1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
Cline’s challenge in 1177 B.C. is to examine the causes of the near simultaneous destruction and disappearance of five flourishing eastern Mediterranean civilizations including their 47 largest settlements. What calamity or series of calamities occurred at roughly the same time? This is the task the author explores using ancient texts, archeology, new technology, new information, and a lot of connecting the dots. Reading this book is much like reading a detective novel. There is suspense, examination of the evidence, reasoning, speculations, and a conclusion.
Professor Cline is well qualified to do the heavy lifting. He is the author of 16 books and nearly 100 articles concerning ancient Egypt, the Levant, Anatolia, and several islands in the Mediterranean. He is a Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology at George Washington University with 29 seasons of excavation in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, and Crete.
During the Late Bronze Age (LBA) (1500–1200 B.C.), the region encompassing modern Egypt, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and several islands in the Mediterranean maintained a stable, thriving, sophisticated, and interconnected system of commerce and diplomacy. Yet, archeological discoveries over the past 100 years reveal that circa 1177 B.C. these once powerful empires simply ceased to function and vanished. Gone were the Hittites, the Mitanni, the Greek Minoan-Mycenaean Empire, and their numerous settlements. Egypt and Babylonia suffered a similar fate, but reappeared.
The LBA Collapse, as it is called, was devastating for the region and its inhabitants. The effects of the Collapse reverberated for centuries ushering in the world’s first Dark Ages. Cline describes the effects of the Collapse: “...civilization in this part of the world was set back, in some places for centuries, and altered irrevocably. ...it was a loss such as the world would not see again until the Roman Empire collapsed....”
Cline uses the first three chapters to describe the highly developed system of commerce and diplomacy that had grown and matured in the region from 1500-1200 B.C. In the remaining two chapters, he addresses the Collapse, empire by empire, settlement by settlement, and its possible causes using old and new archeological evidence.
Cline examines all the standard reasons given for the Collapse such as invasion by the “Sea People,” social uprisings, natural disasters, systems collapse, warfare changes and weather. He concludes that, “the best solution is to suggest that all of these factors together contributed ....The combined effects of “earthquakes, drought, and invaders...occurring in rapid succession [caused] a domino effect in which the disintegration of one civilization led to the fall of the other.”
Examining the Collapse is not a new topic. There are several recent books available as well as numerous articles that focus on specific causes such as invasions or earthquakes. So why read this book? Archeology is like a big puzzle. As more and more pieces are fit into place, a clearer picture begins to emerge. Old excavations continue to yield new artifacts and new information. New technology enables archeologists to remove sediment cores from the Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea to shed new light on climate variables such as drought.
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In an interview, Cline said many people will read the book simply to learn about the LBA, but many are “more interested in the fact that the Collapse occurred and see parallels to today’s world.” Could today’s world suffer the same fate? Unfortunately, Cline does not speculate about this, but readers of 1177 B.C. are certainly free to do so.
I don’t know when I’ve appreciated a book as much as 1177 B.C. If you enjoy learning, you will enjoy this book! Highly recommended.
Thomas A. Timmes is the author of Legio XVII: Roman Legion at War