Computists and Chronology.
Medieval Christian monks who worked on calculating human history from Adam to the
Last Judgment were called "Computists". These monks created schematic chronological
tables, in which appeared packages of years whose numbers had deeper, symbolic
meanings (like 7, 14, 30, 420 and so on). The Old Testament is full of those packages.
For the time after the Resurrection they called their chronology ERA (i.e. turning round,
"year"). Their chronological scheme looked something like this:
ERA 666 is taken as the center of theological history (because of Revelation 13:18). This
number should be read "six-six-six"; it belongs with 369 (three-six-nine) and 963 (ninesix-
three) in a group of symmetric numbers, the last two of which form the second level.
The distance between them is, in each case, 297 years. A magical number, 297 is the
product of the important prime number 11 and three to the third power (27). For
computists, 297 was an expression of the Trinity.
Subtracting 297 from 369, we arrive at 72. Adding 297 to 963 we get 1260; these two
figures, 72 and 1260, belong to a third level, and they are again equivalent from a
symbolical point of view.
Used as historical "year dates", these figures appear absurd to us. To the computists,
however, this magical dating system made sense. Six-six-six (666) was chosen as the date
when the Antichrist appeared; 369 was taken for the beginning of the Church; 963 for the
beginning of the "Roman Empire of German Nation". Seven-two (72) indicated the
destruction of the Temple, later the Passion of the Savior, who described himself as the
Temple which was to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. And 1260 equaled the final
destruction, the Last Judgment that was to be expected, as laid down in Revelation. For
the early computists, this last figure lay in the future.
Later, the Catholic Church created a new kind of chronology, the Incarnation Count,
which began with the Birth of Christ, a system called Anno Domini (AD) that we still
follow today. At a certain moment (difficult to recognize how long ago) the original start
of the ERA chronology must have been linked with the date assumed for the Julian
Calendar Reform, which, according to present-day notions, was fixed at 44 B.C.
From then on, therefore, all ERA dates had to be re-calculated: 666 ERA minus 44 BC
yields AD 622, which is the present date for the Hegira (the beginning of Islam, year of
the Antichrist) in our schoolbooks. According to the same rule, the first worldwide
Council (Beginning of the Church) moved from 369 ERA to AD 325 (Council of
Nicaea). The founding of the Germanic Empire moved from 963 ERA to AD 919 (first
The year 72 ERA also received a new value by subtracting 44: It became AD 28, the date
for Christ's death according to Victorinus. Only 1260, the date of the Last Judgment that
still lay in the future, remained unchanged. When the Last Judgment failed to happen, its
date was postponed twice, once to 1290, then to 1335 (see Daniel 12: 11-12).
Another way of converting the numbers used the difference of 38 years between the
Gothic ERA and the Catholic Anno Domini count: 963 ERA is 38 years away from 1001;
this moved the Birth of Christ from a.u.c. 753 to 759 (i.e. 7 BC).
By using time packages of 297 years, a recognizable source of error was created. This
error leads to historical dates that are frequently nearly three centuries out of sync with
other dates believed nowadays. Taking a different path, the time reconstructor Heribert
Illig arrived at a result that described the 297 years as having been added to the AD yearcount
only once. Unfortunately he does not explain how he found this package of years.
His expression "according to the present state of my knowledge" (Illig 1994, p. 20; 1996,
p. 18) sounds mystical. There are various different ways based on both Christian and
Islamic computations that reveal this jump (see Topper 1999).
The determination of the beginning of the German Empire in AD 911 and of the two
battles against the "Hungarians" in 933 and 955 followed this pattern of symbolic
numbers - here above all the holy 11 - as did the fixing of Otto III to the years 999-1001,
combining this event with millennarism. The Christianization of many states, from
Iceland to Hungary, was attributed to those magical three years. Thus in the 15th century
the year AD 1000 was elevated to being a landmark of European history. The imperial
coronation of Charlemagne was also placed in a central position, in 800 or 801 AD.
(These movements were also described by Landes, 1988.)
On the same time line the Conquest of Jerusalem by the Persians - a historiographical
topos that by retro-projection in the Bible was attributed to Sanherib - was fixed at 614.
Illig's idea that the two events (the "loss" of Jerusalem and the foundation of the German
Empire 911) were in fact contemporary, (i.e. 614=911) is arbitrary; it fits the general
pattern of chronology creation, no more
* Illig, Heribert (1994): Hat Karl der Große je gelebt? (Gräfelfing) = (1996): Das erfundene Mittelalter (Düsseldorf, Germany)
* Landes, Richard (1988): "A study of apocalyptic expectations and the pattern of Western chronography 100-800 CE" in: The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages. Eds. W.D.F. Verbeke et al. (Louvain, Belgium)
* Topper, Uwe (1999): Erfundene Geschichte (Munich, Germany)
"Refutation of Dr. Heribert Illig's thesis of 297 phantom years in the Middle Ages by Dr. Ulrich Voigt"
When Dr. Heribert Illig published his theory that 297 phantom years were inserted into
AD-reckoning between 31 August 614 and 1 Sept. 911, this was refuted by Dr. Ulrich
Voigt (Hamburg) on the ground that the proper succession of weekdays would have
been affected by such a manoeuvre.
At first I supported Illig by proving that weekdays did succeed in the regular fashion:
The last day before the interval was a Saturday; the first day of the "secure" AD daycount
was a Sunday. Thus no break can be detected.
Now, after roughly ten years of continuous discussion with various opponents I see my
error and admit that Voigt has the better argument. Voigt insists that Illig's 297 years
must not only be divided by 7 in order to maintain the normal sequence of weekdays
but by 4 as well, or rather by 7 times 4 = 28. If the total amount of phantom years is not
divisible by 28, there must sooner or later - in this case in the third year already - arise
discrepancies between weekdays after inserting the phantom years. This is
mathematically correct and disproves Illig's thesis of 297 phantom years.
Without diving into the whole discussion all over again I shall shortly explain my new
way of arguing and where my error came up.
It is well known that weekdays follow equal dates in a rhythm that might be called
"Jacobinic"; that is after every 11, 6, 5 and again 6 years. That is why the sequence is
not broken even if the total sum is not divisible by 28. The inserted amount of 297 years
corresponds to 10 times 28 (=280) plus 11 plus 6. "In this case", I wrote in 1996 in
Illig's review, "it still has to be ascertained whether the sequence (11-6-5-6) follows suit
after the inserted interval." Lacking possibilities and mathematical skill, I had to leave it
to others to verify the proposal
Now I followed the simple and clever argument of Voigt in his book (2003) and
thought it through all over again, understanding that the Jacobinic sequence before the
phantom period (614) had been 11-6-5-6 and after it (911) went on 5-6-11-6 thus
breaking up the correct order of the weekdays, although this did not appear as such at
As far as computist manoeuvres are concerned, the break in the order of weekdays
might seem irrelevant. But other nations used the Julian Calendar with its strict
observance of weekdays and leap years, as well, and could not be forced by the emperor
or the pope into following any new rhythm. They in fact preserve the same system until
now and therefore the insertion of an odd number of years not divisible by 28 is an
Voigt further pertains that the sequence of Christian Easter is another equally important
factor to be regarded when judging the sum of phantom years. So the Metonic cycle (19
years) has to be another factor, bringing the whole sum up to 532 years (28 multiplied
by 19). This therefore would be the smallest possible amount of years that could be
Although this argument is equally valid in mathematical terms it has no backing from
"outside" as no Christian nations can prove an uninterrupted sequence of Easter
throughout medieval church history. Therefore this argument only holds within the
Catholic frame of historiography.
Basically I repeat what I have insisted on for many years (see 2001, p.151) that the
thesis of Illig concerning the insertion of 297 years is a mere game of computists and
has no chance of historical reality.
Moreover, Voigt's book (2003) gives strong indications that our whole AD counting is
based on Easter cycles and is not bound to historical events. Latest findings of Voigt
will be presented by him in speeches on Oct. 30 in Hamburg and on Dec. 4, 2006, in
Berlin. A book to that effect is planned by him for next year.
For anyone not totally informed on the theory of phantom time reckoning the following
postscript has to be added: The refutation of the sum of 297 years does not mean that
other parts of chronology criticism would have to be abandoned; missing archaeological
proof for several centuries - as well as the discovery that AD time reckoning is a late
and fragile restitution and not proven by historical records - are sustained with even
more vigour and on better grounds.
* Illig, Heribert (1996): "Das erfundene Mittelalter" (Econ, Düsseldorf)
* Topper, Uwe (1999): "Erfundene Geschichte" (Herbig, München); (2001): "Fälschungen der Geschichte" (Herbig, München)
* Voigt, Ulrich (2000): "Zeitensprünge und Kalenderrechnung" (in ZS 2/2000, S. 296-309); (2003): Das Jahr im Kopf (Likanas, Hamburg); (2005): "Über die christliche Jahreszählung" with comments by K.-H. Lewin, Andreas Birken and Heribert Illig (in ZS 2/2005, S. 420-481)