Gunnar Heinsohn: Letter to Heribert Illig

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Gunnar Heinsohn, Gdansk, Sept. 2017 heinsohnpq

Gunnar Heinsohn's letter to Heribert Illig for his 70th birthday

Dear Heribert,

On the happy occasion of your 70th birthday on September 7, 2017, I would like to say a few words about the slow pace of my work on the chronology reconstruction.

My doubts about the chronology of pre-Christian antiquity began in 1975 with my evaluation of Ernest Borneman’s (1915-1995) doctoral thesis, DAS PATRIARCHAT (PATRIARCHY; 1975). That report brought me into contact with the refutation of the Dark Age of Greece (c. 1200-700 B. C.) by Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979). At the same time, I became acquainted with the mega-disasters dividing the periods of the Bronze Age as proposed in 1948 by Claude F. Schaeffer (1898-1982).
It was in 1987 that I finally said goodbye to Velikovsky's alternative chronology because it was overly Bible-fundamentalist. I tried to overcome mainstream and Velikovsky alike by using stratigraphy as Occam’s Razor.

I took much longer to reconsider the chronology of global catastrophes. As late as in DIE ERSCHAFFUNG DER GÖTTER (THE CREATION OF THE GODS; 1997) I was convinced that the disaster that terminated the Bronze Age and gave rise to the Iron Age was the last cataclysm that encompassed the entire earth. That disaster happened, according to mainstream dating, around 1200/1100 B.C. However, in WANN LEBTEN DIE PHARAONEN? (WHEN DID THE PHARAOHS LIVE/THRIVE?; 1990) the two of us settled –– at the earliest –– for c. 600 B. C. From there up to c. 1 A.D., another 200 years are without archaeological substance as, already in 1989, had been pointed out for Roman history by the Livy-expert H. H. Maier (Vorzeit-Frühzeit-Gegenwart, Vol. I, No. 3).

In February 2011, inspired by an undesired Indonesia/Bali visit, I made some progress. While examining Asian stratigraphy for the 1000 years of the 1st millennium A. D., I noticed that nowhere could I find archaeological substance for more than 300-400 years per excavation site. Back in Europe, I could not find sites with archaeological layers for Imperial Antiquity (1-230s) that were covered by newly built layers of residential districts with water pipes, latrines, roads etc. for Late Antiquity from the 280s onwards. Dealing with both supposedly successive epochs I could not help but delve into the striking similarity between the catastrophic CRISIS OF THE THIRD CENTURY (followed by the 230s-280s turmoil) and the catastrophic CRISIS OF THE SIXTH CENTURY. The latter is increasingly being discussed in mainstream, not necessarily as a global catastrophe but nevertheless as cosmically influenced.

However, nowhere could I find stratigraphies exhibiting traces of two civilizational terminations separated by some 300 years, one layer super-imposed upon the other. Therefore, I could not help but identify both crises as one and the same. This forced me to extend your phantom period of some 300 years (roughly 8th – 10th cent.) within the 1st millennium A. D. – which was not only accepted but supported by me with 20 essays – by another 300 years. Imperial Antiquity (1st-3rd c.) and Late Antiquity (4th-6th cent.) turned out to be two contemporary facets of the same Roman civilization. You were open enough to publish in ZEITENSPRÜNGE, (2011 and 2012) my clumsy first attempts to substantiate my discovery. Then, however, you offered some stern advice: first work out a comprehensive monography before going public again.

I followed your farsighted suggestion, and began asking top historical -- as well as archaeological -- experts if they could point out at least one ancient city, among the many thousand known for the 1st millennium A.D., that has new building layers with residential quarters, latrines, water pipes etc. for Late Antiquity of the 3rd to 6th century on top of the building layers of Imperial Antiquity (1st to 3rd cent.) that had been stricken by the half century (230s to 280s A.D.) of the CRISIS OF THE THIRD CENTURY.

One of the world’s leading authorities for Late Antiquity, a professor at the University of Heidelberg, answered me in early 2013: “Unfortunately I cannot provide you with thee ' prime example' you are looking for. The archeology of Antique (and especially Late Antique) town arrangements is almost always more complicated than an easy super-imposition of 'Imperial Antiquity' and 'Late Antiquity' with intervening 'crisis' (whereby the non-visibility of pronounced structural activities in the archaeological findings does not necessarily have to indicate a more profound crisis).” [„Leider kann ich Ihnen auch nicht mit ‚dem‘ 'Paradebeispiel' weiterhelfen, nach dem Sie suchen. Die Archäologie antiker (und insbes. spätantiker) Stadtanlagen ist fast immer deutlich komplexer als eine einfache Überlagerung von 'Kaiserzeit' und 'Spätantike' mit dazwischenliegender 'Krise' (wobei die Nicht-Sichtbarkeit ausgeprägter baulicher Aktivitäten im archäologischen Befund noch nicht unbedingt auf eine tiefer greifende Krise hinweisen muss).”]

According to my long-standing rule, outsiders may – even must – enter a controversy when the best and the brightest in the field confess their confusion and raise the white flag. In autumn 2013, I had finished a volume of nearly 400 pages. It carried the title HOW MANY YEARS DOES THE FIRST MILLENNIUM HAVE? Ewald Ernst printed a small number of copies as a private edition.

Ewald was kind but, as it turned out, had acted prematurely because I still had not understood the most important part of the first millennium AD, the early Middle Ages (8th -10th cent.). This ignorance was quickly overcome by a reluctant visit to Warsaw in October, 2013. There, Joanna detected ARCHEOLIGIA POLSKI (2011) of Andrzej Buko in the bookshop of the Royal Castle. In the English summary, that I read in the overheated coach back to Gdansk, I found a passage about the dramatic end of the early medieval Slavic sites that had blossomed between 700 and the 930s A.D.: "There was a rapid, sometimes catastrophic, collapse of many of the pre-existing tribal centers. These events were accompanied by the permanent or temporary depopulation of former areas of settlement. Within a short time, new centers representative of the Piast state arose on new sites, thus beginning [in 966 A.D.] the thousand-year history of the Polish nation and state” (p. 464).

Because similar traces of destruction are reported from Scandinavia to Mesopotamia and – as I soon learned – are even found in India, Ceylon, China and the Yucatan, I had to acknowledge that the early 10th century A. D. was hit by a disaster of global proportions. I made this discovery public in February, 2017, as TENTH CENTURY COLLAPSE (http://www.q-mag. org/gunnar-heinsohn-tenth-century-collapse. html). My conviction that the great disaster between mankind’s Bronze and Iron Ages was the last of its kind was refuted. My 2013 book, thankfully only available in Ewald’s small edition, turned into wastepaper. Its chapters on the contemporaneity of Imperial Antiquity and Late Antiquity, though, would serve as a valuable quarry for a new volume to be written.

Since I had already searched in vain for two –– stratigraphically superimposed –– destructions of civilization in the 3rd and 6th century, I already knew that –– with inclusion of the 930s devastations –– there was no chance of finding even three superimposed cataclysms with fresh building strata (for residential quarters, latrines etc.) in between. Nowhere in the immense space all over the earth does the 930s destruction stratigraphically lie above a comparable calamity in the 3rd and/or 6th century. The 930s catastrophe, from Uppakra in Sweden to Kalisz in Poland to Samarra in Iraq etc., must have been the same disaster as the 230s destructions in Rome where –– after Severus Alexander's aqueduct of 226 A. D. –– no new water pipes can be found until 1453 when Aqua Virgo (completed in 19 BC; severely damaged in the 230s A.D.) was repaired, and turned into the still very popular Aqua di Trevi.

Thus, not just between Scandinavia and Mesopotamia but all over the world, the early medieval period (approx. 700-930s AD) becomes the epoch for which history can finally be written because it contains Imperial Antiquity and Late Antiquity, too. Textual and material finds, which are now chopped up and scattered over Imperial Antiquity, Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, must be merged into the latter which, thereby, multiplies the sources that can be drawn upon.

The High Middle Ages, beginning after the 930s A.D., are not only found –– as would be expected –– contingent with, i.e., immediately above the Early Middle Ages (ending in the 930s). They are also found –– which is chronologically perplexing –– directly above Imperial Antiquity or Late Antiquity in locations where settlements continued after the 930s cataclysm.

In October, 2013, I began writing the second book, a task that was unavoidable after the Warsaw visit. Looking around Aachen for a week, which I had never found the time to study in depth, resulted quickly in an intriguing find. Many of the supposedly centuries-old Roman used parts in the Octagon of the 9th century were not spoliae at all, but were perfectly antique and brand-new at the same time. That’s why Werner Jacobsen called them, in 1996, "pseudo-spoliae“ (cf. "Spolien in der karolingischen Architektur", in J. Poeschke, ed., Antike Spolien in der Architektur des Mittelalter und der Renaissance, Munich: Hirmer, 1996, 155-178). Charlemagne therefore built during antiquity whose time setting in the 1st - 3rd century, therefore, has to be moved forward to the Early Middle Ages of the 8th - 10th century.


After finding the chronological parallels of IMPERIAL ANTIQUITY=LATE ANTIQUITY=EARLY MIDDLE AGE, material supporting that equation flowed almost automatically from all over the world. The small Aachen text swiftly swelled to almost 600 pages. To match this growth, I changed the title to HOW MANY YEARS HAS THE FIRST MILLENIUM? But even the new volume still begins with the analysis of Aachen. It dawned on me during my 2016 lecture ROME AND POLAND IN THE 1st MILLENNIUM CE (in Rome’s Archivio di Stato) that a work on the chronology of the first millennium must begin with Rome, Athens, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Here follows a diagram from the Rome lecture. To which I was invited by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti.

Periods without building of new residential quarters, latrines, water pipes, brothels, streets, ports etc. in major ancient metropoles as well as in sites in Poland (same color=same period)










High Middle Ages

Residential quar- ters, latrines etc.

Residential quar- ters, latrines etc.

Residential quar- ters, latrines etc.

Residential quarters, latrines etc.

Residential quarters, latrines etc.

Early Middle Ages

Residential quarters, latrines etc.; 1st/2nd c. Roman coins + pottery similar to 1st-3rd c.

Late Antiquity

Residential quar-ters, latrines etc.

Imperial Antiquity

Residential quar-ters, latrines etc.

Residential quar-ters, latrines etc.

Residential quarters, latrines etc.; 1st/2nd c. Roman coins + potte-ry similar to 8th-10th c.

Late Latène

Residential quar-ters, latrines etc.

Residential quar-ters, latrines etc.

Residential quar-ters, latrines etc.

Residential quarters, latrines etc.

Residential quarters, latrines etc.

The moment the reader no longer wants to merely believe but actually see the alleged archaeological strata with residential quarters, latrines and water pipes for all the 930 years between 1 and 930 A.D. he may also become more open to secondary cities like Aachen and Ephesus or Antioch and Carthage where some 700 years of building strata are missing, too.

So I have to start all over again at your day of honour and follow your wise monograph suggestion for the third time. Most of the melodies are there, but the whole thing needs some new composing. Let's see how far I can get with this.

I wish you a good time in Istria with your own wine and the territory’s tasty Pršut ham, which I could even buy recently in Gdansk.

Cordially, Gunnar

(transl. U. Topper, finally edited by the author himself)

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