290 of 300 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2014
[ I have edited this review to correct some flaws pointed out in comments. ]
The other reviewers have already pointed out the book's many fine points; I agree with them that this is a book well worth reading. I had long thought that the Late Bronze Age Collapse was primarily due to the depredations of the Sea Peoples, and this book scotches that idea. Yes, the Sea Peoples played a part in it, but they may well have been just as much Effect as Cause. That is, their rampage may well have been induced by the same factors that brought down other cities.
The real contribution of this book lies in the application of recent archaeological findings to the problem. Over the last few decades archaeologists have built up a steady compilation of data on the cities of the Late Bronze Age, and they have demonstrated that not all those cities were destroyed in wars. Some show evidence of having been wrecked by earthquakes; in others, the destruction is confined to the central palace and government facilities, suggesting that a popular revolt, not a foreign invasion, lay behind the destruction. Other sites, however, do show the kind of general destruction we'd expect from a victorious enemy.
Especially important is the evidence they bring to bear showing that some sort of regional climate change was responsible for the at least some part of the collapse. The evidence indicates a cooler, dryer climate which would have been devastating to the cereal crops on which civilizations are dependent. The cooler climate would have led to repeated famines that would have led to revolts, migrations, and wars - all of which appear in the record of this period.
However, there are two points on which I disagree with the author. The first is the author's decision not to organize the causal factors into some sort of logical pattern. Instead, he declares that all of the factors (climate change, poor harvests, migration, civil disturbance, and war) converged to create a "perfect storm" that destroyed Late Bronze Age civilization in the Near East. That struck me as overly conservative.
My second objection falls on the assumption that a collapse of international trade caused by the piratical depredations of the Sea Peoples added to the collapse. The author several times refers to an 'international system' of trade, likening it to modern globalization. He even goes so far as to suggest that the societies of that time had developed such intricate trade relationships that the disruption of those relationships helped undermine the societies.
The problem arises when you think in terms of economic output. In all early societies, agricultural output constituted the vast majority of economic output. Sure, the historical records teem with stories of gems, spices, precious woods, and metals, but they attracted so much attention only because they were so rare. In terms of economic output, grain was far and away the most important component of all ancient societies. Indeed, in 1790, 90% of all laborers in the USA worked on farms. So let's keep our eyes on the ball here: grain.
Trade in grain was rare and limited to emergency situations, because the transport systems of the Late Bronze Age were incapable of moving grain in bulk. The ocean-going ships of the day had cargo capacities of a few tens of tons. Grain was carried in heavy ceramic jars; a single ship could carry enough food to provide for at most a hundred people for a year. Land transportation was even worse: the inefficient wagons and poor roads of the day did not permit the carriage of large amounts of grain very far. After a few tens of miles, so much of the grain would have to go to feed the dray animals that there just wouldn't be much left at the destination.
Thus, the disruption of trade would have denied rulers their luxuries, but would not have made much of a dent on the economy as a whole.
A postscript to this review: the author of the book, Eric Cline, has graciously responded to my criticisms and finally gotten through my thick head a point that, while not mentioned in this review, came up in the exchange of comments. He has taken a lot of his time to straighten me out, and I deeply appreciate his patience with my errors.
139 of 150 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2014
There are so many theories concerning the end of the Bronze Age that a description and discussion of the theories was really needed. This book presents a coherent and highly readable outline of the period, setting it into its historical milieu.. Dr. Cline proposes some interesting parallels between 1177BC and the present which should give us all pause. I read this book all in one sitting, even at dinner. I could not put it down.
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2014
Prof Eric Cline's "1177 B.C.:The Year Civilization Collapsed" gives a very thorough and comprehensive background to the possible causes of the end of the Near Eastern Bronze Age, with one glaring omission - the other possibility; that it was all due to infectious disease epidemics.The "end" or "collapse" or "catastrophe" that occurred c1200 BCE was characterised by its short duration of approximately 50 years,mass migration by the "Sea Peoples" and the general population and finally abandonment of cities such as the Hittite capital Hattusa. To a medical historian, such as myself, that sounds like an infectious disease epidemic or series of epidemics that know no boundaries and cross borders freely at their will.
Ramesses V died of smallpox in the middle of this drama,the paleo-entamologist Dr Eva Panagiotakopulu has found bubonic plague rat and flea remains in Amarna,Dr Siro Trevisanato believes tularaemia was rampant in the Levant during this time,an earlier Egyptian painting depicts a withered leg due to polio and Egyptian mummies show the typical "Potts" fractures due to tuberculosis.Dysentery and malaria would have also existed along with measles and influenza,which in a virgin population not exposed to these diseases before would have been devastating.
Could not the "Sea Peoples" have been "pushed" out of their lands by an epidemic and could not they have been "pulled" by the prospect of new infection-free lands to the east, just as Amenhotep III was when he moved his court from bubonic plague infected Karnak to his new plague free site at Malkata ? The gods did not protect Egypt from this plague, so that may have been the reason Akhenaten abandoned them in favour of his new "one god" Aten in his new plague free capital Amarna.This bubonic plague was then transferred, by Egyptian POWs, to the Hittite Empire, thus causing the 20 year long Hittite Epidemic starting in 1322 BCE.
As a medical historian I cannot understand how one could not factor in the possibility of disease.It should be one of the first things any ancient historian or archaeologist thinks of when wondering how an empire or era ended.Any history that does not factor in the possibility of disease is incomplete; such as the role of smallpox in the demise of Carthage or the role of falciparum malaria at the end of the Western Roman Empire or more interestingly - the role of disease in the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation where leprosy and tuberculosis have been found so far.But what other diseases occurred there that may have hastened its demise, such as bubonic plague or malaria?
Prof Cline and I have had profitable discussions about this topic via email.He agrees with me that it would be useful to consider this and suggested that I collect more proof ,which I am now doing.
Dr Philip Norrie MBBS,MA,MSc,MSocSc[Hons],PhD,MD Conjoint Senior Lecturer,Medical Faculty,University of New South Wales, Sydney,Australia
55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2014
A really great book. It's not just about the "castrophe", but starts in the 1500's BC to completely fill in the background of Mediteranian cultures prior to the sea peoples. A super over view of this period in history, bringing in all the relevant archeology old and new. Fills in what is known about the cultures, Hittite, Minoan, etc. and their to me sometimes surprising relationships. Cline has a writing tecnique which pauses now and again to summarize what has gone before and give the reader a heads up as to what is coming. Classroom procedure, maybe, but it makes a complex story very readable (as opposed to stopping every 50 pages or so to look up prior material as so often must be done in books such as this). I'm a classics geek and it's been years since I've read such a superb book in this area. Spoiler alert: the invasion of the Sea Peoples is a lot more nuanced than we were all led to believe a decade or so ago.
This is the first in a proposed series on "turning points in ancient history". It sets a high bar.
43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2014
This book is frustrating. The banal thing is that the author has been told to write a “catastrophe” book (see Editor’s foreword). It so happens that while there was rapid change at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean, there was no sudden catastrophe. So the author is making apologies all the way for this (for his complaint see pg. 142).
The second frustration arises from the fact that the author’s outlook is qualitative, and has no feel for “orders of magnitude” and logistics. This leaves the reader wondering not so much whether this or that happened, but whether it could have made a difference. Since the author’s argument is “system,” magnitudes and forces would be essential for plausibility.
A first example: the “Sea People.” Migrations on foot or on horse/chariots had already taken place (even in this instance logistics were far from simple, if they were en masse). At sea, the only one we know at the time, were those of Polynesians: successful, relentless, but small scale. And they targeted empty islands, avoiding inhabited places (Papua New Guinea). So the main question about the “Sea People” would be one of logistics: where did these sudden migrants get their boats, the skill to navigate in concert, to victualize on the way, and their ability to do concerted attacks by sea and land? Could they really carry out amphibious operations in the face of hostile reception? We are told that at Ugarit there were seven enemy boats, in another place 20. How many warriors could they carry? Would such parties be able to wreak the havoc they are accused of?
A second example is the “international trading system.” There was international trade around the Aegean, no question about it. The author blandly asserts: “The cutting, or even partial dismantling, of those related networks would have had a disastrous effect back then, just as it would on our world today.” (pg. 174) This is anachronism on a grand scale. Nothing in his description of the sea-borne trade points to a division of labor and specialization – supply chains that, if interrupted, would destroy the partner economies. All of the kingdoms were to the largest extent, subsistence economies feeding an extractive palace-based economy. Interdependence in a systemic sense begins with industrialization. What we have as international trade are gift circuits (welcome but superfluous from an economic point of view); raw materials (copper and tin); bullion to oil the money supply in different lands; and some perishables like wine, olive oil and textiles, whose contribution to the local economy would have been welcome, but limited. When famine struck among the Hittites, one ship with wheat is dispatched up from Egypt: how many can you feed on such a cargo?
Though destruction of cities (or the palaces therein) is documented, settlement patterns in the non-urban areas are hardly mentioned. But for city-states, most of population in the kingdoms lived in the countryside. Were they affected? The collapse of “palace-based economies” may have just been the (welcome) demise of the extractive elite that left the peasants scope for innovation. I would not qualify this as “civilizational collapse.”
The author’s understandable habitus as a thoughtful archeologist of negating what can’t be validated leaves him uneasy about what to do with the Amarna system. Reading it literally, he views it in terms of “greeting-gifts” (to oil the wheels of commerce) and “family relations.” (pg. 51 ff) What if it had a different (obvious to the participants and thus unspoken) purpose – that of announcing and securing truces based on reciprocity? As we know from current experience, deterrence of enemies through military containment is a costly and logistically complex matter. “Greeting-gifts” that announce truces and lower the need for keeping a standing army may have been a major aspect of the system.
Which brings us back to the “Sea People:” Their import may not have been so much the physical threat as the fact that these attacks were unexpected – they did not fit the international system of international relations as played among palace-based kingdoms. Previsibility had been shot to hell; hence on the rebound from the (possibly minor) affray the boasting of the Pharaohs,’ who could now grandly claim mastery even of the “unexpected.” What better way of claiming divine powerfulness?
In the end, the author shows that he has the heart in the right place. On the page before the last, he quotes a colleague: “Perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn about the ‘Dark Age’… is that it was nothing of the sort. Gradually, [this period] emerges rather as the catalyst of a new age...” (pg. 175) On only wishes that he had been given full freedom, rather than having to struggle with a pre-ordained conclusion, that “1177 BC had been the year civilization collapsed” wihhc probably never happened.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2014
The end of the Bronze Age, which has been estimated to have occurred c. 1200 B.C., has been the subject of much discussion among scholars for many years. The main issue being: How could several thriving empires – the civilized world at the time - all “suddenly” collapse within just a few years/decades? In this fascinating book, the author, an archaeologist and expert on this topic, attempts to answer this intriguing question.
Starting a few centuries earlier (fifteenth century B.C.), the author sets the scene. He describes the empires/civilizations that existed at the time, how they evolved and how they interacted with each other, especially through trade. He then describes the destruction of each of these major centers: when it happened and how it appears to have happened. He then discusses each of the probable causes for such a widespread calamity. Throughout, he backs up his arguments with solid, up-to-the-minute archaeological evidence and also presents the views of other scholars in this field. Finally, he describes what he and several other experts believe actually happened to bring an end the Bronze Age – something which I found rather surprising yet very compelling.
For me, this book was quite engaging and very hard to put down. The author writes for a wide readership in a style that is authoritative yet accessible, lively, friendly and very captivating. I believe that this book can be enjoyed by any interested reader; however, ancient history/archaeology enthusiasts, like me, should be in for a treat.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2015
Readers whose primary exposure to this historical period is biblical history will find Dr. Cline’s book a helpful corrective to much misinformation about life in Egypt and the city-states of Canaan in the late second millennium BCE. Israel is not a major character in Cline’s story, and rightly so. While the Hebrew Bible contains many stories set during these centuries – including the epic exodus of millions of Israelites from enslavement in Egypt to a new home in Canaan – the first archaeological evidence for even the existence of an Israelite people appears only at the very end of this period (the Merneptah Stele, 1207 BCE). It is, perhaps, because of widespread belief in the biblical stories that Cline takes them up here, though they add nothing (except for a few paragraphs on Hazor) to his stated exploration of Bronze Age ‘collapse’.
Not that he is reluctant. Much of the material (pp.91-96) echoes his longer treatment of the historicity of the Exodus and ‘conquest’ of Canaan by Israel in his 2007 book, From Eden to Exile. In all but one respect, his conclusions largely reflect the professional consensus: that the historical evidence fails to collaborate, and often contradicts, the biblical stories as told.
The exception, curiously, is his conclusion, for which he provides no argument, evidence, or even a footnote: “At the moment, all that we can say for certain is that the archaeological evidence, in the form of pottery, architecture, and other aspects of material culture, indicates that the Israelites as an identifiable group were present in Canaan certainly by the end of the thirteenth century BC, and that it is their culture, along with that of the Philistine and Phoenicians, that rises up out of the ashes of the destruction of the Canaanite civilization sometime during the twelfth century BC” (p.95-96).
This, decidedly, is not the professional consensus, which would place the emergence of a distinctly non-Canaanite culture in the hill country of Israel several centuries later. The evidence suggests slow transition, not radical change.
The boldness of Cline’s clear lines in this case – that Canaanite civilization was utterly erased and merely provided space for a new, wholly distinctive Israelite people to takeover – is unlike his more cautious conclusions about the wider question of Bronze Age ‘collapse’. Bible students looking for a fuller, a more accurate picture of the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in Canaan/Israel should look elsewhere. But for general background on the surrounding cultures and the international tensions of the period, the book remains helpful.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2014
This book is a short introduction to the decline and fall of Mediterranean Bronze Age civilization. Well, there isn't much decline. The societies just seem to collapse over a relatively short time period. The characters, at least what we know of them, are fascinating.
There are lots of holes in the narrative, which I assume is due to the sparsity of historical evidence. Many of the details were learned in the last 2 centuries from tablets recovered from archaeological expeditions.
I cannot vouch for the book's accuracy because I am not a student of this period of history, but it seems that the author provides a citation for every assertion. The author's speculations and hypotheses are clearly recognizable as such and can be taken in good faith by a conscientious reader.
The book's title is slightly misleading, since the bulk of the book concerns a 300 year period of history, and the climactic collapse spans decades. The author briefly argues that 1177 is a good benchmark year to declare the Bronze Age civilization to have collapsed, but I imagine that the publisher wanted the book to have a bolder title than "The Gradual Collapse of Mediterranean Bronze Age Civilization".
The prose is well constructed, but some sections lag due to the technical nature of the discussion of archeological excavations. The proliferate names of cities and characters can become confusing--the author attempts to compensate for this with an index of names and several charts near the beginning of the book--but a casual reader can forget most of them and still follow the book's general arguments and the trajectory of history.
I find the theory of a general systems collapse intriguing. I wonder what the future of this field of study will reveal.
Edit: One more thing to note. The hardcover version has unevenly trimmed pages (see product image gallery). This gives the book a nice antique feel, but it also makes it more difficult to skip around the book to read footnotes and to consult the index, tables, and maps.
I don't know if this applies to other editions.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2015
I give it a standing ovation. Cline reasons a regional Middle East/Eastern Mediterranean structured narrative from the archaeology enlightened by the Akkadian written word. Cline writes from the earliest edge of the written word to add flesh to the archaeological sites and adds the human dimension of the likely social structures. One just can't go further back in written history to construct the oldest, document supported big picture.
1177BC turned into a fantastic week of `study' for this reviewer. It demands a deep dive into the references, the archaeological sites and at the many characters who altered the trajectory of human history a very long time ago.
I would offer a pre-read recommendation. The historical period of this work and its time and place are not easily grasped. Frankly, it's not easy getting your head around the antiquity and the 'before and after' without effort. If you're thinking of reading 1177BC, take a look at Wikipedia's "List of Pharaohs" and of "Sumerian Kings". These help to put it all in some temporal frame of reference. The time scale Cline has reduced here to such detail is simply staggering.
Cline reasons the end of the Bronze Age to a precise year of 1177BC. Cline expertly narrates this collapse from the preceding 300 or so years of the 14th through 12th centuries BC. Cline gives us a glimpse in both massive scales and delicate detail.
The protagonists and wielders of powers are in a prosperous, regionally stable and commercial and treaty regulated civilizations among the big player Egyptians, Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Mittani, Ugarit and Hyksos.
From before the collapse we read the exacting words and gain a sneak peek at the sophistication of diplomatic and trade among the superpowers. The story feels familiar enough for the reader to envision a late Bronze Age container ship-like trade governed by marriage-bound strategic governances from Greece to Afghanistan to Samaria, down the Levant, across North Africa and down the Upper and Lower Nile. Excavated ship wrecks and long lost harbors attest to that trade based culture. Life was good.
Then, as if from nowhere, we get a look at the antagonists ... the Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Danduna and Weshesh. They are ostensibly from the `north' and they charge in by land and sea. These are the names of the unknown Sea People who possessed a penchant for and an understanding of the means to systematically destroy the known and thriving civilizations. We know them by name name but they remain otherwise unknown as to their evidence, origin and civilization.
The scale of the destruction of the great cities and empires is staggering. Greece as we will know it classically about 500 years later is plunged into a "Dark Age" at this time. The Middle East political structure is completely overcome and emerges in 500 years wholly different. The Egyptians barely held against the Sea People but would never again reign as an international power, exhausted of gold and withdrawn back down the Nile and away from the Med. Whatever it was that happened, it was unquestionably an end of the world event to the Euro-Afro-Mid-Eastern world that would survive and endure.
Cline's best story is from behind the scenes of modern linguistics and translation science. The story is supported by `boots on the ground' archeological evidence. Connecting the dots among what mountains of computer imaged cuneiform mud biscuits scattered in the world's museums is the core of the Cline's story. Cline does a wondrous job revealing individual communiques and conversations among the cabals of late Bronze Age power.
Cline employs methods that the infotech familiar reader will immediately recognize as 21st century big data. Instead of mining digital telecommunications, Cline mines the vast catalogue of cuneiform tablets. The pieces describe civilizations relationships. At a glance, Cline reveals the dimensions of the strategic network from who was saying what to who, when and how often. The command nodes jump out immediately. The first is among Amenhotep III, Tushratta, Akhenaten and Burna-Buriash II and then, through the bureaucrats ... to 50 or so interlinked cities and clients. Later, Cline provides a similar intel workup from the circles of the last great, and murdered pharaoh Ramses III.
Bottom-line, this is a wow^2 read for the ancient history reader. If you are seeking some historical closure in a 21st century kind of way, you'll not find conclusive answers. But, you will experience a vast geography of cities destroyed, vast civilizations that exit history, and experience the heart rendering Akkadian authors crying out for salvation that would never come against the invasion calamity ... never to be heard from again.
Clines 1177BC is an important book and a must read in the genre. It will stick with me for some time.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2014
Review - Cline, Eric H. (2014-03-23). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 171). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
"1176BC" The Year Civilization Collapsed" is a well written, very readable, detailed analysis of the Late Bronze Age and its collapse in the years 1250 - 1170 BC. The book starts in approximately 1500B and examines the civilizations extant in the Eastern Mediterranean - Minoans, Mycenaeans, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Mitannians, Canaanites, Cypriots, and Egyptians - and their complex, active interchange with trade, royal marriages, diplomatic networks, commercial networks, transportation networks, and communication networks. Many references to both the literature of the time on tablets and to archeological studies reinforce Eric Cline's opinion that Complex Theory and Complexity explain the collapse of the high cultures of the Late Bronze Age and their replacement over the next 300 years by smaller, less complex, but technically more advanced cultures of the Early Iron Age.
Eric Cline summarizes the book saying:
1177 BC, is a reasonable benchmark and allows us to put a finite date on a rather elusive pivotal moment and the end of an age. We can say with certainty that the far-reaching civilizations that were still flourishing in the Aegean and the ancient Near East in 1225 BC had begun to vanish by 1177 BC and were almost completely gone by 1130 BC. The mighty Bronze Age kingdoms and empires were gradually replaced by smaller city-states during the following Early Iron Age. Consequently, our picture of the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world of 1200 BC is quite different from that of 1100 BC and completely different from that of 1000 BC.
Cline, Eric H. (2014-03-23). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (pp. 172-173). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
Followed shortly afterward by saying:
although we don't know how contemporaneous the final destructions actually were in Greece, it is clear that after the catastrophes were over , "there were no palaces, the use of writing as well as all administrative structures came to an end, and the concept of a supreme ruler, the wanax, disappeared from the range of political institutions of Ancient Greece." 3 In terms of literacy and writing, the same holds true for Ugarit and the other entities that had flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age, for with their end came also the end of cuneiform writing in the Levant, replaced by other, perhaps more useful or convenient, writing systems.
Cline, Eric H. (2014-03-23). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 173). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
This book is not history made simple, but a very readable, complex analysis worthy of any person interested in ancient history. Every aspect of the cultures of the Late Bronze Age and it's decline as listed above, and more are examined and evaluated with reference to the source of the knowledge. Older references and viewpoints are referenced, and supported or refuted. With the copyright of 2014, Cline has the book right up to date on discoveries made recently.
A good read, A good summary of current knowledge, well worth the time to read.