There is a theory, advanced by a German historian named Heribert Illig, called the Phantom Time Hypothesis, which postulates that the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, Pope Sylvester II, and, maybe, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, conspired to manufacture a new dating system that would place their reigns around the (admittedly sexy) year 1000 A.D. In order to accomplish this, the theory states, they fabricated a few years, specifically all of the years between 613 A.D. and 911 A.D.
That is a lot of years. In fact, it is 297 years, and it encompassed, among many other things, the lives of Charlemagne, the Venerable Bede, and the Prophet Muhammad, the Viking landing in Greenland, and Charles Martel and the battle of Tours.
The evidence marshalled for the Phantom Time Hypothesis is…weak. Proponents of the Hypothesis say that there is “a scarcity of archaeological evidence” from the years 614 A.D. to 910 A.D. (there is also a scarcity of archaeological evidence for the specific years between, oh, I don’t know, 50,120 B.C. and 49,823 B.C., for that matter, but no one is disputing their existence). They also point to discrepancies between the Julian and Gregorian calendars: the Julian calendar’s slight discrepancy against the tropical calendar should have introduced an extra day per century; however, when the Julian and Gregorian calendars were synced in 1582 A.D., there were only ten extra days, instead of thirteen.
However, the question with any temporal sync is, “synced from when?” At the reconciliation of the Julian and Gregorian calendars, they started the clock at the first Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D., and not the year 0 – that explains those missing three days.
Nevertheless, I am delighted with the Phantom Time Hypothesis. The years between 613 A.D. and 911 A.D. maybe didn’t exist – that is wonderful news.
First of all, on a personal and petty note, my spouse has always claimed to be a descendant of Charlemagne. I have always found this claim dubious, and am delighted that Spouse will no longer be able to lord it over me.
(Although, on a sad note, with the loss of the Carolingian dynasty, we will also lose perhaps my favorite-named monarch, Pepin the Short.)
But the implications of the Phantom Time Hypothesis are so much grander than the theater of my matrimonial feud will allow. To meddle with the past, that has been the province of the gods only. And yet this is a power I would like for myself: the power to create or erase time. And now I find that it is the province not only of the divine, but of man! At least, of Pope Sylvester.
History is not, to my way of thinking, well-apportioned. There are times I would reassign. For example, I have never been partial to the ancient Greeks; I would prefer to give some of their time to the Romans, of whom I am very fond. I would happily trade several decades of boring Athenian democratic experiment for, say, another bizarre Roman emperor, or maybe just more time spent in 44 B.C.
Or how about the Antebellum United States – I think we can all agree that was suboptimal. I would donate the years which belong to the Antebellum States to someone more deserving, or more interesting: perhaps to the pre-Columbian South American civilizations.
A plastic history is so much more optimistic than a static one, and, besides, perhaps we ourselves are on the edge of another leap forward in Phantom Time. We may all wake up tomorrow and discover that we’ve been gifted several hundred free years. In a Phantom Time universe, everything is negotiable: what happened yesterday, what happened today, and what may happen tomorrow. Nothing is set in stone; nothing is done which may not be undone, or, indeed, which, in fact, may not have been done at all. We can always improve ourselves, and in Phantom Time, we may find we already have.