Explaining why the Phantom Time Hypothesis is all wrong

If one studies the medieval past long enough, they probably have come across ‘Phantom Time Hypothesis’. Here is a simple explanation of what it is, and why it’s wrong.

A new video has just been released by the popular Youtube channel Half as Interesting. Entitled ‘The Conspiracy Theory that the Middle Ages Never Happened’, it is told in their playful and entertaining style:


Half as Interesting, run by Sam Denby, is not the only media company to have discovered the Phantom Time Hypothesis and cover it – check out this, this, this and this.

This theory emerged in the 1980s by Heribert Illig, a German writer and historical revisionist. He first proposed the idea that the years 614 to 911 AD were invented, and some of his followers have continued espouse it. In one version it is Emperor Otto III (980 – 1002) who wanted to live in the year 1000 AD, so with the help of his friend Gerbert de Aurillac, later Pope Sylvester II, he had 300 years of history invented, including the life and reign of Charlemagne. In another version its the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII (905 – 959) who organized a rewriting of history, although his motives are even less clear.


While the theory is entertaining, nearly all medieval scholars view it as ridiculous. Phantom Time Hypothesis offers little explanation on why other civilizations such as China, India and Persia would have also filled their pages with events and rulers that did not exist. It would even harder to explain the rise of the Islamic world and how it spread across the Middle East, North Africa and into Iberia. Moreover, it seemed that Illig and his followers had little understanding of archaeology and dendrochronology, which offer strong evidence that established dates are correct.

In the end, the Phantom Time Hypothesis is one of those interesting (or crazy) ideas that will always be with us, but with just a little bit of research can easily explained to be all wrong.

Also check out this episode from The Weird History Podcast, where they talk more about the Phantom Time Hypothesis and why it is so dumb.

Top Image: Photo by Dafne Cholet / Flickr