The Bronze Age Collapse: History & Concept

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the Bronze Age Collapse, one of the most tumultuous time periods in ancient history. Characterized by a fast and marked decrease in urban life, the Collapse set many civilizations back several centuries.

Ghost Towns

Have you ever driven through a 'ghost town?' Usually caused by factors such as local industries collapsing or natural disasters, what few ghost towns we have in America are eerie to witness. You might see empty houses, boarded-up shops and recently deserted streets.

Well, if you were traveling around the Mediterranean or in the Middle East in the tenth century B.C., many of the towns you encountered would have been ghost towns! This abandonment of cities and the general collapse of urban life that took place in the eleventh century B.C. is known by historians as the Bronze Age Collapse.

What Exactly is the Bronze Age Collapse?

Shortly before the Collapse, in the twelfth century B.C., the Mediterranean regions experienced what some historians typify as a golden age; Mycenaean Greek city-states thrived, the Hittite and Egyptian Empires had reached a peaceful stalemate in the Fertile Crescent region, and the Syrian kings had expanded their territory into Asia Minor.

In the eleventh century, all of this changed. The economies on which many city-states depended fell apart, cities were sacked by foreign invaders and never rebuilt, and urban societies and cultures, once so vibrant, generally faded away.

For example, archaeological evidence has shown that at about this time, the practice of nomadic pastoralism, which had been steadily declining for centuries, experienced a sharp rise. Cities like the Hittite capital of Hattusas, the Mycenaean port of Pylos, and the Syrian port of Ugarit were left to ruin after invaders ransacked the cities. Most city-dwelling families, over time, moved back to the countryside and took up more rudimentary lifestyles such as herding animals and subsistence farming. Furthermore, palace culture and the fostering of cultural pursuits such as writing, advanced pottery, and artwork virtually disappeared as a result of the Collapse.

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