But some of these forgeries shared something remarkable: They were seemingly written centuries before the events they detail. This blew one mind in particular: Heribert Illig, who jumped to quite a shocking conclusion. You see, instead of these documents being badly dated or made to look older to raise their authenticity, the answer was much simpler: The past didn’t exist.
The foundation of Illig’s “phantom time hypothesis,” which denies that the period between 614 and 911 CE ever happened, lies in the fact that the Dark Ages were really, really boring. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe went through a bit of a burnout / mild apocalypse, so most dark agers didn’t get around to doing much else besides trying to survive to the ripe old age of 17. Then Illig discovered that when the Catholic Church decided to switch from the wildly inaccurate Julian Calendar (which was off by about one day per century) to the Gregorian, they only added 10 days instead of 13, revealing they knew there were three centuries fewer than what everyone else was told. Of course, Illig was dead wrong, but you can’t let something like a bit of bad math stand between you and claiming that a dozen generations of our ancestors never existed.
But with that realization, the real conspiracy theory kicked in. Surely, adding three extra centuries isn’t some accidental fuck-up made by some faulty monk copiers. This was the work of powerful and holy people — someone like Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. Otto, according to Illig’s new math, was a 7th century emperor who really wanted to rule in the year 1000, because he wanted to be easily remembered by German fifth-graders. So Otto and Pope Sylvester II set out to create three centuries of fake past to plug the gap. Then they went about filling this newly created 291 years with a bunch of worthless duds of kings, except that Otto got a bit carried away with his fanfiction and created Charlemagne, the Mary Sue of Medieval rulers.
Albrecht Durer“… and his sword was magic and could totally cut Superman, and he …” — Otto
There’s only one teeny tiny problem with Illinger’s hypothesis: It forgets that there’s an entire universe outside of European history. If the Dark Ages didn’t happen, then neither did the birth and dissemination of Islam in the Middle East, or the well-documented feudal renaissance of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. And even if you could believe that Otto toured the world convincing foreign leaders he didn’t know existed to get in on his epic prank, exact sciences like carbon dating, tracking astrological phenomena, or even counting tree rings like an Eagle Scout prove we’re right on schedule.
Yet despite the myriad of logical and fact-based arguments made against the phantom timeline, the idea won’t die. But we don’t have to explain to you why, right? Can’t you feel it? Doesn’t part of you want to believe that we set our civilizations’ alarm clocks three centuries too early? Takes the pressure off, doesn’t it, pretending to be living in 1720? We could all coast for the rest of our lives, knowing that we did amazing just by saying no to slavery and not dying of polio.
C’mon, it’s nice and warm here off the deep end.
Cedric would feel a lot better if hyper-intelligent lizards secretly ruled the world. You can follow him on Twitter, or directly contact him by tuning in to the frequency of his tooth fillings.
If you’re getting the feeling that you need to start living in paranoia, well, luckily you don’t have to worry about making your own tinfoil hat. You can just order one.
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For more, check out What Stupid Conspiracy Theory Is Out There Now? (12/3/17) and Katie, Jedi, And Other Conspiracy Theories Making The Rounds.
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