Phantom Time Hypothesis
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Basic Information

The Phantom Time Hypothesis refers to several (competing) theories that say that several centuries of history do not exist. Much of history is recorded by those who lived long after the eras and civilizations about which they wrote, rather than being first-hand sources. Some of these theories allege such histories are a deliberate falsification to suit some agenda of previous historians, poets and politicians. Other versions of the theories allege that the false centuries are complicated mistakes - duplicate recording of events stemming from multiple oral traditions and contradictory first-hand accounts that are now lost to us.

If these theories are correct, then the history books are wrong, and far less than two thousand years have passed since the birth of Christ. Evidence for these theories include discrepancies between the Julian Calendar and Gregorian Calendar, architectural similarities between Ancient Rome and the 10th Century, and inconsistencies in Dendrochonology.

If true, as much as two centuries of the Dark Ages are merely legend. The Carolingian period, and indeed Charlemagne himself would be a hoax perpetrated by Otto III and Gerbert d'Aurillac. In the version proposed by Heribert Illig, he alleges that the years 614 to 911 just did not happen, and were completely fabricated by untrustworthy and politically-motivated historians.

Other versions of the theories abound. One proposes that 1,000 years of history is largely a misunderstanding and that Russia and Turkey were a single empire with two names that confused historians. Yet another supposes dates in the history of ancient Egypt, Israel and Mesopotamia are grossly inaccurate, and uses archaeoastronomy to relocate the 19th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt by 350 years.

Such theories are generally not accepted by the scientific and historic mainstream. The notion of Phantom Time is fairly easily disproven by comparison to records in the ancient world of astronomical events that happen on regular recurring time frames, such as eclipses and the passing of comets. If multiple centuries were falsely made up, the dates of many such phenomena would be thrown off and not match up with contemporary accounts from the ancient world that correspond to the expected dates.


Game and Story Use

  • How do you have an Alternate History that looks (in the first session of the campaign) identical to our modern world? By saying the falsified years were part of a grand Conspiracy to shape our culture. Large swaths of history are a fiction perpetrated to keep the ignorant masses complacent and justify the power held by the few. Only as the PCs dig deeper into the Wheels Within Wheels do they realize how everything they've known is a lie.
  • Why have an uber-cool alternate past if there's no way for the players to interact with it?
    • You could set an entire campaign in the transitionary era, where the false centuries eventually get inserted, and have fun anachronistically combining eras that don't always go together. Pick your two favorite eras, and edit out everything in between.
    • Break out the Time Machine or Portal to the Past!
      • Bring along an Archaeologist to explain how "wrong" this all is, so your players don't miss the significance (or think you Did Not Do The Research).
      • Awesome plot-trap for the PC Mad Scientist who invents the first time machine. His test drive overshoots, and he ends up in a different era than he'd prepared for. As he tests more and more, it slowly dawns on him that the consensus timeline is completely wrong, and only he can unravel the truth.
    • Alternatively, steal an idea from Terry Pratchett - all the inconsistencies are the result of someone's frantic efforts to patch up the damage done by a temporal paradox at some point that no longer exists.
  • Jumping directly from Ancient Rome to Knights In Shining Armor without those bleak times in between, lets you meld certain theories about King Arthur more fluidly.
  • Could be combined with the greco-celtic chimerization of Where Troy Once Stood to create a really interesting past. Troy falls, Rome invades, and Arthur is crowned, all in the span of a couple generations and on the same little island.
  • If nothing else, it's a fun throw away comment or red herring for a Conspiracy Theorist character to spout.
  • There's also the option of the "inverse phantom time": a few centuries that were never recorded, or that THEY have written out of the history books. This would let you insert kings, popes, or possibly even entire countries that the historians say never existed.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld has a similar phenomenon caused by the fact that there was a temporal-paradox and near collapse of causality in the past, which was only just repaired by an order of monks with the ability to manipulate time. The urgency of the problem caused some "rough joins" in space-time and several gaps had to be patched with time stolen from elsewhere in the continuum … from time to time, the stitches become visible.
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