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1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

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From acclaimed archaeologist and bestselling author Eric Cline, a breathtaking account of how the collapse of an ancient civilized world ushered in the first Dark Ages

In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the Sea Peoples invaded Egypt. The pharaoh's army and navy defeated them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. Eric Cline tells the gripping story of how the end was brought about by multiple interconnected failures, ranging from invasion and revolt to earthquakes, drought, famine, and the cutting of international trade routes. Bringing to life a vibrant multicultural world, he draws a sweeping panorama of the empires of the age and shows that it may have been their very interdependence that hastened their dramatic collapse. Now revised and updated, 1177 B.C. sheds light on the complex ties that gave rise to, and eventually destroyed, the flourishing civilizations of the Late Bronze Age--and set the stage for the emergence of classical Greece and, ultimately, our world today.

264 pages, Hardcover

First published March 23, 2014

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About the author

Eric H. Cline

43 books345 followers
DR. ERIC H. CLINE is the former Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and current Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University. A National Geographic Explorer, NEH Public Scholar, and Fulbright scholar with degrees from Dartmouth, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania, he is an active field archaeologist with 30 seasons of excavation and survey experience in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, and the United States, including ten seasons at the site of Megiddo (biblical Armageddon) in Israel from 1994-2014, and seven seasons at Tel Kabri, where he currently serves as Co-Director. A three-time winner of the Biblical Archaeology Society's "Best Popular Book on Archaeology" Award (2001, 2009, and 2011) and two-time winner of the American School of Archaeology's "Nancy Lapp Award for Best Popular Archaeology Book" (2014 and 2018), he is a popular lecturer who has appeared frequently on television documentaries and has also won national and local awards for both his research and his teaching. He is the author or editor of 20 books, almost 100 articles, and three recorded 14-lecture courses. His previous books written specifically for the general public include "The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age" (2000), "Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel" (2004), "From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible" (2007), "Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction" (2009), "The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction" (2013), "1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed" (2014), “Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology" (2017), and “Digging Up Armageddon” (2020). He has also co-authored a children's book on Troy, entitled "Digging for Troy" (2011). For a video of his "Last Lecture" talk, go to http://vimeo.com/7091059.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,066 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew Updegrove.
Author 11 books62 followers
May 11, 2014
This is perhaps the most disappointing book I've read in the past five years. Moreover, I say that based not only on my original assumption about what the author was setting out to achieve, but also on my adjusted assumption, after reading a few chapters

Let's start with the first assumption - that this would be a well-crafted book exploring external stresses on some interesting societies and the unfortunate results, along the lines of a work by Jared Diamond. Why would I jump to that conclusion? Well, for starters, let's look at the title and subtitle: "1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed." Does that sound like a scholarly title, or one shooting for the best seller list? Oh, and by the way, only at the very end of the book does the author explicitly own up the fact that the collapse really took, oh, let's be candid, as much as 100 years, and that the relevance of the year 1177 is simply that this is agreed to be a somewhat arbitrary end date for the end of that process.

Nor does the book provide the type of narrative that would deliver a book of that type, or the measured use of detail to support, rather than overwhelm, that narrative. On the other hand, he makes much of other forces where there are almost no solid facts to rely on at all. For example, while Cline makes provocative references to invasions by the "Sea Peoples" that may have accelerated the process of societal collapse, he necessarily then admits that there is virtually no evidence of any kind to say who they were, or where they came from - only assumptions. Even more puzzling, the only detailed description he provides about any of the actual events involving these mysterious invaders relates to the *successful* efforts of the Egyptians to turn back the Sea Peoples, thereby avoiding societal collapse - a rather puzzling introduction to the assumed story line.

Nor does Cline try to provide much of a picture of daily life for the civilizations involved, which brings me to my adjusted assumptions after making my way through the first two chapters. That's because what Cline goes on to do is to cite virtually all of the sources of information for various theories, making some effort to qualify which are more likely to be reliable. Indeed, the endnotes, bibliography and index of the book take up an incredible 56 pages out of the 237 in total.

All of this could have been bearable if the actual text was tighter, more disciplined, and less repetitive. But Cline makes the same points over and over and over again without any need or productive result. He also skips around through time, selecting aspects of this society or another to cite, but in ways that do not always add up to a coherent purpose. And throughout, we are treated to ongoing exposures to the author's conjectures. This isn't to say that theories aren't fine, but when they are uncomfortably lacking in supporting evidence, there's little incentive to learn what one author believes "probably" occurred.

In summary, I think that this is at best a questionably packaged and marketed book, and a failed compromise between a work of popular history and serious scholarship. In short, if you enjoy popular historical works, this is a book to be avoided. If you're looking for a serious scholarly work, then this one suffers from a serious lack of editorial review.

That said, judging by the many reviews that are more favorable than mine, a there is clearly a type of reader for whom Cline's approach is satisfactory. If you are an avid fan of historical detail about a period where your preexisting knowledge is slim, then you will certainly find ample detail here about clay tablet letters sent from King A to King B, indicating the existence of trade ties between their kingdoms, and which goods were found in which amphorae in this wreck or that indicating which regions engaged in trade with those regions.

That's all perfectly valid, and indeed, I've read scores of books on archaeology that include exactly the same level of detail. You don't expect that type of work to get into the big picture. But in my view, at least, what we find here is an author that has tried to sell to two very different audiences, and under delivered to both.
Profile Image for Ian.
726 reviews65 followers
May 12, 2021
I listened to the audiobook version of the “revised and updated” edition of this book, which takes into account new scientific evidence that has emerged since the original publication, and has led the author to revise his original conclusions. I couldn’t find this edition on GR and decided not to add it as I’m not always successful at adding covers for new editions.

In this book the Bronze Age collapse is described as occurring over a period of decades, and the date of 1177BC is used as a “chronological placeholder” in the same way that 476AD is used for the end of the Roman Empire.

The author advises that, in writing about the Collapse, he wanted to describe what collapsed, and the bulk of this book is taken up with a description of the Bronze Age civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean. He concentrates on 6 political/cultural entities, the Egyptian and Hittite Empires, Mycenaean Greece, Minoan Crete, Cyprus, and the Canaanite cities of the Levant. At the height of the Bronze Age these civilisations traded extensively in what was an interdependent international economic system. They also of course fought each other and engaged in diplomatic exchanges. It would be exaggerating to say this section of the book is “dry” but the author does go into great detail, perhaps a little too much for the general reader. He also delves into differing archaeological interpretations. It’s good that he isn’t selective in presenting evidence, but as a general reader I was sometimes left wondering what to make of it all.

During the 12th century BC the Hittite Empire was destroyed, whilst the Mycenaean and Minoan civilisations disappeared. Egypt survived, though greatly weakened, as did Cyprus. Canaan was settled by the Israelites and the Philistines. Blame for the disaster has often been laid on the enigmatic Sea Peoples, raiders mentioned mainly in Egyptian texts, but were the Sea Peoples the cause of the Collapse or merely a symptom of it? Archaeological investigation of the ruined cities has in some cases revealed evidence of warfare, for example the presence of numerous arrowheads or lead pellets used as slingshot. In other cities there are no such signs but instead indications of earthquakes, such as walls being off-kilter, and smashed skeletons buried under fallen masonry. The latter evidence has led to the theory of an “earthquake storm” being the cause of the collapse.

Textual evidence from the Hittite Empire refers to severe famine at the beginning of the 12th century, and in the last few years scientific research has examined ancient pollen from sediments and the growth of cave stalagmites. The author argues there is now strong evidence that the region suffered a “mega-drought” during the 12th and 11th centuries BC, leading him to conclude that drought was probably the largest single factor in the Collapse, although earthquakes, warfare, and the destruction of trading networks, were involved in a “perfect storm” of calamities that, taken together, overwhelmed the classic Bronze Age societies.

The author comments that many readers of the first edition were disappointed at the lack of a firm conclusion about the cause of the Collapse, but he argues, reasonably enough I think, that the task of historians is to outline possible narratives rather than unchallengeable truths. He does attempt to draw parallels with modern day events, but for me these weren’t entirely convincing. He did make an interesting point at the end. For all the glories of the Bronze Age, it was the “Dark Age” that followed that eventually produced the Hebrew Bible and the unique political culture of Athens, both of which had an enormous impact on the subsequent development of European culture and its offshoots around the world.

Despite some reservations, I did enjoy this book, particularly the discussion about the Collapse itself.

Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,079 reviews712 followers
April 28, 2022
The so-called Dark Ages of the 6th to 13th centuries that followed the demise of the Roman Empire was not the first dark age experienced by human civilization. This book explores what archeologists know about the Late Bronze Age collapse circa 1200 BC.

During the fifty-year period from 1225 to 1175 BC, the flourishing international trade between nations of the eastern Mediterrainian Sea ceased. Advanced cultures of the Mycenaeams, Minoans, Hittites, Assyrians, Kassites, Cypriots, Mitannians, Canaanites, and Egyptians either disappeared or were greatly dimished. Archaeologists have generally blamed the Late Bronze Age collapse to an invasion by the "Sea Peoples." The term "Sea Peoples" comes from accounts of their invasion found in Egypt. However, no conscensous has been reached about who the "Sea Peoples" were.

The title year of "1177 B.C." is the year of the climatic battle between the Egyptians and the "Sea Peoples" that generally marks the end of the Bronze Age. Egypt won the battle, but the rest of the eastern Mediterranean countries were already destroyed. Egyptian culture continued but greatly diminished in vigor and strength.

I was curious what conclusion this author would provide regarding the cause for the Bronze Age collapse. The book explores all the various reasons that have been proposed by various scholars over the years. The author reports on the most recent archeological findings; and I must say that I'm impressed with how much information researchers have been able to accumulate about the commerce and communication that occurred between the nations 3,200 years ago. One reason is that communications at the time were done on clay tablets which were able to survive 3,000 years of being buried under ruins of the city.

The author offers the following as a conclusion:
More than the coming of the Sea Peoples in 1207 and 1177 BC, more than the series of earthquakes that rocked Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean during a fifty-year span from 1225 to 1175 BC, more than the drought and climate change that may have been ravaging these areas during this period, what we see are the results of a “perfect storm” that brought down the flourishing cultures and peoples of the Bronze Age—from Mycenaeams and Minoans to the Hittites, Assyrians, Kassites, Cypriots, Mitannians, Canaanites, and even Egyptians.

In my opinion … none of these individual factors would have been cataclysmic enough on their own to bring down even one of these civilizations, let alone all of them. However, they could have combined to produce a scenario in which the repercussions of each factor were magnified, in what some scholars have called a “multiplier effect.” The failure of one part of the system might also have had a domino effect, leading to failures elsewhere. The ensuing “systems collapse” could have led to the disintegration of one society after another, in part because of the fragmentation of the global economy and the breakdown of the interconnections upon which each civilization was dependent.
So in other words, it was a perfect storm of various catastrophes that coincidentally occurred at about the same time that caused the fall of the Bronze Age.

Of course many readers will want to know what the book says about the Biblical account of the "Children of Israel" who were escaping from Egypt, wandering around the Sinai, and conquering the land of "milk and honey" at about this time in history. It's almost embarrassing how unhistorical the Biblical stories appear to be compared with the detail that the activities of the other nations in the area have been reconstructed by historians and archeologists. The author is pretty diplomatic in his pronouncements, but it was clear to me that the Exodus stories are myth and legend based on a conflation of oral accounts reporting of tsunamis (e.g. Minoan eruption of 1600 BCE), plagues, the Semitic Hyksos, and the speculative origin of Canaanite ruins.


A Minoan fresco from the east wing of the Palace of Knossos. From the Early Minoan or Early Middle Minoan Periods (2300 BC to 1600 BC). Photograph by D. Dagli Orti/DEA/De Agostini/Getty

The following is a link to a lecture by Eric H. Cline about 1177 B.C. (1 hr 10 min length):

An interesting review of this book:
Profile Image for Steve.
442 reviews478 followers
January 7, 2016

A representation of the mural on the northern wall of Ramesses III's mortuary temple depicting his victory over the "Sea People"

But see also this link for a larger, clearer version of this image.

The collapse of the late Bronze Age cultures in the eastern Mediterranean, redux

Within a few decades around 1200 BCE most of the thriving cities around the eastern Mediterranean had been burnt to the ground, abandoned or reduced to a shadow of their former selves, including Mycenae, Thebes and Tiryns on the Grecian peninsula, Knossos on Crete,(*) and Troy in western Anatolia, to mention only names which are widely known. The worst of this Catastrophe, as Robert Drews termed it, appears to have taken place in Anatolia, Syria and the Levant, leading to the collapse of the Hittite Empire and the smaller kingdoms located in that region. Mesopotamia was not affected (apparently it was too far inland), but the Egyptians had to fight for their lives multiple times between 1208 and 1176 BCE and managed to defeat the marauders we have come to call the "Sea People" (as well as the Libyans twice), following the formula of a 19th century French historian. Nonetheless, the Egyptians were sufficiently weakened that their empire began to contract markedly: the victories over the Sea People were the swan song of the New Kingdom. Moreover, a Dark Age lasting as long as 400 years commenced on the Greek peninsula and the Aegean isles, where populations decreased and often moved to more easily defended fastnesses. The light finally began to shine there again in the age of the Homeric poets, which I discuss in my review of Moses Finley's The World of Odysseus.

Last summer I wrote about Robert Drews' The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe CA. 1200 B.C. (1993), which reviewed the many extant theories about the causes of the Catastrophe and then proposed another. But many questions remained unanswered and the yet hypothetical nature of all the explanations was painfully obvious. Inaugurating a new series in ancient history, Princeton University Press has recently released 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2014), by Eric H. Cline, which I've read in the expectation that some improvement in our grasp of those distant events had been made in the intervening two decades. Such is indeed the case.

Three of the five chapters of this book present a fascinating picture of the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean in the three centuries preceding the Catastrophe, employing archaeological and written evidence, the latter primarily inscriptions found in Egypt and the wonderful baked clay tablets of the Middle East.(**) It is now known that prior to the Catastrophe there was a flourishing trade and active diplomacy all across the eastern Mediterranean.(***) As one example of many, I learned about the remarkable Uluburun shipwreck of a 50 foot long, Bronze Age trading vessel off the coast of Turkey which has been dated to about 1300 BCE using multiple methods and was discovered in 1982 at a depth of 150 feet.

The wreck
in situ

A museum's cross section of the ship's hold, which contained hippopotamus and elephant ivory, raw glass, storage jars full of barley, resin, spices and wine, and, most precious of all, a ton of tin and ten tons of copper to make bronze. The goods came from as far away as Afghanistan, Nubia, Italy and the Balkans.

Cline takes the opportunity to rehearse his suggestion that the Homeric "Trojan War" was a vague memory of Mycenaean warriors taking part in a great rebellion in Asia Minor against the Hittites around 1430 BCE. Whatever one may think of that particular idea, the splendid shade of the past he summons up in these chapters and the extensive bibliography have added an entire new wing to my groaning TBR list.

After setting the stage, he comes to the evidence for and the theories about the Catastrophe, which some scholars prefer to call the Collapse. Cline provides a site-by-site description of some of the destruction (he and Drews have surprisingly little overlap here), as well as the dating results and attendant controversies. He also briefly reviews the various theories proposed to explain the Catastrophe, though here Drews' discussion is both more extensive and detailed.(4*) Both indicate objections to each of the theories and establish convincingly that no one of the "causes," including the "Sea People" can explain all of the observed destruction and consequent decline and re-making of the cultures of the region. Both suggest the possibility that all of the proposed "causes" could have contributed cumulatively to the observed phenomena - Cline calls it a "perfect storm" of calamities. Drews suggested his own theory but admitted it is only a hypothesis. And Cline concludes that though the causes of the Catastrophe must have been complex, we neither know all of them, nor do we know which were critical. So, the up-to-date conclusion is "We don't know." That is, in any case, better than believing in an incorrect hypothesis.

What we have now is a somewhat clearer picture of what happened, where and when; that picture is still evolving. Before reading this book I had not appreciated that the late Bronze Age was a kind of Golden Age in the eastern Mediterranean, both economically and culturally. Just the kind of thing that draws my further attention.

(*) This is under debate by the experts, since they are not certain when Knossos was burnt to the ground. But whenever Knossos itself may have been destroyed, violence and a complete change of settlement patterns at the beginning of the 12th century have been verified archaeologically all over Crete.

(**) As part of this series' evident goal to interest modern readers in those ancient times, Cline throws in many intriguing tidbits. For example, aware of the Pharoah Thutmose III's successful tactics in the battle of Megiddo in 1479 BCE (apparently the first battle in history recorded - on a temple wall - for the edification of persons not present), General Edmund Allenby repeated them in 1918 at Megiddo against the Germans and Turks with the same positive results.

An excerpt from the inscriptions on Ramesses III's mortuary temple gives a taste of ancient Egyptian imperial rhetoric:

Those who reached my frontier, their seed is not; their heart and their soul are finished forever and ever. Those who came forward together on the sea, the full flame was in front of them at the river mouths, while a stockade of lances surrounded them on the shore. They were dragged in, enclosed, and prostrated on the beach, killed and made into heaps from tail to head. Their ships and their goods were as if fallen into the water. I have made the lands turn back from even mentioning Egypt; for when they pronounce my name in their land, then they are burned up.

I wouldn't want to get on his bad side.

(***) The exchange of goods and ideas was so thoroughly developed that historians of art now speak of an "International Style" present at the end of the Bronze Age! Cline calls the era "this cosmopolitan age."

(4*) With an important exception: Since the appearance of Drews' book, environmental scientists have established by multiple means that towards the end of the Bronze Age there was a climactic change in the eastern Mediterranean which entailed a 300 year period of relative drought. There is written evidence of the resulting famine, at least until the civilizations collapsed. In Egypt, of course, due to the exceptional nature of the Nile River, this period of famine did not occur, but it might have contributed to the weakening of the Hittite Empire and partially explained why so many Mycenaean Greeks left the mainland for the western coast of the Near East.


Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 185 books37.7k followers
February 19, 2016

An overview of the end of the Bronze Age in the so-called Ancient World, the eastern Mediterranean and Near East from about 1500 B.C. to about 1150 B.C. The author and editors may fondly imagine this is written for a general public while retaining scholarly rigor. I think the first part of that belief is overly optimistic, while the second I cannot judge. Personally, I could have used something like "The Bronze Age for Dummies" as a lead-in, to give me a broader overview of the places, peoples, and their relationships to each other -- so many names! -- before plunging into an extended, albeit interesting, argument that presupposes such knowledge.

Ta, L.
Profile Image for Hadrian.
438 reviews222 followers
August 16, 2020
The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms, from Khatte, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya on, being cut off at [one time]. A camp [was set up] in one place in Amurru. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Danuna, and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting.

-Walls of the mortuary temple of Ramesses III

This book has succeeded in taking an obscurer topic of intense scholarly debate and presenting it to the general public - the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations and the appearance of the Sea People, whoever they were. Where trade routes collapsed, cities burned, and literacy became nearly extinct, and only a few surviving cities clung to continued existence. The author has even taken a brilliant framing device - financial troubles in Greece and violence along the Eastern Mediterranean is an issue as much as over 3,000 years ago as today.

The prologue starts with the question - "Why did this happen?", and then going through a list of collapsed regional powers and a discussion of who the Sea People might have been. The successive chapters discuss the civilizations of the Late Bronze Age: the Hittites, the Myceneans, Assyria, Ugarit, Caanan, and Egypt, starting with networks of contact, trade exchanges, diplomatic relations, and treaty archives. A look at trade negotiations for valuable goods does much to ground the era for a contemporary reader's understanding. The translation of primary sources does much to bring the period alive for non-specialists like myself, but the citation of sources, I hope, would be a useful reference to the specialist in comparing this to ongoing research.

And yet even with all this ongoing research, what caused the collapse is not so certain. Cline first examines, and then discards the hypothesis that it was the Sea People alone - noting how the pharoahs, like so many other tyrants, lie to boost their own reputation. Climactic change may have been the first of so many stressors that led to a broader collapse. The introduction of complexity theory - of examining so many moving parts and seeing how they interact with one another - is another valuable tool for examining ancient history but other events. This is an appreciation of history that I found a compelling read.
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,857 reviews1,370 followers
September 26, 2022
Complexity theory, especially in terms of visualizing a nonlinear progression and a series of stressors rather than a single driver, is therefore advantageous both in explaining the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age and in providing a way forward for continuing to study this catastrophe.

Cline is a wonderful lecturer as evidenced on YouTube. His writing however leaves a lot to be desired. He engages the prevailing theory that Sea People overthrew the Eastern Mediterranean civilizations of the Late Bronze Age (LBA). Cline asserts that it likely wasn't a singular force or linked series of intentional conquests but rather an entire cluster of events including drought and earthquakes. This was all compounded by the interdependence of this geographical region. It still isn't very convincing. Cline also wants to place the Fall of Troy in the LBA and has Homer only retelling such 400 hundred years later. This is an interesting speculation but it remains that.
Profile Image for Erik Moore.
Author 1 book2 followers
April 22, 2014
This is a great book for reviewing and cross-referencing the current research on the fall of the Bronze Age into darkness at 1177 BC (the End of the Egyptian New Kingdom and the Reign of Ramses III) for a period of 300 years. The linkages between recently dug up newly translated tablets from Ugarit along with pollen core samples, radio-carbon dating, pot shard analysis, and sunken treasure is astounding. The work that must have gone into any one of these is a testament to the desire for our current civilization to uncover its ancient past. One thing a bit troubling is that at the end of the book Cline assumes that the destruction was a catalyst for positive developments, in which he lists monotheism. Akenaten's reign in Egypt was a pre-collapse case that fits the mold of monotheism better than the Elohim/Jehovah hybrid that the Israelite civilization brought out of the Canaanite ashes of the pre-collapse Bronze Age. The thought that monotheism was a result of the collapse is both not true systemically (systemic considerations was the approach to the book and certainly most societies remained polytheistic) and it certainly should not be forwarded as a positive cultural development, at least not without qualifications. Similarly the idea that alphabetic systems were "progress" would appear outrageous to the modern Chinese reader, and indeed to the student of Akkadian and Hieroglyphics which had significant phonetic character sets. There were even Bronze Age alphabet-only writing systems extant in 2000 BCE. The underrepresented merchant class, and the rise of thriving Bronze Age multiculturalism was certainly lost at the collapse, and would have been a better example of what actually did lead to the rise in the early Iron Age as the roots of our civilization. It wasn't how many gods folks worshiped, or if they worshiped any at all. But instead it was how effectively they could relate to each other on broad scales, and how much scientific and mathematical knowledge and their ability to leverage knowledge in the face of societal challenges. The writings of the Bronze Age that included commerce, science, mathematics, and legal-political structure are surely the best basis on which to judge the progress and decline of civilization. That reading Linear B and cuneiform was indeed lost in the Mediterranean is indeed a loss to humanity's progress. Fortunately, folks like those Cline mentions constantly in this book, researchers, anthropologists, whatever their motivations, are the ones that helped us recover this wonderful history so that we may indeed better contemplate our own fate. I learned a lot from Cline. The book did leave me wanting more information, but that is the nature of anthropology of the ancients. We must live with a mosaic of fragments, no matter how many pieces we recover.
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,184 reviews1,064 followers
July 13, 2014
An interesting look at exactly how interconnected the cultures around the Med were in the late Bronze Age. Fascinating translations of letters I hadn't read before. Clines's writing is very conversational and communicates a great enthusiasm for the topic. I also felt his thesis was pretty comprehensively proven i.e. it's complex. The book really left me with an overwhelming desire to read a lot more recent work in the area, and that's gotta be a good thing, right?

Note that Clines does not cover theories of identity of the Sea Peoples in more than a passing mention: this book is only presenting contextual information and discussing other possible (probable) reasons for collapse: earthquakes, climate change, etc.

3.5 stars, rounded up.
Profile Image for Stratos.
870 reviews87 followers
March 26, 2019
Σε καταπλακώνει ο όγκος των ονομάτων και απίθανων λεπτομερειών με αποτέλεσμα να χάνεις την ουσία του τίτλου..
Profile Image for Adam.
996 reviews196 followers
August 14, 2017
From Mallory's tweet (where I first saw this) and the blurbs, I got the impression that 1177 BC would 1) take a dusty, abstract historical period and enrich it with cultural and economic details that were excluded from the more strictly military version I was familiar with and 2) address the abrupt collapse of the international economic system in that period and theoretically reframe the role of the mythical "Sea Peoples," the Goths to Egypt's Rome. Maybe those expectations were too strong, which set me up for disappointment. But hell, I imagine a lot of prospective readers share them. If that's you, well, you're probably better off steering clear.

It quickly becomes clear just how sparse the evidence is that Cline has to work with. The text is rich with names--factions and kings and queens and towns, some familiar but overall feeling exactly like a really clumsy and dense fantasy worldbuilding dump. The first 160 pages or so are spent building context for the story. But that context is largely the same boring, superficial sort of history I was hoping Cline would overwrite and fill in. It's all nations, borders, kings, war, and prestige trade. It feels like the plot synopsis of a Conan the Barbarian story (which I guess does make Conan's historical bona fides stand up a teeeeeeny bit better than utter shit in retrospect).

I get that there's not a lot of sources and archaeological evidence about normal trade, the details of daily life, etc. But that just keeps raising the question: why does this book exist? It raised so many questions for me and answered so few of them. Cline mentions tin occasionally, a key ingredient in bronze, mined only, we assume, in a particular surface deposit in Afghanistan. Why would bronze have been a make or break resource in Late Bronze Age cultures, exactly? Tell us more about this place? How did it fit into all these empires, if it was so far away? In all the discussion of these half dozen empires and their histories (very hard to keep track of, especially in BC!) there's never any real discussion of the power structures of their palaces. What role did trade play in keeping kings in power? Why were they concerned to advance territory?

The Sea Peoples crop up periodically in this backstory, but whenever they do, Cline just shrugs. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. "Don't look at me! How am I supposed to know?" is basically the message. The Sea Peoples stand out only insofar as they have no name; they are outsiders to the system of trade and correspondence tying together the eastern Mediterranean, and therefore more mysterious than the named but undescribed Mitanni, Philistines, Canaanites, etc, etc. But they're not presented as being more interesting. Cline seems to think they're just Greek people who migrated into the area as the larger empires fell. Which, fine, but that story is teased throughout and then never presented.

Cline seems to be trying to build a case for 160 pages or so, but it never cohered into anything for me. A bunch of kingdoms collapsed more or less simultaneously, associated with the end of intl trade and a bunch of burned capitals. This is the mystery, but it's presented in such an oblique and dull fashion. It's all the more disappointing because the early bits of the book try to set up hooks--the Late Bronze Age is "like the modern globalized world." Or the story of the letter a king maybe sent, maybe didn't, to ask for aid against the sea peoples. These things are misleading; they are never delivered on (thankfully, in the former case) and it compounds the overall impression that Cline has nothing to say, that this book is all empty promises. A premature summary of academic literature that hasn't figured out what its story is yet.

I gave up on reading 1177 for about a week but came back to it because I thought maybe Cline would finally get to his argument in the last 50 pages. He does. It's perhaps even more disappointing than the lead-up, however. He briefly reviews and dismisses several proposed explanations for the collapse event he's hinted at throughout the book. There's climate change, earthquakes, rebellion, the Sea Peoples, and a couple of more interesting ideas like the rise of private merchants. Instead of all of those, he turns to what he simply terms "complexity theory." He elaborates on this scientific concept at length, analogizing it to a traffic jam: we don't know why they happen or how to predict them, but we know they always will eventually happen. Then he admits this is perhaps a pseudoscientific concept that has no explanatory power without more evidence! He calls it "a fancy way to state a fairly obvious fact, . . . that complicated things can break down in a variety of ways." What a way to end a book. Sheesh. There's none of the detailed anthropology of social organization and collapse found in books like How Chiefs Come to Power--which presumably had much less textual evidence, and perhaps less archaeological evidence, to work with.
Profile Image for Loring Wirbel.
292 reviews82 followers
June 25, 2016
Let's dispense with a pet peeve right away: I despise the trend of using a year for a book title, a decision I doubt Eric Cline had any say in. At least with a book like 1453 there is a significant event like the fall of Constantinople to hang one's hat on. It's as silly to call 1493 the ideal year to define post-Columbian Native American culture as it is to say 1971 was the defining seminal year for rock and roll. When dealing with the fuzzy and uncertain Late Bronze Era, it becomes even more preposterous to call this book 1177 B.C., and I think Cline is well aware of that. The book deals with a slow process of global collapse that took place from 1400 BC to 1130 BC, which launched the earliest of civilized humanity's Dark Ages.

Cline is the quintessential scholar who has found a popular audience for his musings on the Greek Dark Ages of 1100-700 BC(E). He does not say the marauding Sea Peoples were a myth, nor does he say it was certain that they were identical to the Philistines, or that they came from Cyprus or Crete. (The myth of a Dorian invasion from the north is just about dead.) What Cline tells us is that we do not know.

Many readers who would like a crisp, simple tale of the civilizational collapse that took place around the time of the mythical war for Troy are bound to be disappointed. We learn more about the Hittites, the Mycenaeans, and other ancient cultures every day, but as Cline says, there is unlikely to be a smoking gun discovered about the proximate causes that led to dozens of cities collapsing and populations dispersing around 1200-1130 BCE. It's very similar in many ways to Rome's fall and the imaginary year of 476 AD - sure, it might have been the invasions of the Visigoths, the Alans, or the Ostrogoths that sunk the Western Empire, or maybe Rome was simply bound to collapse at a certain point.

Cline adds just the right level of detail about histories and trade patterns among Egyptians, Hittites, and other cultures. He suggests the role climate change (yes, in the Bronze Age) and earthquakes might have played, and admits that the mysterious Sea Peoples were responsible for a certain amount of sacking between 1207 and 1177 BCE. But that is all that can be said.

Cline seeks to go beyond systems collapse into complexity-theory explanations for collapse, but wonders if he is bringing it up in a pseudoscientific way. Sure, chaos theory and tipping points have been used in a superficial way by authors like Jared Diamond, but if we compare Cline's conclusions with someone who provides a truly mathematical theory of societal collapse, as found in Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War, for example, it seems pretty clear that even if Cline is shying away from the math, he is on to something by applying complexity and chaos theories to the Late Bronze Age.

Cline makes the obvious comparisons at the end of the book to the 2008 financial collapse and the post-2010 rise of isolationism, and he stresses that widespread civilizational collapse often does not take place due to great wars or financial crashes, when citizens rally to prevent devastation. Instead, the cascading multiplicative effects of a thousand small events can most likely lead to catastrophic failures, because most people don't notice the multiplicative effect until it is far too late. It's a case of the frog being boiled alive in a pot where the water temperature is slowly being raised. It can happen when climate change, dis-intermediation from a globalized economy, greater isolationism and xenophobia, and a lack of citizen involvement and collectivist feeling atomizes everything. Any grain of sand added to the stack can be the last one. Sound like anywhere you know? We'd best not go there.
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews799 followers
August 21, 2015
Not at all what the cover and press suggests, Cline has written a short history of the bronze age, with a focus on the end of it. His argument is that a lot of different factors contributed to the end of bronze age civilizations. Unfortunately, that kind of responsible argument won't get much of a hearing in the wider marketplace, so instead this is billed as a book about the END OF CIVILIZATION and how many lessons we can get from the 12th century BC.

There are no lessons, and civilization obviously didn't end. This book, however, is pretty good if you want to learn a bit more about the Egyptians, Hittites, Babylonians, Mycenaeans and Minoans. Good enough for me.
Profile Image for Elena Sala.
471 reviews78 followers
July 17, 2022
1177 B.C.: THE YEAR CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED (2014) is an engaging book about the end of the Late Bronze Age societies in the Mediterranean area.

Cline describes the Mediterranean of the 15th-13th B.C. as a "globalized" interconnected network of societies. Then he investigates the apparent causes of the destruction of the numerous, different sites using archeological material. Many different events could explain the destruction of these sites: climate change, famine, earthquakes, the collapse of international trade, social unrest, the invasion of the Sea Peoples, and others. The author argues that no single cause alone could explain the sudden, cataclysmic destruction of these societies. He, and many scholars, believe that a "systems collapse" took place: "a systemic failure, with both a domino and a multiplier effect". The rich and powerful Late Bronze Age societies could not recover from the catastrophic failure precisely because they were so interconnected, so interdependent. Trade ground to a halt, economies were disrupted, misery and migrations ensued and cities were destroyed.

The book's title is rather misleading. In the first part of the book Cline spends some time describing the Sea Peoples, the invaders mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions who raided Egypt for the second time in the year 1177 B.C. However, he does point out that 1177 B.C. should be considered a chronological placeholder, not a specific year in which these flourishing Bronze Age cultures disappeared. In the second half of the book it is clear that he believes in the "Systems Collapse " theory, not that a horde of destructive, fierce Sea Peoples brought the Late Bronze Age to an end with a crash.

This book has been written for a general audience in mind. There are lots of names, yes, but also many maps, which are very helpful. Cline combines scholarship and great storytelling skills so this is a great book if you are interested in the period.
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews475 followers
July 26, 2018

The word that comes to mind after finishing this book is ‘disappointing’. Don’t get me wrong – this is not a bad book. Cline is well-known for his objective approach and thorough research, and he brings both to this book. He also writes in a smooth, readable style that makes the book suitable for a general audience as well as a more scholarly one. The information he provides is accurate, as far as I can see.

My issue is the formatting. For starters, as other reviewers have said, Cline attempts to do the pop culture thing of relating everything back to modern day. All I wanted was to find out about the past, and so I found the modern diversions distracting. Second, a good two, arguably three chapters could’ve been cut out as they have no or very little relation to the later Bronze Age collapse. Given that this book has six chapters and ends at the 55% mark on kindle, that’s an awful lot of material that is not specifically addressing the book’s premise, and it leaves a comparatively thin amount which is the reason I picked up the book. Third, and perhaps this was merely wishful thinking, I never expected this book to answer the question ‘what caused the Bronze Age collapse’, but I was assuming that it had something new to say. Some new tantalising snippet of evidence or even simply a brand new interpretation of existing evidence that had never been put forward before. It didn’t – although it does neatly bring together and summarise all the previous arguments and factors which have attempted to answer the question.

So, like I said, not a bad book, quite well-written and researched, but perhaps too unfocused.

7 out of 10
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
497 reviews726 followers
July 4, 2016
“1177 B.C.” is a worthwhile book, but it fails to deliver on its promises. It is an uncomfortable blend of academic treatise and popular history, and it suffers from this split personality. And it suffers from aiming high, promising to explain how Mediterranean Bronze Age societies collapsed together in short order and how that relates to today, and striking low, concluding that we don’t know why, admitting that they may not have collapsed in short order or together (and definitely not in 1177 B.C. altogether) and failing to convince the reader that there is any relevancy for today, though straining to do so. On the other hand, for those interested in the period, there are many fascinating facts—so long as you aren’t really looking for a coherent overarching narrative, this book will be very welcome.

Almost all of Cline’s discussion is informed by archaeology, mostly modern archaeology. Typically he is very detailed, in a way much more academic than popular. Names of places and rulers fly by, complete with translations into different languages and many, many attempts to evaluate whether we know to what a particular name or phrase really refers. This can be fascinating, but if you’re looking for an easy overview of the late Bronze Age, you won’t find it here. Stop paying attention for a paragraph and you’ll lose the thread entirely. But that’s not the author’s fault—there is a thread to be found, you just have to focus.

So, if you want to know all about “Suppiluliuma and the Zannanza Affair,” in which a Hittite king, in Anatolia, seized power from his brother two hundred years before the title year, whereupon he did things like “sack and plunder the Mittani capital Washukanni.” The Zannanza Affair involved a possibly inauthentic request from the queen of Egypt to marry her son to a son of Suppiluliuma, leading to the death of the son sent, and subsequent war. This is all fascinating, to me at least. But I’m not sure it reinforces the author’s narrative, beyond the obvious and uncontroversial fact that Bronze Age kingdoms contiguous in territory (the war was in Syria) interacted with each other.

Cline begins by discussing the Sea Peoples, focusing on their attacks on Egypt in 1177 B.C., in which the Egyptians (again) defeated the Sea Peoples. Cline then jumps back in time and sideways in space, first discussing the Hyksos and Egypt, then Minoan civilization, then back to Egypt as it related to Minoan civilization, then Egypt in its broader relations with neighboring civilizations, then other civilizations as they related to each other (though the focus tends to stay on Egypt). This can seem like too much hopping around, but Cline is actually trying to convey the inter-related nature of the Mediterranean Bronze Age civilizations. He keeps hopping around, until the last chapter of the book attempts a (failed) synthesis. There is much discussion of trade and trade goods, relying on archaeology. There is talk of the Trojan War and the Book of Exodus, and the archaeological evidence for both. As I say, all fascinating, but not obviously coherent in the service of any particular thesis.

Cline then tries to bring these threads together, focusing on many bad things happening in the Mediterranean. He cites earthquakes, climate change resulting in famine, migrating warlike peoples about whom nearly nothing is known, and internal revolts of uncertain origin. All of these have fragmentary and contradictory evidence that makes it very difficult to judge their scope and impact, or even the precise time frames involved. Cline himself notes that “Although it is clear that there were massive destructions in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean . . . it is far from clear who—or what—was responsible.”

Despite this admission, Cline then tries to synthesize multiple factors into a “systems collapse”—basically saying “it was complex, multiple bad things happened, so it all fell apart. Also, climate change!” (The repeated attempts to emphasize climate change in an explicit bid for modern relevancy are particularly jarring.) Maybe. But this is what my high school math teacher called the “Broad Point Theorem”—drawing a big enough point with your pencil to cover up the fact that the lines don’t actually intersect. This last chapter, alleging “A ‘Perfect Storm’ of Calamities,” is by far the weakest in the book, and it’s at this point it becomes clear that the perceived thesis of the book, that there was a collapse in 1177 B.C. and a reason for it, is completely unsupported. There is talk of “multiplier effects” and “complexity theory,” and an admission that “rather than envisioning an apocalyptic ending overall . . . we might better imagine that the end of the Late Bronze Age was more a matter of a chaotic although gradual disintegration of areas and places that had once been major and in contact with each other, but were now diminished and isolated . . . .”

Well, yes. But that’s like saying that now the sun has gone down, it’s dark outside. The question of civilizational collapse has exercised writers for millennia. Concluding that yes, civilizations decay, is not insightful. Arnold Toynbee, in the modern era, attempted to create a universal template of civilizational rise and decay, not relying on specific events, or on cop-outs like “multiplier effects” and “complexity theory.” Cline does not mention Toynbee, and perhaps he cannot see the forest for the trees—he has so much specific archaeological knowledge, he is unable to step back into the realm of social theory as buttressed by that knowledge. But in a book whose title and opening chapter implies that the author will at least try to show us how and why civilization collapsed, failing to do so in any meaningful way is a real disappointment.
Profile Image for Brad Lyerla.
209 reviews164 followers
October 18, 2016
In the 13th and 12th centuries BC, as the Bronze Age was ending, cataclysmic changes rocked the civilizations of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean regions. Some affluent and successful regimes ceased to exist altogether like the Hittite empire and kingdom of Ugarit. Others continued, but in a greatly diminished and transformed version of themselves including the Mycenaeans, Minoans, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites and Cypriots.

What followed these changes has been described as a Dark Age that continued for several hundred years. Forms of writing disappeared. Trade routes and entire cities were abandoned. New peoples arose including the Philistines and Israelites in what was formerly Canaan. Iron displaced bronze as the dominant technology. The robust international trade that characterized the Late Bronze Age disappeared to be replaced by small scale individual traders, who seem to have acted on their own behalf and not as part of the "palace economies" that were the norm in the Bronze Age.

The cause of the collapse that occurred in the late 13th and early 12th century BC has been debated by archeologists for many years. In 1177 B.C.: THE YEAR CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED, Eric Cline takes stock of the various theories that have been offered to explain what happened. Several causes have been identified. First, there appear to have been many earthquakes in the region over a period of a century or longer. Second, it is now confirmed that there were years of severe drought and famine during this period. Third, there were ruinous wars, including wars with a mysterious group of nomads who are identified as "sea peoples" in a few surviving writings from the period. The sea peoples were not just conquerors. They remained where they conquered and changed the native cultures as a result.

It is thought that the combination of natural disasters, climate change, war and massive population relocation, disrupted the interdependent economies of the Late Bronze Age regimes so severely that a large scale collapse resulted from which the regimes did not recover.

This is all interesting stuff, even if it is built on surmise more so than evidence. But Cline's book is too long. It would have made a fascinating feature length article in ATLANTIC or some similar publication. But it does not make for a high quality read as a book. The problem is that we don't have much information. What we know is limited to a very small number of writings that have survived. The meaning of these is, at best, ambiguous. And what we can glean from digging up old cities and settlements -- which, of course, is subject to conflicting interpretation.

Cline picks 1177 B.C. as the year of the collapse, but concedes that the collapse actually occurred over an entire century or so. Notwithstanding that, he thinks that it is defensible to focus on 1177 as a convenient time to peg the collapse because that was the year of the second wave of wars with the sea peoples, which of course raises the question, why the second wave? Why not the first, which occurred some forty years earlier? The choice of 1177 seems arbitrary like so much of the rest of what archeologists want to say about this period. But my biggest disappointment in Cline's book is that it offers little information about who the sea peoples were. Apparently, archeologists simply don't know, which is not Cline's fault, of course. But if I had known that the experts are still trying to work this out, then I might not have picked up the book in the first place. The dustcover seems to promise that Cline has some new information to share, but that promise goes unfulfilled.

There are some interesting tidbits in the book that I would be remiss not to mention. Cline argues that the Trojan War took place during this period and that the Illiad is an example of the romanticization of earlier times by those living in the Dark Age that followed the Late Bronze period. He argues that the story concerning the flight of the Israelites from Egypt might be of a similar character, but he does not develop that thought sufficiently for the reader to evaluate its potential accuracy. Cline also shares what sounds like relatively new speculation that the Philistines may have been a hybrid group of Canaanites and sea peoples, but beyond noting that some scholars have hypothesized about this, he concedes that there is little solid evidence to support it.
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,336 reviews1,154 followers
May 13, 2014
This book is an attempt to summarize and even popularize several streams of research of classical scholars around the collapse of the late Bronze Age around the transition from the 13th to the 12th centuries BCE. The intuition is that research has shown the world at this time to be an interconnected and indeed global civilization with intensive interactions among a number of major and largely centralized empires. Then in a very brief period that world order collapsed and society became more disordered and localized - and we know even less about this period, except that from it issued the growth of Greek and various monotheistic civilizations that still structure the contemporary world. How did an entire world order collapse? Does that have any implications for our contemporary global civilization?

The book is well done and interesting. It is quite an achievement, because the scholars of antiquity must work with limited and often indirect evidence and thus must be very careful in coming to even limited conclusions. Anyone who reads the scholarly articles referenced in the book will know this. Cline is trying to draw all of this together and tell a story of what it all means. This is often how scholars motivate their own work and does a service to non-professionals. It is so hard to tell a clear and compelling story, however, when there are alternative explanations for most points and where reasonable scholars disagree frequently. Cline manages to tell his story well even under these constraints. It helps that he provides illustrations and maps, along with a reference guide of key actors referenced in the book. Overall, I found the book worthwhile and enjoyable.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,710 reviews742 followers
October 4, 2014
This is a major new account of the causes of the “First Dark Ages.” Eric Cline tries to explain how this happened. He describes multiple interconnected failures, ranging from invasions, revolts, to earthquakes, drought and the cutting of international trade routes. Cline is a professor of Classics and anthropology at George Washington University. Cline explains the new archaeological and geological evidence that drought, famine, earthquakes, migration and internal rebellions all contributed to the end of the Bronze Age. Cline is writing for the average reader not the scholar so the book is easy to read.

The author brings to life the vibrant multicultural world of the great civilizations (Minions, Mycenaean, Trojans, Hittites, Babylonians, and Egyptian). The thriving economy, culture of the late second millennium B. C. from Greece to Egypt suddenly ceased to exist, along with the writing systems, technology and architectures.

The description, Cline presents in his book resemble our own today. And if you take into account the new NASA funded study, warning of the possibility for an irreversible collapse of our industrial civilization in just a few decades this book is relevant for us today. History may be repeating itself, making it an interesting time to be living. I read this as an audio book downloaded from Audible. Andy Capole did a fair job narrating the book. If you are interested in history this is an interesting book for you to read.
Profile Image for Ahmed Louaar.
148 reviews58 followers
December 26, 2020
كان شرق المتوسط يعيش حالة من الازدهار الغير مسبوق، التجارة خاصة البحرية منها كانت رائجة بين المصريين والحثيين والاوغارتيين والميسينيين والمينويين والاشوريين والكنعانيين وغيرهم. كان هذا خلال القرون الاخيرة التي سبقت انهيار العصر البرونزي. لكن ما الذي أدى بهذا العالم الدولي المعولم إلى الانهيار؟

في هذا الكتاب "1177 ق.م عام انهيار الحضارة" يعود بنا إريك إتش كلاين، معتمدا على الأدلة الأثرية، إلى تلك الفترة المزدهرة من الحضارة الانسانية، حيث يصف التفاعلات التي كانت حاصلة بين الدول الاقليمية والمدن النشطة، والمراسلات بين الملوك والأمراء باللغات التي كانت سائدة وقتها، وأهم السلع التي كانت تنقلها السفن عبر البحر الأبيض المتوسط، وحتى الصراعات التي كانت تحصل بين الدول تماما كما هو حاصل في عصرنا الحالي.

بعدها يقوم كلاين بتفصيل الأسباب التي قد تكون أدت باختفاء معظم هذه الدول، كحدوث زلازل وجفاف وانظمة اجتماعية جديدة، دون أن يهمل المتهم المباشر الذي اعتاد المؤرخون الاشارة له وهم ما يعرف بشعوب البحر، هذه الشعوب الغامضة والتي لا توجد مصادر أثرية كثيرة لمعرفة أصلها وسبب ظهورها، ولكن فقط تفسيرات وترجيحات حول المكان الذي قد خرجوا منه.

الكتاب شيق لمن يهتم بالتاريخ القديم، وهو ثري للغاية بالمصادر والمراجع التي تهتم بتلك الفترة ككتاب "شعوب البحر" لناننسي ساندرز، وكتاب نهاية العصر البرونزي لروبرت دروز.
Profile Image for Laura.
339 reviews1 follower
June 19, 2019
This book was fantastic. As an ancient history/archaeology nerd, this fulfilled everything I needed. Eric Cline gives the reader an engaging story of the LBA through the use of archaeological evidence, literary sources, and some clever sleuthing - the clever quips also were an enjoyable additive. His final remarks were succinct, concise, and pose an interesting thought. These societies were complex and their relations within one another were complicated. We will never be able to see the entire, unbroken picture of these societies, we are able to create conjecture over the few bits we have found. Cline comes across as knowledgeable and authoritative while passing that along in a readable manner for a non academic to understand. I put down the book feeling confident I learned a great deal about the languages, the socio-economic, and the political relations of the Egyptians, Hittites, Mycenaeans, and Canaanites. And even more was incorporated into the telling of the story, starting centuries before the collapse. I loved this book and it only increases my love of this era.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,638 reviews329 followers
August 17, 2019
The "Sea Peoples" and collapse of the Hittite empire. End of the late Bronze Age. Nicely done, worth reading. Note alternate explanation for the collapse: an earthquake storm! Lion Gate is built against a prominent fault scarp per book. Interesting. He did his homework, and writes well. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Ron Sami.
Author 3 books81 followers
March 7, 2022
The book is dedicated to finding the causes of the fall of the civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Plot. Rating 3
The plot starts from afar. The book contains an overview of approximately three centuries preceding the catastrophe of the Bronze Age. This takes quite a lot of space, as the political, trade, and diplomatic relations of different peoples are shown. There is also information about some forgotten civilizations of antiquity.
However, all this is done to confirm a fairly obvious idea of good trade relations and some local globalization of about ten civilizations of antiquity from Elam to Mycenae.
The actual period of the decline of most civilizations is shown poorly. An enumeration of possible causes of the crisis has been made, but, due to scientific rigor I presume, none of the causes is favored and no version is developed in-depth.

Characters. Rating 2
Despite the genre, there are usually interesting and versatile characters in documentary books. In this book, the characters are rather faded; they remain as only dry words of the historical chronicle. There is no attempt to somehow revive one or more characters or show their emotions during some grandiose events and thereby interest the reader. Extracts from historical sources are given too fragmentary and chaotic to build a coherent picture of the life of at least one significant character.

Dialogues. Rating 4
Dialogues in such literature must be carefully sought out. The dialogues here were found in the correspondence between leaders of various states, merchants, and heads of cities. They sound natural, although they are few in number. However, some dialogue allows you to judge the characters and the events, which is a big plus.

Writing style. Rating 3
The book is not very easy to read, as the information in it is presented in a detached and fragmented way. Often, references to modern archaeological excavations are wedged into the text. There are also a very large number of footnotes that do not explain the text and are only useless confirmations of what has been said with links to other books and scientific works.

Worldbuilding. Rating 4
The description of civilizations in the first chapters of the book is well done. For example, I was interested to learn about the Hittite campaigns against Cyprus or about the ancient city of Ugarit. The book also talks about underwater archeology, which gave historians a lot of different data.

Conclusion. Overall rating 3
This study makes it possible to form an initial picture of the crisis of the Bronze Age.
Profile Image for José Luís  Fernandes.
85 reviews34 followers
July 23, 2017
In this book, Eric H. Cline goes beyond just analizing the Bronze Age collapse to see it as a part of wider process in the development of international relations in the Bronze Age in the 15th-12th centuries B.C., which he argues that led to an interconnected world where the disruption in one part could affect the whole and to a high level of complexity in which , helping to explain thereby this collapse.

In doing this, the author employs a very readable and entertaining writing style and makes the general reader (here, a bit of my position, although the Bronze Age was a bit of passion for me when a child, so I knew the basics of the era) very interested on this world whose traces are so elusive, yet fascinating. Also, and a bit more to the point regarding content, not only does Cline employ system and complexity theories in order to understand the issue, but also avoids falling into the trap still quite common among archaeologists of attributing almost every single trace of destruction to the Sea Peoples, instead also giving weight to other players like the old established powers themselves, Israelites, the Kashka, internal dissentions and natural factors like climate change* here following pretty much the evolution of the field, and allows space for a quite complex scenario of collapse, where some areas resist longer than others and some where the decline is much less serious, like Egypt (at least compared to Greece). It also has the bonus of being concise in a matter where doing otherwise is more likely to give space to too much speculation and would not add much.

On the mixed side, I don't like the overblown and modernizing speech on the introduction of the book and at some of its pages, where it looks like Cline is overblowing reasonable comparisons with the modern world in both the role of natural resources and international relations (for instance, quite amazing how the Egyptian pharaohs hosted meetings with foreign kings and even ministers of other Empires, sometimes in group, where it would be reasonable to think of the G8 or something like that) in order to make the book more sensationalist, making it thereby sell more copies. I might see the relevance of thinking about past systems in order to understand our own, but not sure it is in the exact way as sometimes Cline makes, and it is sad to see this kind of sensationalism around (some might be nice conference jokes at best, but not exactly things to be written...). An example of this:

"The economy of Greece is in shambles. Internal rebellions have engulfed Libya, Syria, and Egypt, with outsiders and foreign warriors fanning the flames. Turkey fears it will become involved, as does Israel. Jordan is crowded with refugees. Iran is bellicose and threatening, while Iraq is in turmoil. AD 2013? Yes. But it was also the situation in 1177 BC, more than three thousand years ago, when the Bronze Age Mediterranean civilizations collapsed one after the other, changing forever the course and the future of the Western world. It was a pivotal moment in history—a turning point for the ancient world."

There are also a few objections I have at some points. First of all, the author presents a lot of urban archaeology and approaches very well trading links in this era, but it seems as if he thinks the mainstay of Bronze Age economies was trade, where it might be more reasonable to think of agriculture much like in other pre-industrial societies. In this way, I found the lack of discussion of rural contexts and the focus on palatial elites quite wanting and I wonder to which point a greater focus on rural populations and its evolution from the Bronze into the Iron Ages might give a different picture of things. Of course, he's far from the only author to do this (it's basically the classic approach), but this is no excuse.

Another bone of contention I have is his approach to systems and complexity, where one failure might give rise to a cascade of other failures, leading to collapse. Here, I must make the critique the author and those he's following simply forget that complex systems, whether we talk about the economy, international relations or even the human body, have redundancy mechanisms which at least may minimize losses in case something goes wrong somewhere. That's why famines, droughts, disruptions of trade routes or invasions only by themselves might not work in toppling civilizations or at least its elites, but a series of them together may present a formidable challenge to them: the system's attempts to return to an equilibrium are frustrated. That's a point I think the author misses and ends up affecting his views on the topic.

Overall, a nice work to read about the issue for those uninitiated, those wanting to have a bit of fun with the topic while reviewing and perhaps updating themselves on the topic or people interested in the history of international relations, the application of the theory of systems in history or collapses. If that's your goal, then it may be rewarding to read this.

* No, this is not as inspired by the modern world as it might look at first sight, since droughts and variations of climate have been discussed in this and other areas before modern climate change became known and went to the fore publically. Another examples of such discussions in a field I'm more familiar with are the explanations for the growth in medieval Europe in the 11th-13th centuries or the bad years of harvests in the 14th/15th centuries, or even the role of climate in Late Antiquity!
Profile Image for Ralph Mazza.
16 reviews1 follower
November 7, 2019
If you're a fan of history, particularly ancient history, this book is a must read. It is an up to date survey of our current knowledge around that period of time when the Bronze Age was transitioning into the Iron Age, commonly known as the Bronze Age Collapse.

The book is organized into 5 chapters that begin several centuries before the collapse as the ancient world was starting to become more internationally connected with each other, a golden age of eastern mediterranean globalization; effectively setting the stage for what was to come. In this section the book explores hundred of documents that detail lists of trade goods, requests between kings, and a variety of mercantile and diplomatic correspondence. It also looks at the archaeology and various goods (particularly pottery) in a given location that came from several places around the ancient world; as well as ship wrecks that show the vessel had made a number of stops to pick up a variety of trade goods.

The next section details the variety of possible causes for the collapse and surveys both what prior thinking has been as well as what current evidence suggests. The causes range from devastating invasions by foreign "Sea Peoples" to drought, famine, earth quakes, and internal upheaval. Each of these is examined in turn with a look at the archaelogical record from a variety of sites that show they were diminished, destroyed, or abandoned at about this time to see what the evidence says about why.

The conclusion avoids staking any claim as to what the "real cause" was, instead going down the more more likely road that any one of these things on their own was a survivable event, but that dealing with all of them in rapid succession destablized a complex system past the point of recovery.

While sticking to factual reporting, the writing moves along at a good clip without being dry, and the subject matter is fascinating enough that, as history books that rely primarily on archaeology go, its a fun easy read.
Profile Image for Tim Robinson.
641 reviews54 followers
September 5, 2018
Civilisation collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age. Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East, a great many palaces were destroyed and cities abandoned, and in some states central organisation and even literacy vanished. The process took several generations, and different cities died in different ways.

All attempts to find a coherent and compelling explanation have failed; this book is no exception! The traditional view is to blame the "Sea Peoples": a group whose origins, composition, organisation, numbers, technology and motivation are all a complete mystery. The only thing that is know for sure about them is that they were repulsed from Egypt and set up the Philistine state. It is surprising, then, how little attention this book gives to the Philistines themselves. Cline largely debunks this view but offers nothing substantial in its place. Drought, earthquakes, financial crisis, "system failure" (a meaningless buzzword)? But none of this explains why the civilisations were not immediately rebuilt.

There are three very good theories that are completely missing from Cline's survey.

1. The whole Near East was ravaged by a disease: a human disease like the Black Death which ravaged medieval Europe; a livestock disease like rinderpest which destroyed the native kingdoms of Africa and created the opportunity for European colonies in the 19th century; a crop disease like the Irish potato famine.

2. The Sea Peoples were indeed the main culprits. They were recruited in huge numbers as mercenaries and then fell out with their employers. This is what brought the Saxons to England, and destroyed the Byzantine Empire in the Fourth Crusade.

3. Civilisation did not collapse at all. There is merely a gap in the archeological record that may yet be plugged.

So we are left with decent description of the Late Bronze Age but are no nearer understanding why it ended.
Profile Image for Roberto.
132 reviews19 followers
August 18, 2016
Buena muestra de como una obra puede ser didáctica sin dejar de ser rigurosa. Cline enumera las distintas hipótesis que pudieron llevar al colapso de las civilizaciones de la Edad del Bronce tardía argumentándolas según los últimos hallazgos e investigaciones (textuales, arqueológicos, geológicos, biológicos,…) pero sin aseverar nada que no esté lo suficientemente comprobado. Aún así, arriesga y ofrece posibles nuevas vías de investigación y enfoques novedosos con la honestidad de señalar siempre quienes han sido los primeros en formularlos. El hecho de buscar paralelismos, sea sólo como referencia y sin profundizar en ello pues sería tema de otra obra, con la época actual, lejos de trivializar los hechos anima a la reflexión y a ponderar como pudieron sentirlos y valorarlos las personas que los vivieron. Al fin y a la postre “la historia no consiste en pensar en gente que murió hace tiempo sino en gente que vivió hace tiempo”(“Hijos de Homero”. Bernardo Souvirón. Alianza Editorial 2006, pág 246).
Profile Image for 11811 (Eleven).
662 reviews139 followers
March 17, 2015
Do you know how many people were named King Ramses Tut the something followed by nine other syllables I cannot pronounce without modifying my tongue with a scalpel?

Me either! But there were quite a few.

This was boring. It didn't really get into the macro-history (is that a word?) until the last 10% and the conclusion was basically "we don't know what the fuck might have happened. 50 years of earthquakes may have had an impact but we're still looking into it."

Keep looking into it. Write another book. I'll read it.
Profile Image for Jenia.
413 reviews101 followers
September 25, 2019
4.5 stars! Really an excellent book. I prefer reading nonfiction via audio, but this one I should prob have read in written form tbh because I did get totally confused with all the Bronze Age kings and empires eventually. I should reread it sometime. Really recommend it to anyone interested in the Bronze Age, and to anyone interested in how complex interconnected civilisations might come to an end. (So you can have one more thing to be mildly paranoid about irl.)
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