What the year 1177 BC (and the collapse of the then civilized world) can teach us about the present

Bronze and Chalcolithic Age daggers.

Bronze and Chalcolithic Age daggers.

©GALI TIBBON / AFP

Bronze Age

The decline of Late Bronze Age civilizations in the Mediterranean and Near East has intrigued historians for centuries. These empires collapsed due to a combination of natural disasters, foreign migrations and invasions, and a sharp decline in international trade.

Atlanticus: You wrote a very interesting book: 1177 BC: The year of the collapse of civilization. The choice of date may surprise the public, as it is not one of the known dates in our history. However, it was decisive since you mark it as the end of the Bronze Age, what happened on this date?

Eric H. Cline: According to Egyptian records, 1177 BC is the year the Sea Peoples attacked Egypt for the second time. These Sea Peoples actually consisted of nine distinct groups who invaded and overran the region twice during this period, but were defeated by Egypt each time, in 1207 and 1177 BC. All in all, although it took about a century for everything to collapse, from 1250 to 1150 BC, 1177 BC is a good point of reference, because at that time many cities in the Mediterranean and the Near East – from Italy to Afghanistan and from Turkey to Egypt – were in decline, if not already destroyed. So I use 1177 BC. to refer to the entire Late Bronze Age collapse, just as we commonly use AD 476. to refer to the fall of the Roman Empire: we know that neither occurred in exactly that year, but we understand that these dates are representative. In my opinion, as I say in the book, 1177 BC. AD “is a reasonable point of reference and allows us to give an accurate date to a rather elusive pivotal moment and the end of an era”.

We know that in this period the dominant civilizations of the time collapsed simultaneously around this date. How big was this change? What was the world like before and after this date?

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Eric H. Cline: The Mediterranean world was strongly interconnected at the end of the Bronze Age, from the Western Mediterranean and Aegean to the Eastern Mediterranean and from the Near East to Afghanistan. They interacted with each other, had commercial and diplomatic contacts, arranged royal weddings, sent international embassies, established economic embargoes, and so on. One of the links that united them all was the need for copper and tin, in order to be able to make bronze, which was the main metal of the time. Most of the copper came from Cyprus, most of the tin came from Afghanistan, as did the lapis lazuli. The gold came from Egypt. Raw materials and finished products were sold and traded, especially in real terms. One wreck in particular, discovered at Uluburun off the southwestern coast of Turkey in 1982, carried cargo including ten tons of raw copper and one ton of raw tin, as well as raw glass, ivory, ebony and other items from at least eight different cultures. : Egyptian, Hittite, Mycenaean, Minoan, Cypriot, Canaanite, Nubian and Balkan. It was a microcosm of international trade taking place at the time it sank, in 1300 BC As for the effects of the collapse, as I say in the book, “the world [de la mer Égée et du Proche-Orient] in 1200 BC it was very different from that of 1100 BC and completely different from that of 1000 BC”. Each of the societies was affected to a different extent, including some that collapsed completely and disappeared; others took up to four centuries to recover. It is partly for this reason I say in the book that the Bronze Age end-of-the-world collapse was of such magnitude that it would take until the fall of the Roman Empire 1,500 years later to experience another event that had such an impact on the civilized world. because I devote a large part of the book – the entire middle section – to exploring what happened in the centuries leading up to the collapse, so that readers can contextualize the disaster and realize all that was lost when it all collapsed .For me, this is one of the most fascinating periods of ancient history, which I wanted to bring back to life even for those who don’t know it.

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How do you explain the collapse of one of the first examples of globalization?

Eric H. Cline: It was in the 1860s and 1870s that Gaston Maspero, the famous French Egyptologist, first formulated the theory that the Sea Peoples had caused the collapse. While I think it seemed very logical that early scholars blamed the Sea Peoples, they based their thinking on the inscription of Rameses III at Medinet Habu in Egypt and not much else. Even though the theory caught on in 1901, that was long before any of the destroyed sites had been excavated, so they basically created the theory and then looked for data to support it. The mere fact that even inland empires like the Babylonians and Assyrians have decayed proves that you can’t blame everything on the Sea Peoples, even if you wanted to. As I began to examine the specific information we have today regarding the Late Bronze Age collapse, it became clear to me that perhaps we had placed too much blame on the Sea Peoples. There is archaeological and textual evidence for a number of other possibilities, so I have thought it would be a good idea to explore them in detail and see if a different interpretation might be more plausible.

We now have much additional evidence of droughts, famines, earthquakes, rebellions, and invaders, all of which occurred near the end of the Bronze Age, from about 1250 BC AD, culminating in the second invasion of the Sea Peoples in 1177 BC. I think all of these factors have played a role in the collapse, and my main thesis in the book is that there must have been a “perfect storm” of calamitous events at this turning point for the Late Bronze Age network of civilizations. after 1200 BC It would be difficult to survive if all, or most, calamities occurred at or near the same time. This is, I believe, why many Late Bronze Age civilizations were unable to weather the “perfect storm” and collapsed.

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Droughts, famines, natural disasters, wars, population movements, all of these took place during this period. It is tempting to draw a parallel with what we are currently experiencing. How fair is the comparison? Can the history of three millennia illuminate our present?

Eric H. Cline: I think it is fair enough to make a comparison, especially for the similarities between the problems faced by the world of the end of the Bronze Age and our current world: climate change and droughts, famines, wars, natural disasters, population movements, etc. . So taking a closer look at the events, peoples and places of an era that existed more than three millennia ago and what happened to them is more than just an academic exercise in the study of ancient history. . We should also be grateful that we are advanced enough today to understand what is going on and take action to fix it, rather than passively accepting things as they happen.

Your work shows that a thriving civilization can quickly be brought down by a confluence of world events. This happened again with the fall of the Roman Empire. Should we be concerned about the end of our civilization?

Eric H. Cline: Yes. We should be aware that no society is invulnerable and that every society in the history of the world has eventually collapsed.

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