Book Review: The End Of The Bronze Age

The End Of The Bronze Age:  Changes In Warfare And the Catastrophe CA. 1200 B.C, by Robert Drews

This book is almost perfect, almost, but not quite.  As is all too often the case, a great deal of professional historians like the author are simultaneously dependent on the Bible for critical evidence about ancient history and resentful of that fact and desirous of a way of undercutting the historical value of the Old Testament while simultaneously remaining dependent on it [1].  Were it not for this attitude this book would be entirely praiseworthy as a work, even though it does depend at least somewhat on speculation and is more venturesome than most books of its kind when it comes to seeking an explanation of why it was that the Bronze era of chariot empires in the Levant ended so catastrophically as it did, and caused centuries of dark ages in various places.  This is a work that, like those hordes that swept clean the Middle East and Anatolia and Southern Europe of many cities of high civilization, this book not only promotes a theory but seeks (generally successfully) to sweep the field of a great many theories that have attempted to explain this Bronze Age collapse without invoking the necessity of a profound military explanation.

This book is about 200 pages long and is divided into fourteen chapters.  After a list of illustrations, acknowledgements, and abbreviations, the book begins with a two-chapter introduction (I), where the author discusses the catastrophe at the end of the Bronze Age and its chronology (1) and also provides a survey of that catastrophe in Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria, the southern Levant, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and the Aegean Islands, and Crete (2).  After that the author examines alternate hypotheses to the author’s own for the catastrophe and subjects them to severe criticism (II), such as earthquakes (3), migrations, with a particular look at the evidence from Egyptian sources (4), ironworking (5), drought (6), systems collapse (7), and raiders (8), the last of which the author gives at least partial credit to.  Finally, the author provides a military explanation of the catastrophe (III), prefacing it with cautions (9), discussing the chariot warfare of the Late Bronze Age, including how chariots were used and the battles of Megiddo and Kadesh (10), discussing the role of infantrymen in chariot warfare, their recruitment, and a view of the role of infantry in the catastrophe (11), discussing infantry and cavalry in the early Iron Age that followed (12), discussing the change in armor and weapons in the early Iron Age, including javelins, spears, and lances, as well as swords (13), and discussing the end of chariot warfare in the catastrophe (14), after which there is a bibliography and index.

This book does two things that I think are very interesting and noteworthy as far as speculative history is concerned.  Aside from the author’s lamentable (if predictable) anti-biblical bias, the historian is to be praised for admitting that the evidence for his theories is slight.  To be sure, the evidence is not insignificant, especially when it comes to the technology of swords that are capable of cutting and slashing and the development of a heavy-infantry ethos that made the Bronze Age dependence on expensive chariot archers obsolete.  That said, the author is open about the ignorance that we have about the world of the late Bronze Age, and that honesty is to be celebrated and appreciated, as it makes a concession that some would dare to use against the author’s thesis.  In addition, the author does a good job at carefully reading sources (aside from the Bible, where he inexplicably falls prey to errors of conflation) and demonstrating both the small scale of armies in the Late Bronze Age Levant as well as the avoidance of making appeals to massive population transfers that are not necessary to account for the fall of the Hittites and archaic Greeks as well as smaller civilizations from Ugarit to Cyprus as well as the near-defeat of Egypt.  As a result this is a book that deserves to be read, if critically, and whose views (aside from the Bible) deserve to be taken seriously.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Biblical History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: The End Of The Bronze Age

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Hittites | Edge Induced Cohesion

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