1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) by Eric Cline is both readable and scholarly, a difficult combination for any author. Cline looks at the 300-500 years before 1177 BC and shows how ancient peoples interacted before several kingdoms mysteriously faded or collapsed around 1177 BC.
For example, he has an interesting chart showing the different individuals that Pharaohs and ancient rulers communicated with – based on actual letters kept in royal archives. It is eye-opening to see Egyptians talking to Mitanni (northern Mesopotamia) and Cretans and Mycenaean (Greece) and Hittites (Turkey) and Canaanites (Israel, Syrian). The different rulers addressed each other as “brother” if they were about the same rank, or as “father” or “son” if unequal. It is fascinating to see who equated themselves with whom!
Rulers were not the only ones who communicated. Traders sent vessels from the Ageaen to Egypt with luxury goods and even food and prosaic items, and used land routes to get tin from the Afghan mountains for bronze, the essential metal in these cultures. Archaeology shows Egyptian walls painted with Cretan frescoes; finds Mycenaean beakers in the Near East; unearths Cypriot trading goods across the arc stretching from eastern Italy to the Babylonian cities.
I especially enjoyed Cline’s coverage of this Late Bronze Age culture that occurred about 1500 to 1200 BC. He used this to show the backdrop for the collapse that occurred sometime around 1177 BC, the year the Egyptian pharaoh writes of the Sea People incursion. Cline offers several theories for the fall of this interconnected civilization – after first showing that it was indeed a fall – and suggests that the barbarians were not the only cause. He doesn’t land on any one reason and stresses that it is unreasonable to think Sea People invaders would be responsible equally for wrecking civilizations far inland such as the Kassite empire in Babylonia as for ruining Mycenaea and Ugarit (Syrian coast).
Climate change, drought, famine occurred around this time, but kingdoms had recovered from those before. Invaders came before, but people had recovered. Earthquakes happened before but people had recovered. Yet something happened that caused about a dozen civilizations to contract and some even to collapse over a 10-30 year period. Cline examines each possible reason for the collapse and rules each of them out as the sole cause.
Instead he posits that the sheer interconnectedness – the early globalization – of the late Bronze Age was part of its downfall. Once one or two states fell into disarray then trade routes were hurt, possibly even cut completely, and the occasional drought and famine were exacerbated. It is an interesting idea and one that implies we today need to be careful as we are even more globalized.
I highly recommend that you read the physical book and not the E version so you can flip between text and maps.
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