Book Review: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, by Eric H. Cline. 4.5 out of 5 stars; an interesting overview of the end of the Late Bronze Age. Almost worth it just for the social network diagrams created from the Amarna Letters and the Royal letters in the Ugarit archive, and the map of sites destroyed about 1200 B.C. I mostly just wish it was twice as long!

Full disclosure: I got this book over a year ago, but things went handbasket-wise. So I hadn’t gotten more than about 15 pages in until Hurricane Sally. Meaning much of this was read by cloud-light a few pages at a time between Ominous Creaks and Crashes and gusts of wind stripping branches off trees.

Given this book is about trying to figure out just what happened to end the Late Bronze Age, reading it during a more local disaster was… interesting. That said, this book has all kinds of cool tidbits, like Zimri-Lam, a king of Mari in what’s now Syria, building an icehouse about 1750 B.C. Or Ramses III getting taken out by a Harem Conspiracy in 1155 B.C. – we had the records, but a 2012 x-ray analysis has since shown that someone quite literally cut his throat. Or the idea that tin, supplies of which were absolutely critical to make bronze for armor and weapons, was as much a strategic commodity as crude oil in recent modern history.

And like oil-using nations today, the cultures and empires of the Mediterranean and Near East Late Bronze Age were connected by trade and war, forming a complex system that may have collapsed over years and decades once prolonged drought and earthquake storms affecting one area rippled into others, causing feedback loops to shake the whole civilization apart.

This book’s strength lies mostly in its breadth, covering who was connected to whom, when, why, and where through about four centuries. I’d recommend it to anyone building a fictional world for the examples of how nations and individuals interacted, clashed, and adopted bits of culture and tech from each other. It also gives excellent examples of the kinds of evidence your dungeon-delving adventurers might be able to track down to uncover lost tombs, from legal records to monument inscriptions to treaties written on silver tablets, like the Silver Treaty between Ramses II and Hittite king Hattusili III.

It’s a window into the past, assembled from untold tiny fragments of archaeological info, and the long bibliography in the back promises avenues for further investigation if you want to delve deeper. I intend to reread it in a week or so when the hurricane mess calms down a bit. At the moment I’m just cackling over the bit on p 82 when Ramses II boasts about single-handedly beating back the entire Hittite army, and imagining some wild-eyed grad student in a superhero ‘verse pointing to this as historical evidence for ancient metahumans.

…Why yes, I might put that in the book…. *G*


27 thoughts on “Book Review: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

  1. Picturing scholars of antiquity: “Wait. We have to take all that royal chest-beating seriously?”

    “To be fair, the size of the armies is almost certainly still padded for effect…”

    Liked by 6 people

      1. The problem is that if you gave someone like Hatshepsut a MAGICAL FREAKING AMULET with FREAKING SUPERPOWERS LIKE FLIGHT AND STRENGTH, she would have pushed Egypt even farther. And she would have gone to Punt herself. Heck, she probably would have personally visited a bunch of other rulers, just to mess with them.

        Well, okay, and the other problem was that the backstory was cooler than the TV show, and that Network Standards and Practices made them changed the premise of the TV show away from “superhero does archeology, forensic investigations, and emergency rescues” and into “the heroine is a schoolteacher who has the stupidest, most dangerprone students in California history!” The S and P were worried about kids watching a “scary” or “violent” show, whereas the TV producers knew us Seventies kids were watching Quincy and Emergency reruns every day after school.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Quincy was insane. I mean, the people in Emergency were insane too, but Quincy was really insane.

        The sad thing is that a lot of the Quincy PSAs and political points take me right out of the story as an adult, whereas I ignored them as a kid.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This does sound fascinating!

    At the moment I’m just cackling over the bit on p 82 when Ramses II boasts about single-handedly beating back the entire Hittite army, and imagining some wild-eyed grad student in a superhero ‘verse pointing to this as historical evidence for ancient metahumans.

    …And this reminds me that while I am not wild about a lot of what they’re doing in current Marvel comics, I did snicker at an excerpt where Apocalypse asks some politicians if they know what happened to collapse the Bronze Age civilization and when they say no, takes credit.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. It would also put a strange spin on all the rulers who declare themselves gods.

    There was one Pharaoh that decided everyone should stop worshiping the existing pantheon, and just worship him.

    Later, once they got rid of him, they went back.

    If you add in actual superpowers it could be interesting.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. This is one of the reasons A’akinesh comes from the Hittite empire. Their kings were explicitly not gods. (Unless deified well after death, like Gilgamesh.)

      They were, however, supposed to be of divine descent, magicians by default, and the agents of the gods on earth.

      …This is a much better mindset for trying to fit in with modern superheroes, IMHO.

      (ATM the story also has Neanderthal Atlanteans. And is beginning to develop Jane and A’akinesh’s equally blistering opinions on how Alister Crowley messed up the study of magic for everyone else.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Though there’s always the question of what constitutes “divine.”

        “I am the God of Earth and Stone.”

        “You aren’t a god. You’re a parahuman.”

        “Of course I’m a god. I was born with the power to control the earth with an act of will. What else could that be?”

        “You didn’t create the universe.”

        “Of course I didn’t. What does that have to do with being a god?”

        “You aren’t worshiped.”

        “Well not anymore… but I do hope to get my religion started again. It is nice getting offerings.”

        “I won’t let you start a religion!”

        “Why? Oh, is this a territory thing? Or a pantheon conflict? Look, I understand that you have an established worshiper base. I’ll avoid encroaching on it.”

        “I don’t have any worshipers!”

        “You have an entire ‘Gift Shop’ full of idols and iconography. How is that not a religion? Honestly I’m impressed. This is a much more sophisticated method of getting support than we had in the old days.”

        Liked by 3 people

    2. The Akhenaten thing was partially about all the lands amassed by the temples of the gods. Because of course you want the temples to pray for you, so you give them some of your land close to your grave and endow a priest to live there, along with all his descendants.

      And then at some point, some bright lad got the idea of having the king arrange grain storage, with grain delivery during famines, in exchange for people giving him some of their land. (And yes, possibly this is the Biblical Joseph. And there are some Egyptian inscriptions about really long famines that lasted for years, and came at about the right time; although possibly it’s a legend; but frankly it’s weird that Egyptians would mention a bad event at all.)

      So you get kings (and lords and people who still had land) vs. temples, which is indeed made more complicated because the king is a god and so are a lot of his family members.

      So basically, scholars are torn between “Akhenaten was genuinely pious and sorta monotheistic” (although he didn’t give up his own godhood and that of his family), and “Akhenaten was just doing l’etat c’est moi, except cutting out the gods as well as the temples and the lords.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, tin’s a pretty rare metal in Earth’s crust, and IIRC there was only one source available to the Ancient World, well away to the east.

    There’s not much tin in meteors either, according to 30 seconds with google.

    Wootz steel goes back to at least 600 B.C., so maybe there could be something about ancient spirits trying to help by figuring out how to do something better with iron than the soft steel that dates back to before the 1177 B.C.?

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Things like this always remind me of Japanese swordsmithing techniques and how people constantly praise them for being ridiculously sophisticated and mystical and all that stuff.

        Fact is that ancient Japan didn’t have many good iron deposits accessible – hell, a good chunk of Japanese iron at the time was ‘sand iron’, iron-rich sand collected from seashores. They were that desperate for iron. The vast majority of those mystical folding techniques and such were probably developed specifically to compensate for the poor quality of the local pre and to squeeze out every bit of use from limited resources. If they’d had access to Western Europe-level stocks of iron I’m pretty sure their iron working tech would’ve gone into entirely different directions.

        I’d love to be able to introduce an ancient Japanese master smith to one of those modern blacksmith groups who try to replicate period weaponsmithing techniques with modern equipment and see what he thought.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I’d love to be able to introduce an ancient Japanese master smith to one of those modern blacksmith groups who try to replicate period weaponsmithing techniques with modern equipment and see what he thought.

        Oooh, I know I saw an article where a guy did something like that, historically….


        Dang it, wasn’t quite what I remembered, but you might be interested:

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Well, it’s a really interesting article, but I’m seeing a lot of stuff in it that seems to me to be flipping cause/effect because of the author’s bias, tho I’ll have to see the next article to be sure.

        One of the big things I’m noticing is his position that “iron was cheap (and easy to get), and the only reason other metals were preferred was because it was easier to process them to get better results”, but from what I learned that’s not quite accurate throughout the entire history. Sure, he makes note of it a little bit with his asides about modern metalworking, but then he still goes making claims like “bog iron is nice and pure and good quality” (historically, it was easy to get, true, but it was notoriously poor quality given the limitations of the processing techniques commonly used. you need better furnaces and better chemistry to actually refine it to good quality). He also suggests that the reason iron mines usually just got the “easy” stuff and left the harder stuff was because they got as much as needed with the easy stuff, when what I learned was that the harder stuff was enough more difficult to process that it wasn’t worth the cost (flipped cause/effect).

        That said, it is a nice article for getting all the stuff in one easy place to look, instead of having to search through a bunch of different places for all the details. And the basic data doesn’t seem to be that wrong, even if I think he’s getting some of the “why’s” a little bit off.

        Liked by 1 person

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