Climatic Change

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 173–198

The decline of Late Bronze Age civilization as a possible response to climatic change

  • Barry Weiss
Article

Abstract

The disintegration of Eastern Mediterranean civilization at the end of the late Bronze Age (late thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C.) has traditionally been attributed to the irruption of new peoples into this area. However, the nearly contemporaneous decline of highly organized and powerful states in Greece, Anatolia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia warrants consideration of possible environmental causes likely to operate over sizable areas, especially since archaeological research has not succeeded in establishing the presence of newcomers at the onset of the Bronze Age disturbances.

Climatic change is a particularly attractive candidate since temperature and precipitation variations persisting over relatively short times can adversely affect agricultural output. Carpenter (1966) argued that the Mycenaean decline and migrations in and from Greece in the late thirteenth century were caused by prolonged drought and not the incursion of less civilized Dorian tribes. Donley (1971) and Brysonet al. (1974) have presented evidence of a spatial drought pattern which occurred in January 1955 that might be invoked to support this thesis. Population movements in Anatolia at the same time, though not as well established, can be delimited to some degree by the distribution of Hitto-Luwian peoples in the late ninth century B.C. It is hypothesized here that a drought induced migration of Luwian peoples from Western Antolia occurred early in the twelfth century B.C., that it was associated in some fashion with the invasion of Egypt by the ‘Sea Peoples’ in the reign of Ramesses III, and that the defeated remnants of these peoples settled along the Levantine coast and filtered into North Syria and the upper Euphrates valley.

It has been suggested that past climatic patterns recur in the present epoch but with a possibly different frequency. To establish that a spatial drought analogue to the above hypothesized migration can occur, temperature and precipitation records from 35 Greek, Turkish, Cypriot, and Syrian weather stations for the period 1951–1976 were examined. The Palmer drought index, an empirical method of measuring drought severity, was computed for each of these stations for the period of record. Since wheat yields tend to be highly correlated with winter precipitation for the area in question, the drought indices for the winter months were subjected to an empirical eigenvector analysis. An eigenvector (drought pattern) consistent with the postulated population movements in Anatolia occurred within the modern climatological record and was found to have been the dominant pattern in January 1972. The potential problems of eigenvector analysis in investigating problems of this type are discussed.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Adams, R.: 1965,Land Behind Baghdad: A History of Settlement on the Diyala Plains, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Albright, W. F.: 1975, ‘Syria, the Philistines, and Phoenicia’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  3. Albright, W. E. and Lambdin, T. O.: 1975, ‘Evidence of Languages’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume I (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  4. Astour, M. C.: 1965, ‘New Evidence on the Last Days of Ugarit’,American Journal of Archaeology 69, 253ff.Google Scholar
  5. Barnett, R. D.: 1975a, ‘The Sea Peoples’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  6. Barnett, R. D.: 1975b, ‘Phrygia and the Peoples of Anatolia in the Iron Age’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  7. Bell, B.: 1975, ‘Climate and the History of Egypt: The Middle Kingdom’,American Journal of Archaeology 79, 223ff.Google Scholar
  8. Berard, J.: 1951, ‘Philistins et Préhellènes’,Revue Archéologique 37, 129ff.Google Scholar
  9. Biasing, T. J. and Fritts, H. C.: 1976, ‘Reconstructing Past Climatic Anomalies in the North Pacific and Western North America from Tree-Ring Data’,Quaternary Research 6, 563.Google Scholar
  10. Bryson, R. A., Lamb, H. H., and Donley, D.: 1974, ‘Drought and the Decline of Mycenae’,Antiquity 43, 46ff.Google Scholar
  11. Carpenter, R.: 1966,Discontinuity in Greek Civilization, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Catting, H.W.: 1975, ‘Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  13. Coffing, A.: 1973,Forecasting Wheat Production in Turkey, Washington, D.C., U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Economic Report No. 85.Google Scholar
  14. Desborough, V. R. D'A: 1975, ‘The End of the Mycenaean Civilization’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  15. Donley, D.: 1971,Analysis of the Winter Climate Pattern at the Time of the Mycenaean Decline. Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin, available from University Microfilm, Ann Arbor, Michigan.Google Scholar
  16. Drower, M. S.: 1975, ‘Ugarit’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  17. Eddy, J. A.: 1976, ‘The Sun Since the Bronze Age’, fromPhysics of Solar Planetary Environments (Proceedings of the International Symposium on Terrestrial Physics held in Boulder, Colorado, June, 1976), D. J. Williams (ed.), Volume 2, published by the American Geophysical Union.Google Scholar
  18. Edgerton, W. F. and Wilson, J. A.: 1936,Historical Records of Ramses III, Chicago.Google Scholar
  19. Gardiner, Sir A.: 1961,Egypt of the Pharoahs, Oxford, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Goetze, A.: 1940,Kizzuwatna and the Problem of Hittite Geography, Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gurney, O. R.: 1948, ‘Mita of Pahhuwa’,Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 28, 32ff.Google Scholar
  22. Gurney, O. R.: 1952,The Hittites, Baltimore, Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  23. Guterbock, H. G.: 1978, Personal Communication, April 11, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  24. Hawkins, J. D.: 1974, ‘Assyrians and Hittites’,Iraq 36, 67ff.Google Scholar
  25. Hope-Simpson, R.: 1965,A Gazetteer and Atlas of Mycenaean Sites, University of London.Google Scholar
  26. Huxley, G.: 1961,Crete and the Luwians, Oxford, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Kuniholm, P.: 1978, Personal Communication, April 13, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.Google Scholar
  28. Kutzbach, J. E.: 1967, ‘Empirical Eigenvectors of Sea-Level Pressure, Surface Temperature and Precipitation Complexes over North America’,J. of Appl. Meteorol. 6, 791ff.Google Scholar
  29. Lamb, H. H.: 1972,Climate: Present, Past, and Future, Volumes 1 and 2, London, Methuen.Google Scholar
  30. Macqueen, J. G.: 1968, ‘Geography and History in Western Asia Minor in the Second Millennium B.C.’,Anatolian Studies 18, 169ff.Google Scholar
  31. Mellaart, J.: 1968, ‘Anatolian Trade with Europe and Anatolian Geography and Culture Provinces in the Late Bronze Age’,Anatolian Studies 18, 187ff.Google Scholar
  32. Miller, M.: 1971,The Thalassocracies, Albany, New York, State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  33. Mylonas, G. E.: 1966,Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Page, D. L.: 1963,History and the Homeric Iliad, Berkeley, University of California Press.Google Scholar
  35. Palmer, W. C.: 1965,Meteorological Drought, Washington, D.C., U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Weather Bureau Research Paper No. 45.Google Scholar
  36. Stubbings, F.: 1975, ‘The Recession of Mycenaean Civilization’,Cambridge Ancient History. Volume II (Edition 3), Part2.Google Scholar
  37. Wendlend, W. M. and Bryson, R. A.: 1973, ‘Dating Climatic Episodes of the Holocene’,Quaternary Research 4, 9ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry Weiss
    • 1
  1. 1.Bell LaboratoriesDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations