I’ve always been bothered by pseudohistory. After all, history itself is usually stranger and weirder and wilder than anything you can imagine. And the search for the story of mankind’s collective past is itself an ancient and worthwhile pursuit, one that each generation in turn contributes to. Why make things up? I’ve spent countless hours arguing with people who believe that Atlantis existed (no, it really didn’t, Plato made the whole thing up) or that the Phoenicians colonized the New World (not impossible but there’s no evidence). In undergrad, I ran a discussion on the Ancient Alien theory in the interfaith group I was part of. Myths and lies about history are prolific, often spread by people who should really know better, and I think it behooves everyone with a background in this field to push back on false ideas, whether they’re conspiracy theories, nationalist myths, misunderstandings, or outright lies. But I’ll admit, there’s one pseudohistorical theory that I have a soft spot for: Antoly Fomenko’s New Chronology.
The New Chronology dates back to 1981, when Fomenko began publishing what would eventually become his mammoth series History: Science or Fiction? Fomenko was a mathematician, who would go on to win the 1996 State Prize of the Russian Federation for Mathematics and become head of the Department of Differential Geometry at Moscow State University, where he still teaches today. He had no historical background, but he had become interested in the writings of Nikolai Alexandrovich Morozov, a Russian revolutionary and physicist who had used astronomical analysis to conclude that much of our traditional understanding of historical chronology was incorrect. Fomenko adopted this theory, built on it, and eventually revealed his startling conclusion: all of recorded human history only dates back to 800 AD. And virtually everything we know about it is a lie.
Explaining what exactly the New Chronology is is surprisingly difficult, for a variety of reasons. First of all, Fomenko has been writing consistently about this for the last forty years. Secondly, much of that writing is only available in Russian. Thirdly, the writing that is in English tends to be incomprehensibly dense and poorly translated. Finally, the theory makes you sound very stupid whenever you say it out loud. But I’ll give it a try. Essentially, Fomenko believes that all of recorded history has occurred since 800 AD, with the vast majority happening since 1000 AD. Fomenko and his adherents claim that the reason that our traditional chronology is too long is that later historians either accidentally or maliciously made so-called “phantom copies” of events and rulers, repeating them over and over again under different names. For example, he believes that the Peloponnesian Wars is just an earlier replication of the conflict between the Navarrese Company and the Duchies of Athens and Neopatras in the 14th century. All of our traditional history consists of mistakes such as this: the same events repeated multiple times under different names.
Some other examples of this: the Temple of Solomon is just Hagia Sofia and Solomon was Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Jesus Christ was the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, who was born in Crimea in 1152 AD and crucified in Constantinople. The existences of Pope Gregory VII, Elisha, Emperor Jingzong, among many others were all inspired by him. The Trojan War was the same thing as the Crusades, which were fought in revenge for the Crucifixion. Ancient Rome actually existed in Egypt and had its capitol in Alexandria, Imperial Rome was Constantinople, and the Rome in Italy was founded by Aeneas in 1380 AD. Most events in the Old Testament are just interpretations of historical events from the 1300-1400s that have placed too early by later scholars. Noah is the same as Christopher Columbus, Joan of Arc is Deborah, the Israelite conquest of Canaan is just the Russo-Turkish Horde’s conquest of the Middle East (haha, we’ll get to that).
At one point he also “proves” that there couldn’t have been a Bronze Age because bronze is harder to make than tin so it couldn’t have been discovered first. Sure, why not.
By now, you’re probably wondering how Fomenko figured all of this out. The answer is…….statistical correlation! Fomenko has no historical background, and believes that most historical sources are lies anyhow. Therefore, he has used his knowledge of mathematics to attempt to correlate various things in history to various other things. He claims that the Star of Bethlehem must have been the supernova that created the Crab Nebula, recorded by Chinese astronomers around 1150 AD. He spent extensive time attempting to prove that the star positions recorded in Claudius Ptolemy’s Almagest (written circa 100-170 CE) actually chart stellar locations from 600-1300 AD. He’s done the same thing with Egyptian horoscopes from the first century BC. Contrarily, he contends that ancient Chinese or Babylonian astronomical observations are useless for dating or incorrect.
Besides astronomical data, his other favorite thing to correlate are lists of rulers. In fact, so far as I can tell this consists of most of what the New Chronology really is. Fomenko takes a list of kings from one country, compares it to a list from another, and by showing similarities he then “proves” that they’re really the same list. So, for example, he has “proven” that the Biblical kings of Israel are just the later Western Roman Emperors. And he’s claimed that the Anglo-Saxon kings of England are just other names for the Byzantine Emperors, associated with England only because refugees from Constantinople fled there after the sack of the city in 1453. There are a lot of problem with this but Fomenko regularly fails even to live up to his own standards. His parallels are often strained at best, as the debunker of false history par excellence Jason Colavito readily demonstrates:
He counts Cenwalch of Wessex and Sussex (643-672 CE) as the first “English” king, and he says his reign is the British duplicate (or reinterpretation) of the Eastern Roman Theodosius the Great (378-395 CE), for no particular reason other than the 275 year shift in time that makes it match “New Chronology.” But to make them equivalent, Fomenko can only use Cenwalch’s reign over Wessex (647-672). Even then, his 25-year reign still does not match Theodosius’ 16-year stay on the throne. Nevertheless, this error of more than 50% is still considered a parallel.
His other parallels, even after a double reordering of Byzantine monarchs (they were themselves duplicated twice, you see), are still not very accurate. Beorhtric (ruled 16 years) is equated to Justin I (ruled 9 years), an error of almost 78%. Fomenko links Aethelbert (6 years) to Justin II (13 years), an error of over 1013%. He has to combine Zeno’s two reigns (over a period of, but not totaling, 17 years) to match the English Cuthread (17 years).
Fomenko does manage, however, a couple of good “hits.” He links Egbert, the uniter of England (ruled 38 years), to Justinian the Great, restorer of the Roman Empire (ruled 38 years). But then he combines King Edgar (16 years) with King Edward the Martyr (3 years) and claims they both represent Leo III the Isaurian (24 years). He concludes that the names Edgar and Edward are “similar and consequently their union is natural.” (5) Of course, the eleven Emperors Constantine (and the additional Emperors named Constans and Constantius) were apparently readily distinguished by the barbarians.
Colavito is almost putting too much effort into this, as the problems with this approach are obvious. We know a lot more about Anglo-Saxon England than just a list of monarchs. We have archeological ruins, poetry, epics, linguistic knowledge—none of which matches up with Byzantine history in the slightest. But if we start talking about “evidence” or “proof” or “isn’t this all stupid?” then we’ll never finish.
Now that we’ve outlined the basic contours of the New Chronology you may be wondering what the point of it all is. Why has Antoly Fomenko devoted the last four decades of his life to correlating lists of kings in an effort to prove that there’s only a quarter of as much history as you think there is? Is he just insane? Well, yes, almost certainly. But there’s an important aspect to his thesis that I haven’t mentioned yet. You see, one of the implications of all this chronological rejiggerin’ is that apparently the dominant power in Europe and Asia for most of human history was a Slavic-Turkic Empire he calls the “Russian Horde”.
Ah. I see.
There was never any Mongol conquest of Russia. Instead, Genghis Khan was a Russian, as were the Scythians, Huns, Goths, Ukrainians, Cossacks and pretty much every other Steppe tribe he can find ever mentioned in history. Moscow was the Third Rome, following after Alexandria and Constantinople. Under the reign of Genghis Khan (who’s founding of the Horde inspired the story of Romulus and Remus apparently) the Russian Horde spread out across the world.
We would like to repeat that it was a rather peaceful colonization, including that of the vacant territories of Western Europe. A large part of the settlers-Cossacks was sent to Africa and Asia, including India and China. The Horde reclamation of India of that epoch is known to us from the ancient sources as the appearance of the famous ‘Aryans’ and the creation of the Aryan-Indian civilization in Hindustan. The Cossacks (i.e. the Israelites), who came to Egypt, here established the Mamelukes dynasty, described later in the history of ‘Ancient’ Egypt under the name of the ‘ancient’ Hyksos. This migration from the centre of the Horde Empire in all different directions was later described in various chronicles as DIASPORA or THE GREAT TRANSMIGRATION OF PEOPLES, as the great Slavic conquest, as the rise of Babylon, etc. In the Bible Russia-Horde (Israel) is also described as militant Assyria. Titus Livy and the other ‘ancient’ authors describe the same events as the rise of Royal Rome and the conquest of the world.
The Empire encompassed practically the entire Eurasia and a great part of Africa, including South Africa, African Egypt, and the Nile Valley, where traditionally the Empire’s ancestral Royal cemetery was situated……In other words, various famous Egyptian burials of pharaohs and other burials in Egypt (in Luxor for example) which are known today, are the graves of the eminent and distinguished people of the Horde Empire.
So much of the New Chronology is just these endless, dry lists of kings and other kings and other other kings and mathematical formulae that purport to demonstrate various astronomical alignments and so when you finally get to what he thinks actually happened it takes you completely by surprise. I mean, I quoted two paragraphs, there are hundreds of pages like that! Like, just there he’s taking the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt (1250-1517 AD), the Hykos Conquest of Egypt (circa 1650–1550 BC), and the Indo-Arayan migration into Northern India (circa 1500-500 BC) and just mushing them all together, and then throwing in the history of Early Rome and the Assyrian Empire too. It’s amazing. Later, he goes on to detail the Russian conquest of the Americas (we think of them as Conquistadors now), how Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism were all later schismatic branches of Christianity, how the New Testament predates the Old by several centuries, how the Book of Mormon is authentic (!!) and supports his claims, how Moses crossing the Red Sea is actually a story about the Horde crossing the Bosporus to conquer Turkey (or Europe, it’s a little unclear), etc, etc.
There’s so much weirdness here. He says the tombs in Egypt are really from the Russian Horde? If so, why are they covered in ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics? Was that really a Russo-Turkic language? But I’m not sure it even occurs to him to ask the question. There’s a charmingly quaint quality to so much of Fomenko’s “history”. It’s all based on reinterpretations of documents and correlations of lists. It’s genuinely not clear if he really understands that there’s a real world, which is perhaps understandable given that he attempts to approach history purely from the perspective of mathematics.
Now, even if you believe that the traditional chronology is faulty or that many events or incorrectly dated, it’s a little bizarre how you’d get from there to “Russian-Turkic world-state empire”.
But to understand this you have to understand the concept of the “Third Rome” in traditional Russian theology and politics. Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 left Muscovy the most powerful Eastern Orthodox state remaining, many Russians have seen their country as their heir to Roman greatness, both in terms of establishing the hegemonic empire Europe, but also in the sense of being the head of the Christian Church. To this day, the Catholic Church is led by the Bishop of Rome, while the first-among-equals of the leaders of Eastern Orthodoxy is the Patriarch of Constantinople. “Liberating” that city from the Muslims and securing themselves predominance in Europe and the Middle East was an obsession for many Czars’ foreign policy. Empress Catherine the Great even named her grandson Konstantin in the expectation of placing him on the throne of a renewed Byzantine Empire.
What Fomenko does is take this aspirational concept and literalize it. In his history, after the Roman Empire falls, a new Russo-Slavic-Turkic Empire arises to replace it, spreading civilization and Christianity to all the corners of the Earth. The humiliation of the Mongol conquest is transmuted by this into Russian glory, with the accomplishments of the Mongol and other Central Asian empires appropriated and tacked onto Russia. Eventually, the Russian Horde falls too, through a series of events that I find very confusing. I think the southern half of the Empire revolts and becomes the Ottoman Empire after converting to Islam? I don’t know. Then the Romanov dynasty takes power and with the help of the Vatican and the Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant Reformation (??) writes a series of fake histories in the 17th and 18th centuries to hide the true magnificence of the Horde so that Russians don’t realize the magnificence of their past and remained alienated from their Central Asian cousins. In Fomenko’s history, Peter the Great‘s western reforms of the 18th century aren’t an attempt to leverage a backwards Russia to the status of a world power but rather the treacherous efforts a usurper dynasty to stamp out the legacy of their predecessors and subordinate Russia to Western interests.
I don’t think I need to bother “debunking” this. It’s an attempt to rewrite world history into a Russian ultra-nationalist fever dream, based off of some correlated star charts and lists of monarchs. It makes no effort to even engage with 90% of historical evidence. In 2004 his English publisher announced a $10,000 prize for anyone who could prove the existence of a human artifact from before 1000 AD, so long as they didn’t use “archaeological, dendrochronological, paleographical and carbon methods.” Sure, why not guys. Fomenko embodies two stereotypes perfectly: the scientist who decides to try and impose his own methods on other disciplines to “solve” their problems and the nationalist who miraculously discovers that all of human history actually revolves around his own country (see the so-called Bosnian Pyramids for another good example of this).
And yet, I absolutely love the New Chronology. It’s just so magnificently dumb, so insanely, over-the-top-ly stupid, so momentous in its ambition and corresponding absence of evidence. Fomenko wins the pseudohistory prize for creating something that makes no attempt to conform to anyone else’s conception of reality. Normal pseudohistorians try and prove that aliens built the pyramids, how much better is it to say “no, the Russians did in the Middle Ages”? Fomenko takes everything far past the logical endpoint. The New Chronology is the reductio ad absurdum of its genre; literally all of history is a lie, and all of it was concocted to hide how great my country was. It’s very bad that people believe such nonsense. And people do believe it! One of Fomenko’s most prominent supporters is the former World Chess Champion and grandmaster Garry Kasparov.
But I can’t help but be kind of glad that something this absurd exists in the world still.
I’ve talked on this blog about my love of alternate history many times, and that’s what this amounts to. Fomenko used to write science fiction, and I wish he’d leave all the king correlating and Biblical analysis and astronomical analysis at home and just write this up as a fictional series.
I’d read it.