You think you’ve heard every conspiracy theory? Have you heard the one about how the years 614-911 never happened and were part of a secret plot by a Catholic pope who thought it’d be cool to reign during the year 1000? No? Well, strap yourself in to learn about the three “missing centuries.”
According to the historical record, not much happened in Europe during the early Middle Ages. There is scant archeological evidence that can be pinpointed to the years 600-900 CE and very little evidence of new literature and technological advancements. Most historians refer to this time as the “Dark Ages” and blame it on a cultural decline throughout Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire.
But according to the Phantom Time Hypothesis, this era wasn’t merely “dark”—it never happened at all.
The Strange Mind of Heribert Illig
German historian Heribert Illig first published his Phantom Time Hypothesis in 1991. He’d been working on this idea since learning of a 1986 archeological conference that discussed the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of forging documents in the Middle Ages and predating them by hundreds of years.
If it can be proved that the Church messed with truth and time in such a way, Illig argued, how can we be sure they didn’t fabricate entire centuries out of nothing?
Searching for “proof” of the Church meddling with time, Illig focused on Pope Gregory XIII introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which is still the main calendar used to conduct business throughout the world. The problem with the Julian calendar, which had been in use since Roman times, is that it overestimated the length of an average year about about 11 minutes. Although that doesn’t sound like much, it would have added up to a drift of about 13 days between Roman times and the year 1582.
But instead of shortening the calendar by 13 days, Pope Gregory only adjusted it by 10 days. Illig cited this as “proof” that the Church was aware that it had fabricated a 297-year stretch of time between the years 614 and 911, during which the Julian calendar would have been knocked off-course an additional three days.
OK, but why the hell would the Church have fabricated an entire three centuries of time? What was their motivation?
According to Illig—who cited zero evidence to back up this claim—Pope Sylvester II, Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, and Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, all mesmerized by the idea of Christian millenarianism, thought it’d be really cool if they reigned during the year 1000 instead of the relatively drab and boring year 703, so they set their minions to fabricating an entire three-century stretch of time that never actually happened.
Therefore, Charlemagne never existed. Neither did Alfred the Great. According to Illig, Catholic historians invented all these characters in order to pad out history so that the Pope and those two emperors could flatter themselves by claiming to have ruled during the year 1000. As further “evidence” that these three centuries were fabricated out of thin air, Illig points out that there seemed to be no buildings constructed in Constantinople during this time period and no substantial evolution in Church doctrine regarding articles of faith such as purgatory.
Illig and his supporters claim that radiometric and dendrochronological methods of dating archeological evidence are highly flawed and that there is thus zero evidence of anything ever existing between the years 614 and 911.
He points to Romanesque architecture in Europe existing as late as the tenth century as proof that the Roman Empire had fallen much more recently than was thought.
Supporting Illig’s general revisionist framework, Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz published a paper in 1995 called “Did the Early Middle Ages Really Exist?” According to Niemitz, they did not:
Between Antiquity (1 AD) and the Renaissance (1500 AD) historians count approximately 300 years too many in their chronology…nothing can be said about this period, because no historical sources exist for the supposed reform in this period….In other words: the Roman emperor Augustus really lived 1700 years ago instead of the conventionally assumed 2000 years.
The Problems With Phantom Time Hypothesis
Whether or not carbon dating and tree-ring dating are imperfect, most of the evidence using these methods suggests that there is ample evidence the years 614-911 went by one year at a time.
Whether or not the entire Charlemagne saga was invented, there are reams of concurrent historical evidence from the following sources that ALL would have required fabrication as well:
- Anglo-Saxon English historical records
- Papal historical records
- Byzantine historical records
- Islamic historical records
- Chinese historical records
The latter two—Islamic and Chinese history—are of special significance because they also mention astronomical events such as Halley’s Comet and eclipses that coincide perfectly with the idea that the years 614-911 actually occurred and that Heribert Illig and all his supporters might be using cuckoo clocks to measure time.
The sad truth is that the Early Middle Ages likely existed; it’s just that they were so boring, it didn’t make much of a difference.