An Age Undreamed Of… : The Late Bronze Age Collapse

KNOW, oh bloggers, that between the years when the oceans drank Thera and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars— Ahhiyawa, Kaptaru, Alashiya, Lukka, Ugarit with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Mitanni with its chivalry, Assyria that bordered on the pastoral lands of Retenu, Babylonia with its shadow-guarded tombs, The Hittites,whose riders wore bronze and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Misraim, reigning supreme in the dreaming south, Hither came The Sea Peoples, black-haired, sullen- eyed, swords in hand, thieves, reavers, slayers, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under their sandalled feet.”
—The Late Bronze Age Chronicles

It’s like something out of Howard. An ancient age, thousands of years in the past, a time mighty cities, vast trade and great, interconnected economies and empires not unlike our own, in miniature and with bronze age technology, now long since fallen and all but forgotten by the tides of history. A time of epic wars and even more epic peace, sealed with intermarriages and more than that, international trade, Egyptian grain fed Hitties, Hittite Tin made Bronze for the known world, vast trading fleets from places as well -known as Mycenean Greece and as obscure as Ugarit, a trading city, vassal to the Hittite Empire. It was a single interconnected trading network, economically complex, that encompassed the whole of the

It was a time that would spawn legends in the Iron Age to come. Homer’s Illium was called ‘Wilusa’ and was the central trading town in the troublesome northwestern province of Assuwa in the Hittite Empire. His Trojan War is a confused combination of two events, the probably invasion and destruction of Troy VIIA circa 1190-1180 BC, and an incident a century before ca.1295 BC, where a rogue military leader, Piyamaradu (Priam!), is defying the Hittite governors and client kings in the region, possibly a successor to the Assuwa rebellion a generation before, and leads an attack on Wilusa with the aid of the Ahhiyawa (Mycenean Greeks), who were under embargo by the Hittites and looking to seize an important port city. For his party, Piyamaradu is trying to get taken seriously by the major powers and gain recognition as a client king of the Hittites. Then, as now, a regime’s legitimacy rested on recognition from the major powers. Homer reinterpreted the fragmented events that survived in legends after the Collapse with the view of the social realities of his own age of city-states and a fragmented Greece, added some romanticism and produced the Trojan War of the Illiad, which resembled history about as accurately as Arthur of Camelot provides a record of post-Roman Britain.

It was a single economy and, more than that, a single cosmopolitan culture where goods, ideas and people from all the corners of the Known World traveled and mixed. It was an age of kings and of merchant-adventurers. Kingdoms rose and fell, such as the partition of the Mitanni between the Hittites and Assyrians, but the greater umbrella civilization went on.

And, most importantly and interestingly from our perspective, it fell. Why it fell is unknown, with archaeologists finding evidence for a string of powerful earthquakes, a 300 year drought, invasion by the mysterious ‘Sea Peoples’ reported by Ramses III, invasion from other cultures, a change in the way war was waged, disruption of international trade, internal revolt and damned near every other calamity you can imagine happening to a civilization.

Perhaps the most interesting theory (IMHO) is that of ‘Systemic Collapse’ which holds that it was less one calamity that brought down the Eastern Mediterranean civilization but that it had grown so complex, interdependent and integrated that one calamity would disrupt the system and hamper its ability to deal with the next, and create more ‘malfunctions’ it would be increasingly ill-equipped to handle until ‘The thundering machine stuttered and stopped’ (to quote ‘Road Warrior’).

A shining civilization that grew too complex and too civilized to survive?

Robert E. Howard himself would have approved.

A much more succinct and factual take on the Late Bronze Age Collapse via John Green’s Crash Course (it’s only 13 minutes, so go ahead, give it a watch): The End of Civilization

The Hyborian Age, for those of you who don’t know what I’m referencing up at the top of this post: Hyborian Age

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