Ten years ago, Dr. Eric Cline wrote a book entitled 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Now, a decade on, he has released as sequel. This one tells how civilization recovered in the centuries after the Bronze Age ended. With this new book, we are now in the Iron Age, which lasted from 1200 BCE to 600 BCE.

Before reviewing the new book, I read the first one. If you are new to this 2-book set it is certainly the only way to really grasp what Cline is presenting. And for those who read his earlier book, it’s a good time to skim through as a refresher. The names of the many of the civilisations, and most the people involved, are not familiar to most readers.

Even if you have taken a course in ancient civilisations there will be many kings and kingdoms that never made the radar. The book begins with a table, listing the names of the kings in the following areas: Assyria, Babylonia, Elam, Carhemish, Kuunlua/Palistin, Sam’al, Urartu, Tyre, Byblos, Damascus, Egypt, Israel, Judah, Moab and Edom. For some of these, our knowledge is very scanty. In both Edom and Moab, for example, the name of only one king is known. Even for Assyria, a major kingdom, our record is a complete blank from 1019 BCE until 934 BCE.

The reason for this gap, and really the reason for nearly everything else that happened in the Bronze and Iron Ages, is little more than guesswork. This is actually the most frustrating thing about these books by Cline. As he stated in the first book, “The end of the Bronze Age empires in the Eastern Mediterranean was not the result of a single invasion or cause, but came about because of multiple incursions and manifold reasons.” Every reason that has been put forward by scholars are given by Cline, but he is unable to rule out any of them with certainty.

One scholar, Joseph Tainter, believes that “sociopolitical collapse is quite a normal occurrence and even to be expected in the general course of the life of most complex societies.” That, naturally, includes us in 2024.

While no scholar can say what really happened, our interpretation of what happened is really what Cline writes about in this new book. He poses a pregnant question on page 4 about the Bronze Age collapse: “Was it really a Dark Age?”  To answer this question “at the heart of our exploration,” Cline asks “What was it like for those living in the aftermath of the Collapse, and how was it different in each of the affected areas?” Along the way towards answering that, Cline fills the book with the history of each area.

Some passages in the book will upset many, so beware. For the Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II (pictured here), for example, “his scribes went to great lengths to describe the barbaric treatment of those he captured during his campaigns.” When he captured the city of Pitura, “I felled 800 of their combat troops and cut off their heads. I impaled on stakes 700 soldiers. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.”

Since the time covered in this book overlaps with that of the Bible, Cline refers to it often. He mentions Jehu, who took over the throne of Israel from 841 to 814 BCE. The so-called Black Obelisk of Shalamaneser III of Assyria comes into play here. It depicts Jehu bowing in front of the Assyrian monarch and presenting him tribute. “Surprisingly,” writes Cline, this “is not mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.” Does it really surprise anyone that those who wrote the Hebrew text decided to suppress the fact that their king bowed down to a foreign king? Cline seems to have lost his sense of realism here. The next king of Assyria also records on a stela that he received “tribute from Joash,” the king of Israel who ruled from 804 to 789 BCE. This, writes Cline, “is also not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.”

As the book draws to a conclusion, Cline gives us a table spanning three pages that describes the resilience of each of the kingdoms under study, over a period of 300-400 years. For this study he adopts an “adaptive cycle” of civilisations that was developed in 2002. Some are fairly easy to describe. In the 12th century BCE, “the Hittite society ends for all intents and purposes in central Anatolia.” For others, we are able to trace them without interruption. In the famous case of Egypt, Cline writes that in the 12th century Egypt was “coping, but not particularly successfully.” In the 11th century, “Problems with resilience continue, especially with political fragmentation,” with some evidence that trade resumed towards the end. In the 10th century, “more resilience was shown, with a return of military might” as well. But in the 9th century, there was another downturn “with rival pharaohs.”

One might find it remarkable, but “not one of these societies left any records that mention specifically that there had been a change in their world system.” Cline’s final conclusion is “We still do not know exactly that brought each of these societies down.” In the age of easy answers, this will satisfy few readers. For those who revel in the messiness of history, these books are for you. As a thorough introduction to human society in the area and eras under study, this book is superb.

There are 5 very helpful pages of maps, 35 pages of detailed Notes, and a remarkably thorough 52 pages of References. There is a typo on Pg. 39: “it is known” should be “is known”

Eric H. Cline is professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University. He is the author of Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology, Digging Deeper: How Archaeology Works; 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed; and(with Glynnis Fawkes) 1177 B.C.: A Graphic History of the Year Civilization Collapsed (all Princeton).

After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations is by Princeton Univ. Press. It lists for $32.

Image: King Ashur-nasir-pal II (centre, holding a bow) of the Assyrian Empire meets a high official during a review of soldiers and war prisoners. From the North-West Palace at Nimrud, about 865-860 BC; now in the British Museum. In the public domain.

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.