The Collapse of Ancient Civilizations

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Book Review: 1177 B.C. - The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline 1177 B.C.; The Year Civilization Collapsed is an ancient history writing that focuses on the history of the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age (LBA). Cline focuses on explaining the collapse of ancient empires and kingdoms during the end of the 13th century B.C.E, and at the beginning of the 12th Century B.C.E. he attributes various economic, physical and political factors to the collapse of the ancient civilizations, and attempts to consider how the ancient civilizations would have impacted modern civilization if they had not ended. Cline presents the contents of the book in the engaging style of storytelling and presents evidence for the concepts he writes about. The book also reassures the reader that the history and archeology of the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean has an appeal that is beyond the academic circles, and that the modern civilization could benefit greatly by learning from the ancient civilizations. The book is contains a preface, prologue, four chapters, an epilogue, an appendix, and a bibliography.

The preface is perhaps the only part that explains the title of the book since it compares the end of the Late Bronze Age with modern day political and economic upheavals such as the financial crisis in Greece and the Arab spring. The Eastern Mediterranean was surrounded by empires and kingdoms that were an epitomized civilization. Cline establishes that the focus of the book is on the collapse of the Late Bronze Age Civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean, and further explains that the modern society can learn about civilization through the events presented in the book.

The prologue of the book introduces the events that occurred in the year 1177 BC when Egypt was attacked by Sea people during the eighth year of reign of Pharaoh Ramses III. Cline displays an exceptional knowledge of both primary and secondary sources that clearly took a long time to research. The prologue describes the outer appearance of the sea people by giving details of the clothes and helmets they wore, and pointing out that the sea people had no polished outfits or uniforms. The description of the sea people suggests that they came from different cultures and geographical location. The great empires of the time, including Canaanites, Hittites, Cypriots, and Mycenaean could not fight against them. ‘According to Ramses’s inscriptions, no country was able to oppose this invading mass of humanity. Resistance was futile’, (pg. 2). The reasons why the Sea People attacked Egypt are also explained since most of their groups had individual reasons for attacking the ancient civilizations.

The first three chapters of the book depict that the various civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean were all politically and economically interconnected since the 15th

century BC. The fourth chapter explains that the collapse of the civilizations was based on the falling apart of the interconnected system. Chapter five builds on chapter four, and suggests other possible explanations for the collapse.

The primary role of the first chapter is to establish that the main civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean were part of an interconnected system, and that this system originated from the Middle Bronze age that preceded the Late Bronze Age. Cline explains this point using various examples: interactions between Hittites and Mycenaean along the Turkish Western coast, political tensions between the Mitanni of Syria and the New Kingdom Egypt, and the exchange between Crete and Mesopotamia during the Middle Bronze age. Each of these cases is a widely accepted and well-documented example of political associations between different kingdoms in the Eastern Mediterranean. The author further suggests that the conflicts between the Hittites and the Mycenaean may be based on the well-known legend of Hercules forging attacks on the city of Troy just a generation before Agamemnon and Achilles. However, this argument is not well developed and seems out of place.

The second chapter explains that the interconnectivity of the civilized kingdoms continued and developed during the fourteenth century. The strongest illustration of the connectivity is presented by the Amarna letters. The author interprets the exchange of gifts that is recorded in the letters as an indication of commercial interaction. The author also adds that the significance of the merchants, sailors, and messengers who transported the royal gifts should not be underestimated. ‘It is clear that there was much contact between Egypt, the Near East, and the Aegean during the Late Bronze Age, and undoubtedly ideas and innovations were occasionally transported along with the actual objects’, (pg. 59). The remaining part of the chapter addresses the dealings of the Hittites in Syria, Egypt, and Aegean. The conflicts between the Mycenaean and the Hittites may be the cause of the Hittite Embargo against goods from the Mycenaean. However, this assertion proves to be difficult to prove since there are other reasons that could explain the absence of Mycenaean objects in Hittite Anatolia.

The third chapter begins with a good 13th century example of the interconnectivity among the Eastern Mediterranean kingdoms and empires. The Uluburun shipwreck that was found in the coast of Southern Turkey contained objects that Cline uses to illustrate the massive trade that connected the ancient civilizations of the Aegean and the Near East. Cline produces more evidence by using texts that were obtained from an archive of a 13th century merchant from Ugarit. Cline then gives a summary of the battle of Qadesh that was fought between the Egyptian king Ramses II and the Hittite King Muwattalli II before questioning the authenticity of the Trojan War. Cline also questions the legend of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, and claims that there is no evidence that substantiates the legend and that Israelites had settled in the Levant by late 13th century. The chapter concludes by going back to the evidence of interconnectivity that were discovered in the shipwrecks off mainland Greece and the coast of Southern Turkey.

The last chapter attempts to explain how the civilizations had thrived before they collapsed in the 15th

century. To explain the collapse of the civilizations, Cline dedicates sections to aspects such as climate change, earthquakes, invaders, internal rebellion, decentralization and the rise of private merchants, collapse of international trade, and the Sea People. Cline conducts a review on the sites and writings that are relevant to each of the possible causes of collapse and concludes that none of the possible causes could bear the sole responsibility of the collapse. Cline then concludes that all the possible causes contributed to the collapse since all of them magnified the problems that the civilizations faced and led to collapse.

The epilogue explores the extent of the collapse of the extent civilizations through making comparisons of the beginning of the Early Iron Age to two periods: the peak of the Late Bronze Age, and the period after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the year 476 AD. The epilogue ends by Cline trying to consider how the ancient civilizations would have influenced modern civilizations if they had not come to an end through the causal factors he explained. ‘What if the series of earthquakes in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean had not taken place? What if there had been no drought, no famine, no migrants or invaders?’ pg. 176. Cline further considers that the civilizations could have ended eventually since all civilizations rise and fall. He also questions whether advancements in literature, politics, and technology would have been made centuries earlier if the civilizations had not collapsed.

In conclusion, I think that the book is a masterpiece since the author organized and presented the information in a manner that contributes to the accessibility of the primary argument that 1176 BC was the year that civilization collapsed. The author backs his points with evidence from both primary and secondary sources, something he should be given credit for. His arguments are also persuasive enough since they are well-supported by evidence. The appendix allows for easy cross-referencing of historical figures. I think the main drawback in the book is that the author focused on the effect of the collapse to the highest societal levels and assumes that the other populations were plunged into darkness. This is a small drawback that does not affect the fact that the book is a masterpiece.

Works Cited

Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C. - The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton University Press, 2014.

November 13, 2023


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