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The End of the Bronze Age by Robert Drews

The End of the Bronze Age (1993)

by Robert Drews

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The End of the Bronze Age, by Robert Drews, is a good introduction to the catastrophe of the bronze age. The book provides a summary of the events, a map showing the sites, and a critique of the various possible explanations of the cause. Drews also speculates that the cause was a change in tactics and weaponry (an improved sword).

Although the book was written in the mid 1990s, it is still current. The same debate still exists about the cause, with the same possible explanations. ( )
  NLytle | Sep 24, 2012 |
Around the eastern Mediterranean, the end of the Bronze Age was quite dramatic: within the span of just a few decades, the Mycenaean kingdoms and the Hittite empire collapse, as does the Egyptian dominion in the southern Levant, while Egypt itself suffers barbarian invasions from both Libya and Palestine. Many urban centres are burnt, and in Greece and Anatolia societal collapse is such that writing disappears for centuries, and even Egypt enters a period of few inscriptions.

Drews reviews and dismisses a number of previously suggested explanations for this collapse before advancing his own. He finds no evidence for a geological (eg. earthquakes) or climatological (eg. crop failures due to drought) cause acting across the entire region, and dismisses mass migrations by Dorians, Phrygians, or "Sea Peoples" as misreadings of the sources compounded with the 19C tendency to explain much of everything with Völkerwanderungen. His own explanation, then, is that light infantry with swords and javelins, such as had long been used in a subsidiary role in the chariot-based armies of the civilized states, were discovered by marginal groups, probably in northern Greece (outside the Mycenean Greece proper), to be able, used en masse, to defeat chariot forces by themselves. Once this "secret" was out, every barbarian chieftain worth his salt gathered an army of followers armed like this and attempted to sack the nearest civilized city, frequently successfully.

Unfortunately, I find Drews's criticisms of others' hypotheses far more convincing than his own suggestion. If one, as Drews does, accepts that the bronze age chariot was essentially an archery platform, it's hard to see why it should be radically more vulnerable to infantry javelins that later ages' horse archers were. And if it for some reason were, it beggars belief that discovering this should have lagged the introduction of chariotry by centuries.

Nevertheless, I'm happy to have read the book. While I am not convinced by his conclusions, Drews presents lots of interesting data. Whether vulnerable to javelins or not, it's an archaeological fact that chariots virtually disappear from Greece at this time, and become less prominent elsewhere, and new types of weapons, notably new types of swords, are introduced. Clearly, something happened on the military front during the bronze age collapse. Whether one accepts his particular answer he's calling our attention to a question needing one.
2 vote AndreasJ | Jan 20, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691025916, Paperback)

The Bronze Age came to a close early in the twelfth century b.c. with one of the worst calamities in history: over a period of several decades, destruction descended upon key cities throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, bringing to an end the Levantine, Hittite, Trojan, and Mycenaean kingdoms and plunging some lands into a dark age that would last more than four hundred years. In his attempt to account for this destruction, Robert Drews rejects the traditional explanations and proposes a military one instead.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:20 -0400)

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