The End of the Bronze Age : Another Hypothesis
Robert DREWS, The End of the Bronze Age. Changes in Warfare and
the Catastrophe ca. B.C., Princeton N.J., Princeton University
Press, ISBN Price: $
The events that put an end to most palace civilizations and eventually to the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age itself are much debated by archaeologists and historians for an obvious reason : This is the first essential event in history about which we have some real information and a few written documents. On the other hand our knowledge is insufficient to understand the exact course of things and most important the origin of what happened.
Robert Drews recently supplied us with a new survey of the historical facts and explanations to which he adds his own interpretation.
He divides his book into three parts. The first part is simply called «Introduction», a modest heading for a highly useful survey. In this part he explains what exactly he calls the «Catastrophe» and confines his subject to the physical destruction of cities and palaces. R. Drews surveys these destructions in Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria and the southern Levant, Greece, the Aegean islands and Crete; he also reviews the situation in Mesopotamia and Egypt. In the second part he discusses the various explanations of these destructions : earthquakes, migrations, iron working, drought, system collapse and raiders.
The third and largest part is Drews' own theory, giving a military explanation to the Catastrophe. His thesis is that a radical innovation in warfare gave barbarians the military advantage over the kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, that raiders and city-sackers found a way to defeat the greatest chariot armies of their time.
R. Drews first pays attention to the chariot warfare in the Late Bronze Age : the beginnings of chariot warfare, the numbers and the costs of the chariots, and the use of chariots in battle, with special attention to the battles at Megiddo and Kadesh. In his eyes the first chariots transported bowmen, who attacked the infantry of the enemy at a safe distance. Later chariots attacked chariots, and it became important to have more chariots than the opponent. Large armies therefore disposed of great numbers of chariots, huge costs being the only limiting factor. The chariots were firing-platforms for archers using the composite bow, a conclusion which he himself calls unorthodox. Hereafter he devotes a chapter to the footsoldiers in the Late Bronze Age. They played, according to him, merely a supporting part as «runners». Only in barbarian and often mountainous regions, where chariots could not operate, infantries waged battle. In the thirteenth century infantrymen were mainly recruited among the barbarians. On the other hand the importance of the infantry forces was prominent during the Catastrophe.
Subsequently R. Drews reviews the role of the infantry and horse troops in the Early Iron Age. In that period the cavalry took over most of the tasks of the chariotry while the infantry became the main force.
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Thereafter he enlarges on the changes in armour and weapons at the end of the Bronze Age (corslet, greaves, round shield, javelin, Naue Type ? sword), and devotes the last chapter to the end of chariot warfare in the Catastrophe. In that chapter R. Drews resumes that the changes in armour and weaponry in the decades of the Catastrophe show that the transition from chariot warfare to infantry warfare took place at that time. Chariot warfare ended in the Catastrophe, the raiders and city- sackers having found a way to defeat the greatest chariot armies of the time and this is, R. Drews says, what the Catastrophe is all about. He admits that their large numbers were conducive to their success.
As stated above the first part of this book is very useful. Due to the advanced specialization, only a few archaeologists and historians are able to oversee a period or an event in the entire eastern Mediterranean. The publication of a new survey of the events which happened around B.C., with a recent bibliography, will certainly be welcomed.
The part that discusses the various hypotheses about the end of the palace civilizations is less neutral. The author not only explains them but also rejects them one more convincingly than the other. It offers none the less a very good summary. His rejection of the earthquake theory shall, I believe, not easily be denied itself. This cannot be said, however, of the chapter on migrations. Although R. Drews makes it clear that the Medinet Habu inscription itself gives by no means rise to this theory, he does not exactly sweep away all the arguments of other scholars in favour of a north-east Anatolian provenance of the raiders of the year eight. But none the less he concludes that they came from Palestine and that they were supported by adventurers from Sicily. A link between the raiders and migrations is, however, not so improbable : Anatolians are supposed to have invaded Syria, were they founded the Neo-Hittite kingdoms. Achaians are thought to have arrived in Cyprus at that time (albeit true that there is no unanimity about this), where they certainly, whatever the reason for their departure from Greece was, were a part of the troubles for the original inhabitants, and the Medinet Habu inscription clearly states that those who attacked Egypt were the same that defeated the Hatti and Carchemish (R. Drew uses the translation of Edgerton and Wilson and quotes Yereth and Yeresh, not Arzawa and Alashia, in contrast with N.K. Sandars, who uses the translation of Breasted). After reading this book it is still an open question as to whether the invaders of the year eight were just eager for loot or migrating peoples. R. Drews does not go into the identification of the Ekwesh, he takes it for granted that they were Achaians (and later identifies them as Northern Greeks), without bothering about the problem of their circumcision.
Briefly and with good reason he discusses the iron working theory : the Catastrophe preceded the general spread of iron working. Yet it must kept in mind by any comparison between Bronze Age and Iron Age warfare that iron is not insignificant for warfare evolution : it is much easier to arm large numbers of soldiers heavily with iron weapons than with weapons made of the scarcer and more expensive bronze.
The drought theory, which was never based on strong arguments, is also rejected in a rather short chapter. Even less pages are devoted to the possibility of a system collapse as the cause of the Catastrophe. I believe however that in this case cause and consequence are not always easily distinguished. Is it possible for an almost
THE END OF THE BRONZE AGE : ANOTHER HYPOTHESIS
overorganised system, as the Pylian one, to survive after the departure of the ruling class and its clerks? Or after the destruction of the heart of the system, the palace and its administration? If not, what is the cause : the destruction itself or the vulnerability of the system? If one limits the Catastrophe to physical destruction, as R. Drews does, the answer is of course evident. But it still has to be proven that the destruction of palaces and cities is the very cause of the decline (and of the end of the Bronze Age), as Greek regions where hitherto no considerable destruction was established, show the same pattern of decline and desertion of sites. In Egypt, that escaped the Catastrophe, decline was also imminent. R. Drews advances that in some centres the system survived destruction, but this is not so clear. Life went on, of course, but not necessarily as before : there surely was a considerable difference between the LHT1IC en LHIHB systems in the Peloponnesus.
Finally the writer deals briefly with the raiders theory. He takes the moderate position that raiders operated, but did not produce the Catastrophe.
In the first chapter of the third part R. Drews himself lays his finger on the real blot : «On many questions one can only guess, and since guessing seems unprofessional, historians do as little of it as possible», (p. 98). Unprofessional is not so much our concern, but guessing is not a scientific method; there is, in fact, an obvious contradiction between guessing and the stem of science. The hypothesis is altogether more interesting than convincing. One gets the impression too often that hypotheses are founded on suppositions, and suppositions on guesses. A few weaker points may be mentioned.
R. Drews shows convincingly that the chariotry was the main force of the Late Bronze Age army. This is in line with the point of view of earlier writers, as O. Gurney, who added that it was therefor the object of a campaign of the Hittite army to catch the ennemy's army in the open. Yet, appropriate battlefields may readily be found in Anatolia or near the Egyptian borders, but this could have been much more difficult in some parts of Greece. It is perhaps no coincidence that Homer relates Nestor, king of sandy Pylos, with chariot warfare.
The argument regarding the armament of Hittite and Mycenaean charioteers (p. 1 , ) is a bit odd, as the only contemporary documents we dispose of, depictions, are rejected on speculative grounds. R. Drews shows that bows existed in Greece, but not that they were the weapon of the chariot warrior. But, after all, the armament of the chariots seems not essential to the hypothesis.
How chariots were to be used in battle is extensively explained, but again this seems pure deduction.
An important element of Drews theory is the absence of real infantry battles in the Late Bronze Age, at least between the armies of civilized kingdoms. One should keep in mind however the presence of 17, or 37, Hittite footsoldiers at Kadesh, although in Drews eyes the important fact is that they did not wage battle. Besides he affirms that the Hittite king was often accompanied by more footsoldiers than charioteers (p. ). For him their number is not important, but their task, and that was a subsidiary one. The infantry was only vital on mountainous or rough grounds. Yet it is hard to accept that the great king of Haiti maintained an important infantry and lead these troops to Kadesh knowing that he would not engage them. If the infantry was at Kadesh, it was to battle, if necessary. If one wants to draw a conclusion anyway, it rather should be either that the great king was not certain about the nature of the army of the pharaon, or that he did not know on which terrain he
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would confront him. Drews also deduces that the archives are silent about the infantry, while there is an important number of chariot tablets and horse records; he believes that the reason for this is that in a typical battle there was no engagement of massed infantry (p. ). The question is, however, if the weapons of the footsoldiers were distributed by the palace; if they were owned privately they were beyond the scope of the administration. Here again Drews conclusion is not inevitable. The attention he pays to the runners, footsoldiers who supported the chariotry, is connected with the role he ascribes them in the Catastrophe. So are his remarks on the recruitment of these infantrymen. Those soldiers should have been the aggressors during the Catastrophe and they could only be withstood by strong infantries. Yet the invaders in the eighth year of Ramesses ?? disposed of a limited number of chariots themselves, manned in the Hittite way (which fits better in the theory of an Anatolian origin than in that of a Palestinian one). The Egyptians also engaged chariots; the engagement of chariots in the delta against the landing peoples of the sea would of course have been rather inappropriate.
The contrast R. Drews makes between warfare in the Late Bronze Age and in the Early Iron Age is of course undeniable. The question whether the palace civilizations were overthrown due to the failure of the chariots, or whether the chariotries disappeared as a result of the downfall of the palaces that administered them, is still hard to answer.
R. Drews suggests that the fact that Assyria survived the Catastrophe would be related to its long experience in infantry warfare (p. ). Egypt too engaged infantry troops of the new type and also resisted. As a Mycenaean empire is highly hypothetical, only one large state fell, the Hittite kingdom. The Hittites however had an important infantry and also a long experience in fighting barbarians (among them the Kaskans, who certainly were present in Anatolia some decades after the Catastrophe).
The survey of the changes in armour and warfare in the eastern Mediterranean, the link between both, and the dating of it, are very important. The hypothesis that these changes caused the destruction of cities and palaces and eventually the vanishing of the palace civilizations themselves is interesting, but the argumentation seems too thin to make it more than another hypothesis. R. Drews did make it clear however that they must have played a prominent part in the events that happened around B.C.
Universiteit Gent, Koen VAN GELDER
The Bronze Age Collapse Explained