In the 15th through 13th century BC, Mediterranean societies thrived. It was the time of Egyptian faraos such as Ramses II and mythical or historical events such as the Trojan war. Politics, trade, and diplomatic relationships were similar to ours, with globalized economies and power struggles. Then everything changed. Empires and kingdoms came crashing down on a scale comparable only to that of the Roman Empire fifteen hundred years later. What happened, and why?
In his book 1177 B.C., historian Eric H. Cline tells the story of the first great collapse of civilizations. The book is chronologically ordered, with four chapters devoted to the four centuries it treats. He explores different theories explaining the collapse, such as attacks by foreign enemies, social uprising, and natural catastrophes, drawing the conclusion that the best explanation is probably multifactorial.
The what’s and why’s of the collapse are intriguing, but so is the question why it was so definite; why did the societies not bounce back? Cline suggests that the interconnected sociopolitical structures of the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean had grown into a complex system vulnerable to change in one of its integral parts. ”Here is why one malfunctioning cog in an otherwise well-oiled machine might turn the entire apparatus into a pile of junk” (p. 168).
1177 B.C. is a wonderful book. It reads easily and is full of interesting facts and fascinating stories. I can recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or archeology.
Cline, E. H. (2014). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton University Press.