cover image After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations

After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations

Eric H. Cline. Princeton Univ, $32 (352p) ISBN 978-0-691-19213-0

Historian Cline follows up 1177 B.C., his bestselling study of the end of the Bronze Age, with a sweeping account of what came next. Picking up immediately after a “megadrought” resulted in broken trade networks, mass migrations, and political crises that caused the collapse of the ancient Mediterranean’s interconnected civilization, Cline moves on to recount how various remnants adapted. In Egypt, the reduction of the Nile’s flow due to drought caused economic slowdown and ultimately a loss of military might, leading to an era of coups and intrigues. Meanwhile, Greece underwent the collapse of the palace system that epitomized Homeric society; Cline notes that its demise “may have actually freed” regular people “from a tremendous burden.” The Assyrians and Babylonians proved more resilient; hit by “drought, famine, and plague,” they repeatedly bounced back. But it’s the innovative Phoenicians, Cline suggests, who really flourished in a freer, less hierarchical world order. Arising on the Levantine coast in a post-Hittite power vacuum, the Phoenicians were a collection of allied city-states who launched themselves west, establishing trading colonies across the Mediterranean. They brought with them a standardized alphabet (the ancestor of nearly all alphabetic scripts used today) and a game-changing metallurgic invention from Cyprus, iron. Cline distills an immense amount of material into a highly readable narrative that in its conclusion draws startling parallels with contemporary climate change. It’s a dizzying feat of scholarship. (Apr.)