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Who Lost the Middle Ages?

What's behind the attempt to impose a "New Chronology" on history?

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article ran in Lost Civilizations Uncovered in 2001. This version first appeared in Skeptic magazine v. 11, i. 2 (Summer 2004): 66-70.

In 1685, a French scholar by the name of Jean Hardouin published an edition of the Roman author Pliny's Natural History. Hardouin, however, had an unusual belief about its origins. He was convinced that all of the ancient records of Greece and Rome were forgeries perpetrated by Benedictine monks, and that all of the Greco-Roman artifacts were similarly faked. By the time of his death in 1729, he had not provided a reason why the Benedictines would fake so much history, nor a shred of evidence to back up his claims. (1)

Today an intellectual successor to Hardouin claims that it is not classical antiquity that was forged, but instead the history of the Middle Ages. Russian mathematician Anatoly Fomenko has devised a system he calls the "New Chronology" that he says firmly establishes the fictive nature of the medieval epoch. The University of Moscow professor published a book called Antiquity in the Middle Ages: Greek and Bible History, in which he argues that the written record of human history should be condensed from thousands of years into hundreds of years. For Fomenko, history unfolded not over millennia but centuries.

The English edition of the book was published in September 2003, under the title History: Fiction or Science?, with a lurid cover featuring the crucified Christ, but it is not necessary to buy the book to learn about Fomenko's theories. Before the book's translation, he published a 29,000-word summary of his findings online. This opus, written with G. V. Nosovskij, is grandly titled "New Chronology and New Concept of the English History: British Empire as a Direct Successor of the Byzantine-Roman Empire," and it commits as great an assault on the English language as it does on English history. Nevertheless, it is an important and illuminating look at a new wave of alternative history, a history that appeals to Russians because it is designed to restore to post-Soviet Russia some of the power and greatness of its past.

Fomenko begins by telling his readers that English history is flawed and broken. He argues that the source texts used to create our understanding of Britain from the Roman occupation to William the Conqueror are misdated: "In correct version, ancient and medieval English events am to be transferred to the epoch which begins from 9-10th cc [centuries]. Moreover, many of these events prove to be the reflections of certain events from real Byzantine-Roman history of 9-15th cc. Consequently, the Great Britain Empire is a direct successor of medieval Byzantine Empire." (2)

Say What?

According to Fomenko, there were originally four sources of historical knowledge, books which he refers to as A, B, C, and D. The latter three were imperfect copies of A--the True History. Over time as they were copied and recopied each became so garbled that the four books were eventually assumed to be four separate histories rather than flawed copies of one narrative. Therefore, when late medieval scribes set about writing history, they accidentally made history four times longer than it should have been by repeating the same history four times. Fomenko believes this accounts for "similarities" he has found in the different periods of human history. More importantly, this discovery allows him to reconstruct the True History by collapsing the four histories into a few hundred years.

He calls this compressed version the "fibred" [fiber structure] chronicle. The three chronicles B, C, and D were embedded into A by considering each one as a rigid block and shifting them forward by approximately 333, 1053, and 1778 years respectively. (3)

How did Dr. Fomenko decide how far to shift his dates? The answer goes to the heart of why his theory makes little sense. He says he decided to apply his knowledge of advanced mathematics to the study of history. He began by studying the astronomical phenomena recorded in Ptolemy's Almagest, a text from the second century CE that catalogued the positions of 1,028 stars and introduced the concept of the epicycle to explain the retrograde motion of the planets. Fomenko is of the opinion that the Almagest actually records astronomical phenomena from the 7th to the 13th century CE. He detailed his reasoning in Geometrical and Statistical Methods of Analysis of Star Configurations. Dating Ptolemy's Almagest. Without getting into the complex mathematics, the Fomenko method of analyzing the stars does not quite prove his point. Even though he assigns a small margin of error to Ptolemy's figures, he must then assume that Ptolemy's values are largely without error in order to arrive at "true" dates. A small error in value on the part of Ptolemy could--and does--throw all Fomenko's calculations to the wind.

Using this eccentric interpretation, Fomenko proceeds to declare that on this basis all historical chronology is wrong. The Roman Empire, he claims, actually began in the 9th century, and its Eastern half, condescendingly called Byzantine, was the true model for all history. ("Byzantine" was a derogatory term associated with paganism used by the Holy Roman Empire to discredit its eastern rival.) Cutting to the chase, Fomenko concludes that British history is really Byzantine history, that the English kings were British renamings of the Byzantine Emperors, and that all of this history was fabricated when refugees from the fallen Byzantine capital "returned" to England in 1453 and brought their history to the barbarian island. (4)

He counts Cenwalch of Wessex and Sussex (643-672 CE) as the first "English" king, and he says his reign is the British duplicate (or reinterpretation) of the Eastern Roman Theodosius the Great (378-395 CE), for no particular reason other than the 275 year shift in time that makes it match "New Chronology." But to make them equivalent, Fomenko can only use Cenwalch's reign over Wessex (647-672). Even then, his 25-year reign still does not match Theodosius' 16-year stay on the throne. Nevertheless, this error of more than 50% is still considered a parallel.

His other parallels, even after a double reordering of Byzantine monarchs (they were themselves duplicated twice, you see), are still not very accurate. Beorhtric (ruled 16 years) is equated to Justin I (ruled 9 years), an error of almost 78%. Fomenko links Aethelbert (6 years) to Justin II (13 years), an error of over 1013%. He has to combine Zeno's two reigns (over a period of, but not totaling, 17 years) to match the English Cuthread (17 years).

Fomenko does manage, however, a couple of good "hits." He links Egbert, the uniter of England (ruled 38 years), to Justinian the Great, restorer of the Roman Empire (ruled 38 years). But then he combines King Edgar (16 years) with King Edward the Martyr (3 years) and claims they both represent Leo III the Isaurian (24 years). He concludes that the names Edgar and Edward are "similar and consequently their union is natural." (5) Of course, the eleven Emperors Constantine (and the additional Emperors named Constans and Constantius) were apparently readily distinguished by the barbarians.

His entire theory depends on his idea that history is merely the chronicle of the reigns of monarchs, and that the mathematical relationships between their reigns is as sound as the mathematically relationship of two sides of an algebraic equation. This is nonsense of the worst kind, made worse by the fact that Fomenko had to actively rewrite Byzantine history to get his correlation to match the English history he so badly wants to appropriate (requiring tolerances, as we have shown, of up to 100%).

In short, Fomenko cut and pasted the Emperors in any order he chose to make them conform as closely as he could to selected monarchs of England's past. But even more damaging to his argument claiming that there are mathematical correlations between English and Byzantine rulers is the fact that he has to discount virtually every other fact known about the two cultures. Fomenko claims that Byzantine history from 1143-1453 CE is a mistaken duplicate of history from 830-1143 CE. If this were true, then why would the "fictional" or "duplicate" monarchs of the later period all have coins prominently displaying theft names and portraits? If the rulers of two Byzantine periods and England were one and the same, why should their lives and loves, their triumphs and tragedies differ markedly through "error" and "exaggeration" while the same chroniclers doggedly preserved the length of their reigns?

For that matter, how can we expect to believe Fomenko's arguments since Imperial coinage that documents the succession of the emperors can be gathered from virtually every year from 27 BCE to 1453 CE? How do we discount written Roman history and the great rains of the past? Further, if Fomenko is correct, we must ignore the Magna Carta of 1215, since England's King John would have been nothing more than a Byzantine fantasy. Paradoxically, Fomenko endorses the reality of the Crusades, perhaps because he thinks the Crusaders brought Byzantine history to back England. If so, one immediately wonders how feudalism, Catholicism, and every structure and artifact associated with the High Middle Ages developed spontaneously in the mere 50 years he allots between Rome and the Renaissance. To suggest that the British built medieval England from a Roman England that he claims lasted only from the 9th to 10th centuries is a feat that contradicts all known ideas about the development of civilization.

Fomenko also ignores other lines of evidence. He does not account for the chronological continuity of the Roman Catholic popes, or the well-dated series of Church Councils and Papal Bulls. He completely dismisses the radiocarbon evidence that dates artifacts from Rome and the Middle Ages to the accepted timetable and not to his own revised chronology.

Pushing his ideas still further, Fomenko argues that our confusion about the True Dates derives from the old English use of the term "Year of Grace" as a synonym for Anno Domini, A.D. He extrapolates: "Maybe the original (and now forgotten) meaning of a formula 'Years of Grace' differs from one which is accepted today. Maybe it was 'years in Greece.' 'Greek years' or something like this." (6) And of course, since he claims Greece was another name for the Byzantine Empire, ipso facto Christian years become Byzantine years and England becomes the Byzantine Empire, Q.E.D. To be fair, Fomenko concedes this argument is not strong, but he bases his thesis on sound-alike names, even claiming that the continent of Asia really means "Jesus-land." Grace derives from the Latin gratia, thanks or goodwill; Greece is from the Latin Graecia, their word for the Hellenes. Jesus was several centuries too late to get naming fights to Asia, already called that in ancient Greek times.

None of these facts stop Fomenko from also claiming that the name "England" derived from the Byzantine dynasty of the Angeli. They are not related. In fact, the dynastic name of the three Emperors surnamed Angelus is Latin and is a Westernized version of its Greek original, angeloi. The name England derives from the Old English for "Land of the Angles," as opposed to the Saxons. The Angles derive their name from the Latin angli which bears no relation to the word for angel, angelus. Angli was the name given to a branch of the river Suevi in Germany. Tacitus, in his "Germania" from the Opera Minora, names the river so, and around 450 CE the people of the Angli river united with the Saxons to invade England. Check it yourself with the Perseus Project dictionary. (7)

Nevertheless, despite lacking facts and evidence, Fomenko's world-view argues that history is a massive fraud: "Roughly speaking, ancient English chronicles are in fact Byzantine chronicles which were taken from Byzantine to England and then modified in a such way that they seem to speak about events in England." (8) Yet to make his case Fomenko has to massacre history and ignore the archaeological evidence from the island and from Constantinople. He has to willfully manipulate the historical record in the very way he accuses the medieval English of doing. And to what end?

Well, that answer is quite simple. Fomenko is Russian, so it is not surprising that Fomenko "discovered" that Russia was the source of universal empire and that its culture gave rise to England. That explains his Byzantine chauvinism, for the Russian czars (= Caesars) saw themselves as the legitimate successors to the Byzantine emperors through the miracle of shared faith in the (then united) Orthodox Church. If England could be shown to "really" be Byzantium, then all the advances of England, and America, are "really" Byzantine and hence Russian. In other words, this elaborate theory is nothing more than an attempt to bolster the battered and broken shell of the formerly great Russian state, and to claim for Mother Russia a small piece of the reflected glory of a world that passed it by.

Following the publication of Fomenko's book in English his publisher, Delamere Resources Ltd, announced that it had received "innumerable venomous complaints with unprintable undertones." To respond to the critics, Delamere issued a press release in January 2004, challenging scientists to disprove Fomenko's assertions. They offered a $10,000 "cash reward" to anyone who could prove that any human artifacts existed prior to the eleventh century CE. There was one catch, however: the "proof" could not use "archaeological, dendrochronological, paleographical and carbon methods." (9) Thus having safely excluded all scientific methods of dating and most historical methods, they confidently demanded that all proof be of the same "academic level as the heretic Fomenko." (10)

Though Fomenko's theories hold no water and are easily disproved, it has not stopped the public from buying his books or indulging in speculation. Russian chess master Gary Kasparov became a willing convert, opining that Fomenko's theories were a revelation because there "were too many discrepancies and contradictions that could not be explained within the framework of traditional chronology." (11) While it is exhilarating to think that accepted knowledge could be wrong, and that humanity is on the verge of a major revision of its history, in fact the entire enterprise is constructed on a foundation of flaws, inconsistencies, and errors.

References

(1.) Boese, Alan. n.d. "Jean Hardouin." The Museum of Hoaxes. http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hardouin.html

(2.) Fomenko, A.T. and G.V. Nosovskij. n.d. "New Chronology and New Concept of the English History: British Empire as a Direct Successor of Byzantine-Roman Empire." http://lib.ru/FOMENKOAT/engltr.txt

(3.) Ibid.

(4.) Ibid.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Ibid.

(7.) Crane, Gregory (ed.). n.d. Project Perseus Latin Dictionary. Tufts University. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/resolveform?lang=Latin

(8.) Fomenko and Nosovskij, op. cit.

(9.) Delamere Resources. "Publisher Announces 10,000 USD Cash Reward." PR Web, http://www.prweb.com/releases/2004/1/prweb98387.php

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) Kasparov, Gary. n.d. "Mathematics of the Past." New Tradition. http://www.new-tradition.org/view-garry-kasparov.htm  

2005 Jason Colavito. All rights reserved.