Wednesday 4 October 2023

Phantom Time

 In fiction, crackpot ideas and conspiracy theories can be highly entertaining: think of the philosopher De Selby and his insane 'black air' theory in Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, or the delusional  'Gnomon Society of America' in Charles Portis's Masters of Atlantis. However, in the real world (if it is real – how would we know? etc.), conspiracy theories and crackpot ideas are generally tiresome, products of a little learning and a large desire to appear privy to esoteric knowledge denied to the rest of us, the ignorant, trusting masses. There are exceptions, though, and today I came across a beauty – what might be called the mother of all conspiracy theories. This is the Phantom Time Conspiracy, according to which the years 614-911 AD never happened, nor did any of the 'history' recorded for that period. I think this means that the year we know as 912 was in reality 615, something like that, and the 'history' was fabricated to fill the three-century gap. So it's goodbye to the entire Carolingian age, and Charlemagne himself, not to mention the Mercian kingdom and Geoffrey Hill's hero Offa – fabrications all. This, the theory goes, was done by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, with help from Pope Sylvester II and possibly the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, the aim of the conspiracy being to legitimise Otto's claim the the Holy Roman Empire and to ensure that Otto's descendants would be around and in charge at the Millennium, when great and wonderful things were expected to occur.
  The theory was first asserted as recently as 1991, by a historian called Herbert Illig, and it was demolished before it made much headway, the evidence against it being, well, somewhat overwhelming. But of course that's what they want us to think...

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