Eric Cline investigates the collapse of Bronze Age kingdoms around 1177 B.C.
Earthquakes. Drought. Famine. Plague. War. Mass migration.
Sadly, we are not strangers to these phenomena. Neither were those who lived in Mediterranean kingdoms during the 12th century B.C. In “1177 B.C.: The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization,” Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University investigates what caused the Bronze Age collapse. This was not just the collapse of one kingdom, but the collapse of a vast network of interconnected kingdoms—the collapse of Bronze Age civilization. His article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Cline explains that the Late Bronze Age kingdoms were connected through trade networks and political alliances:
These [texts from Bronze Age archives] describe activities commensurate with an intertwined network of commercial and diplomatic interactions, with at least eight different cultures working together on a scale not often seen in the history of the world, bound together through an integrated supply chain that traded in raw materials such as copper, tin, gold, silver, and glass.
Yet, despite their interconnectedness, these kingdoms collapsed around 1177 B.C. Cline identifies a series of environmental and societal factors that contributed to the collapse.
Cline explains that the cumulative effect of all these phenomena triggered the Bronze Age collapse:
Perhaps the inhabitants could have survived one disaster, such as an earthquake or a drought, but they could not survive the combined effects of drought, famine, invaders, and earthquakes all occurring in rapid succession. A domino effect then ensued, in which the disintegration of one civilization led to the fall of the others. Given the globalized nature of their world, the effect upon the international trade routes and economies of even one society’s collapse would have been sufficiently devastating that it could have led to the demise of the others.
We should take a lesson from history: It happened then, and it can happen again. Yet not all is doom and gloom. Cline concludes his article with some hope. Although we face many of the same difficulties today as those who lived in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, we have “the knowledge, technology, and resources” to address some of these stressors and, it is hoped, prevent a global collapse.
Learn more about the Bronze Age collapse—and its implications for today—in Eric H. Cline’s article “1177 B.C.: The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization,” published in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. For a fuller treatment of this subject, see his book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (revised 2021).
Subscribers: Read the full article “1177 B.C.: The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization” by Eric H. Cline in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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