Since I’ve had enough of America Unearthed, I thought I’d briefly share a weird claim I came across yesterday. I read about Roman history in my spare time because I love imperial Rome; I don’t get to talk about it much here, though, since alternative types don’t care much for trying to insert aliens into well-documented periods.
Anyway, I was reading about the fall of the Roman Empire and came across the weird claim that Classical civilization was destroyed by Muslims, a neat trick since the Classical world had faded away at least a century before Islam. In order to make this hypothesis work, John O’Neill claimed that Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor, had added 297 years to the calendar. By removing them, Muslims are suddenly at the gates of the Classical world, threatening Greco-Roman culture, and absolving Christians and barbarians alike of responsibility for the Dark Ages.
But O’Neill didn’t invent this weird idea. It was first proposed by Heribert Illig and Hans-Ulrich Niemitz to explain why the impact of Islam was felt in successive waves (political, economic, and social) rather than all at once. They proposed that Otto III and Pope Sylvester II purposely misdated the calendar in transitioning to the Anno Domini dating system in order to celebrate the Millennium 297 years early, and that Otto convinced his distant cousin, the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII, to rewrite all existing Byzantine history books to incorporate 297 phantom years. They then invented imaginary history to fill in the gap. Among that imaginary history was Charlemagne, who Illig and Niemitz proposed was a fictional character who never existed.
For example, how could Otto and Constantine have altered Babylonian star records not unearthed for another eight centuries? Nebuchadnezzar’s astronomical charts record a conjunction that occurred in his 37th regnal year, 568 BCE by our current calendar, as figured from the lengths of the Babylonian kings’ reigns, counted back from known points in history. (These points occurred before Otto’s “missing time” and are thus not affected by the proposed missing years.) If we were “missing” 297 years, all modern astronomical calculations would be wrong because they would count centuries of movements that had not happened and thus not agree with the Babylonian records. And yet the motions of the stars, projected back in time, perfectly align with the Babylonian records.
I’d never heard of this missing time theory; it’s apparently more popular in Germany, as it was originally proposed in German language publications. But it still amazes me how much people want the past to be different than it is.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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