Sunday, September 30, 2007

The History of Civilization

Chapter Four: The Collapse of the Bronze Age

All around the tiny kernels of civilization that had appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia by 3000 BC, there lived nearby peoples who were on a lower plane of organization. Once civilization had been achieved, its basic concept became an exportable item. To many of the neighbors the new achievements were highly attractive, for when these people looked at the first civilizations they probably saw the remarkable physical progress, but not the problems which were appearing.

The development of trade seems to have been the most important factor in promoting foreign awareness of the amazing advances in Egypt and Mesopotamia. As economic connections grew, so too did cultural and political ties. Then the Near East experienced great waves of attacks by outsiders, causing civilized societies to decline and setting them on a radically new course. While the great empires fought in an inconclusive fashion, their internal strength was weakening. Egypt, attacked on land and sea under Ramesses III (1182-1151 BC), barely rode out the storm. So too Assyria survived, but lost any capabilities of expansion for the next few centuries.

Life in the eastern Mediterranean was characterized by the almost permanent stress of endemic war. Land, resources, and people were caught up in an ever moving situation of violence and conquest. From minor wars against weaker neighbors to those between powerful kingdoms, no country was ever at rest. A degree of equilibrium did emerge, then this entire world collapsed in the twelfth century BC.

The turmoil that rocked civilization during this period has often been compared in scale to the fall of the Roman Empire. Several reasons have been given for this long and disastrous setback to mankind: cataclysms, crop failure, famine, drought, and mass migrations. One important factor concerns the Sea Peoples: a series of invaders from the Mediterranean, and their overwhelming destructive power. Their arrival signaled the end of high Bronze Age civilization.

To be continued...

If you're interested in this period, there's an outstanding coffee table-style book called The Mediterranean in History, by David Abulafia. Lots of beautiful artwork with explanations, I look through my copy all the time.

No comments: