The Politics of Time

Inside the Hidden Struggle to Decide When Things Happened

In the early 1970s, a group of Soviet mathematicians at Moscow State University led by Professor A.T. Fomenko came forth with an astonishing proposition: All the dates in history are wrong; the recorded history of mankind really started no earlier than AD 900 and the majority of all historical events took place after AD 1300.

The Moscow mathematicians were building on the work of Russian mathematician/topologist Nicolai Aleksandrovich Morozov (1854–1946), who in 1924 challenged all traditional dates in his book, Christ: A History of Human Culture from the Standpoint of the Natural Sciences. Claiming to utilize “the latest discoveries in mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, philology and geology,” Morozov scrutinized the chronologies of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and China and came up with the conclusion that no ancient event had occurred before the third century AD.

The claims of these otherwise reputable Russian scientists (which fill up all four volumes of Fomenko’s History: Fiction or Science?, published 2005–2008) are so outlandish that almost no modern historian takes them seriously (although one of the brightest luminaries in the Russian intellectual firmament, former world chess champion and current opposition political leader Garry Kasparov, does seem to support their findings). But if the group’s assertions have even the slightest claim to truth, why do all the facts in all of the history books fly in their face? The answer, Fomenko suggests—and he betrays a certain ideological bias in saying so—lies in the greed and exploitation of capitalism. Fomenko claims that in the West the facts of history have always been for sale to the highest bidder, and that this is not surprising since “to boast, to lie, to pretend, was (is?) part of human nature.” The Russian mathematician explains that, “the court historians knew only too well how to please their masters.” These masters were, for example, “condottieri [mercenary soldier captain] upstarts who were seeking legitimacy in days of yore in order to become popes, cardinals or to found regal dynasties such as the Medici. They paid exceedingly well for a glorious but fictitious past.”

Lambasting ruthless European capitalism with a vehemence that could bring back the Cold War and even fan a few flames, Fomenko rails on that, “The corporations of Petrarch and Dante, Bracciolini and Machiavelli, Giotto, Bernini, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo not only created immortal masterpieces exceedingly well-paid by Roman popes, et al., and Medici princes of Florence, but also mass produced ‘ancient’ manuscripts, frescoes, statues very much in demand by wealthy customers from England, France, Germany and Russia. . . . . Oxbridge scholars earned their daily bread & butter by cooking very ancient Greece & Roman Empire history mostly from Italian ingredients.”

However politically motivated and outright wrong-headed the assault on history of Fomenko and his colleagues may be, it does serve the useful purpose of pointing out to us that those dates we learned in school (1066 and all that…) and thought were set in stone are really a little—perhaps more than a little—arbitrary. Almost from its beginnings, in about the fourth century B.C., chronology-making has been shackled to a greater or lesser degree to political agendas.

An almost unconscious part of the political agenda is patriotic vainglory. Chronologist Larry Pierce, editor of an updated version of Sir Isaac Newton’s The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, tells us:

“In the centuries before Christ, a war broke out to see which nation had the oldest pedigree, whether real or invented. Just as an Arms Race raged between the superpowers in the 1960s, so an Age Race raged among the ancient civilizations in the centuries before Christ’s birth. Each claimed to have the oldest history. While some writers seemed interested in the truth, others were playing a game to see who could spin the biggest and most convincing yarn about the antiquity of their nation.”

Pierce says that, before the first attempts to pin down authentic dates, Greece’s history was supposed to go back eighteen hundred years; Egypt’s, eleven thousand years; and Babylon’s, a whopping seven hundred and thirty thousand years.

Students of Atlantis know of at least one example of the distortion of chronology in the service of patriotic pride. According to Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, the priests at the Egyptian Temple of Saïs told the visiting Athenian lawmaker Solon that Atlantis (and much of an earlier version of Athens) had sunk beneath the sea nine thousand years before the time of his visit. Many researchers now date the sinking of Atlantis to about 1500 BC, assuming that the priests were engaging in vainglorious bragging.

Early chronology-making was also inhibited by the fierce wars of antiquity that saw the destruction of palaces, temples, and all chronological records; priests often filled in the gaps by fabricating royal lineages. Would-be “global” chronologists had to find records of dated contacts between at least two nations. The mass exodus into Egypt, Greece, and Philistia of the Edomites after their defeat by David was well documented by those countries and early on used by researchers to make chronology match-ups; while the conquests of the Egyptian king Sesostris I, with their impact on Judah and Rehoboam, left behind joint records that could be used by chronologists.

The first workable chronologies were based mostly on Biblical dates and were mostly about Biblical lands—and betrayed an early bias of the chronologists: absolute faith in the rock solid, sacred, correctness of the dates in the Bible, around which all other dates were pegged. Such was the case with Theophilus of Antioch (AD 115–AD 180) who produced a brief chronology of the Bible based on the divine authority of the Christian religion. In the third century AD, Julius Africanus, a pagan convert to Christianity, matched Greek and Latin histories up with Biblical history, using the year of the patriarch Abraham’s birth as the unassailable anchor-stone date of all world history; he labeled every event—from the creation of the world in 5499 BC to the third year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Eliogabalus (AD 221) as being “in the year of Abraham.” The chronology of the brilliant church father Eusebius in the third century AD drew in Assyria and Chaldea and many other Middle East countries.

Chronology-making advanced in such a fashion for a dozen centuries, gradually improving, but tied to Biblical dates and with little innovation, until the Italian Renaissance. Then the great Italian scholar Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540–1609) brought a whole new consensus to the art of dating history.

Well-grounded in the classics, speaking thirteen languages, Scaliger was thought by some to be as learned and wise as Plato, Moses or Aristotle and was called “the light of the world” and “the sea of sciences.” Scaliger broke the hold of Biblical dates on chronology, insisting on the independent value of pagan, non-Biblical sources (though he still felt the Bible was the only reliable source). The great polymath applied the latest developments in astronomy to date setting, particularly as regards calculating the exact time of eclipses of the sun, moon, and the other natural phenomena mentioned by ancient historians. The Greek historian Thucydides, in his account of the Peloponnesian War (the 27-year-long conflict between the Greek city-states principally of Athens and Sparta), describes three different eclipses and tells exactly when they occurred amidst contemporary events. Applying precise new astronomical methods to the calculation of when these eclipses must have taken place, Scaliger came up with the dates of 431 BC, 424 BC and 413 BC; modern historians have only changed them by a year or two. (In Christ: A History of Human Culture from the Standpoint of the Natural Sciences, mathematician-topologist Morozov claimed the correct dates of the three eclipses of the Peloponnesian War were actually AD 1133, AD 1140, and AD 1151) Scaliger also worked out an accurate date for the Battle of Marathon (a seminal event in the first war between the Athenians and Persians, which the Athenians won), changing it from 776 BC to 491 BC (Modern calculations put it at September 490 BC.)

The next great innovator in the science/art of chronology was no less than the inventor of modern physics and mathematics Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Newton worked all his life on an intricate compendium of royal lineages from “the first memory of things in Europe” to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia. Published a year after his death, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended is one of the most brilliantly knowledgeable (if often wrong-headed) history books ever written; it is one of the least read, however, and with good reason. Each line is like an equation made up of a string of proper names. Newton scholar Richard Westfall writes:

“A work of colossal tedium, it [the Chronology] excited for a brief time the interest and opposition of the handful able to get excited over the date of the Argonauts [which Newton strove to discover using five different methods] before it sank into oblivion. It is read today only by the tiniest remnant who for their sins must pass through its purgatory.”

Nevertheless, this book was no game but of immense importance to Newton. It was part of his never-ending effort to journey back through time to discover the precise details of the ever-deepening corruption of the spiritual aspect of mankind; he hoped this would enable him to ultimately understand the exact nature of the prisca sapientia, that perfect fusion of science and spirituality, which he believed had existed before Noah’s Flood.

Within that overarching, transcendent purpose, however, Newton’s chronology, however brilliant and comprehensive, was bedeviled by two political/religious agendas. On the one hand, he rejected Scaliger’s contention that pagan chronologies could stand on their own and insisted that God’s Word was correct in every detail, including those of history, and that it must be the starting point of any chronology. On the other hand, he believed (as did a number of his eminent contemporaries) that the biblical flood really had taken place, that the Ark had really landed on Mt. Sinai, and that Noah’s descendants had quickly repopulated the world. Newton had earlier set forth a definite timetable for this repopulation; in The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, he wanted to prove that he was right.

Dr. Westfall writes that, “Newton opened the Chronology with the assertion of one of its basic themes: ‘All nations, when they begin to keep exact accounts of Time, have been prone to raise their Antiquities; and this humor has been promoted, by the Contentions between Nations about their Originals [origins].’ [Chron., p. 43] Hence, with every ancient people, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes, and the Persians, it was necessary to eliminate the extra years, stretching in some cases to hundreds of thousands of years, which in their vanity they had feigned to enhance their antiquity. Only one people had escaped Newton’s razor: the Israelites, whose written record, the oldest such extant in Newton’s belief, gave their history a solidity by which the others’ could be amended.” Newton decided that the average reign of most non-biblical rulers was eighteen to twenty years; half the length ancient pagan historians had given them. He applied to chronology for the first time the principle of “Occam’s Razor”—that “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Dr. Westfall writes that, using these devices, Newton “drastically shortened the accepted chronologies of the ancient world, in order (though he did not state his purpose) to fit them to the pattern of the multiplying offspring of Noah, which he had sought to establish in the ‘Origines’ ” [an earlier non-scientific work of Newton’s].

Newton laid waste around him, eliminating many rulers he claimed had never existed. He “conflated” other ancient rulers, combining two, sometimes three, to make one. In some cases, this was a useful corrective: Newton vastly shortened the list of ancient Egyptian Rulers recorded by the priest and historian Manetho, bringing it in line with the estimates of the Greek historian Herodus; modern historians agree with Newton. In other cases, Newton makes very provocative assumptions: Atlantis scholars will be interested to learn that he conflates Atlas (who he believed was not a god but a king of Atlantis) with the demigod Antaeus (who Newton believed was also a mortal), making them into one person. According to ancient myth, every time Antaeus was thrown to the ground in battle he drew strength from his contact with Gaia, the earth, his mother, and rose up renewed; Hercules was finally able to kill him only by holding him aloft and strangling him. If Newton’s conjectures are true, the myth of Antaeus is a veiled allegory of the last years and months of Atlantis, Hercules being the symbol of Athens.

(The Moscow chronology-dissidents/mathematicians led by Chronology: Fiction or Science author Dr. A.T. Fomenko have taken Newton’s Occam’s Razor technique of conflation to hitherto unimagined heights: they’ve conflated whole ruling dynasties. The mathematicians assert, for example, that since there was roughly the same number of popes from AD 911 to AD 1376 as there were kings of Judah from 931 BC to 586 BC, they must be the same persons. They have found similarities between the popes of AD 141 – AD 314 and those of AD 314 – AD 532, and have similarly conflated them. The Russian time-revisionists suggest that the chronology of the Carolingian kings and that of a number of Roman emperors actually refer to the same rulers. They have thus been able to reduce the accepted chronology of the world by approximately one thousand years, backing up their assertions by what they claim to be corrected scientific data about eclipses.)

In the midst of all this, Newton made an innovative and constructive contribution to the science of chronology: he used his state-of-the art knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes to fine-tune a number of ancient dates.

According to Ptolemy’s Almagest, the precession of the equinoxes was first noticed by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (second century BC). It occurs because the Earth’s axis wobbles very slowly, circling around our planet once every twenty six thousand years. Thus spring arrives each year about twenty minutes earlier than it did the previous year. (This is the meaning of “precession.”) Newton was the first to suggest that the phenomenon was caused by gravitation. He meant the gravitational pull of the earth; we know today that it is caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon on the earth. Newton used his cutting-edge knowledge of the phenomenon of precession–that the equinox recedes about 1 degree every 72 years as one of five tools with which he calculated the date for the voyage of the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. This was 938 BC, three hundred years after the date the ancient Greeks had given it. For details of the contorted, complex, and fascinating methods Newton used to date the voyage of the Argonauts—and to understand exactly why dating the legendary voyage was so important to him—the reader is referred to The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended.

Religious concerns dominated chronology-making until the early nineteenth century, when they began to give way in the face of Darwin’s discoveries and the rapid rise of science. The science of history-dating was transformed in the twentieth century with the development of external means of validating chronologies such as great advances in archaeology as a science and the development of wholly innovative techniques like radio-carbon dating and dendrochronology (the use of the growth rings of long-lived trees as calendars).

Chronology may be in for a new challenge. This is the new science of Catastrophism, which holds that many catastrophes about which we know nothing—and many of which may be fairly recent—have broken up the flow of time, even of historical time, on our planet in such a way as to wreak havoc on all previous chronologies were we to learn their nature. If we come to learn much about this Catastrophism, which was pioneered by Immanuel Velikovsky—and if Catastrophists turn their beliefs into political agendas—we may be in for a new, and vaster, run of chronology wars.

By John Chambers