Book Review: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

Eric H. Cline's book tells of the thriving civilization of the late Bronze Age Mediterranean and its catastrophic decline. From 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE thriving international trade among the empires created a cosmopolitan civilization with high art, and a vast trading network. The years following 1207 saw empires fall and become depopulated, written records disappear in many places, cities burned and abandoned, and evidence of widespread trade disappear or greatly diminish. It would take another three centuries before comparable conditions returned.

So what happened? There are plenty of theories: earthquakes, invasions, internal collapse, disruption of trade, or even some butterfly flapping catastrophe best explained by complexity theory. Each of these theories has some support. There were earthquakes, and some cities broken by them. Large groups of peoples were on the move, and battles fought and cities destroyed amidst the evidence of war. In some cities, only the elite portions of the city was destroyed, possibly the signature of internal revolt. How, though, can we account for the simultaneous collapse of some many empires over such a large region?

Many experts, and this inexpert reader, find a climatological explanation most convincing. Recent research has uncovered evidence of a long lasting, widespread drought afflicting the whole region, beginning at the onset of the troubles and lasting for perhaps centuries. We have letters among kingdoms at the time complaining of famine and begging for the delivery of food. Such a drought and the resulting widespread crop failure, like somewhat similar conditions affects parts of the Middle East and North Africa today, could set masses of desperate people on the move in search of food and other basics of life. These refugees could constitute the ethnically diverse masses of the "Sea Peoples" who were defeated by Ramses III, and who perhaps sacked many an empire before.

I liked the book, but you won't find answers to all your questions neatly wrapped up. You will find a long list of Kings and rulers of the age. It has several nice maps showing the locations of major kingdoms, and imperial capitals.

My other comments on the book can be found here.


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