|Lion Gate of Mycenae|
Fragments from a response to a plea for help from the king of Ugarit from around the year 1190BC, translation from The Collapse of the Bronze Age by Manuel Robbins
This is the first post of a series about the collapse of the Bronze Age in the Middle East. Click here for the links to the second and third posts.
I previously spoke of the complexity of the late Bronze Age, of the palaces and cities, art and literature, warfare and diplomacy that comprise our knowledge of this civilised period. In this post I will speak of how it came to an end. Around the year 1200BC many cities of the Bronze Age are burned, empires fall and entire swathes of land are abandoned for hundreds of years. Some of the more stable civilisations survive but in a reduced form, cowering behind city walls; others disappear forever. Sources for the period are very poor and civilisation declined to the point that some states lost the ability to write their own languages while in other areas place names are forgotten suggesting long term abandonment. But these tumultuous events seem to have left behind echoes and some believe that works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey might be distant recollections of these chaotic times.
|A much later statue of Homer|
Merneptah blamed the Hittites for allowing the attack suggesting that the Sea Peoples may have been from Anatolia and from the area supposedly controlled by the Hittites. But the Hittite Empire was in serious trouble as well. A civil war had divided loyalties in the population and elites and their northern capital was abandoned for a safer location further south. Texts seem to signify a great famine in the land as well. The weakened empire lost control of western Anatolia and the northern city of Wilusha (probably the city now referred to as Troy) was burnt. Around 1190 BC the old capital of Hattusa suffered a complete destruction. In Mycenaean Greece the great palaces in Mycenae and Tiryns suffer heavy damage and burning. Surviving Linear B fragments from the palace of Pylos point to invaders from the sea, although there may have been land invaders as well. The opulent trading city of Ugarit, in modern day Syria, was burned to the ground around a similar date, while their trading partners in Cyprus see their cities burned. While the Cypriot cities are quickly reoccupied, the destruction in Ugarit was so intense that the fires turned limestone building blocks to lime and the city was never rebuilt.
By around 1150BC the Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian empires had been seriously weakened while the Hittite and Mycenaean civilisations had fallen entirely, never to rise again. The population dropped across the Near East and when records become plentiful hundreds of years later, there are new states, peoples, cities and gods. What event or series of events was able to trigger this catastrophic change?
|Relief of Hittite Chariots|
|Fresco of Mycenaean Woman|
This is the first post in the series. Click here for the link to the second post on the collapse of the Bronze Age.