1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed*

When Civilisation Collapsed

The Histocrat (2019)

Film Review

I have always been morbidly fascinated by ancient history, largely because most public schools refuse to teach it. I wanted to major in ancient history at university but was scared off by the surplus of PhD cab drivers in the late sixties.

This intriguing documentary concerns a four-century “dark age” in the late Bronze Age between 1200 and 800 BC. It began when four powerful empires collapsed more or less simultaneously. Because literacy also collapsed, there is no written history describing this period. Thus nearly everything we know about it is based on archeological evidence and oral history Homer captured in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The four Bronze Age Empires that collapsed are Egypt, the Hittite empire (in Asia Minor), the Mycaenean empire (Greece), and the Assyrian empire (in Mesopotamia).

For several centuries prior to their demise, these prehistoric empires battled each other on their borders and traded territory back and forth.

Since the late 19th century, most historians have blamed their collapse on an invasion by mysterious “Sea Peoples.” However as laid out in this documentary, except at Troy (aka Ilium, aka Wilusa), there is no archeological evidence supporting a major military invasion.**

Based on contemporary archeological evidence, the film argues that a combination of natural disasters (earthquakes, droughts and famines) internal revolts, and a surge in sea piracy*** is a more likely explanation.

By the time written language reappeared in the 8th century BC, a number of new tribes and languages had appeared. Athenian and Dorian tribes had migrated into Greece, Phoenicians and Philistines had migrated into the Levant,**** the new kingdom of Lydia had expanded to cover most of Asia Minor. Assyria would ultimately expand to become the largest empire the world had seen.

*Professor Eric H. Cline’s book 1187 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed is credited as a main source for this documentary.

**According to archeological evidence, the Greco-Trojan war most likely occurred between 1300 and 1200 BC.

***All four empires were dependent on Mediterranean trade, especially for copper (from Asia Minor and Cyprus) and tin (from Afghanistan and the Balkans) needed to make bronze.

****Area including modern day Syria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.


How Britain’s Bronze Age Created the UK’s First Wealthy Elite

The World of Stonehenge – Part 4 The Age of Bronze

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 4 is about Britain’s Bronze Age, which began about 2,200 BC. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Archeological evidence suggests the first British copper came from western Ireland. It was transported to Britain to be combined with Cornish tin to make bronze.

Skeletal DNA evidence suggests that Irish copper and Cornish tin were discovered by European metal prospectors who taught the British how to extract copper and tin from ore, combine the molten metals to craft tools weapons and jewelry.

Copper alone is no stronger than the greenstone used for Stone Age tools and must be combined with tin to produce strong and durable swords and axe heads. The film contains fascinating shots of metallurgists reproducing the ancient technologies used to smelt copper and tin and combine them to make bronze.

The discovery of metallurgy in Britain led to the development of an entire industry made up of metal workers, metal traders and middlemen who controlled the main trade routes. It also created the opportunity for some families to become ostentatiously rich, as they acquired bronze tools (poor people could only afford stone tools) and gold and jet* jewellery. Because tin was relatively scarce, by 2,000 BC Britain was setting fashion trends for the rest of Europe.

Prior to the Bronze Age, there is no evidence of permanent settlement in Britain – farmers typically worked fields and pastures until they exhausted the soil and moved on. However beginning in 2,220 BC, Britons began building permanent dwellings (single room Bronze Age roundhouses) that could last as long as 1,000 years. The first evidence of villages also dates to this period.

Despite the clear emergence of a wealthy elite during the Bronze Age, skeletal remains reveal no evidence of a malnourished underclass.

*Jet is a type of lignite, a precursor to coal, a gemstone of organic, rather than mineral, origin.