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The Late Bronze Age Collapse

Updated: Feb 23, 2022


The Late Bronze Age Collapse, often referred to as the Mycenaean Palatial Civilization Collapse, was a period of time – roughly between the years of 1250-1000 B.C. - that was violent, and catastrophically disruptive to cultures, social systems, government institutions, languages, ethnic identities, trade routes, literacy, and technologies.

During these years, all of the large urban centers and governing systems of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and most of Southwestern Asia, collapsed – leaving behind, after a period of turmoil and mass migration, the isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages. This period of time saw the end of the various Mycenaean Kingdoms of the Mediterranean, the Hittite Empire, and the New Kingdom of Egypt.

During this period, many cities were violently destroyed. Some never repopulated, such as Hattusas and Mycenae, and others walled themselves off in defensive posture. As the historian Robert Drews noted:

It was “the worst disaster in Ancient History, even more

calamitous than the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.”

Many explanations of these events have been proposed, mostly focused on one state or on the Eastern Mediterranean by itself. Invasions and migrations, social revolutions, and ecological disasters have all been suggested as the main causes for the collapse of the states.

Since all these explanations have some foundation in the historical record, we may conclude that a variety of causes was probably at the root of the changes. Military clashes and social rebellions may have been the main reason for the destruction of individual sites. What made each separate cause more important was that it contributed to the unraveling of an entire system that had characterized the region and had provided its stability from 1500-1200 B.C. The states had not existed in isolation, but had been closely tied to one another. The contacts between them had been vital for maintaining their internal organizations. The interruption of those contacts had a fundamental impact on all of them.

When the Hittite state disappeared, the Syria-Palestine region underwent turmoil and Egypt was cut off from Asia. It had no other equals with whom to interact, as Babylonia and Assyria were out of reach. Trade and diplomatic exchanges ceased, leaving Egypt blind to events in the north. The country had substantial resources of its own, so it could survive, but the international system that had supported its palace elites was gone. Similarly, the eastern states of Assyria, Babylonia, and Elam were reduced to a small international system with only the three of them as participants.

The Mediterranean Sea and Egypt were no longer accessible, and trade routes were cut. The absence of this wide geographical infrastructure led to their own disintegration, which allowed new people to control the areas between them and further isolate them from one another. No one power filled the vacuum created by the decline of these states, enabling new groups and lower social strata to gain control. When we talk about collapse of the states, we should not imagine that everyone suffered. There was a rearrangement of power, and large parts of the populations of the Near Eastern states may have benefited from the newfound freedom.