The End of the Bronze Age Part II
During the Reign of Rameses II son, Merneptah (c. 1215 B.C.E.) both the Libyan and sea peoples made major attacks on Egypt which if the Egyptian accounts are anything to go by were beaten off with serious difficulty. Merneptah’s various records complain about corrupt and bad officials. After Merneptah's death the 19th Dynasty went into a severe crisis and shortly afterwards came to an end, with much corruption, bad harvests, intrigue. In fact a scribe looking back at this time period records the following for the period after Merneptah's death:
The land of Fgypt was cast a drift, every man being a law unto himself , and they had no leader for many years - empty years when Irsu, a Syrian [Chancellor Bay], was chief having set the entire land in subjugation before him; each joined his neighbour in plundering their goods and they treated the gods like people and no one dedicated offerings in the temples...1
The downward slide continued so that by about 970 B.C.E., the independent Libyan chieftains of the Nile Delta where powerful enough that one of them was able to seize Tanis and proclaim himself Pharaoh and have the title recognized throughout Egypt. Egypt was never to recover from the crisis.3
In about 1200 BCE Egyptian control of Cannan began to seriously slip we know that Merneptah was forced to campaign in Cannan to restore Egyptian control.
For example an Inscription from his reign contains the following:
The princes are prostrate, saying: "Mercy!"
Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.
Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;
Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified;4
That he faced coalitions of enemy cities and attacks by the Sea-Peoples advancing along the coast from the north. Shortly after that, in the period 1200 BCE - 1150 BCE the following cities were sacked Akko, Megiddo, Bethel, Lachish, Gaza, Ashod, Ashkelon Deir Allia, Hazor, Tannach. This list is not complete. Certain cities did not fall, such as Jerusalem. About 1160 - 1140 BCE the Pelest, from Crete and Cyprus settled in the cities of Philistina, i.e., Gaza, Gezer Ashkelon, and formed a confederation and becoming the Philistines. In the north of Philistina the Danu settled. And near Akko the Tjeker occupied the city of Dor.
In the interior and in the highlands the local peoples, composed of farmers, refugees, and immigrants, some perhaps from Egypt formed a tribal confederacy called Israel based on a rejection of rule by the city state and based on tribal system of defence and support. Israel was apparently in existence by 1200 BCE and is recorded by Pharaoh Merneptah has being one of Egypt's enemies that he crushed. The Israelite confederation was engaged in fighting with some of remaining Canaanite city states, in alliance with some of the rest.
The conquest narratives in the Bible are problematic in that they record the destruction of cities that were not sacked at this time, and it does not record the sack of cities that were sacked at this time. In fact in the entire conquest narrative only Hazor is mentioned as being destroyed in the North. In the south various cities like Debir, which was not occupied, are claimed to be destroyed. Other cities like Gaza are claimed destroyed by Israel when in fact it appears that the Sea-Peoples sacked them.
It appears from the Books of Joshua and Judges that this was a confusing period in which the tribal confederacy operated as way of providing both security and stability. In about 1020 B.C.E., Saul was chosen has the first King of Israel to lead the fight against the Philistines after words David would become King (c. 1000 B.C.E.)
Israel under David and his son Solomon flourished briefly during this period (c. 1000-940 B.C.E.) in which Babylonia, Egypt, the Hittite empire, and Assyria was laid low. After Solomon's death Israel was divided into two kingdoms soon to be threatened by the reviving power of both Egypt and Assyria.
Born with the Tribal confederacy is a belief system, or religion; forged under conditions of crisis and the loss of faith in conventional modes of belief; it will change our world radically in the future. These developments will take centuries to come about.5
The history of Syria during this time is still a bit unclear but a general pattern of events is clearly known.
In about 1250 B.C.E., archaeological remains indicate the beginning of a decline in trade. Some cuneiform tablets indicate an increase in piracy and raids. At this time most of Syria was controlled by the Hittite Empire, which was having increasing problems maintaining control over its subject peoples. About 1200 - 1150 B.C.E. a wave of destruction swept over Syria. During those years the cities of Kadesh, Carchemish, and Aleppo among many others were sacked along with other cities and numerous smaller sites. The great seaport of Ugarit the most important Phoenician seaport was sacked along with cities on the island of Cyprus.
Shortly afterwards migrants from Asia Minor settled in much of northern Syria, establishing their own city states upon the ruins of the devastated old cities. These city states are called Neo-Hittite because of their cultural and linguistic links with the old Hittite Empire. By about 1000 B.C.E. these city states were established and were engaged in a series of fratricidal wars for local supremacy. Shortly after 900 B.C.E. they would be threatened by a reviving Assyrian Empire.
Aside from migrants from Asia Minor large numbers of Arameans, a semi pastoral people, had moved in from the desert fringes of the Fertile Crescent and settled large areas of Syria. In the coastal regions the southern Phoenician cities of Sidon, Byblos and Tyre were able to weather the storm, although some inscriptional evidence indicates that Tyre for example may have been besieged 3 or more times. It appears that the Phoenician city-states were able to take over what was left of trade in the Mediterranean. The Phoenician monopoly of trade would last for centuries, well past the end of the crisis. Only the rise of the Greeks has trading rivals after 800 B.C.E. would that begin to change.
This period also saw the large scale settlement of Greeks onto the island of Cyprus.6
In the aftermath large numbers of the people of central Asia Minor abandoned their homes and moved south, over a long period of time, into northern Syria.
Some time between about 1150 - 1100 B.C.E. invaders began to settle former frontier provinces of the empire and threaten the Assyrian empire. About 1000 B.C.E. the Phrygians moved into central Asia Minor from Thrace in Europe and set-up the kingdom of Phrygia, famous for the story of King Midas. Shortly afterwards the Lydians set-up the kingdom of Lydia near the Aegean coast of Asia Minor.7
The inscribed tablets found in various palaces in Greece, (Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae etc.) give very few hints about the approaching disaster. It appears that trade was being disrupted and declining in the period 1250 -1200 B.C.E. Further about 1250 B.C.E., the palace at Thebes was destroyed only to be rebuilt almost at once.
The tablets at Pylos record the existence of an apparent threat from the sea, (raiders it appears and a concern with collecting revenue also). Further a wall was built across the Isthmus of Corinth linking the Peloponnese with the mainland.
About 1200 - 1150 B.C.E., most of the palaces were destroyed for example Thebes, Pylos, and Knossos. The fortresses of Mycenae and Tiryns were able to survive although the area outside the walls was devastated. In Ionia (Aegean coast of Asia Minor), the cities of Miletus and Troy were sacked. In fact it appears that the sack of Troy about this time inspired the Epic poem the Iliad.
After this wave of destruction much of Greece was severely depopulated and a large portion of the population moved to Ionia and Cyprus in the centuries which followed.
Literacy vanished in this period (1150 - 1100 B.C.E.) and virtually all building activity stopped. In about 1050 B.C.E. the Dorians moved in from central Greece into the Peloponnese and later into Crete and nearby islands. During this time period or shortly before the fortresses of Tiryns and Mycenae were sacked. During the entire period of the crisis Athens was able to successfully survive.
Greece disintegrated into a collection of petty city states, trade collapsed and what was left of it fell into the hands of Phoenician merchants. This was the "Heroic" age of Greek history that provided the inspiration for Homer's Epics the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Palace cultures never revived. The new emerging Greek culture would centre not on palaces but on the "Polis", or city state with its institution of rule through various types of communal rule.
By 900 B.C.E., signs of reviving trade, settlement and building activity are present in Greece. The new emerging Greek culture would exercise a profound influence on our world of today.8
Assyria represents in some respects a anomaly. The initial period of the crisis saw an expansion of Assyrian power into Syria as both Egypt and the Hittite empire retreated from Syria and the Hittite empire collapsed. Unlike both Egypt and the Hittite empire to say nothing of Mycenaean Greece, the records of Assyria are comparatively quite abundant.
What the records reveal is continual campaigning by one Assyrian Monarch after the other. Including wars with Babylonia and with the various peoples who had occupied the former Hittite empire. These conflicts started c. 1200 B.C.E. Assyrian kings were able to campaign to the Mediterranean until about 1080 B.C.E., despite this the Assyrian kings were unable to secure either control or security. We know that Assyria was distracted by wars with both migrating peoples from the north and with Babylonia.
The wars were continuous has Assyria was forced to fight peoples migrating from the North. We know that c. 1175 B.C.E. Assyria had to fight off a major invasion from the North. Despite apparent success with Assyrian armies frequently advancing to the Mediterranean, the Assyrians had to deal with the same problems over and over again, conquering and re-conquering territories, while in the heart land of Assyria harvests declined and civil strife was common.
After a last spasm of effort c. 1075 B.C.E. Assyria went into dramatic decline. During the preceding period, (c. 1200 - 1075 B.C.E.) large numbers of Aramean semi-pastoral had been infiltrating into Syria and Assyria and Babylonia presenting a continual threat to Assyrian control. Any solution was only temporary during this period. From 1075 - 900 B.C.E. most of northern Mesopotamia was lost to the Arameans who pressed Assyria from the west by c. 900 B.C.E. Assyria was a small beleaguered kingdom confined to a 50 mile stretch of the Tigris river only about 30 miles across.
Despite the decline shortly after 900 B.C.E. Assyria would quite spectacularly revive.9
Unlike Assyria the records of Babylonia are fragmentary and sparse during this time period. We know that beginning about 1200 B.C.E. Aramean semi-pastoralists began to infiltrate into Babylonia and that harvests began to decline. The Kassite dynasty which had ruled Babylonia for over 300 years was in terminal decline beset by wars with Assyria and Elam, famine, unrest and economic decline. c. 1140 B.C.E. the Elamites sacked Babylonia. A period of confusion followed during which Nebuchadnezzar I established a new dynasty and defeated Elam. (c. 1125 B.C.E.)
Shortly after Babylonia began engaged in debilitating wars with Assyria and was unable to cope with continuous economic decline and the Arameanian infiltration of Babylonia. By 1050 the Babylonian state had disintegrated into competing city states many controlled by Arameanian Kings with large scale Arameanian settlement. The nadir of all this was reached in about 900 B.C.E. when from the sources we have it appears that much of Babylonia was abandoned and many of her cities in partial ruin. A revival of central rule was shortly to begin.10
The Kingdom of Elam was able to take advantage of the beginning of the crisis to sack Babylonia but was unable to escape defeat by a reviving Babylonia. Meanwhile and after Elam was beset by migrating peoples from the north. We have only poor records from this time period in Elam it appears that Elam was beset by chronic and severe internal problems and simply unable to take advantage of either Assyria's or Babylonia's problems. Elam was not a factor in Middle Eastern politics until after 900 B.C.E.
In other parts of Iran the evidence seems to indicate a significant population loss in the period c. 1200 - 1000 B.C.E. followed by a recovery. At the same time several peoples from the northern part of Iran moved to the south and east.11
The traditional date of the Aryan invasions of India is c. 1500 B.C.E. Traditionally they have also been credited (or discredited) with destroying the Indus Civilization. It now appears that the Indus civilization collapsed a few centuries before the Aryans arrived and that the Aryan invaders came in waves one of those waves, in fact the main one, seems to have been c. 1200 - 1000 B.C.E. It has been recently claimed that this wave was in fact the only wave of invaders. This event was one of the turning points of the history of India because it brought to India many of the basic ideas that would develop into Hinduism.12
In China this period c. 1200 - 1050 B.C.E. saw the decline and fall of the Shang dynasty of China, which was afflicted by internal strife, failing harvests according to both traditional history and oracle bone inscriptions. (Tortoise shells on which questions would be inscribed for divination purposes) About c. 1050 B.C.E., the Chou a people from the west who had set up their own kingdom c. 1200 B.C.E. overthrew the Shang and established the Chou dynasty that would govern China both in reality and nominally for 800 years. This period would see the establishment of "Classic" Chinese civilization.13
In Europe this period c. 1200 - 900 B.C.E., saw the expansion of the "Tepe" people from central Germany / Poland area of Europe. The Tempe people were the ancestors of the Celts who would eventually spread all over Europe from Thrace to Spain.
It also appears that various peoples from Asia Minor and Thrace moved into Italy and Spain. For example the Sikels migrated to Sicily from either the Balkans or Asia Minor. The Sharhkans migrated from Libya to Sardinia, (this is controversial)
In comparison with the time period before and after the period c. 1200 - 900 B.C.E., seems to have unusual for the amount of disruption and population movement in Europe.14
Consequences and Conclusions
For the West the crisis of c. 1200 - 900 B.C.E., was instrumental in the formation of the two dominant cultures that form its foundations Greece and Israel. Without the crisis it is hard to believe that the Religion of Israel that would exercise such a profound influence would have developed. As for Greece. Until the crisis the Greek culture was basically a variant on the palace cultures of the Middle East, now it would change into a different mold different enough from other cultures to exercise in a different way from Israel a profound influence on all of us.
In the rest of the world the crisis also had an influence by for example in China inaugurating the rule of the Chou dynasty brought changes into Chinese thought not just a change of dynasty including the concept of the mandate of heaven, and in India the Aryans who arrived during this time brought both to India basic Hindu concepts like Karma.15
We have been living in the world created by the crisis ever since.
1. Ancient Lives, John Romer, Phoenix Press, London, 1984, p. 58. Romer is quoting a scribe who wrote many years after the death of Merneptah.
2. Ibid. pp. 168-176. Gives some details about the chaos that hapenned during the Year of the Hyenas".
3. The End of the Bronze Age, Robert Drews, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1993, pp. 18-21, Out of the Desert, William H. Stiebing Jr., Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, 1989, pp. 178-182, The Ancient Near East, vol. 2, Amelie Kuhrt, Routledge, London, 1995, pp. 285-393, The Rise of the West, William H. McNeil, University of Chicago Press, Chicago ILL, 1963, pp. 113-120, A History of Egypt, James Henry Breasted, Bantam Books, New York, 1964, pp. 389-448, The Sea Peoples, N. K. Sandars, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, pp. 105-137.
4. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, James B. Pritchard, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1969., pp. 378,.
5. Stiebing, pp. 189-202, Drews, pp. 15-17, Sandars, pp. 157-174, Kuhrt, pp. 401-456, The Tribes of Yahweh, Norman K. Gottwald, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY, 1979. Who were the Early Israelites and Where did They Come From?, William G. Dever, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Cambridge, 2003, pp. 153-189, What did the Biblical Writers know and When Did They Know it?, William G. Dever, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2001, pp. 97-157.
6. Kuhrt, pp. 401-418, Sandars, pp. 139-155, Drews, pp. 13-15, Stiebing, pp. 175, 178.