Who Lost the Middle Ages? What's Behind the Attempt to Impose a "New Chronology" on History?

Article excerpt

IN 1685, AN ENGLISH 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 of 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. …