"The problem of chronology and chronological development is not a side
issue of little
importance. It, rather, lies at the heart of nearly
every difficult problem and nearly every
sharp divergence of opinion we
face in the field today." - Thomas L.
History of the Israelite People,
p. 191. (Leiden, Holland, 1992).
Eternal Rome, capital of Catholic Christendom and
spiritual heart of the Early Middle Ages, so far
needs convincing proof for her very existence during the Early Middle Ages.
- Gunnar Heinsohn
How Fake Is Church History?
The Gregorian Coup and the Birthright Theft
THE FIRST MILLENNIUM REVISIONIST • JULY 19, 2020
This is the second of three articles drawing attention to major structural
problems in our history of Europe in the first millennium AD. In the first
“How fake is Roman Antiquity?”), we have argued that the forgery of ancient
books during the Renaissance was more widespread than usually acknowledged,
so that what we think we know about the Roman Empire — including events and
individuals of central importance — rests on questionable sources. (We have
not claimed that all written sources on the Roman Empire are fake.)
We have also argued that the traditional perspective of the first millennium
is distorted by a strong bias in favor of Rome, at the expense of
Constantinople. The common representation of the Byzantine Empire as the
final phase of the Roman Empire, whose capital had been transferred from the
Latium to the Bosphorus, is today recognized as a falsification.
Politically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously, Byzantium owes
nothing to Rome. “Believing that their own culture was vastly superior to
Rome’s, the Greeks were hardly receptive to the influence of Roman
civilization,” states a recent Atlas de l’Empire Romain,
mentioning only gladiator combats as a possible, yet marginal, debt.
The assumption that Western civilization originated in Rome, Italy relies
partly on a misunderstanding of the word “Roman”. What we now call “the
Byzantine Empire” (a term that only became customary in the sixteenth
century) was then called Basileía
tôn Rhômaíôn (the kingdom of the Romans), and for most of the first
millennium, “Roman” simply meant what we understand today as “Byzantine”.
Our perception of Rome as the origin and center of Western civilization is
also linked to our assurance that Latin is the mother of all Romance
languages. But that filiation, which became a dogma in the mid-nineteenth
under severe attack (we thank the commenters who directed us to
this documentary and
that one, to Yves Cortez’s book Le
Français ne vient pas du latin, and to Mario Alinei’s work). It seems
that Dante was correct when he assumed in De
vulgari eloquentia (c. 1303), the first treatise on the subject, that Latin
was an artificial, synthetic language created “by the common consent of
many peoples” for written purposes.
The distortions that produced our textbook history of the first millennium
have both a geographical and a chronological dimension. The geographical
distortion is part of that Eurocentrism that is now being challenged by
scholars like James Morris Blaut (The
Colonizer’s Model of the World, Guilford Press, 1993), John M. Hobson (The
Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, Cambridge UP, 2004), or Jack Goody (The
Theft of History, Cambridge UP, 2012). The chronological distortion, on
the other hand, is not yet an issue in mainstream academia: historians
simply do not question the chronological backbone of the first millennium.
They don’t even ask themselves when, how and by whom it was created.
So far, we have formulated the working hypothesis that the Western Roman
Empire is, to some extent, a phantom duplicate of the Eastern Roman Empire,
conjured by Rome in order to steal the birthright from Constantinople, while
concealing its debt to the civilization that it conspired to assassinate.
The Roman Empire, in other words, was a dream rather than a memory, exactly
like Solomon’s empire. But, one will instantly object, while archeologists
have found no trace of Solomon’s empire, the vestiges of Augustus’ empire
are plentiful. True, but are these vestiges really from Antiquity, and if
so, why are medieval vestiges nowhere to be found in Rome? If Rome was the
beating heart of medieval Western Christendom, it should have been busy
constructing, not just restoring.
of Rome was founded in 1144 as a Republic with a consul and a senate, in
the wake of other Italian cities (Pise in 1085, Milano in 1097, Gene in
1099, Florence in 1100). It defined itself by the phrase senatus
populusque romanus (“the Senate and the Roman people”), condensed in the
acronym SPQR. Beginning in 1184 and until the early sixteenth century, the
city of Rome struck coins with these letters. But, we are told, SPQR was
already the mark of the first Roman Republic founded in 509 BC and, more
incredibly, it was preserved by emperors, who apparently didn’t mind being
thus ignored. As outrageous as it sounds, one cannot easily brush aside the
suspicion that the ancient Roman Republic, known to us thanks to Petrarch’s
“piecing together” Titus Livy’s History
of Rome, is
an imaginative portrait of late medieval Rome in antique garb. Petrarch was
part of a circle of Italian propagandists who celebrated Rome’s past glory.
“His intentions,” writes French medievalist Jacques Heers, “were
deliberately political, and his approach was part of a real struggle.” He
was “one of the most virulent writers of his time, involved in a great
quarrel against the papacy of Avignon, and this relentlessness in fighting
determined his cultural as well as political options.”
In the first article, we have questioned the objectivity and even the
probity of those humanists who claimed to resurrect the long forgotten
splendor of Republican and Imperial Rome. In this second article, we turn
our attention to ecclesiastical historians of earlier times, who fashioned
our vision of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Their history of the
Christian Church, peopled with miracle-performing holy men and diabolical
heretics, is hard to connect with political history, and secular historians
specialized in Late Antiquity are generally happy to leave the field to
“Church historians” and teachers of faith. That is a shame, because the
credibility of this literature has largely gone unchallenged.
“Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature is
the degree to which it was forged.” So Bert Ehrman begins his book Forgery
and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Throughout
the first four centuries AD, he says, forgery was the rule in Christian
literature, and genuine authorship the exception. Forgery was so systemic
that forgeries gave rise to counterforgeries, that is, forgeries “used to
counter the views of other forgeries.” If
forgery is part of the DNA of Christianity, we can expect it to continue
throughout the Middle Ages.
One of the most famous medieval forgeries is the “Donation of Constantine.”
By this document, Emperor Constantine is supposed to have transferred his
own authority over the Western regions of the Empire to Pope Sylvester. This
forgery of outrageous audacity is the centerpiece of a whole collection of
about a hundred counterfeit decrees and acts of Synods, attributed to the
earliest popes or other Church dignitaries, and known today as the Pseudo–Isidorian
Decretals. Their aim was to set forth precedents for the exercise of
sovereign authority of the popes over the universal Church, as well as over
kings and emperors.
These documents were not used until the middle of the eleventh century, and
it is not before the twelfth century that they were incorporated by Gratian
into his Decretum, which
became the basis of all canon law. Yet the scholarly consensus is that they
date back from the time of Charlemagne. For that reason, Horst Fuhrmann, a
specialist in medieval forgeries, classifies them as “forgeries with
anticipatory character,” which “have the characteristic that at the time
they were written, they had hardly any effect.” According to him, these
fakes had to wait, depending on the case, between 250 and 550 years before
being used. Heribert Illig rightly protests against this theory of forgeries
allegedly written by clerics who had no immediate use of them and did not
know what purpose their forgeries could serve a few centuries later.
Forgeries are produced to serve a project, and they are made on demand when
needed. The Donation of Constantine and other false Decretals are therefore
most probably pure products of the Gregorian reform. Their “anticipatory
character” is an illusion created by one of the chronological distortions
that we have set out to correct.
The Gregorian reform, which started with the accession of Pope Leo IX in
1049, was a continuation of the monastic revival launched by the powerful
Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, which a century after its foundation in 910 had
developed a network of more than a thousand monasteries all over Europe. The
Gregorian reform can be conceived as a monkish coup over Europe, in the
sense that celibate monks, who used to live at the margin of society,
progressively took the leadership over it.
It is worth insisting on the revolutionary character of the Gregorian
reform. It was, wrote Marc Bloch in Feudal
Society, “an extraordinarily powerful movement from which, without
exaggeration, may be dated the definite formation of Latin Christianity.” More
recently, Robert I. Moore wrote in The
First European Revolution, c. 970-1215: “The ‘reform’ which was embodied
in the Gregorian program was nothing less than a project to divide the
world, both people and property, into two distinct and autonomous realms,
not geographically by socially.” The reform triumphed at the Fourth Lateran
Council convoked by Innocent III in 1215. The world created by Lateran IV
was “an entirely different world — a world pervaded and increasingly moulded
by the well-drilled piety and obedience associated with the traditional
vision of ‘the age of faith’, or medieval Christianity.” Yet in a sense,
Lateran IV was only a beginning: in 1234, Innocent III’s cousin Gregory IX
instituted the Inquisition, but the great period of witch-hunting — the last
battle against paganism — was still two centuries away.
In his book Law
and Revolution, the Formation of the Western Legal Tradition(Harvard UP,
1983), Harold Berman also insists on the revolutionary character of the
Gregorian reform, by which “the clergy became the first translocal,
transtribal, transfeudal, transnational class in Europe to achieve political
and legal unity.” “To speak of revolutionary change within the Church of
Rome is, of course, to challenge the orthodox (though not the Eastern
Orthodox) view that the structure of the Roman Catholic Church is the result
of a gradual elaboration of elements that had been present from very early
times. This was, indeed, the official view of the Catholic Reformers of the
late eleventh and early twelfth centuries: they were only going back, they
said, to an earlier tradition that had been betrayed by their immediate
Reformers, in other words, established a new world order under the pretense
of restoring an ancient world order. They created a new past in order to
control the future.
For that, they employed an army of legists who elaborated a new canonical
legal system to supersede customary feudal laws, and made their new legal
system appear as the oldest by producing forgeries on a massive scale.
Besides the Pseudo–Isidorian
Decretals and the false Donation of Constantine, they crafted
the Symmachian forgeries, destined to produce legal precedents to immune the
pope from criticism. One of these documents, the Silvestri
constitutum, contains the legend of Pope Sylvester 1st curing
Constantine the Great of leprosy with the waters of baptism, and receiving
in gratitude Constantine’s imperial insignia and the city of Rome.
Charlemagne’s father was also made to contribute with the
false Donation of Pepin. It is now admitted that the vast majority of legal
documents supposedly established before the ninth century are clerical
forgeries. According to French historian Laurent Morelle, “two thirds of the
acts entitled in the name of the Merovingian kings (481-751) have been
identified as false or falsified.” It
is very likely that the real proportion is much higher, and that many
documents which are still deemed authentic are forgeries: for instance, it
is our view that the wording of the
foundation charter of the Abbey of Cluny, by which its founder William I (the
Pious) renounced all control over it, cannot possibly have been dictated or
endorsed by a medieval duke of Aquitaine (virtually a king).
These fake documents served the popes on several fronts. They were used in
their power struggle against the German emperors, by backing up their
extravagant claim that the pope could depose emperors. They were also
powerful weapons in the geopolitical war waged against the Byzantine church
and empire. By bestowing on the papacy “supremacy over the four principal
sees, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople, as also over all
the churches of God in the whole earth,” the false Donation of Constantine
justified Rome’s claim for precedence over Constantinople, which led to the
Great Schism of 1054 and ultimately the sack of Constantinople by the Latins
in 1205. By a cruel irony, the spuriousness of the Donation of Constantine
was exposed in 1430, after it had served its purpose. By then, the Eastern
Empire had lost all its territories and was reduced to a depopulated city
besieged by the Ottomans.
It is little known, but of great importance for understanding medieval
times, when ethnicity played a major part in politics, that the Gregorian
reformers were Franks, even before Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg gave the first
impulse as pope Leo IX. That is why Orthodox theologian
John Romanides blames the Franks for having destroyed the unity of
Christendom with ethnic and geopolitical motivations. In
Byzantine chronicles, “Latin” and “Frank” are synonymous.
It should now be clear that the very concept of a Gregorian “reform” is a
disguise for the revolutionary character of the reformers’ project; “the
idea that Gregorians were rigorous traditionalists is a serious
oversimplification,” argue John Meyendorff and Aristeides Papadakis; “the
conventional conclusion which views the Gregorians as defenders of a
consistently uniform tradition is largely fiction.” In fact, before the
twelfth century, “the pope’s fragile hold upon Western Christendom was
largely imaginary. The parochial world of Roman politics was actually the
papacy’s only domain.” Aviad
Kleinberg even argues that, “until the twelfth century, when the pope’s
status was imposed as the ultimate religious authority in matters of
education and jurisdiction, there was not really an organization that could
be called ‘the Church’.” There
certainly were no “popes” in the modern sense before the end of the eighth
century: this affectionate title, derived from the Greek papa, was
given to every bishop. Even conventional history speaks of the period of the
“Byzantine papacy,” ending in 752 with the conquest of Italy by the Franks, and
teaches that civil, military and even ecclesiastical affairs were then under
the supervision of the exarch of Ravenna, the Greek representative of the
This means that the first-millennium history of the Western Church written
by itself is a complete sham. One of its centerpieces, the Liber
Pontificalis, a book of biographies of the popes from saint Peter to the
ninth century, is today recognized as a work of imagination. It served to
ascertain the pope’s claim to occupy the “the throne of saint Peter” in an
unbroken chain going back to the first apostle — the “rock” on which Jesus
built his kingdom (Matthew 16,18).
As the story goes, in the second year of Claudius, Peter went to Rome to
challenge Simon Magus, the father of all heretical sects. He became the
first Catholic bishop and was crucified head downwards in the last year of
Nero, then buried where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands (his bones were
found there in 1968). That story appears in the works of Clement of Rome,
the fictional travelling companion and successor of Peter, whose prolific
literature in Latin contains so many improbabilities, contradictions and
anachronisms that most of it is today recognized as apocryphal and renamed
“pseudo-clementine”. Peter’s story is also the theme of the Acta
Petri, supposedly written in Greek in the second century but surviving
only in Latin translation. It is also told by Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-202
AD), another author supposedly writing in Greek but known only through
defective Latin translations.
There is no reason to take that story as reliable history. It is
self-evident propaganda. Moreover, it is inconsistent with the New
Testament, which says nothing of Peter’s travel to Rome, and assumes that he
simply remained the head of the Jerusalem church. The legend of saint Peter
in Rome tells us nothing about real events, but informs us about the means
deployed by the Roman curia to steal the birthright from the Eastern Church.
It is fake currency minted to overbid on Constantinople’s genuine claim that
the unity of the Church had been achieved in its immediate vicinity, at the
so-called “ecumenical” councils (Oikouménê designated
the civilized world under the authority of the basileus),
whose participants were exclusively oriental.
Although we cannot delve here into the editorial history of the New
Testament, it is interesting to note that the story of Paul’s travel to Rome
also bears the mark of falsification. If we remember that the Byzantines
called themselves “Romans”, we are intrigued by the fact that, in his
“Epistle to the Romans” (written in Greek), Paul calls the Romans “Greeks”
to distinguish them from Jews (1,14-15; 3,9). Moreover, if we look up on a
map the cities addressed by Paul in other epistles — Ephesus, Corinth,
Galata, Philipae, Thessaloniki (Salonica), Colossae — we see that Italian
Rome was not part of his sphere of influence. Paul’s trip to Rome in Italy
in Acts 27-28 (where Italy is explicitly named) belongs to the
of Acts, which is recognizably foreign to the first redaction.
Our main source for the early history of the Church is Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical
Historyin ten volumes. Like so many other sources, it was supposedly
written in Greek, but was known in the Middle Ages only in Latin translation
(from which it was later translated back into Greek). Its Latin translation
was attributed to the great saint and scholar Jerome (Hieronymus). Saint
Jerome also produced, at the request of Pope Damasus, the Latin Bible known
as the Vulgate,
which would be decreed the sole authorized version at the Council of Trent
in the mid-sixteenth century.
Eusebius is our main source on the conversion of Constantine to
Christianity. Two panegyrics of Constantine have been preserved, and they
make no mention of Christianity. Instead, one contains the story of a vision
Constantine had of the sun-god Apollo, “with Victory accompanying him.” From
then on, Constantine placed himself under the protection of Sol
invictus, also called Sol
pacator on some of his coins. What
Eusebius writes in his Life
of Constantine about the battle of the Milvian Bridge is obviously a
rewriting of that earlier pagan legend. When marching on Rome to overthrow
Maxentius, Constantine “saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the
cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, ‘by this
sign, you shall win’.” The following night, Christ appeared to him in his
dream to confirm the vision. Constantine had all his troops paint the sign
on their shields and won the battle. Eusebius describes the sign as the
Greek letters Chi and Rho superimposed, and tells us it represents the first
two letters of Christos. This
sign is found in a great variety of mosaic and reliefs up to the time of
Justinian, and it is especially common in the Pyrenean region, often with
the addition of a sigma, as documented in
hypothesize that it carried in pagan time the meaning pax.
Whether that is the case or not, there is no evidence that the Chi-Rho was
of Christian origin.
I hope to have shown that there is ample cause for radical skepticism
regarding the autobiography of the Roman Church. It is not just legal
documents that were forged. The whole underlying narrative could be phony.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, one man, Jesuit librarian
Jean Hardouin (1646-1729), spent a lifetime researching and questioning
Church history, until he came to the conclusion of a massive fraud
originating in Benedictine monasteries in the thirteenth century. His
conclusions were published posthumously in Ad
Censuram Veterum Scriptorum Prolegomena (1766). According to Hardouin,
all the works ascribed to Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, and Gregory
the Great, were in fact written just decades before the cunning Boniface
VIII (1294-1303) promoted them as the “Latin Fathers of the Church.”
Eusebius’ history translated by Jerome is a web of fiction according to
The Prolegomena of Jean Hardouin were translated in English in the
nineteenth century by Edwin Johnson (1842-1901), who built up on Hardouin’s
insights in his own works, starting with
Rise of Christendom (1890), followed one year later by
Rise of English Culture. Johnson argued for a medieval origin of
most literary sources ascribed to Antiquity or Late Antiquity, and insisted
that the whole first-millennium history of the Roman Church was fabricated
by the Roman curia in its effort to impose its new world order.
The medieval origin of these texts, Johnson says, explains why their
supposed authors are fighting heresies that so much resemble the heresies
fought by the medieval Church. The Manicheans and Gnostics attacked by
Tertullian, Augustine and Irenaeus of Lyon are like the ghosts of those
attacked under the same denominations by twelfth and thirteenth-century
popes. According to Patricia Stirnemann, the oldest manuscript of
Faustus, written and preserved in the abbey of Clairvaux, is the witness
of the struggle against “the resurgence of a neo-manicheism in the 12th century”
(she doesn’t question the authorship of the work, but gives us additional
reason to do so).
The context of the Latin colonization of the East by the crusaders is
transparent in many spurious sources from Late Antiquity, according to
Johnson. Jerome’s biography is a case in point: “he is made to travel from
Aquileia to Rome, and from Rome to Bethlehem and to Egypt. He settles at
Bethlehem, is followed by Roman ladies, who found there a nunnery, and there
he dies. This is a reflection of something that was happening during the
later Crusades.” The
same goes for Constantine: the legend of his military conquest by the sign
of the Crucified bears the mark of the age of the crusades, “when military
men came under monkish influence.”
If all first-millennium Church history is bogus, how can we reconstruct the
real history of the Church before the Gregorian reform? Johnson says there
was no Western Christianity then: the Western Church was “a purely Mediaeval
institution, without either literary or oral links with the past,” and its
fables “were not heard of in the world until the epoch of the Crusades.” A
less radical hypothesis is that Christianity only became a dominant force in
the West with the Gregorian reform. In any case, there is ample evidence
that it imposed its religious hegemony not so much by the destruction of
pagan traditions as by their appropriation. The cult of Notre Dame, which
owes much to Bernard de Clairvaux (1090–1153), was superimposed on cults of
Diane and Isis.
What the Gregorian reformers did was rewrite history in order to create the
illusion that Christianity was 1000 years old in Europe. Not all sources
were written from scratch. Many were simply heavily edited. One example is
History of the English People by Bede the Venerable (672-735). James
Watson has shown that it was originally a History
of the English People with no mention of Christianity; it was heavily
interpolated during the tenth century, Watson says, when “most of the
ecclesiastical notices in the work have been engrafted with the original
somewhat different case is the Christianization of Boethius (c. 480-524),
turned into a Christian theologian and martyr at the time of Abélard,
although his famous Consolation
of Philosophy doesn’t contain the slightest mention of his supposed
As for the History
of the Franks, supposedly written at the end of the sixth century by
Gregory of Tours, and virtually our only source on Clovis’ conversion to
Catholicism, it is most probably a clerical forgery from the Gregorian
period, possibly using earlier sources. It is interesting to note that our
pseudo-Gregory of Tours (perhaps Odilo of Cluny, who wrote a Life
of Gregory) believed it possible for a medieval power to orchestrate the
systematic rewriting of all books: he writes that King Childeric introduced
new signs into the Latin alphabet, and “wanted all the old manuscripts to be
erased with pumice stone, to make other copies, where the new signs would be
used” (chapter IV).
Chroniclers of the eleventh century are important sources for understanding
the Christianization of Europe. Thietmar of Merseburg spoke in his Chronicon of
a new dawn illuminating the world in 1004, and the French monk Rodulfus
“At the approach of the third year after the year 1000, in almost all
the earth, especially in Italy and in Gaul, the churches were rebuilt.
Although they were in a good state and did not need it, the whole
Christian people competed for possession of the most beautiful churches.
And it was as if the world itself, shaking the rags of its old age,
covered itself on all sides with a white mantle of churches. Then, at
the initiative of the faithful, almost all the churches, from the
cathedrals to the monasteries dedicated to the various saints, and down
to small village oratories, were rebuilt, only more beautifully” (book
Since Rodulfus writes under Cluniac supervision (he dedicates his work to
the abbot of Cluny Odilo), we must be wary of his claim that what appeared
new was in fact old, for this was the pretense of the Gregorian “reformers”.
Because he says the churches were “in a good state”, their “rebuilding” may
be an understatement for their rededication to a new cult. Gregory the Great
(590-604), who seems to be a duplicate of Gregory VII, is reported to have
recommended that pagan temples be exorcised and reused for Christian
worship, and many local traditions in France assert that Romanesque churches
were originally pre-Christian sanctuaries. As
for the “basilicas”, their name derives from a Greek word designating a
royal building, more precisely a chamber of justice under the authority of
the basileius. Textbook
history says that, as the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the basic
architectural plan of the basilica was
adopted for major church buildings throughout Europe, but that explanation
has the ring of a flinch.
In reality, Western Christianity was in its infancy in the year 1000 AD. As
for its birth in the East, it is shrouded in mystery, for whatever genuine
Greek source could inform us has either been destroyed or heavily edited.
The subject is beyond the scope of this article, but let us simply ask: Is
it conceivable that the great basilica built by Justinian in the sixth
century was dedicated to Christianity and named Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom)?
Sophia is the goddess of philosophers, not priests, and no “saint Sophie”
promoted by Jacques de Voragine in the thirteenth century can hide that
fact. Edwin Johnson argued that Christianity and Islam were born in the same
period. A case can be made that Hagia Sophia was Christianized during the
reign of the iconoclast basileus Leo
III the Isaurian (717-741), when it was stripped of all its icons and
sculptural work, or in 842, when it was redecorated.
We have now reached a point where one of the working hypotheses of our first
article can be reconsidered: although French scholar Polydor Hochart was
fully justified to question the prevailing theory that Christian monks
copied pagan books on precious parchments, we
must consider the alternative theory that those who copied in the ninth to
eleventh centuries the manuscripts that humanists discovered in the
fourteenth century were actually not Christians. This will become clearer in
our the next.
Where shall we go from here? Assuming that the history of the first
millennium is heavily distorted by the forgeries of pontifical scribes and
later humanists, can we evaluate the degree of that distortion and
reconstruct a credible picture? The best we can do is to position ourselves
in the eleventh century, the earliest period for which we have a good amount
of chronicles. For that period, we can perhaps trust historians to give us a
generally accurate picture of the European, North-African, and Near-Eastern
world, and, looking back a couple of centuries away, we can try to discern
the movements of history that led to that world. Beyond that, everything is
Geographically, we might as well position ourselves at the center of the
world we are seeking to understand. That center was not Rome. Despite Roman
propaganda praising the
Urbis Romae (“the wonders of the city of Rome”) in the tenth and
eleventh centuries, the political, economic, cultural and religious center
of the civilization that included Rome, was Constantinople (with Alexandria
in second position).
In the eleventh century, the walls of Constantinople could have contained
the ten largest cities of the West. Its size, architectural masterpieces,
and wealth so impressed Western visitors that, in the French novel Partonopeu
de Blois, Constantinople is the name of paradise. The economic
prosperity of Constantinople rested on its situation at a crossroads of the
great trade routes, on a monopoly in the trade of luxury products like silk,
on a considerable gold money supply, and on an efficient tax administration
(the kommerkion was
a ten-percent tax on any transaction in the city’s port).
Greek culture was radiating from Constantinople to the four corners of the
world, from Persia and Egypt to Ireland and Spain. In the eleventh and
twelfth centuries, there was a vast movement of translation from Greek to
Latin of philosophical and scientific works (medicine, astronomy, etc.).
Greek books were also translated into Persian and Syriac, and, from there,
into Arabic. In his book Aristote
au mont Saint-Michel. Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne,
Sylvain Gouguenheim defeats the common idea that the spread of philosophy
and science in the Middle Ages was due mainly to Muslims. In reality, the
Greek heritage was transmitted to Italian cities directly from
Constantinople, that is, in the opposite direction of the fictitious translatio
imperii of Constantine.
The basileus maintained
good relations with the Fatimid caliphate of Egypt, which had conquered
Jerusalem and lower Syria from the Abbasids in the 960s. In the early 1070s,
the alliance between Byzantines and Fatimids was reinforced by a common
threat: the incursions of the Seljukid Turks, who had taken control of the
caliphate in Badhdad. In 1071, they defeated the Byzantine army at the
Battle of Manzikert and established in Anatolia the Sultanate of Rum, with
their capital city in Nicaea, just one hundred kilometers from
Constantinople. Then they took a part of Syria, including Jerusalem, from
Until recently, it was commonly believed that the crusades were the generous
response of the Roman Church to a desperate plea for help from Byzantine
Emperor Alexios Komnenos. This is how Western contemporary chroniclers
presented it, using a forged letter of Alexios to the count of Flanders, in
which the former confessed his powerlessness against the Turks and humbly
begged for rescue. In
fact, the emperor was in no desperate situation, and his request was just
for mercenaries to fight under his command and help him reconquer Anatolia
from the Seljukids. The Byzantines had always drawn in warriors from foreign
nations to serve under their banner in return for imperial largesse, and
Frankish knights were highly appreciated in that quality.
Instead, Urban II (a former abbot of Cluny), wanted to raise an army that
would immediately set out to conquer Jerusalem, a city on which Alexios had
no immediate claim, and that he would have happily given back to the
Fatimids. An army of crusaders under the order of a papal legate was never
what Alexios had called for, and the Byzantines were worried and suspicious
when they saw it coming. “Alexios and his advisers saw the approaching
crusade not as the arrival of long-awaited allies but rather as a potential
threat to the Oikoumene,”
writes Jonathan Harris. They feared that the liberation of the Holy
Sepulcher was a mere pretext for some sinister plot against Constantinople.
The first crusade succeeded in establishing four Latin states in Syria and
Palestine, which formed the basis of a Western presence that was to endure
until 1291. At the end of the twelfth century, Jerusalem having been
recovered by Saladin, Pope Innocent III proclaimed a new crusade, the fourth
in modern numbering. This time, the Byzantines’ fear of a hidden agenda
proved fully justified. Instead of going to Jerusalem via Alexandria, as
officially announced, the Frankish knights, indebted by the tricky Venetians
(and mainstream historians do speak here of a “Venetian conspiracy”), moved
toward Constantinople. The huge army of the crusaders penetrated into the
city in April 1204 and sacked it during three days. “Since the creation of
this world, such great wealth had neither been seen nor conquered,” marveled
the crusader Robert de Clari in his chronicle. Palaces,
churches, monasteries, libraries were systematically pillaged, and the city
became a shambles.
The new Franco-Latin Empire, built on the smoking ruins of Constantinople,
lasted only half a century. The Byzantines, entrenched in Nicaea (Iznik),
slowly regained part of their ancient territory, and, in 1261, under the
commandment of Michael VIII Palaiologos, chased the Franks and Latins from
Constantinople. But the city was but the shadow of its past glory: the Greek
population had been slaughtered or had fled, the churches and the
monasteries had been profaned, the palaces were in ruins, and international
trade had come to a stop. Moreover, Pope Urban IV ordered that a new crusade
be preached throughout Europe to retake Constantinople from the
were few volunteers. But in 1281 again, Pope Martin IV encouraged the
project of Charles of Anjou (brother of King Louis IX) to take back
Constantinople and establish a new Catholic empire. It failed, but the
Fourth Crusade and its aftermath had inflicted on the Byzantine civilization
a mortal wound, and it collapsed one century and a half later, after one
thousand years of existence, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II took
Constantinople in 1453. The renowned medieval historian Steven Runciman
“There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth
Crusade. Not only did it cause the destruction or dispersal of all the
treasures of the past that Byzantium had devotedly stored, and the
mortal wounding of a civilization that was still active and great; but
it was also an act of gigantic political folly. It brought no help to
the Christians in Palestine. Instead it robbed them of potential
helpers. And it upset the whole defense of Christendom.”
However, for the West, and Italy in particular, the sack of Constantinople
kicked off an astounding economic growth, fed initially by the vast
quantities of plundered gold. In the early thirteenth century the first gold
coins appeared in the West, where only silver coinage had been issued so far
(except in Sicily and Spain). The
cultural benefits of the Fourth Crusade were also impressive: in subsequent
years, whole libraries were pillaged, which Greek-speaking scholars would
then start to translate into Latin. It can be said without exaggeration that
the rise of humanism in Italy was an indirect effect of the fall of
The Council of Florence in 1438, the last attempt to reunite the Catholic
and Orthodox churches, is an important date in the transfer of Greek culture
to the West. Byzantine Emperor John VIII Paleologus and the Patriarch Joseph
II came to Florence with a retinue of 700 Greeks and an extraordinary
collection of classical books yet unknown in the West, including manuscripts
of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Euclid, and Ptolemy. “Culturally, the
transmission of classical texts, ideas, and art objects from east to west
that took place at the Council was to have a decisive effect on the art and
scholarship of late 15th-century
when, after 1453, the last bearers of Constantinople’s high culture fled
Ottoman rule, many came to contribute to the blooming of the Italian
Renaissance. In 1463, the Florentine court of Cosimo de’ Medici made
acquaintance with the Neoplatonic philosopher George Gemistos, known as
Pletho, whose discourses upon Plato so fascinated them that they decided to
refound Plato’s Academy in Florence. They
named Marsilio Ficino as its head, supplying him with Greek manuscripts of
Plato’s work, whereupon Ficino started translating the entire corpus into
At the same time as they appropriated the Greek heritage, the Italian
humanists affected to ignore their debt to Constantinople. As a result,
until very recently, medieval studies overlooked the Byzantine influence on
the West, and even the importance of the Byzantine Empire in the Middle
Ages. Cambridge professor Paul Stephenson commented in 1972: “The excision
of Byzantine history from medieval European studies does indeed seem to me
an unforgivable offense against the very spirit of history.” One
aggravating factor is that “practically all the archives of the imperial and
patriarchal chanceries of Byzantium perished either in 1204, when the city
was sacked by the Crusaders, or in 1453, when it fell under the Turks.” Byzantium
was killed twice: after sacking it in 1204, the Latin West strove to erase
it from its collective memory. As Steven Runciman writes:
“Western Europe, with ancestral memories of jealousy of Byzantine
civilization, with its spiritual advisers denouncing the Orthodox as
sinful schismatics, and with a haunting sense of guilt that it had
failed the city at the end, chose to forget about Byzantium. It could
not forget the debt that it owed to the Greeks; but it saw the debt as
being owed only to the Classical age.”
It must be emphasized, however, that at this stage, scholars did not possess
a consistent global chronology to date precisely the Greek classical age;
that would be a project of the Jesuits in the sixteenth century, as we will
document in the next article. French byzantinist Michel Kaplan makes the
interesting remark that Western humanists who studied the Greek literature
imported from Constantinople from the fourteenth century, “did not
distinguish between the works of classical and Hellenistic Greece and those
of the Byzantine era.” The
implicit assumption is that modern scholars are now able to clearly make
that distinction. But are they really?
The same questions we have raised about Latin sources in our earlier piece
can be applied to Greek sources. What proof do we have that the works
ascribed to Plato, for instance, date from about 2500 years ago? It has been
solidly established that all of Plato’s known manuscripts derive from a
unique archetype, dated from the period of the great Patriarch
810-895). It was at that time that Byzantine emperor Leo the Philosopher
“rediscovered” and promoted knowledge of Plato, as well as of his disciples
Porphyry, Iamblichus and Plotinus, whom we now call Neoplatonists and
ascribe to seven centuries later than Plato. Then there is the linguistic
issue: Greek scholars such as Roderick Saxey II of Ohio State University are
puzzled by “how little the language had changed, even in well over three
to Harvard professor Margaret Alexiou, “Homeric Greek is probably closer to
demotic [modern Greek] than twelfth-century Middle English is to modern
spoken English.” If
we assume that the evolution of languages follows universal laws, Homeric
Greek should not be much older than Middle English.
In his stimulating book
Ancient Greece, Sylvain Tristan explores how the Franks who ruled
much of Greece after the Fourth Crusade, may have contributed not only to
the transmission of classical Greek culture to the West, but to its
also notes that the architectural vestiges of Frankish Greece are not as
easy to distinguish from those of the Classical Age as one would expect. On
the Acropolis used to stand a tower known locally as the
Tower, probably built by Othon de la Roche, founder of the Duchy of
Athens in the early thirteenth century. Although it was made of the same
stones as the adjacent building, Heinrich Schliemann deemed it anachronistic
and had it demolished in 1874.
According to our textbook chronology, the Parthenon was built 2,500 years
ago. Its current state may seem consistent with such old age, but few people
know that it was still intact in 1687, when it was blown up by a bomb shot
by a Venetian
mortar. The French painter Jacques Carrey had made some fifty-five drawings of it in
1674, which served later for its restoration.
In ancient times, we are told, the Parthenon housed a gigantic statue of Athena
Parthenos (“Virgin”), while in the sixth century it became a church
dedicated to “Our Lady or Athens,” until it was turned into a mosque by the
Ottomans. Strangely enough, historian William Miller tells us in his History
of Frankish Greece that the Parthenon is not mentioned in medieval texts
before around 1380, when the King of Aragon describes it as “the most
precious jewel that exists in the world.” The Acropolis was then known as
“the Castle of Athens.” Could
it be a medieval fortified city from the start? Is Ancient Greece a fantasy?
Or is it simply wrongly dated?
In the framework of our hypothesis that, between the eleventh and the
fifteenth century, Rome invented or embellished its own Republican and
Imperial Antiquity as propaganda to cheat Constantinople of its birthright,
it makes sense that Rome would also invent or embellish a pre-byzantine
Greek civilization as a way of explaining its own Greek heritage without
acknowledging its debt to Constantinople. To explain how Greek culture had
filled the world before reaching Rome, Alexander the Great and his
Hellenistic legacy were also invented.
Alexander is a legendary figure. According to his most sober biography, due
to Plutarch, at the age of 22, this Macedonian prince (educated by
Aristotle) set out to conquer the world with about 30,000 men, founded
seventy cities, and died at the age of 32, leaving a fully formed
Greek-speaking civilization that stretched from Egypt to Persia. Sylvain
Tristan remarks, after Anatoly Fomenko, that the Seleucids (Seleukidós),
who ruled Asia Minor after Alexander, bear almost the same name as the
who controlled that same region from 1037 to 1194. Is the Hellenistic
civilization another phantom image of the Byzantine commonwealth, pushed
back in the distant past in order to conceal Italy’s debt to Constantinople?
Such hypothesis seems farfetched. But it becomes plausible once we realize
that our chronology is a relatively recent construction. In the Middle Ages,
there existed no accepted long chronology scanning millenniums. If today
Wikipedia tells us that Alexander the Great was born on July 21, 356 BC and
died on June 11, 323 BC, it is simply because some sixteenth-century scholar
declared it so, using arbitrary guesswork and a biblical measuring tape.
However, with the recent progress of archeology, the problems met by our
received chronology have accumulated into a critical mass.
Here is one example, mentioned by Sylvain Tristan: the “Antikythera
mechanism” is an analogue computer composed of at least 30 meshing bronze
gear wheels, used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for
calendar and astrological purposes decades in advance. It was retrieved from
the sea in 1901 among wreckage from a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek
island Antikythera. It is dated from the second or first century BC.
“the knowledge of this technology was lost at some point in Antiquity” and
“works with similar complexity did not appear again until the development of
mechanical astronomical clocks in Europe in the fourteenth century.” This
technological chasm of 1,500 years is perhaps easier to believe when one
already believes that the heliocentric model developed by Greek astronomer
Aristarchus of Samos in the third century BC was totally forgotten until
Nicolaus Copernicus reinvented it in the sixteenth century AD. But
skepticism is here less extravagant that the scholarly consensus.
The number of skeptics has grown in recent years, and several researchers
have set out to challenge what they call the Scaligerian chronology
(standardized by Joseph Scaliger in his book De
emendatione temporum, 1583). Most of these “recentists,” whom we will
introduce in our next article, focus on the first millennium AD. They
believe that it is much too long, in other words, that Antiquity is closer
to us than we think. They actually find themselves in agreement with the
Renaissance humanists who, according to historian Bernard Guenée, thought of
the “middle age” between Antiquity and their time (the term media
tempestas first appears in 1469 in the correspondence of
Andrea Bussi) as “nothing but a parenthesis, an in-between.” In
Biondo, the first archeologist of Rome, wrote a book about this period
and titled it: Decades
of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire. Giorgio Vasari
thought of it as a mere two centuries when he wrote in his
of Giotto (1550), that Giotto (1267-1337) “brought back to life the
true art of painting, introducing the drawing from nature of living persons,
which had not been practised for two
If our Middle Ages have been artificially stretched by seven or more
centuries, does that mean that most of it is pure fiction? Not necessarily.
Gunnar Heinsohn, using comparative archeology and stratigraphy (explore
articles or watch his
video conference), argues that events spread throughout Antiquity, Late
Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages were in fact contemporary. In other
words, the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empire, and
the Germanic Roman Empire must be resynchronized and seen as parts of the
same civilization which collapsed a little more than ten centuries ago,
after a global cataclysmic event that caused a commotion of memory and a
taste for apocalyptic salvation cults.
 Claire Levasseur et Christophe Badel, Atlas
de l’Empire romain : Construction et apogée: 300 av. J.-C. – 200 apr.
J.-C., Édiions Autrement, 2020 , p. 76.
 Most influential was Émile Littré with his Histoire
de la langue française, 1862.
 Angelo Mazzocco, Linguistic
Theories in Dante and the Humanists: Studies of Language and Intellectual
History in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italy, E.J. Brill, 1993,
p. 175 (read on books.google.com).
 In the words of Jerry Brotton, The
Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo, Oxford UP, 2010,
p. 66, as already quoted in “How Fake is Roman Antiquity?”
 Jacques Heers, Le
Moyen Âge, une imposture, Perrin, 1992, pp. 55-58.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Forgery
and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, Oxford
University Press, 2013 (on books.google.com), pp. 1, 27.
 Heribert Illig, “Anomalous Eras – Best Evidence: Best Theory,” June
 Herbert Edward John Cowdrey, The
Cluniacs and the Gregorian Reform, Clarendon, 1970.
 Marc Bloch, Feudal
Society, vol. 1: The
Growth of Ties of Dependance, University of Chicago Press, 1964, p. 107.
 Robert I. Moore, The
First European Revolution, c. 970-1215, Basil Blackwell, pp. 11, 174.
 Harold Berman, Law
and Revolution, the Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, Harvard
UP, 1983, pp. 15, 108.
 Laurent Morelle, “Des faux par milliers” L’Histoire, n°
372, February 2012.
 Reproduced from from F. Henderson, (Ed.), Select
Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, George Bell and Sons, 1910 (on
archive.org), pp. 329-333.
 John Romanides, Franks,
Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine: An Interplay Between Theology and Society, Patriarch
Athenagoras Memorial Lectures, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981, on
 John Meyendorff and Aristeides Papadakis, The
Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press,
1994, pp. 55, 167, 27.
 Aviad Kleinberg, Histoires
de saints. Leur rôle dans la formation de l’Occident, Gallimard, 2005, p. 72.
 Andrew J. Ekonomou, Byzantine
Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern Influences on Rome and the Papacy from
Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752, Lexington Books, 2009, p. 43.
 Michel Kaplan, Pourquoi
Byzance ?: Un empire de onze siècles, Folio/Gallimard, 2016, p. 55.
 Robert Favreau, Bernadette Mora and Jean Michaud, “Chrismes du
Sud-Ouest,” CNRS Editions, 1985 (Corpus
des inscriptions de la France médiévale, 10), on
 Patricia Stirnemann,
 Edwin Johnson, The
Rise of Christendom (1890), on
archive.org, p. 360.
 Edwin Johnson, The
Rise of Christendom, op. cit., p. 50.
 Edwin Johnson, The
Rise of Christendom, op. cit., pp. 7, 80.
 James Watson, Interpolations
in Bede’s Ecclesiastical history and other ancient annals affecting the
early history of Scotland and Ireland, Peebles, 1883 (archive.org), p.
 Grégroire de Tours, Histoire
des rois francs, Gallimard, 1990, chapitre IV, p. 103
 Raoul Glaber, Histoires, éd.
et trad. Mathieu Arnoux, Turnhout, Brépols, 1996, IV, §13, pp. 163-165.
 Thomas Creissen, “La christianisation des lieux de culte païens :
‘assassinat’, simple récupération ou mythe historiographique ?”, Gallia
– Archéologie de la France antique, CNRS Éditions, 2014, 71 (1), pp.
279-287, on hal.archives-ouvertes.fr
 Polydor Hochart, De
l’authenticité des Annales et des Histoires de Tacite, 1890 (on
archive.org), pp. 3-5.
 Sylvain Gouguenheim, Aristote
au Mont Saint-Michel. Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne, Seuil,
 Einar Joranson, “The Problem of the Spurious Letter of Emperor
Alexis to the count of Flanders,” The
American Historical Review, vol. 55 n°4 (July 1950), pp. 811-832, on
 Jonathan Harris, Byzantium
and the Crusades, Hambledon Continuum, 2003, p. 56.
 Robert de Clari, La
Conquête de Constantinople, Champion Classiques, 2004, p. 171.
 Steven Runciman, A
History of the Crusades, vol. 3: The
Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (1954), Penguin Classics, 2016,
 Jonathan Harris, Byzantium
and the Crusades, op. cit., p. 50.
 Steven Runciman, A
History of the Crusades, vol. 3, op.
cit, p. 130.
 Edwin Hunt, The
Medieval Super-Companies: A Study of the Peruzzi Company of Florence,
Cambridge UP, 1994.
 Jerry Brotton, The
Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo, Oxford UP, 2010,
 In his book Re-Dating
Ancient Greece (2008), Sylvain Tristan points to intriguing paralells
between Plato’s and Pletho’s lives, and makes the hypothesis that Plato is
in reality a fictional personae of Pletho.
 Paul Stephenson, The
Byzantine World, Routledge, 2012, p. xxi.
 John Meyendorff, Byzantium
and the Rise of Russia, Cambridge UP, 1981, p. 2.
 Steven Runciman, The
Fall of Constantinople 1453, Cambridge UP, 1965, p. 190.
 Michel Kaplan, Pourquoi
Byzance? Un empire de onze siècles, Folio/Gallimard, 2016, p. 39.
 Roderick Saxey II (1998-99), “The Greek language through time,”
 Margaret Alexiou, “Diglossia in Greece,” in William Haas, Standard
Languages: Spoken and Written, Manchester UP, 1982.
 Sylvain Tristan, Re-Dating
Ancient Greece: 500 BC = 1300 AD?, independently published, 2008.
 William Miller, The
Latins in the Levant: A History of Frankish Greece (1204-1566), P.
Dutton & Co., 1908 (on archive.org), pp. 315, 327.
 Bernard Guenée, Histoire
et culture historique dans l’occident medieval, Aubier, 2011, p. 9.
 David Carrette, L’Invention
du Moyen Âge. La plus grande falsification de l’histoire, Magazine Top-Secret, Hors-série
n°9, 2014, pp. 43, 53.