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The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe.

The division between the disciplines of history and archaeology is traditionally nowhere more apparent than in discussions of the transition from the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. Archaeology and history share certain fundamental questions: what caused the collapse of Bronze Age kingdoms? and what were the conditions in the Dark Age that nurtured the sociopolitical restructuring that led to the emergence of autonomous city-states? In an effort to understand this important cultural transformation in Aegean prehistory, the archaeologist seeks to define the archaeological context while exploring theoretical frameworks for analyzing culture change. The historian seeks singular causes for the rise and fall of civilizations. In this sense Drews's book is a history book. Its premise is novel: a change in the methods of warfare around 1200 B.C. precipitated the weakening or utter collapse of Bronze Age cultures throughout the Aegean, Anatolia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt.

Chapter 1 defines the problem and premise: "it is the destruction of sites that I shall therefore try to explain, and this topic is itself enormous" (4). This "destruction" is called the "Catastrophe," which is a generalizing term and blatant rhetorical trope. While it is used to mean the physical process of destruction (88) - that is, the actual formation of the archaeological record - it is also an event or series of events (4, 9, 15); it is a chronological period (182); and it is the process of culture change (3, 184-85). Ultimately the "Catastrophe" is both the cause of and process of the social and political restructuring at the end of the Bronze Age. (Drews provides a very useful and brief chronological introduction, adopting a low division between IIIB and IIIC, ca. 1180, and, in Egyptian terms, placing it no earlier than the reign of Queen Twosret.)

Chapter 2 examines the primary evidence for "destructions" throughout the Aegean and Near East, with useful references to primary excavation reports. This chapter is a succinct summary of the main bodies of published archaeological material for the periods in question and elucidates many of the idiosyncrasies of the evidence in various regions. One wonders, however, about the culturally specific variables that might be crucial factors in such variations of the Catastrophe. The complexities of regionally diverse data are unfortunately lost in Drews's summary. For example, he maintains that nucleation of settlement in LM IIIC is a uniform result of a need for defense, even in coastal and lowland regions in the Argolid, Rhodes (Ialysos), Cyprus (Enkomi), and elsewhere (44). New site locations, whether on the sea (45), or in the mountains of Crete (29), provide equally effective protection from invaders. By invoking the age-old, versatile, and historical "refuge settlement" model, Drews ignores or omits an enormous amount of archaeological data derived from recent intensive surveys all over Greece that have shown settlement nucleation and site clustering to be recurring patterns dictated by environmental adaptation, cultural and topographic diversity, new social hierarchies, and strict subsistence regimes in the early decades of the Dark Age.

The second part of the book (chapters 3-8) surveys "alternative explanations for the Catastrophe," Chapter 3, on earthquakes, and chapter 4, on migrations, are necessarily long and detailed, as Drews seems compelled to attack two fundamental historical theories of the culture change: natural destruction, and exogenous population movement. In the first instance, the necessary uncertainty and reticence of many good excavators permits Drews the substance of what amounts to little more than negative argumentation: if earthquake destruction cannot be proven, then destruction by warfare must be the case. Kourion (40) is indeed a dramatic instance of an earthquake destruction, and Ugarit (42) is, as Drews points out, a fascinating example of human violence. But such cases must not be treated or presented as archaeological indices of final processes of abandonment. The myriad depositional, and human and natural post-depositional formation processes involved in the development of any archaeological stratum must be fully distinguished first, before conclusions may be drawn about behavioral processes.

The subsequent chapters on migration, metallurgy, drought, and systems theory are interesting surveys of the various historical approaches to culture change, from Gaston Maspero's work in the nineteenth century through the works of Rhys Carpenter and V. Gordon Childe down to modern colloquia such as The Crisis Years: The Twelfth Century B.C., ed. W. A. Ward and M. S. Joukowsky (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt, 1992). While Drews is partial to theories of raiders and pirates (chapter 8), he is nonetheless vexed at the role traditionally attributed to such "peoples of the sea." For him, they are not the result of the breakdown of Bronze Age society, but the fundamental instrument.

The third part of the book begins with chapter 9, a brief introduction on the state of the evidence for Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age military weaponry and tactics. Chapters 10 and 11 form a very detailed and convincing synthesis of data concerning chariot and infantry warfare. Drawing on works of Schulman, Glock, Sasson, Kendell, Heltzer, Beal, and others, and through close examination of Hittite and Egyptian texts and Egyptian commemorative reliefs, Drews argues that the palace - based elite military system of the chariotry was the basic form of warfare in the Bronze Age and that infantries were essentially chariot runners or skirmishers. The latter were not a significant tactical force but were subordinated to specific roles of siege, defense, and occasional battle in difficult terrain. In contrast, chapter 12 sketches the extreme importance of the Dark Age infantry foot soldier, now armed with the Naue Type II cut-and-thrust sword and spear (chapter 13), and forming the basic offensive unit (the infantry) that was so vital to the protection and identity of the emerging city-state.

The argument that there was a change in the basic roles of the chariot and foot soldier in the years around 1200 B.C. is exciting, and Drews's presentation is persuasive. However, as presented in chapter 14, the strict causal importance of that change for history is surprising, untenable, and lacking explanatory force: the Libyan Meryre's defeat by Merneptah in the Delta in 1208, and the early destructions of Thebes and Troy VI (217), publicized the feasibility of fielding enormous infantry armies. In Drews's historical reconstruction the innovation of infantry warfare was discovered and adopted by various barbarian tribes (97) - Kaskans, Sardinians, and others hailing from the north Aegean, Lycia, and the countryside of Philistia and Israel (219) who took pleasure in destroying and looting wealthy kingdom states (83). The efficiency of the new infantry formation proved to be a foil to the Old Kingdom chariotries (89), and the resultant destructions spread rapidly from the northwestern frontiers into the Aegean and Near East. Before 1150 B.C. palatial civilizations and, Bronze Age society were irrevocably changed or utterly destroyed.

The author's frequent use of the term "Catastrophe" tends to collapse space and time. The reader should recall that nearly a century separated the chariot battle of Kadesh (1275) from Ramesses' defeat of the Libyan infantry; and nearly a whole generation separated Merneptah's victory over Meryre's foot soldiers in 1208 and Ramesses' depiction of himself as a "foot soldier" in 1176. Might a growing reliance on the foot soldier, and his acceptance into the records and iconography of pharaonic battles, not suggest an internal change, perhaps a shift in the political and social importance of an infantry class within palatial society? Is the reason why Mesopotamia was largely impervious to the Catastrophe only that the Euphrates and Jezirah steppe provided a topographical barrier to the west, as Drews argues (17)? Or perhaps was it that the Mesopotamian kingdoms and city-states had long recognized complex social and political hierarchies in which, as J. N. Postgate has recently remarked (Early Mesopotamia, London: Routledge, 1992, 248), "the humble infantry man was doubtless the backbone of the armies at all times"? Drews himself traces a growing reliance on non-palatial foot soldiers from Kadesh (where the chariot dominates), to 1208 with Merneptah's defeat of the Libyans, until Ramesses III's battles with the Philistine and Libyan infantries in 1179 and 1176. Notwithstanding the inherent difficulty of taking the Egyptian propagandistic commemorative reliefs on face value, Drews admits that the palaces of the Bronze Age were indeed gradually exploiting and recognizing infantry warfare and new types of weaponry (190-91), and even assimilating into their populations and citizenry the very barbarian soldiers that ultimately caused the demise of the palaces (148-55).

Systems theory, discarded so easily in the brief six pages of chapter 7, might be evoked to provide an explanatory model for Drews's own carefully amassed data. A systemic framework would suggest that gradual change in the role of the foot soldier from 1275 to 1176 acted as positive feedback to the equilibrium of the palatial system, ultimately changing the military role, prestige, and power of the nobility and royal elite. Could such a process during some three or four generations in the thirteenth and twelfth centuries have affected, directly or indirectly, palatial production and administration, social systems, territorial power, exchange systems, and ultimately the very essence of the Bronze Age palaces? Drews's achievement is his close examination of the data. His explanation of the destruction of cities is possible, but not provable in the archaeological record. If by "Catastrophe" he means "the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations," he must give us much more explanation of the culturally specific variables in each region that would make such a singular cause and once-for-all hypothesis at all plausible.

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Author:Haggis, Donald C.
Publication:American Journal of Philology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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