The Year Civilization Collapsed
by Eric H. Cline. 264 pages.
Princeton University Press, 2014. $29.95.
Reviewed by Richard A. Gabriel
This book is the first in a series—Turning Points in Ancient History—that will continue the tradition established by author-scholar Michael Grant: Creating “accessible books” for a general audience written by leading scholars and covering the “crucial events and key moments in the ancient world…that deserve more attention.” The series does not confine itself to the Greco-Roman world, as did most of Grant’s work. This larger area of interest is to be welcomed, since so much of the history of the ancient world before the rise of Greece is mostly unknown to nonscholars.
The author, Eric Cline, certainly qualifies as a leading historian in the field, as his previous works on Megiddo and Thutmose III amply demonstrate. In 1177 BC Cline sets out to explain why the large, complex societies of the late Bronze Age—Egyptian, Hittite, Babylonian, Mitannian, Cypriot, and Mycenaean—all “suddenly collapsed” between 1200 to 1100 BC. Cline chooses 1177 BC, the year Ramses III defeated the Sea Peoples, as a turning point in a series of events—earthquakes, climate change, droughts, famines, internal rebellions, and invasions—that all came together. The upheaval lasted for more than a century and destroyed the social, diplomatic, and economic order that tied these societies together.
This story is not new, having been told by Robert Drews (The End of the Bronze Age, 1993) and Nancy Sandars (The Sea Peoples, 1985). Cline’s contribution is to extend these seminal works by including and analyzing all the relevant material brought to light in the last two decades and to tell an engaging tale. His extensive presentation of source materials in the footnotes and bibliography of 1177 BC makes the book extremely valuable for scholars, yet he explains the complexities of his subject in language easily understandable by general readers.
Richard A. Gabriel is the author of 50 books, including Hannibal: The Military Biography of Rome’s Greatest Enemy and Philip II of Macedonia: Greater Than Alexander.