Conspiracy Watch: Were the Dark Ages Faked?

“Phantom time,” Charlemagne, and a 300-year memory hole.

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The latest installment in our ongoing collection of wonderfully weird (and totally whack) conspiracy theories. Find more Conspiracy Watch entries here.

THE CONSPIRACY THEORY: No wonder the Dark Ages were so dark—they didn’t really exist. The years between 614 and 911 never happened, yet due to some suspicious mathematical manipulation, they have been included in the Western calendar. To cover up the time shift, three centuries of fictional events and nonexistent figures like Charlemagne have been squeezed into the historical record. Reset your watches: We’re actually living in the early 1700s.

THE THEORISTS: The idea of “phantom time” was first proposed in 1991 by a German historian named Heribert Illig and his colleagues. They claim that unexplained gaps in the archeological and documentary record confirm their hypothesis. So how did 297 empty years suddenly appear? The prime suspect is Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, who is commonly thought to have lived around 1000. Not so, say Illig and Co.: He actually lived around 700 but wished he lived at the time of the first millennium, so with the help of Pope Sylvester II, he added 300 years to the date. To help cover his tracks, he invented a convincing story about an eighth-century Frankish emperor named Charlemagne.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON EARTH: Needless to say, historians aren’t convinced that a large chunk of the Middle Ages were faked. But if it’s true, can I get a partial refund for that monster European History book I had to read in high school?

Kookiness Rating: Tin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat Small (1=maybe they’re on to something, 5=break out the tinfoil hat!)

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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