Trevor Palmer's response to Gunnar Heinsohn

Dear Gunnar,

Your response to my article, "The Chronology of the Roman Emperors...", was, like all your writings on chronology, full of plausible and interesting arguments in support of a highly-original theory. However, it must be said that the article you refer to in your response seems different in several important respects from mine. Let's clarify a few points. 
To start with, you wrote, "Trevor's impressive effort, however, only makes sense if he regards me as someone who wants to abandon genuine rulers, or even turn them into fictitious characters. Never, in scholarly exchanges of nearly half a century, have I come across a more profound misunderstanding".

Yet, in the introduction to my article, I wrote that you "propose that the emperors who had reigned in Rome from AD 1 to AD 230 [Augustus to Alexander Severus] were in fact contemporaries of emperors who had reigned in the east, supposedly from AD 290 to AD 520 [Diocletian to Anastasius I]". Does that suggest that I harbour a "profound misunderstanding" of your position?

I agree with you that historical narratives are an important source of information, and I also accept that it's unwise to take at face value anything said in an individual historical source, considered in isolation.

The purpose of my article was to draw attention to surviving histories and chronicles from the Roman and medieval periods, written during many different reigns and in a wide range of locations, which provide overlapping accounts of the history of the period. According to the timescales indicated in this corpus of information, the historical sources, taken as a whole, describe events through an unbroken period of over a thousand years from the time of emperor Augustus. In my article, I've focused on just one section of the sequence of Roman rulers indicated in consistent fashion in these sources, that from Septimius Severus, who reigned shortly before Alexander Severus, to Maurice, who reigned a few decades after Anastasius I. I've also included sequences and other information concerning rulers of non-Roman European kingdoms and popes of Rome during the same period. The unambiguous picture which emerges is that the line of emperors from Diocletian to Anastasius reigned at a later time than the line from Augustus to Alexander Severus. There is absolutely nothing in the surviving sources to suggest that any of the emperors in the 230-year "Roman" line were contemporaries of ones in the "eastern" one.

I am of course aware that your theory involves not just a duplication of history but a triplication, with three supposedly separate 230-year periods running concurrently. In my article, I'd only considered the relationship between the first two, but that was simply to avoid the article getting over-complicated and far too long (it was already up to 70-pages). Also, you've so far given fewer historical details for the third period than for the other two. In your open-letter to Steve Mitchell written on 30 January you identified it with the period whose conventional dates are from around AD 700 to 930, but you haven't said anything (as far as I'm aware) about the Roman emperors conventionally believed to have been ruling during this period. This was the line from Justinian II to Constantine VII, often referred by us today as Byzantine emperors although they called themselves Romans. If you believe this line of emperors to have co-existed with the "Roman" line and the "eastern" line, there is an obvious problem in that the historical sources say unequivocally that the emperors from Justinian II to Constantine VII reigned in Constantinople and that the line from Constantine I (who followed Diocletian) to Anastasius I also reigned in Constantinople. If, on the other hand, you don't believe that the emperors from Justinian II to Constantine VII were contemporaries of the ones from Augustus to Alexander Severus and from Diocletian to Anastasius, then how are they accommodated into your overall scheme?   
Regardless of this, surviving Byzantine sources unequivocally give a linear sequence from Anastasius I to Justinian II (who was deposed but later re-instated) and on to Constantine VII, whilst sources from western Europe (including England) give complete sequences of rulers in this region during the same period. Also, these various sources occasionally indicate contacts between named emperors in Constantinople and named rulers in western Europe, as well as with popes of Rome. Taking these sources together, there is a clear and unambiguous indication that Alfred the Great, a contemporary of the Frankish emperor Charles the Fat and the Byzantine emperor Basil I, lived long after the time of Anastasius I.

So, had I written another 70 pages or so, to bring the sequence of Roman emperors indicated by the surviving sources up to and beyond the reign of Constantine VII (when Henry the Fowler, father of Otto I, was king of Germany), the conclusions of my article would have been unchanged. Here, in slightly abbreviated form, is what I wrote:
 "In this article, the Heinsohn theory has been considered solely from the criterion of its compatibility with historical sources...It is acknowledged that Heinsohn's arguments are interdisciplinary and hence need to be considered from a variety of other perspectives, such as archaeology, geology, architecture and scientific-dating. Hence it would be inappropriate to express any definite conclusions about whether or not the model is correct  just on the basis of one aspect of the evidence. Nevertheless, it should be abundantly clear that the key features of the model are incompatible with the surviving historical evidence. The discordance is so great that it seems unrealistic to suppose that the historical evidence which has been lost would tell a significantly different story, or that undetected scribal errors give a completely false picture of what was originally written. The inevitable conclusion seems to be that if the Heinsohn model is correct, there must have been a conspiracy of forgery on a gigantic scale. Is there any other possible explanation? ...Whatever plausible aspects there may be to the archaeological, architectural or other evidence, this theory seems unlikely to make much progress unless a convincing explanation can be given for its incompatibility with the current historical evidence".

In your response, you referred to further plausible aspects of the archaeological, architectural and other evidence. You also spoke of giving priority to stratigraphy, which would be fine if there was a generally agreed basis for doing so. However, as you know, your own interpretations of the stratigraphical evidence are controversial and not widely accepted, and the situation cannot be helped by the fact that the conclusions you've drawn from them are incompatible with the evidence from surviving historical sources.       

Let me make it clear that I'm not arguing against your theory. In your response, you referred more than once to "Palmer's timeline", but it's not my timeline, it's the timeline indicated in clear and straightforward fashion by the ancient historians themselves, according to the evidence transmitted to us. Similarly, you remarked on several occasions that I accepted some point or other when I had simply been reporting what was said in the surviving sources. These raise challenges to your theory which cannot be brushed aside on the grounds that ancient writers did not have the same mind-set as modern readers, because, despite that, key elements of what they said were straightforward and explicit. For example, Eusebius, who is reported to have died in the 20th year of Constantine I, gave details of the reigns of all the emperors from Nero to Alexander Severus, every one of whom reigned after the death of Constantine in your theory, and he dated the accession of Constantine to 293 years after the death of Augustus, whereas you suggest this time-interval was only about 8 years. Many similar examples could be given. All I've done is draw attention to the fact that the content of the surviving historical sources poses difficulties for your model. Wisely (in my opinion), you're not attempting to escape from this predicament by suggesting that the historical sources transmitted to us were all forgeries (which, as I'm sure you realise, would have required a conspiracy of inconceivable skill, scope and complexity), but that still leaves the problem of explaining why they consistently present key events, such as reigns of kings, in what according to your model is an incorrect  sequence, and consistently give much longer overall timescales than those in your scheme. No doubt that is a matter you will be thinking about as you continue to develop your theory, refine your supportive arguments and attempt to find credible solutions to the problems faced by your model. I wish you well in your endeavours.


Accompanying note

Dear Ami,

Thanks for drawing my attention to this response by Jan Beaufort. I welcome it, although I note that, like the previous response, it begins by claiming that I maintain Gunnar believes in the conspiracy theory. That was most certainly not my intention. When I wrote, towards the end of my article, "The inevitable conclusion seems to be that if the Heinsohn model is correct, there must have been a conspiracy of forgery on a gigantic scale. Is there any other possible explanation?", that was intended as a genuine question, not an alternative way of saying, "There is no other possible explanation". Perhaps I should have made that clearer, but I thought it was obvious from the final sentence of the article.

Be that as it may, my intention was stated unambiguously in the email I sent to you with the article on 7 May. In that email, after mentioning the conspiracy theory, I wrote, "However, what's the alternative? Clearly, for Gunnar's theory to remain viable, one is required. I would like to think that what I've written could stimulate Gunnar (or someone else) to come up with a plausible explanation as to why all the surviving historical sources may be consistent with each other, yet wildly incorrect".

Jan Beaufort has now made a genuine attempt to respond to that challenge. Whether it will convince critics remains to be seen, but that's not the main point as far as I'm concerned. I was trying to move the debate forward, and Jan has made a positive response.

In view of the misunderstandings about my intentions, I'd be grateful if you'd publish my answer to Gunnar, which should make my position clear. (...)
Very best wishes,

(The First Millennium A.D. Chronology Controversy)