After a week of interruptions, I am back to writing about Eric H. Cline’s book, 1177 B.C., the Year Civilization Collapsed, . One day I provided taxi service to a doctor’s appointment. One morning I attended a funeral. Sunday I filled in to lead worship for a colleague. We are also preparing to have my son and family visit us and to take a trip ourselves later. So I should warn readers that blogging will slow down for a while.
Cline is leading up to the Bronze Age collapse by sketching the world situation in the centuries leading up to it. He showed how a diplomatic, trade and commercial order developed in the eastern Mediterranean in the 15th century. Now he recounts events in the 14th century that contain the seeds of some of the later problems.
In the first part of that century Amenhotep III ruled Egypt. We have found many artifacts relating to him in the Aegean area, in Crete, Mycenae, and Rhodes. This reveals trade and cultural connections.
An inscription that Cline thinks has a correlation to this has been found on the base of an Egyptian statue. Scholars call this the Aegean list. After it was discovered and photographed, it was destroyed by heat and cracked into fragments. The official story is that this happened during a wild-fire. But there is suspicion that people who wanted to sell fragments of it on the antiquities market deliberately fractured the monument.
So it was lost for a time. Now it is part of a painstaking restoration process. However, because of photographs, sketches and fragments; we know that many places in the Aegean area that no other Egyptian document mentions were on the list. In fact, Cline suggests that the list represents the itinerary of an Egyptian trade expedition to Minoan sites in Crete and Mycenaean sites in what is now Greece.
For the mid 14th century we have the archive of clay tablet letters found at Amarna. These were from the late years of Amenhotep III’s time and the time of the heretic king, Akhenaten. I have mostly studied the letters that relate to Canaan and south Syria.
There were, however, a number of letters from kings of great powers like the Mitanni king, the Kassite king of Babylon, and the king of the newly rising power of Assyria. These show diplomatic ties and close relations, sometimes by marriage, between the royal families. They thought of their relations in family terms, sometimes calling each other brothers and sometimes calling the Pharaoh their father.
Many of the letters concern the exchange of gifts among the royal families. Interestingly, the letters contain complaints that the gifts did not always arrive as advertised. A king would think he was getting a shipment of a certain amount of gold and actually receive a lesser quantity or silver instead. Cline suggests that those charged with transporting the gifts sometimes took the actual gifts and made substitutions. I think the mob phrase for this is “it fell off the truck.”
The Amarna letters show a complex network of social relationships among most of the royal families.
The Hittite Empire was an exception. Amenhotep III seems to have seen the Hittites as a threat. The pattern of his diplomatic and trade relations make it look like he was trying to isolate the Hittites. We have a number of Hittite documents now for this period which show distrust and hostility toward Egypt. And it got worse.
There was a bizarre turn of events late in the century. In Egypt the child pharaoh we know as Tut ruled for about a decade after Akhenaten. Akhenaten’s Aten cult was at the expense of the wealthy and powerful priesthood of Amun-Ra. Tut restored the power of that priesthood and Cline suggests that the opulence of the artifacts we found in Tut’s tomb represent gifts from that grateful priesthood.
But when Tut died young and childless, his teen-aged widow seems to have taken it upon herself to try to remedy this and change the international order at the same time. She proposed that the king of the Hittites (Suppiluliuma–king Sup for short) send one of his sons to marry her and become Pharaoh. Sup was startled and suspicious because there was no history of intermarriage between the two kingdoms. But finally he sent his number four son, who was not in line for anything else, only to have him get assassinated on his way to Egypt.
Who was behind this remains a mystery, but the beneficiary was the aged Egyptian general, Ay, who married Tut’s widow and became Pharaoh. King Sup blamed Egypt and attacked Egyptian territory in Syria. He took Egyptian POWs who brought a virulent and deadly plague to Hatti. King Sup, himself, died of the plague.
So we may see in this something of a warning of the systems collapse to come.