1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
I enjoy history and found this book a fascinating and educational read. The work is a quest to identify the forces responsible for the demise of the Bronze Age ‘civilizations’ of Egypt and its immediate neighbors. It is written in an easy to understand style with relevant footnotes, an extensive bibliography, chapter notes with comments, and a reference called “Dramatis Personae” listing the chronology of the major rulers and related personnel of the region beginning with Adad-nirari I (ruled 1307-1275 B.C.) to Zimri-Lim (ruled 1776-1758 B.C.).
Cline’s presentation is scholarly and focused exclusively on the blending of literary and archaeological evidence of eastern Mediterranean, Aegean, and Middle-Eastern (or Near East) regions of the Late Bronze Age, most notably the interactions and conflicts between Egyptian and Hittite empires, the Mycenaean civilization, and the elusive and hard to define Sea Peoples.
Inscriptions and regional letters from individuals, rulers, and emissaries presented in this work were a fascinating read providing insight into the thinking of the time and, for me, reinforce the common notion that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ It also stretches the definitions of what I would call ‘civilization’ and ‘civilized behavior.’ For instance, take this inscription from the pharaoh Kamose (17th Dynasty of Egypt) writing in 1550 BC about his victory over the Hyksos whom he calls “Asiatics:”
“I sailed north in my might to repel the Asiatics…with my brave army before me like a flame of fire and the…archers atop our fighting-tops to destroy their places…I passed the night in my ship, my heart happy; and when day dawned I was upon him as if it were a hawk. When breakfast time came, I overthrew him having destroyed his walls and slaughtered his people, and made his wife descend to the riverbank. My army acted like lions with their spoil…chattles, cattle, fat, honey…dividing their things, their hearts joyful.”
Cline’s thoughts on what, exactly, brought about the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations in his region of interest are based on facts gathered from the many scientific and literary research disciplines studying the region examining many factors including but not limited to earthquakes, droughts, disease, fire, warfare against invading Sea People, local insurrections, and changing economic considerations. He writes: “In my opinion, none of these individual factors would have been cataclysmic enough on their own to bring down even one of these civilizations, let alone all of them. However, they could have combined to produce a scenario in which the repercussions of each factor were magnified, in what some scholars have called a ‘multiplier effect.’ … The ensuing ‘systems collapse’ could have led to the disintegration of one society after another, in part because of the fragmentation of the global economy and the breakdown of the interconnections upon which each civilization was dependent.”
The presentation of the ‘multiplier effect’ and ‘systems collapse’ is a compelling argument for the eventual end of the Late Bronze Age in this region but one issue stands out for me as wrong. Though the work is a highly detailed, fascinating historical presentation, I find Cline’s assertion that the destruction of the regional civilizations covered in this work was somehow the result of the collapse of a ‘globalized’ society and ‘globalized’ markets that over a period time marked the end of the Late Bronze Age a bit off the mark. I would not normally quibble over such an issue but this incorrect terminology appears to be used solely to manufacture a direct correlation of those Late Bronze Age circumstances with today’s world; and, in doing so, somehow serve as an apocalyptic warning to our current, truly globalized market and intertwined global society. But Cline’s presentation focuses solely on a specific region. Therefore, Cline’s ‘globalization’ is actually ‘regionalization.’
In reality, the only consistent common denominator I could find between the collapse of ‘civilization’ in Cline’s Bronze Age stories and the drama of the world we live in today is they have humans serving as both the protagonist and antagonist in the drama that is human history, Bronze Age or otherwise.
I suppose Cline can be forgiven for attempting to draw parallels between then and now in an optimistic belief that somehow we can save ourselves from the same forces of destruction that ended the Late Bronze Age. Sadly, the most relevant similarity between the collapse of those “civilizations” and our current world is both were/are populated by humans and we do not have a good track record when it comes to learning from history.
Nevertheless, I found this book an intriguing read and a welcome addition to my library.