Garry Kasparov Interview from 2001

Originally published in Saturday Night online, 2001

Chess writers typically describe world chess champion grandmaster GarryKasparov as either the best player in the world or the best player inworld history. He won the title in 1985 at the age of 22. He hasdefeated all human challengers in tournament play since. Last year,Kasparov won a match on MSN that pitted the champ against a collective of 3 million chess players from 75 countries who logged in to vote on their next move. Kasparov is, in short, a legendary chess brain.

Yet Kasparov is also a voracious student of history. He has read a library of books and memorised most significant dates in the human chronology. To him, there always seemed to be discrepancies in the human chronology. Then in 1996, Kasparov came across the famous Moscow State University mathematician Anatoly Fomenko who had published a textbook outlining his mathematical theory that history contained statistically improbable pattern duplications. The two men met and in 1998 Kasparov wrote a supportive Preface to Fomenko’s radical book "Introduction to New Chronology."

Earlier this year, I interviewed colleagues of Fomenko’s for a story in Saturday Night. During these conversations I found out about Kasparov’s fascination. It took a few weeks to track him down – Kasparov constantly travels the world playing chess -- but when I did, he spoke freely about several of the major problems in the chronology; including discrepancies in mapping, military technology, mathematics, and how historians are reacting.

- Timothy Taylor

Timothy Taylor: Let’s talk about maps. You're saying the Romans couldn’t have had them, is that correct?

Garry Kasparov: There is no single original of the Roman time. So we
assume that the maps never existed. Because, if you look at the first
maps of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, you’ll see the quality of
these maps is a joke.

TT: In terms of accuracy?

GK: It’s not even accuracy. It’s like children’s drawings. It’s not even
a map. They didn’t have the concept of geographical maps at all at that time.

TT: And if maps of the 14th and 15th century looked like that, by
extension, you have difficulty with the prowess in roadwork and
communications attributed to the Romans.

GK: Absolutely. What I am trying to figure out in my preface is how they could operate without the simple items - maps - that are necessary for running such a huge empire.

TT: Staying on the Romans, there are other discrepancies. You write that according to the conventional chronology, the Romans didn’t innovate in terms of military tactics or learn from their enemies even over 400 years, which you take as evidence that the Roman era is exaggerated in duration. We have these two battles, for example, Carrhae and Adrianople, 400 years apart, and yet in both cases, a Roman army using the same armaments is defeated the same way, by cavalry.

GK: Absolutely. And they never made any improvements on the cavalry. And amazingly, when you read the sources, they couldn’t make it because stirrups were not known in Europe. For hundreds of years, the Romans couldn’t make a cavalry which proved to be extremely effective.

TT: In your preface to Fomenko’s Introduction to New Chronology you write about inconsistencies in various growth rates throughout human history, including those for the development of human physical size and strength. We first look at the great physical accomplishments attributed to Greeks and Romans. Then we look at the relatively small size of medieval suits of armour. Finally, we look at our size today and this seems to describe a strange developmental pattern.

GK: Correct. We know that for the last 300 or 400 years, the size of
human bodies is growing. Now what happened is that we suddenly, in history, have the backward process. We have these great Greek athletes, we have ultra-powerful Roman soldiers. You look at the size of the Roman soldier who has to carry all this ammunition. You’re
talking about 300,000 Arnold Schwartzeneggers. And even well-known historians like Edward Gibbon are talking about how the soldiers of the 18th century were not able to do the same type of exercise.

TT: Isn’t it possible that we have an over-romanticized view of the
Romans and so we grossed up their abilities a bit? No harm done, the duration of the empire remains the same, but they simply weren’t as fast, they didn’t jump as high, they didn’t carry as much iron.

GK: But then we have to devaluate all the sources. And that’s very
important. We’re talking about very reliable quote-unquote historical
sources. And they describe it in great detail . . . it’s not just
fifteen kilos of iron. He’s talking about all sorts of ammunition: a
sword, a shield, a long pike. It’s a precise description.

TT: So this is about credibility of source material.

GK: Oh, this is a big credibility issue! If these things, if all these
things never existed, then we have to devaluate as a credible source the entire literature that is attributed to the ancient authors, because how could they make such mistakes describing the ammunition of their contemporary soldiers? This suggests that those sources do not belong to the contemporary writers, and they were made up much later.

TT: I want to talk about numbers. If I understand correctly, the Greeks are credited with the foundation discoveries of mathematics and physics. But they would have had to do so without Arabic numerals, a feat no one can duplicate.

GK: Correct. The Greeks according to official history used letters for
hundreds, for tens, and ones. It was extremely complicated. If you talk about Archimedes, you should use Greek letters. But according to Fomenko and his associates, modern science cannot deal with these problems without [modern] tools of calculation.

TT: So, Fomenko is saying in effect that we've been unsuccessful in
going back and doing any of these ancient calculations using what are supposed to have been the contemporary numbering systems of the day. Which raises the follow-up question: How were these texts preserved over subsequent centuries if nobody would have had any idea what the texts were talking about?

GK: Exactly. And we have again a strange gap. We have the big scientific discoveries around the second, third century BC. Then we have an invention of the so-called Arab system, the positional system of counting with zero dated to the eighth or ninth century
AD. Then we have another gap of 600 to 700 years before the positional system of counting was used for logarithms and for decimals. But it doesn’t take 600 years. It takes two generations maximum. Which takes me to the conclusion that probably the positional system of counting was an invention of the fifteenth century. And then we have a very very good, gradual development from the invention of this system of counting, then we have decimals, we have logarithms, then we have great scientific works of people like Archimedes and Apolloni on one side and you have Kepler, Descartes, Fermat . . . because the complexity of the tasks they were solving is identical. So if we don’t know anything about
history, we should assume that all these great scientists from the
second and third century BC have to be contemporaries of
Kepler, Descartes, and Fermat.

Talking about scientific knowledge . . . the general conventional wisdom is that with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, science died and took another 1,000 years to revive. The simple point of refutation is that according to the same official history, the
Byzantine Empire was still thriving. It was flourishing. So how come
that one empire with the success of the Roman Empire - and many people just moved to Constantinople from Rome - how come this empire was not able to preserve this scientific knowledge? Somebody will tell you that, oh, it’s because the Church was dominating. I don’t believe that such important things like maps or the principles of mapping and the mathematics, ballistics could disappear because the Church didn’t like it. A science that has military importance should continue at any generation, under any emperor, any king, any president.

TT: What kind of reactions have you had to these ideas?

GK: Mostly people are very arrogant. And they get very defensive, or
very insulting, because they don’t want to hear about it. It’s like you
are destroying their family branch.

TT: How have historians reacted to your ideas?

GK: Once I spoke about this subject among a group of English
intellectuals. One of them was a professor on Roman Law at one of the leading British universities (without giving the name for him not to be embarrassed). And I asked him one question. I asked him, I don’t want to go into mathematics, or armour, or ammunition, or military
inventory because those are not your subjects. Let’s talk about
something that is entirely your field. What was the official language of the Byzantine Empire? According to official history, Emperor Constantine moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople. So, at that time, he moved his court and most of the bureaucrats to the new capital. They couldn’t start speaking another language, it means they came with the Latin language. So, at what time - according to historians the official language of the Byzantine Empire was Greek - when did the official transfer actually happen?

He said, maybe sometime in the sixth or the seventh century.

And I said, but the Justinian Codex, the rule of law in the Byzantine
Empire which was produced by Emperor Justinian, it was written in Latin.

And he looked at me . . . he knew that I knew already that the only
original copy was found in the beginning of the sixteenth century -
amazing the sixteenth century - in Italy, in Latin. So there is no
original text in Greek.

And he said, yes it was in Latin.

So I said, excuse me, can you explain to me and to other people, how come that the entire - while the official language was Greek and
everybody presumably spoke Greek, I mean ordinary people - how come they used Latin documents for jurisdiction, for the court, for official documents, because you can’t use an unknown language in the courtroom where you solve the problems of all the people.

Now he said . . . it’s a mystery we haven’t solved yet.

TT: So what is the true history?

GK: I’m not trying to give any definite answer. What I’m trying to prove is that we have enough gaps, enough discrepancies, enough simple falsifications to conclude that probably this history was an inventionof a later time. I don’t have enough information, and enough courage, to come up with a definite version of events. And I think it is too dangerous for me to do so.

Posted: Monday, Aug. 23, 2010 9:40am