.

Almost ... it's an ecclesiastical moon not a full moon. It has to do with Butchers Algorthym and calculation innacruacies.



 9:32 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

This is a bit of a side issue, but the difference between the Full Moon as seen and the Full Moon used in calculating the date of Easter is due to inaccuracies in Dionysius' algorithm (reproduced in graywolf's reference). The terms of the date of Easter laid down by the Coucil of Nicaea are as I stated. The important point, however, for this discussion is the year of the decision, rather than the decison itself.

I note with approval, incidentally, that the US Navy uses the politically (and natally) correct term "CE" instead of "AD". :)


 10:37 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

The Doctor: now THAT'S fascinating! Over the years I've got bits and pieces of all that in various combinations. Having it all together in one post is great, and I'm flagging this thread for that reason alone.... because not 2 weeks back, my daughter asked me to try to explain to her 12 year old how to figure out when Easter will fall (without reference to online calendrics of course), and while I got part of it right I also got part of it wrong.

So tomorrow I call my granddaughter and give her the REAL story.

Thanks! [This sort of thing reinforces my belief that all things come to himmer who visits WebmasterWorld....]


 8:12 am on Aug 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

Very well, TheDoctor!

I'm sure that - with the help of your excellent B.S.-detector, you're capable to demystify other conspiracy theories in the future ;-)


 3:20 pm on Aug 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi TheDoctor - is your B.S.-detector still turned on?

Then you might enjoy the related theory by Fomenko: The Roman empire began in the 9th century, and English history books are "really" just imperfect copies of Byzantine history books.


 4:58 pm on Aug 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hagstrom, that website (the entire thing, not just the page you cite) looks good. I didn't know about it before, but seems to be run by a man after my own heart.

Thanks for the link :)


 1:36 pm on Aug 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

You're most welcome :)

One thing I didn't understand about Niemitz was this: If he doesn't know about the Nicean Council of 325 A.D - then where does he get the figure 1.257 from?


 1:04 am on Aug 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

Really interesting thread.


 1:28 am on Aug 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hagstrom: that's a fascinating site....


 6:17 am on Aug 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

The monks tinkering with the calendar is theoretically possible. The catholic church had pretty much a lock on education, printed material, etc etc at the time. The common man, even monarchs, weren't terribly concerned with "what year it was" so much as "what time of year it was" ie: planting season, harvest season, campaigning season (midsummer, after the crops had bee planted and before they had been harvested, or later in the fall after the crops had been harvested and before it got too cold to march around and beat each other up). It was also improtant to know how long until spring so you could effectively ration your winter reserves etc.

As for the actual year? It mattered little to any but the clergy. Even monarchs didn't much care, other than to note things like "In the fifth year of the reign of Peppin the Bald..." etc. To monarchs, year 1 was effectively the year they were crowned.

So much for a nice theory, because it only works in a world where only Europe exists. Aside from the fact that there is documentary evidence from the "dark" period in Europe (fledgling monastaries kept pretty spiffy records, and there are several contiguous series of court documents tallying taxes on harvests), which would kill the "missing" 325 year theory in and of themselves, there is also the simple fact that Europe didn't exist in isolation from the rest of the world at any point in its history after the fall of Rome.

Trade with the Middle East and other countries in the mediteranean basin continued, although at a diminished pace, throughout the period, including with nations of a reasonably high cultural sophistication, most notbaly Byzantium, or the Eastern Roman Empire. These countries continued to keep track of the passage of years quite effectively, and there are PLENTY of trade documents detailing the commerce that continued to flow between Europe and other nations of the mediteranean. If you want good, reliable records, historically speaking, merchants logs and tallies are pure gold (excuse the pun). By correlating these records, which would include the date of the local calendar, with events transpiring in Europe and the various goods that were making their way to other solid record keepers (like monastaries), there simply is no documentary gap in the European history.

Sure, it may have gotten a little thin for a while, and many of the records may have been torched during various catastrophes and acts of war, but there are enough bits and pieces left over to keep a timeline.

Not only that, but one of the greatest treasures brought into Europe from the Crusades were mounds and mounds of documents, histories, and scientific texts acquired from the mass pillaging of the Middle East. Any "Gap" in the European history would have been created before the crusades, but the documents brought back during the crusades would have immediately shown the lie. And these were documents that the clergy had almost no control over. They were brought back as booty by individual knights and nobles, and rapidly began to disseminate among the wider European audience.

It is, in fact, these documents, and the knowledge that came with them, that led almost directly to the renaissance and the reformation. During that period, questioning the Catholic church become popular sport. With the documents available to the scholars of that period, they would have quickly been able to determine any induced gap in the historical record that had been induced by the clergy. And there would have been great incentive to report on such an induced gap, because it would have given those who were questioning the Catholic Churhc even more ammo to attack with.


 3:11 am on Aug 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

I have a nice tree branch fossil from what the experts say is an interface of 250 million years ago and 480 million years ago.

I suspect that the intervening years rock are not missing because of erosion way back when but because the intervening years never existed!

300 years that never happened is nothing compared to 230 million years.

And I do not care what other rocks anywhere else in the world have to say about the matter.

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