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date: 26 June 2022

collapse of the Bronze Age Aegeanfree

collapse of the Bronze Age Aegeanfree

  • Guy D. Middleton

Summary

Around 1200 bce, the Mycenaean palace centres of mainland Greece and Crete were destroyed along with, presumably, the states they governed; key aspects of palatial culture that had developed over the preceding two centuries, such as writing and administration, were lost or rejected. Although there was rebuilding at some sites, such as Tiryns, the style was different from the preceding age, which suggests an ideological shift and likely a weakening of central authority. Elsewhere, in Messenia, there was no rebuilding at Pylos palace, and the landscape appears depopulated. Many explanations for the collapse have been proposed, from migration and climate change to plague and shifts in trade; the continued disagreement over what happened and why demonstrates the difficulty of arriving at an unambiguous conclusion from the available evidence. Mycenaean culture continued for more than a century after the collapse, but the features associated with palaces and kings disappeared.

Subjects

  • Greek Material Culture: Bronze Age

The Problem of the Mycenaean Collapse

The collapse in Greece and the Aegean at the end of the Late Bronze Age c. 1200 bce has long been a mystery—in terms of what exactly happened, who was involved, their actions and motivations, and what the structural factors were. Even the scope of collapse is difficult to gauge; some identify a global system collapse in the eastern Mediterranean, associating a number of collapses, destructions, and material culture changes in the region at the end of the 13th and into the 12th centuries bce. This idea of global collapse makes large-scale, dramatic, and universal explanations, such as climate change and migration, more acceptable and appealing. But it is unclear that the Mycenaean collapse ought to be associated with the Hittite collapse, the destructions on Cyprus and at Ugarit, and the Sea Peoples’ (Figure 1) attacks on Egypt, or with the genesis of novel Levantine cultures—the Philistines in the south and the kingdom of Palastin in the north.

Figure 1. The Sea Peoples depicted on Ramesses III’s temple at Medinet Habu.

Photo courtesy of The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

That the Mycenaean and wider eastern Mediterranean collapses are still debatable in terms of what happened and why is indicative of the paucity of evidence and its ambiguity; multiple characterisations, interpretations, and narratives are possible and plausible. This section focuses primarily on Greece and the Aegean, rather than the eastern Mediterranean as a whole.

Defining Collapse

Collapse is understood in many different ways and there are several definitions in the literature.1 Schwartz gives the following useful description:

In the archaeological literature, collapse usually entails some or all of the following: the fragmentation of states into smaller political entities; the partial abandonment or complete desertion of urban centers, along with the loss or depletion of their centralizing functions; the breakdown of regional economic systems; and the failure of civilizational ideologies.2

Collapse is most clearly understood to be a political process in which states and societies undergo rapid (decadal) simplification—they become less complex.3 It is helpful also to distinguish between states (political units) and civilisations (sets of cultural features), and populations, with states being the units that collapse.4 Collapses are identified by profound and abrupt changes in the archaeological record, although there may be both biological (population) and cultural continuities. All of these considerations are useful in conceptualizing the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Aegean and understanding what it was and was not. To frame the Mycenaean collapse, it is essential to consider the background to it.

The Mycenaean Background

Although some have understood the Mycenaean world (Mycenaean civilization) to have been a single unified kingdom, the consensus has generally been to see a patchwork of small independent states, each headed by a king (wanax), and all sharing in a common Mycenaean culture that developed by around 1400 bce and existed for around two centuries.5 There were probably eight to ten palace states based on central palaces with towns: Athens, Mycenae, Tiryns, Orchomenus, Thebes, Ayios Vasileios, Pylos, Dimini (Iolcus), Knossos, and Chania (Figures 2a and 2b).

Figure 2a. Palaces of the Late Bronze Age Aegean in Mainland Greece. Adapted from Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, “Review of Aegean Prehistory VI: The Palatial Bronze Age of the Southern and Central Greek Mainland,” American Journal of Archaeology 101, no. 3 (1997): 537–585.

Figure 2b. Palaces of the Late Bronze Age Aegean in Crete. Adapted from The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, ed. Cynthia W. Shelmerdine (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

The status of Athens is unclear owing to constant reuse of the acropolis, but some major Mycenaean architecture existed there in the 13th century. The palatial status of Dimini has also been questioned.6 In the Argolid, Mycenae and Tiryns, along with Midea, are most plausibly considered as belonging to single state, contrary to the description in the Iliad (II 555–569), in which Agamemnon rules Mycenae and areas north and Diomedes rules Tiryns and Argos. The major site of Gla in Boeotia was perhaps built and controlled by Orchomenus. On Crete, Chania may have been subordinate to Knossos but seems to have outlasted it.

However, the megastate view of the Mycenaean world has been put back into play, most notably by Kelder and by Eder and Jung.7 The arguments range from the often-observed similarities in the Linear B records found at several sites; Postgate pointed out that, from his perspective as a Near Eastern specialist, the Linear B tablets from different sites and periods would be taken as indicative of a unified authority. In addition, the development of standard megaron-palace plans at Pylos, Mycenae, and Tiryns, along with similar plans elsewhere, and the almost identical tholos tombs at Mycenae (Treasury of Atreus) and Orchomenus (Treasury of Minyas) may indicate not peer interaction but the incorporation of regional kingdoms into a single larger state or imperial unit.8 Either way, there seems to be a definite ideological connection between the wanax and the hearth at the heart of the megaron. The evidence of a kingdom called Ahhiyawa, mentioned in a few Hittite texts and identified as a/the Mycenaean kingdom, could also support the idea of a unified kingdom, but it is not mentioned in the texts of any other eastern Mediterranean state and so can only have been of importance in the Aegean/west Anatolian region. As these scholars note, the evidence as a whole does not prove the megastate interpretation but neither does it contradict it.

What seems certain is that over two centuries the polities that grew up independently but in contact would have enjoyed changing relationships, which may have included alliance, annexation of territory, competition, conquest, co-operation, intermarriage of royal families, raiding, spread of knowledge, ideas and technologies, stability, and warfare, over time. It is most likely that the political geography of Greece and the Aegean in Mycenaean times would have been very dynamic, as it was in later times, and individuals, groups, and armies would have been able to range and act widely within Greece and the Aegean in a variety of ways and with different impacts. An emphasis on the dynamism of the palatial period, even without the lost historical details, is a necessary part of the context of collapse.

Many parts of Greece were non-palatial and do not appear to have been states, though they were still Mycenaean in culture, for example the northwest and north central Peloponnese, Achaea, Corinthia, Phokis and Lokris. Some suggest a degree of palatial control and exploitation of these areas, while others are less certain about their relationships; the situation would have been dynamic and presumably differed by time and place.9 The Ionian and Aegean islands are also usually considered non-palatial, though some may have come, at times, under the influence of mainland centres. There appears to be a clear connection between Rhodes and the Argolid, and some have suggested invasion from or control by mainlanders.10 In one argument, the kingdom of Ahhiyawa was based on Rhodes and included nearby islands, though no classic palace centre has been found and most favour a mainland location.11 It is quite possible that more palace centres could be found in the future, which would change our picture of the palatial Mycenaean period and perhaps the collapse. However, by definition, the non-palatial regions could not experience palatial collapse, though they were likely affected in historically specific ways.

It is vital to consider the background to the Mycenaean collapse because the two interpretations of the period—megastate versus independent states—give rise to different understandings and potential explanations of the collapse: the collapse of a number of independent kingdoms within a culture zone and the collapse of a unified “megastate” are not the same thing. Some explanations could fit both scenarios, especially “knockout” events, but not all. This matters especially because surely the end goal is to know what actually happened; bearing this context in mind, two (at the least) quite different historical trajectories could be constructed. This debate is not the focus of this article, but should be borne in mind when addressing the collapse and evaluating potential explanations. In this way, the problem of the Mycenaean collapse, in addition to being a problem in its own right, is a useful stimulus for thinking through interpretations of the preceding palatial period.

Identifying the Collapse

The collapse is clearly identified from five main features of the archaeological record. These are: (a) destructions at most major palace sites; (b) cessation of major building projects; (c) loss of most fine arts and crafts; (d) cessation of Linear B use; and (e) site abandonments.

Destructions

Destruction events are known from throughout Greece during the mainland palatial period, but it is the destructions that took place at the end of the LH IIIB pottery phase that mark the collapse.12 These are usually placed “at or near the end of the 13th century bce” or early in the 12th century.13 A transitional LH IIIB-IIIC pottery phase has been identified, leading Wiener to suggest the destructions could have been slightly earlier than thought.14 However, this identification has not been universally accepted. Rutter defines the end of the LH IIIB phase by the widespread destruction horizon which “is such a pronounced feature of the stratification at the principal Argive citadels of Mycenae, Tiryns, and Midea”; for him, any later pottery is to be defined as LH IIIC.15 The date of the final destruction at Knossos is difficult to determine, but it was probably earlier than the mainland centres; Chania, it is assumed, was destroyed later, perhaps around 1200 bce.16 It is a matter of debate whether the destruction of Knossos indicates the isolated collapse (or destruction) of an individual kingdom or should be considered part of a longer and wider process of Aegean collapse.

In his study of dating the collapse from radiocarbon dates, Manning concludes that “a date range ca. 1200 bce can still be used as a suitable ‘textbook’ round number approximation, so long as we are mindful that the relevant time period might in fact have been a few decades earlier or later (and need not have been contemporary across the relevant cultures/areas), and that the processes involved covered periods of time rather than point events.”17 Cline has chosen 1177 bce as “a pivotal date,” but this is from Egyptian evidence relating to the Sea Peoples’ attack on Egypt in year 8 of Ramesses III; he rightly suggests that activity would have taken place over years, presumably somewhat earlier in the Aegean.18 Destructions in Greece, at least, were near contemporary, taking place within a few decades at most; at the moment, no higher resolution, nor relative dating of each palace destruction, seems possible.

Cessation of Major Building Projects

In palatial times major projects included extensive palatial architecture, fortifications (Cyclopean in the Argolid and at Gla), large tholos and chamber tombs, roads and bridges, artificial harbours, and hydraulic engineering. Following the widespread destructions, there were no further major building projects undertaken at the palace centres. However, there was rebuilding of high status buildings at Mycenae, Tiryns, and Midea, although not on the same scale or in the same style as in pre-collapse times. The buildings, including Building T at Tiryns, were built over the earlier megarons, but lacked the four-column hearth and throne feature, having instead a central row of pillars.19 At Tiryns, most of the former palace area, except for Building T, was left cleared of buildings by the inhabitants, but new buildings were built in the Lower Citadel, and the Lower Town grew in size.20

Loss of Most Fine Arts and Crafts

With the destruction of the palaces, a number of attendant fine arts and crafts disappeared, presumably because the workshops that existed within the palace system ceased to exist, and because there was no longer a market for the skills of craftspeople amongst royalty and elite. Fresco painting, a feature of Aegean palace complexes for centuries, largely went out of use; though the latest example of fresco is the Painted Grave Stele from Mycenae, which dates to mid-LH IIIC; it may have been painted by the same artist as the Warrior Vase (Figures 3 and 4).21

Figure 3. The Painted Grave Stele from Mycenae reconstructed by Emile Gilliéron. E. Gilliéron & Son, Reproduction of a painted grave stele with warriors from Mycenae, ca. 1918–19. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Johnston Fund, 1920 (20.193.2).

Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY, ART555835.
Photo by Sharon Mollerus, Creative Commons License, CC BY 2.0.

There was also a pictorial tradition in postpalatial Mycenaean pottery. Ivory working, production of inlaid furniture, and the manufacture of precious containers all ceased or very significantly diminished, though some items circulated as heirlooms.22

Cessation of Linear B Use

Records had been kept in Linear B in some palaces since LM IIIA1 (Knossos) (early 14th century bce); they were a long-lived feature of the palace operations and indicate a tradition of (probably very limited) literacy.23 They represent the reach of the palace and its personnel into the surrounding territory and its duties with regard to (state?) religious occasions. This tradition, going back around two centuries, ended in the collapse. This may indicate the fracturing of relationships between palaces and their (former) territories, or locations where their influence had been felt. The abandonment of writing must be considered deliberate as there would have been some memory of it through c. 1200 bce. Syllabic writing, influenced by Linear B, continued on Cyprus through the LBA/EIA transition and was used to write in Greek, but in the Aegean there was no more writing until the much later adoption of the alphabet.24

Site Abandonments

There is a significant decrease in the number of visible sites from LH IIIB to LH IIIC; Snodgrass counted 320, falling to 130 (Figure 5).25

Figure 5. Sites and cemeteries of LH IIIB (Palatial) and LH IIIC (Postpalatial). Original map from Mervyn Popham, “The Collapse of Aegean Civilization at the End of the Late Bronze Age,” in The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe, ed. Barry Cunliffe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 282–283.

It is often suggested that this indicates a reduced population. Desborough reckoned the population reduced to a 10th of earlier levels.26 Morris and Tandy both proposed population reduction of 75% from c. 1250/1200–1100/1000 bce.27 Dickinson has suggested that these changes might have begun before the collapse, c. 1200 bce, but mentions the problems with evidence, including the possibility of population dispersion into very small sites, the difficulty of identifying diagnostic pottery, and that buildings may have been made of more perishable materials.28 It must be remembered that, at other periods where historical evidence is plentiful, there is sometimes a lack of archaeological evidence for habitation or complex society; the evidence may thus be regarded as somewhat ambiguous, though it seems certain that, whatever the actual numbers, there was significant change on the ground, especially in Messenia.29

Identifying the Collapse: Summary

The evidence detailed must be interpreted as showing that a very significant change, or set of changes, took place in the Aegean in the decades around 1200 bce; it is justifiable to label this as a collapse. Palaces, the centres of power for two centuries, were destroyed and not rebuilt, and key features of palace culture and economic life were abandoned or rejected, including Linear B writing and the end of the classic hearth and four-column megaron structure associated with the wanax. The evidence suggests either a positive rejection of earlier traditions, a lack of ability to continue or rebuild society in its previous style, or a combination of both. It could well be that the systems that underpinned palatial society were destroyed or damaged beyond their capacity to function. The apparent depopulation and abandonment of many sites may indicate instability, perhaps an increase in conflict or even the spread of plague of some kind, though the rate of population change is unclear and there was not necessarily any “knock out” blow.

Explaining the Collapse

A number of recent works have summarized views on the Mycenaean (and wider eastern Mediterranean) collapse.30 Some of the most prominent explanations are examined here.

Earthquakes

Greece lies in an area of high seismic activity and so is prone to earthquakes of varying severity. Particularly destructive earthquakes may happen on average around every thirty years or so.31 A number of researchers have therefore suggested that earthquakes not only have destroyed individual sites at various times, but also may have led to, or been one factor in the collapse.32 Kilian identified a number of earthquake destructions through his work at Tiryns, where a number of bodies were found beneath collapsed walls; the walls were also deformed as if by the thrust of an earthquake.33 Similar evidence comes from Mycenae, Midea, Thebes, the Menelaion, Pylos, and elsewhere.34 It is unlikely that there was one “megaquake” that simultaneously destroyed sites all over Greece, but within given ceramic phases earthquakes could have struck different areas at different times. Nur and Cline argue that there may have been an earthquake storm, a set of connected quakes, from around 1225 to 1175 bce.35

Earthquakes alone are usually not sufficient to cause collapse, but they could have a serious political and social impact on complex societies depending on the circumstances, such as when Sparta suffered an earthquake, which the Messenians and helots used as an opportunity to rebel, or later, during the Peloponnesian war, when another earthquake led to the retreat of the Spartan army.36 Thus a society could be more or less affected at different times. This could potentially explain why Mycenaean societies could recover from earlier LH III earthquakes but not later ones. French has argued that the palace authority at Mycenae was able to recover from earlier quakes but, in the face of repeated disasters, became weaker and eventually unable to cope; it may also have been facing other difficulties that hampered recovery.37 That psychological stress, disease, and further deaths often follow destructive earthquakes is well known, and these would have caused even greater social and political stress.

Earthquakes were certainly something that the Mycenaeans had to contend with, but some council caution and stress that construction of “catastrophe theories” should be avoided.38 Identifying whether an earthquake happened is not always straightforward, even though checklists exist that include such items as skeletons buried under walls, offset walls, and so on.39 Architectural reinvestigations at Tiryns and Midea by Hinzen and colleagues, published in 2018, suggest that damage once thought to have been caused by earthquake need not have been, and they argue that it is unlikely an earthquake caused collapse at the end of LH IIIB.40 Nevertheless, the possibility exists that some sites, including the major sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, were affected by potentially major earthquakes (and possibly more than once) around 1200 bce. Modern examples illustrate the devastating effects of some earthquakes. The 2003 earthquake that struck the ancient city of Bam in Iran levelled 70% of the houses and killed 15,000 people; many were crushed while asleep, as the quake happened in the very early morning.41

Climate Change and Migration

Explanations of the Mycenaean collapse have long been dominated by two factors that are sometimes linked by researchers: migration, especially of the Sea Peoples, and climate change. These explanations propose trends and events that affected the eastern Mediterranean as a whole, and even draw in locations and peoples from much further afield.

Climate change and drought (or megadrought) has been associated with the collapse by a number of researchers since Carpenter, in 1966.42 In the past decade, several new studies have appeared.43 The palaeoclimatic reconstructions are based on data from speleothem, core (marine and lacustrine), and pollen records from a range of locations as far apart as the Adriatic and Israel. One study suggests long-term climate change from before 1250 bce to 350 bce. In this reconstruction, collapse began around 1315 bce, and conditions worsened through 1200 bce, leading to eventual complete urban abandonment into the dark ages; climate change meant a drop in agricultural production and food shortages for the large urban populations of Mycenaean Greece, which caused a variety of difficulties for the palaces. The circumstances brought about collapse and large scale migrations into the eastern Mediterranean—the genesis of the destructive migratory Sea Peoples. Rather than a sudden climate “snap,” Drake suggests “a continual stress put on human societies in the region for several decades.”44 By implication, the Aegean states would have experienced increasing crisis throughout the 13th century, until they eventually collapsed under the strain, presumably due to civil unrest and rejection of the palace elite and palace-based socio-political system; the ruling elite may no longer have been seen as able to successfully intercede with the gods on behalf of the people, driving an ideological change.

At first glance this scenario seems plausible, however there is no real evidence that the Mycenaean population, as a whole or in local areas, was particularly or unsustainably large—the archaeology and the Linear B give no indication of this; it would have fluctuated anyway according to the availability of food.45 If food production was constrained and reduced by the climate from such an early date, populations would have been unlikely to continue increasing or to have become precariously large so that a drought could precipitate total collapse. A logical interpretation might lead to the opposite conclusion—that population was shrinking. This could fit with the evidence for site abandonment and reduction in total site numbers. A shrinking population could have been a serious problem for states that required food producers and soldiers, amongst others. There is evidence in the Hittite texts of the 15th century bce that whole villages of people might pack up and try to leave their home in one kingdom for another, presumably better place, something that the kings tried to prevent and reverse.46

Another group studied a core taken from the Larnaca Salt Lake, near Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus.47 From it, they identified a three-century dry period, from 1200 bce to 900 bce. Comparing other evidence from the northern, central, and southern Levant, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Greece, they identify a major cooling event from 1500 to 500 bce, which was most significant between 1200 and 800 bce. They also associate the Sea Peoples’ mass migration and destructions throughout Greece and the eastern Mediterranean with these climate shifts; their map portrays inland invasions from the northwest Balkans through Albania and into western Greece to Pylos; this then split into four arrows indicating groups who headed by sea into the central Mediterranean, south to north Africa, to Crete, and by land northeast to the Argolid.48 Other lines show movements linked to destructions at Troy and Miletus, on Cyprus and in the Levant, before they all met up in northern Egypt, where they were defeated by Ramesses III, who commemorated the victory on the walls of his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. A similar narrative is proposed by another group who identified a dry period from 1250 to 1100 bce, in a core taken from the Sea of Galilee.49

These climate-migration narratives are problematic in a number of ways. The palaeoclimatic evidence is valuable, but very limited and patchy; only two sources in the studies mentioned come from Greece, one a core from Lake Voulkaria in Aetolia, where carbon isotopes in pollen were examined, the other a study of dinocysts and foraminifera from the southeastern Aegean.50 A study from the Mavri Trypa Cave, Schiza Island, in the southwest Peloponnese, published in 2017, seems to suggest not that a drought was linked to the destruction of the palace of Pylos, which appears to have taken place in a slightly wetter phase, but that a drier climate after c. 1200 bce may have hindered the regeneration of the Pylos state in Messenia.51 The data from Messenia is inherently more valuable in reconstructing the local climatic patterns of southwestern Greece in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age than proxy data from further afield.

Using evidence from other locations, sometimes very far away, is unreliable given the considerable variation in conditions throughout the Mediterranean at any given time.52 Each of the three studies climate-collapse studies reaches different conclusions with regard to onset date, rapidity, and duration. A concerted effort to reconstruct past climates from a number of regions of Greece through the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age could be revealing, and work on this is ongoing.53

The notion of mass migrations, whatever might have caused them, is also a problem. The agents of individual destructions in Greece and elsewhere cannot be identified with any certainty; “locals” must surely be the most likely culprits.54 Too much credibility is given to the Egyptian evidence, mainly the Year 8 narrative inscription at Medinet Habu, which is the basis of the Sea Peoples migration/destruction hypothesis. The source is not history but a display to the gods, which is intended to show Ramesses III as a good pharaoh who fulfilled his proper duties, which included defending Egypt against external enemies.55 Some of its detail is wrong, for example the destruction of Carchemish and the status of Arzawa, which casts doubt on the accuracy of the rest.56 The narrative also fails to account for the origins of the Sea Peoples; if some were Greek, why did the inscription not name Keftiu or Tanaya, names known in Egypt as points of origin? The evidence that Sea Peoples, especially the Philistines, were Greek migrants (or Italians) is unclear.57 Further, it has long been known that there is no satisfactory archaeological evidence of migrations into Greece or Anatolia at this time, and much later myths of folk movements are not reliable historical sources for the 13th and 12th centuries bce.58 One must also ask why any Balkan people, Greeks, Italians, or “Sea Peoples” would migrate into areas of drought, famine, and climatic and social crisis.

Those who argue for climate change, drought, and famine also cite Near Eastern textual evidence for famine and food shortages between 1250 and 900 bce, but this evidence can be interpreted in different ways.59 In the first place, it is entirely normal to expect periodic bad years in the Mediterranean and, therefore, for famine and shortage to be recorded, often without any climate change events. Whether incidences of drought increased or became more severe c. 1200 bce is unclear. Grain shipments between Egypt and the Hittites, overseen at a high level, recorded in correspondence, need not have been desperate attempts to keep alive a whole Anatolian population, whatever any particular pharaoh might have claimed for his own purposes. It could be the case that the Hittite rulers did come to require foreign grain for distribution in the city of Hattusa (compare the Roman reliance on grain from Egypt), or to support elites or the army, but this is also (perhaps more plausible) speculation. In any case, it is not straightforward to assume that these interpretations of the evidence apply equally to Greece.

Invasion and Raiding

An additional invasion argument should be mentioned, in which it was suggested that Greeks from the fringes of the Mycenaean world developed new military tactics and were able to defeat the chariot-based armies of the palaces.60 The end of chariot warfare and a new reliance on swarming infantry was also linked, in this view, to the development of a more egalitarian society. However, this argument has not found much support—there is no evidence that the Greeks non-palatial neighbours were either militaristic or particularly numerous, nor did palaces rely exclusively on chariots and, as neighbours, it is doubtful that either party would have been unfamiliar with the military tactics and styles of the other.61

More recently, Mycenaeans from the Euboean Gulf region have been identified as aggressors, partly on the premise that there was comparatively high continuity of settlement in the region across the collapse, at sites such as Kynos, Kalapodi, Mitrou, and Lefkandi, at least some of which had been in the ambit of Thebes.62 These sites appear to see more activity after collapse and to become relatively more important than they had been in palatial times. Kraters with ship and warrior scenes, especially from Kynos, have suggested to some the rise of a seaborne warrior aristocracy, or to put it less grandly, raiders or captains in the locality.63 It is quite possible that the importance of private ships and smaller scale fighting increased in late Palatial and then Postpalatial times; in terms of the collapse, then, local elites or “big men” may have shaken off central rule c. 1200 bce in favour of an alternative social and economic order. To extend the speculation, perhaps this was the cause of the collapse of the Thebes polity, which may have had repercussions for the rest of the Mycenaean palace states.

Some ship scenes from elsewhere have been redated to palatial times, meaning the iconography is not novel in the Postpalatial, and a simple equation of an increase in pictorial scenes of ships and soldiers need not represent an actual, as opposed to an ideological, change in the rate or (social) importance of seaborne conflict.64 Some scenes popular in palatial times continued to be popular later; ship scenes may well have been a local fashion, with Postpalatial pictorial themes appearing to differ in popularity according to site.65 Also, there was continuity of settlement and cemeteries in the northwest Peloponnese and Ionian Sea region, and this kind of continuity in itself seems insufficient to prove culpability for the collapse. The captains hypothesis is attractive, though, and draws together a number of themes that place people firmly at the heart of collapse and transformation.

Another facet of the invasion/raiding hypothesis that must be mentioned are the last-minute modifications to the fortifications at Mycenae and Tiryns, which included the construction of underground passages to secure water supplies. These have been seen as indicative of a period of anxiety in which the palace people felt physically threatened by enemies. However, careful study of the construction by Loader suggests that the building may not have been as quick as is often suggested.66 Maran’s study of the architectural developments of Late Palatial Tiryns also casts doubt on the idea, with supposedly defensive modifications further changed or abandoned before the collapse.67 Renovating and extending fortifications and securing a water supply to a citadel can be part of normal strategic or technological development, or of an architecture of status and power, perhaps undertaken by a new ruler in the Argolid; they need not be interpreted only as an emergency measure, a view that is somewhat circular. It may also be the case that Pylos remained unfortified at this time, which undermines the argument. These and other supposed indicators of a later 13th century sense of anxiety or crisis may be read equally as signs of “business as usual.”68

Economic Arguments

Economic arguments tend to suggest that the Mycenaean palace societies were dependent on international trade; palaces transformed raw materials into fine goods that rulers distributed to members of the elite to retain their support and maintain the status quo in their favour.69

One suggestion is that there were disruptions to trade with the eastern Mediterranean because of the activities of the Sea Peoples, which brought about destabilization and collapse in Greece. However, the identity (Balkans, Cypriots, Greeks, Italians, Levantines, pirates?), activities (migrating? raiding?), and impacts (unusual and significant or normal background noise?) of the Sea Peoples are not known with any degree of certainty, which makes problematic apportioning to them a significant impact that, as a knock-on effect, caused collapse in Greece.

Another view is that there was a shift in trade routes, which cut out the palaces and rendered them obsolete.70 However, it is unclear why traders would stop trading with Pylos or other palace centres, as they were undoubtedly centres of regional wealth and power. Continued contact between Tiryns and Cyprus in the Postpalatial would also suggest that contacts could be maintained through c. 1200 BC. The rise of “captains” discussed above could have meant the terms of trade in the Aegean changed though. Changes in trade routes may have been largely a result of collapse rather than a cause.71

Plagues and Epidemics

The apparently significant drop in population, especially in Messenia, has led several scholars to propose that plague of some kind may have caused the collapse in Greece; clearly later epidemics, the fifth century BC plague in Athens, the sixth century Justinianic plague and the fourteenth century Black Death killed thousands and millions, recurred periodically, and caused social upheaval (but not collapse).72 In addition to causing mass fatalities, plagues can cause agricultural, administrative, economic and political crises, and cause specialized skills to be lost. They can also bring about change in patterns and styles of settlement and can be linked to changes in material culture. Bubonic plague has been suggested as has Tularemia.

Plagues and epidemics are highly contagious and can spread through movements of people, and especially armies. This may fit in the context of the mobility of people and conflicts of the Late Bronze Age; especially the massive military efforts of the Hittites under the last king Suppiluliuma II. Hittite and other texts record that considerable numbers of people could be relocated as a result of conflicts. There is textual evidence for plagues in Anatolia and Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age, though earlier than c. 1200 BC, recorded in the Hittite Plague Prayers of Mursilis and Amarna Letter 35 (“the hand of Nergal”). In the Plague Prayers, the outbreak of plague is associated with attacks by neighbours on the weakened Hittite kingdom. Whatever difficulties were caused, these polities weathered the plagues we know about. That said, in combination with other factors, plague or epidemic could, like earthquake, be one factor involved in the collapse.

Competition/Overstretch/Hegemonic Collapse

Depending on our understanding of how the Mycenaean world was organized politically, through time, a number of conflict-based explanations of collapse can be proposed. If we conclude that the palace centres remained the capitals of small independent kingdoms, rivalry, interstate warfare and perhaps an increasing intensity of competition could be suggested. This was proposed some time ago by Mylonas, inspired by the later Greek myths concerning Late Bronze Age centres, but the historicity of the myths is irrelevant to the plausibility of the hypothesis.73 What requires explaining here is why almost all of the palaces were abandoned and not rebuilt, and why there was partial rebuilding in a new style, yet reusing some of the old megaron foundations, at Tiryns (Building T). But depending on the severity of the conflict and the casualties among the different classes, and the desires of the survivors, a change in ruling ideology, associated with but different from the earlier system, would no doubt have been a deliberate and calculated move.

A combination of alliance-making and intermarriage of local elites and conflict and hostility probably fuelled Mycenaean state formation.74 It is inherently likely that in the two-century long palatial period these policies continued, resulting in a dynamic political geography replete with historic particularities. As with the rest of the eastern Mediterranean world, and later Greece, Mycenaean states would have vied for influence, power and status, as well as access to and control over a range of resources. The Argolid state may have wielded influence or more (a cultural connection, trade or military presence?) across the Aegean in Rhodes, where LH IIIA/B pottery from the Argolid is common; the Hittite “Tawagalawa letter” describes the brother of the king of Ahhiyawa operating in the eastern Aegean, even on the Anatolian coast.75 A number of speculations are possible on this interpretation, including that the Argolid state may have been broken up amongst rival members of the royal family, and that overstretch of forces and resources in the context of overseas ambition may have left the kingdom vulnerable to attack by rivals in Greece and resulted in regional conflict (both of these affected the Hittite kingdom).76 Conflict itself may have caused difficulties in rural areas, making them less safe, and thus resulting in some of the changes seen at the end of the Late Bronze Age in terms of a drop in site numbers, especially in Messenia (and not in non-palatial Achaea). Earthquakes, not necessarily “megaquakes,” could have provided opportunities for or hindered the actions of one side or another.

In this context of dynamism it is quite possible that the Argolid kingdom sought or achieved, however temporarily, and by whatever combination of means, a degree of hegemony in Greece, or at least dominance over particular and perhaps far-flung locations such as Pylos and Dimini/Iolkos, which may be indicated archaeologically by their double-megaron suites and at Orchomenus the Treasury of Minyas. The short-lived nature of these classic megarons, which Petrakis sees as indicative of a lack of political unity may well support such an interpretation.77 In this case, the collapse c. 1200 BC could be seen as a hegemonic collapse, the collapse of an expansive or imperial state. In the Mesopotamian and Classic Maya culture zones, wider hegemony was usually temporary and short lived, with “great” rulers having to balance integration and conciliation with the desire for independence and local rule. Any attempt at hegemony in Greece might have sown the seeds for conflict and collapse and the ultimate rejection of the palace system and the Argolid dynasty (as happened with the Akkadian and Ur III dynasties in Mesopotamia).78

Social Unrest/Revolution

Palaces in the eastern Mediterranean have been characterized as oppressive and burdensome on the wider population; sometimes people even fled from their reach.79 It has been suggested too that the Mycenaean palace states may have been similarly extractive and controlling regimes (even characterized as “oriental” and “despotic”), and that they reorganized economic relations to their benefit in their areas of influence.80 This seems too extreme in the Greek case, where the consensus seems to be that the direct “hand” of the palace may have been rarely felt directly and even when felt need not have been oppressive; certainly the Linear B texts are no longer regarded as showing the palaces had control over most aspects of life.81 The view that the entire economy was restructured by the palaces to the extent that it then became fragile seems implausible. Even so, opting out of the system, for people at different levels of society, would have been a possibility.

Maran has recently argued that the needs of the palaces in terms of labour requirements for palace work, building and military service could have caused difficulties in life at a village level and in agricultural production, which in turn would have undermined the palaces.82 It could be that the palaces attempted to deepen their control in certain ways over time. In this context, the operation of the palaces may have created resentment from the wider population and led to the violent overthrow of palace regimes and the rejection of their ideological and economic system.

Chadwick and Hooker suggested that the Dorians, one of the later Greek “tribes,” were a subject class in Mycenaean Greece and that they revolted, overthrowing the Mycenaean system.83 However, while revolts of this kind, for example helot revolts, are known from historical times, there is no real evidence for a large subject class in Mycenaean times. Despite the last point, social upheaval, peasant revolts, or some other kind of revolution cannot be ruled out as a possible part of the collapse.

Where We Stand with the Mycenaean Collapse

Cline describes our understanding of the collapse well: “We do know that many possible variables may have had a contributing role in the collapse, but we are not even certain we know all of the variables and we undoubtedly do not know which ones were critical.”84 In addition, we have no “historical” data, which would fill in many gaps, though, as with the Hittite or Roman collapses where texts are informative, such knowledge does not necessarily make explaining collapse any easier. It even remains unclear whether collapse was gradual, following a period of anxiety, “decline,” or instability (whether caused by climate shifts or conflict), or sudden; the evidence can be read both ways.85 Multi-causal explanations are now preferred over monocausal explanations and the events and processes of collapse will have fed back in complex and unpredictable ways; many factors will have come into play. But it remains possible that there was one key driver of collapse, such as the rise of an unstable hegemonic state, and that other factors were of limited or no significance.

None of the destructions c. 1200 BC in Greece or elsewhere can be tied to the Sea Peoples—or indeed to any specific attackers, though “locals” or known and traditional enemies would appear the most likely agents. While mass migrations are implausible and not clearly described by the evidence, there was clearly mobility in the eastern Mediterranean through the Late Bronze Age through into the Early Iron Age, but the relation, if any, of mobility to collapse is unclear.86 The temptation with scattered pieces of evidence, textual and archaeological, as well as scientific, is to weave them together into a connected “big picture” narrative, but these may be no more than modern fictions.

In the final analysis, human factors must be regarded as the most important to the story of collapse—people destroyed the palaces and in the Argolid people chose to rebuild the megaron buildings of the destroyed palaces in a new style (as with Building T at Tiryns); quite possibly the (new?) ruler here had much less power and a position that was not supported by, or was deliberately distanced from the palatial-era “hearth-wanax” ideology, whilst it also recalled the locus of power of the earlier kings.87 In other places, such as Pylos, the palace was not rebuilt at all, through choice or inability; the political and populated landscape of Messenia changed considerably. And, given the long knowledge of writing in the Aegean, even with its restricted use in Mycenaean Greece, and the improbability that no-one could remember it being used, a conscious rejection of the palace system it was associated with is surely indicated. Rutter suggests such a rejection based on readings of Postpalatial iconography, which may be re-using palatial themes and motifs in a mocking or at least a non-deferential manner (see LH IIIC pyxis from Lefkandi showing griffins feeding baby griffins, Chalkis and Eretria archaelogical museum).88

Yet generalisations can be difficult to make. The Postpalatial period may have been less stable, with more smaller units involved in protracted low-level conflict, although martial representations such as the Warrior Vase, and other pictorial pots with scenes of conflict on ships, need not be taken as a literal index of this. But then the apparent stability of earlier times may also be illusory if we consider the dynamism and complex interrelations that must have existed, and the potential for kingdoms to seek to extend their influence—it would be a historical oddity if in the Mycenaean period the Aegean had been entirely peaceful (even though we must reject the simplistic characterization of “warlike Mycenaeans”).89 The big kingdoms at least disappeared though, so the nature of interrelations must have changed. There was continued activity in the northwestern Peloponnese, the Euboean Gulf area, and in the Aegean islands. In Crete, habitation patterns changed radically, and some might seek to link this with an increase sailor-warriors from central Greece, though Wallace argues for an organized and deliberate process; Vlachopoulos suggests the Postpalatial period was a fairly peaceful time in the Aegean itself, with island regions continuing to develop along their own trajectories free of the mainland polities.90

Quite possibly there was more or more major conflict before and around 1200 BC, which was part of the collapse. That martial scenes were iconographically significant in the Postpalatial, though, must somehow reflect the concerns of whatever market was acquiring the pottery, but whether the scenes depict reality or myth or both is unclear. The Postpalatial Mycenaean and the so-called dark age may have been a time of significant inspiration for the Homeric poems, with their themes of travel and combat, whether or not these describe a historical Trojan War.91

There was no replacement of population in the collapse and Greek continued to be the language (or one of the languages, for there were probably several in use) of the region. A number of gods and goddesses (including some from Minoan Crete) worshipped in Mycenaean times continued to be worshipped, including—Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon, though some, such as Diwia (a female counterpart of Zeus) disappeared. Some sanctuaries were founded in the Postpalatial Mycenaean period.92 A number of other customs and technologies also continued.93

The events of the collapse, the destructions, were enacted by people for historically specific reasons, and in Postpalatial Greece, the surviving parties and powers made decisions based on the new realities—economic, political, social. Post-collapse Greece remained “Mycenaean,” and Tiryns town expanded after the collapse, which suggests a continued capacity for organisation, building, and subsistence.94 Areas that had never been palatial experienced no collapse. The collapse of the major powers seems to have enabled some Aegean (e.g., Grotta, Naxos) and mainland communities (e.g., Lefkandi, Mitrou) to develop in their own right.95

Primary Texts

Depending on the view taken about the connection between the Mycenaean collapse and events elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, primary sources from Hittite Anatolia, Egypt, and from Ugarit may be relevant. The Hittite Ahhiyawa texts that probably relate to Mycenaean Greece have been collected and translated by Beckman, Bryce, and Cline.96 The Egyptian texts, primarily the Year 8 inscription from Ramesses III mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, and various tablets from Ugarit, connect those places with the Hittites in Anatolia, Alashiya/Cyprus, and Carchemish in Syria, and from them are (re)constructed historical narratives involving the identities and actions of “the Sea Peoples.” Some of the key texts are tabulated and discussed by Adams and Cohen and by Knapp and Manning.97

Links to Digital Materials

Two lessons (28 and 29) from Jeremy B. Rutter’s Aegean Prehistoric Archaeology will be of interest and have accompanying bibliographies:

Bibliography

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  • Cline, Eric H. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  • Deger-Jalkotzy, Sigrid. “Decline, Destruction, Aftermath.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age. Edited by Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, 387–415. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Dickinson, Oliver T. The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age: Continuity and Change Between the Twelfth and Eighth Centuries BC. London: Routledge, 2006.
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  • Drews, Robert. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 BC. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Finné, Martin, Holmgren, K., Shen, C-C., Hu, H-M., Boyd, M., and Stocker, S. (2017). “Late Bronze Age Climate Change and the Destruction of the Mycenaean Palace of Nestor at Pylos.” PLoS One 12(12).
  • Fischer, Peter, M., and Teresa M. Burge, eds. “Sea PeoplesUp-to-Date: New Research on Transformation in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 13th-11th Centuries bce. Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Academie der Wissenschaften, 2017.
  • Gitin, Seymour, Amihai Mazar, and Ephraim Stern, eds. Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: Thirteenth to Early Tenth Centuries bce. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1998.
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  • Kramer-Hajos, Margaretha. Mycenaean Greece and the Aegean World: Palace and Province in the Late Bronze Age. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Middleton, Guy D. The Collapse of Palatial Society in Late Bronze Age Greece and the Postpalatial Period. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2010.
  • Middleton, Guy D. “Reading the Thirteenth Century BC in Greece: Crisis, Decline, or Business as Usual?” In Crisis to Collapse: The Archaeology of Social Breakdown. Aegis 11. Edited by Tim Cunningham and Jan Driessen, 87–97. Louvain, Belgium: Louvain University Press, 2017.
  • Murray, Sarah C. The Collapse of the Mycenaean Economy: Imports, Trade, and Institutions, 1300–700 bce. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Oren, Eliezer. D., ed. The Sea Peoples and their World: A Reassessment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.
  • Parkinson, William A., and Michael L. Galaty, eds. Archaic State Interaction: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2009.
  • Popham, Mervyn. “The Collapse of Aegean Civilization at the End of the Late Bronze Age.” In The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe. Edited by Barry Cunliffe, 277–303. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Rutter, Jeremy B. “Cultural Novelties in the Post-Palatial Aegean World: Indices of Vitality or Decline?” In The Crisis Years: The 12th Century BC: From Beyond the Danube to the Tigris. Edited by William A. Ward and Martha S. Joukowsky, 61–78. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1992.
  • Sandars, Nancy K. The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean, 1250–1150 BC. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978/1985.

Notes

  • 1. Guy D. Middleton, Understanding Collapse: Ancient History and Modern Myths (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Guy D. Middleton, “The Show Must Go On: Collapse, Resilience, and Transformation in 21st-Century Archaeology,” Reviews in Anthropology 46, nos. 2–3 (2017), 78–105; and Guy D. Middleton, “This Is the End of the World as We Know It: Narratives of Collapse and Transformation in Archaeology and Popular Culture,” in The Discourses of Environmental Collapse, ed. Alison Vogelaar, Brack Hale, and Alexandra Peat (London: Routledge, 2018).

  • 2. Glenn, M. Schwartz, “From Collapse to Regeneration,” in After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, ed. Glenn M. Schwartz and John J. Nichols (Tucson: Arizona University Press, 2006), 3–17.

  • 3. Joseph A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 4–5, 38. Although a theory of “slow collapse” is proposed by Rebecca and Glenn Storey in Rome and the Classic Maya: Comparing the Slow Collapse of Civilizations (New York: Routledge, 2017), 11–12; and Karl W. Butzer, “Collapse, Environment, and Society,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 109, no. 10 (2012): 3632–3639 suggests collapse could happen on a centennial time scale.

  • 4. George L. Cowgill, “Onward and Upward with Collapse,” in The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations, ed. Norman Yoffee and George L. Cowgill (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988), 256; and Norman Yoffee, “The Collapse of Ancient Mesopotamian States and Civilization,” in The Collapse of Ancient States, ed. Yoffee and Cowgill, 45.

  • 5. For example: Vincent Desborough, The Last Mycenaeans and Their Successors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), 218; For example, Oliver, T. Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 306; Michael L. Galaty and William A. Parkinson, “2007 Introduction: Mycenaean Palaces Rethought,” in Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces II, revised and expanded 2nd ed., ed. Michael L. Galaty and William A. Parkinson (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2007), 1–17; Kim Shelton, “Mainland Greece,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (ca. 3000–1000 BC), ed. Eric H. Cline (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 143; and Carol G. Thomas, “A Mycenaean Hegemony? A Reconsideration,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 90 (1970): 184–192.

  • 6. Panagiota A. Pantou, “Mycenaean Dimini in Context: Investigating Regional Variability and Socioeconomic Complexities in Late Bronze Age Greece,” American Journal of Archaeology 114, no. 3 (2010): 381–401.

  • 7. Birgitta Eder and Rheinhard Jung, “‘Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno’: The Mycenaean Palace System,” in Tradition and Innovations in the Mycenaean Palatial Polities, ed. J. Weilhartnerand and F. Ruppenstein (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Science, 2015), 113–140; Jorrit M. Kelder, “A Great King at Mycenae. An Argument for the Wanax as Great King and the Lawagetas as Vassal Ruler,” Palamedes 3 (2008): 49–74; and Jorrit M. Kelder, The Kingdom of Mycenae: A Great Kingdom in the Late Bronze Age Aegean (Bethesda: CDL Press, 2010).

  • 8. But see Vassilis P. Petrakis, “An aspect of the ‘Mycenaean koine’? The Uniformity of the Peloponnesian Late Helladic III Palatial Megara in its Heterogenous Context,” in The Aegean and its Cultures, ed. Georgios Deligiannakis and Yannis Galanakis (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2009), 13–25.

  • 9. Birgitta Eder, “The Power of Seals: Palaces, Peripheries, and Territorial Control in the Mycenaean world,” in Between the Aegean and Baltic Seas. Prehistory across the Borders. Aegaeum 27, ed. Ioanna Galanaki, Helena Tomas, Yannis Galanakis, and Robert Laffineur (Liege, Belgium: University of Liege, 2007), 35–46; and Guy D. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society in Late Bronze Age Greece and the Postpalatial Period (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2010), 7. See also Emiliano Arena, “Mycenaean Peripheries during the Palatial Age: The case of Achaia,” Hesperia 84, no. 1 (2015): 1–46.

  • 10. Chris Mee, “Mycenaean Greece, the Aegean, and Beyond,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, ed. Cynthia W. Shelmerdine (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 368–369; and Sofia Voutsaki, “Economic Control, Power and Prestige in the Mycenaean World: The Archaeological Evidence,” in Economy and Politics, ed. Voutsaki and Killen, 209–211.

  • 11. Rhodes and the Dodecanese as Ahhiyawa: Penelope A. Mountjoy, “The East Aegean-West Anatolian Interface in the Late Bronze Age: Mycenaeans and the Kingdom of Ahhiyawa,” Anatolian Studies 48 (1998): 33–67. Against: Richard Hope Simpson, “The Dodecanese and the Ahhiyawa Question,” Bulletin of the British School at Athens 98 (2003): 203–237.

  • 12. Guy D. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 14.

  • 13. Jeremy B. Rutter in LHIIIC Chronology and Synchronisms, ed. Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy and Michaela Zavadil (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2003), 255; and Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, “Review of Aegean Prehistory VI: The Palatial Bronze Age of the Southern and Central Greek Mainland,” American Journal of Archaeology 101, no. 3 (1997): 537–585.

  • 14. Penelope A. Mountjoy, “The Destruction of the Palace at Pylos Reconsidered,” Annual of the British School at Athens 92 (1997): 195–227; Penelope A. Mountjoy, Regional Mycenaean Decorated Pottery (Rahden, Germany: Leidorf, 1999), 36–36, 75, 152–153; and Malcolm Wiener in Deger-Jalkotzy and Zavadil, LHIIIC Chronology and Synchronisms, 246.

  • 15. Rutter, LHIIIC Chronology and Synchronisms, 255.

  • 16. See discussion in Jan Driessen and Charlotte Langohr, “Recent Developments in the Archaeology of Minoan Crete,” Pharos 20 (2015): 75–115; and Erik Hallager, “Crete,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Cline, 149–159.

  • 17. Sturt W. Manning, “Why Radiocarbon Dating 1200 BCE Is Difficult: A Sidelight on Dating the End of the Late Bronze Age and the Contrarian Contribution,” Scripta Mediterranea 27–28 (2006–2008): 53–80.

  • 18. Eric H. Cline, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 1–2.

  • 19. Joseph Maran, “Political and Religious Aspects of Architectural Change on the Upper Citadel of Tiryns: The Case of Building T,” in POTNIA. Deities and Religion in the Aegean Bronze Age, ed. Robert Laffineur and Robin Hagg (Liege, Belgium: University of Liege, 2001), 113–122.

  • 20. Joseph Maran, “Tiryns Town after the Fall of the Palace: Some New Insights,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 46 (2002): 223–224.

  • 21. Anne P. Chapin, “Frescoes,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Cline, 232.

  • 22. Oliver T. Dickinson, “The Collapse at the End of the Bronze Age,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Cline, 486.

  • 23. Jan Driessen, “Chronology of the Linear B Texts,” in A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World, ed. Yves Duhoux and Anna Morpurgo Davies (Louvain: Peeters, 2008), 69–79.

  • 24. Nicole Hirschfeld, “Cypro-Minoan,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Cline, 380.

  • 25. Anthony M. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000 [1971]), 364. Figures discussed in Oliver T. Dickinson, The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age: Continuity and Change Between the Twelfth and Eighth Centuries BC (London: Routledge, 2006), 93–98.

  • 26. Vincent Desborough, The Greek Dark Ages (London: Ernest Benn, 1972), 18.

  • 27. Ian Morris, “Homer and the Iron Age,” in A New Companion to Homer, ed. Ian Morris and Barry Powell (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 540; and David W. Tandy, Warriors into Traders. The Power of the Market in Early Greece (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 20.

  • 28. Dickinson, Aegean from Bronze to Iron, 93–98; Dickinson, “The Collapse at the End of the Bronze Age,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Cline, 486.

  • 29. Dickinson, “The Collapse at the End of the Bronze Age,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Cline, 483; and Mieke Prent, “The 6th Century BC in Crete: the Best Candidate for Being a Dark Age?” in Caecvlvs III: Debating Dark Ages (Groningen, Netherlands: Archaeological Institute, Groningen University, 1996–1997), 35–46.

  • 30. Bachhhuber, Christoph and Gareth Roberts, eds. Forces of Transformation: The End of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009); Cline, 1177 BC; Tim Cunningham and Jan Driessen, eds. Crisis to Collapse: The Archaeology of Social Breakdown. Aegis 11 (Louvain, Belgium: Louvaine University Press, 2017); Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy, “Decline, Destruction, Aftermath,” in Shelmerdine, The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, 387–415; Dickinson, “The Collapse at the End of the Bronze Age,” in Cline, The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean; Peter M. Fischer and Teresa M. Burge, eds. “Sea Peoples” Up-to-Date: New Research on Transformation in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 13th–11th Centuries BCE (Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Academie der Wissenschaften, 2017); Bernard Knapp and Sturt W. Manning, “Crisis in Context: The End of the Late Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean,” American Journal of Archaeology 120, no. 1 (2016): 99–149; Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society; and William A. Parkinson and Michael L. Galaty, eds. Archaic State Interaction: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age (Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2009). Older but still useful are Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 BC. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Eliezer D. Oren, ed. The Sea Peoples and their World: A Reassessment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000); Mervyn Popham, “The Collapse of Aegean Civilization at the End of the Late Bronze Age,” in The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe, ed. Barry Cunliffe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 277–303; and Nancy K. Sandars, The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean, 1250–1150 BC (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985).

  • 31. Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos, “An Earthquake Engineering Approach to the Collapse of the Mycenaean Palace Civilization of the Greek Mainland” in Archaeoseismology, ed. Stathis C. Stiros and Richard E. Jones (Athens: Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper No. 7, 1996), 205–209.

  • 32. Amos Nur and Eric H. Cline, “Poseidon’s Horses: Plate Tectonics and Earthquake Storms in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean,” Journal of Archaeological Science 27 (2000): 43–63.

  • 33. Klaus Kilian, “Earthquakes and Archaeological Context,” in Archaeoseismology, ed. Stathis C. Stiros and Richard E. Jones (Athens: Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper No. 7, 1996), 63–68.

  • 34. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 38–41.

  • 35. Nur and Cline, “Poseidon’s horses,” 61.

  • 36. Amos Nur and Dawn Burgess, Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 259–261.

  • 37. Elizabeth B. French, Mycenae: Agamemnon’s Capital (Stroud: Tempus, 2002), 135.

  • 38. Nicholas A. Ambraseys, “Material for the Investigation of the Seismicity of Central Greece,” in Archaeoseismology, ed. Stathis C. Stiros and Richard E. Jones (Athens: Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper No. 7, 1996), 23–36.

  • 39. Stathis C. Stiros, “Identification of Earthquakes from Archaeological Data,” in Archaeoseismology, ed. Stiros and Jones, 129–152.

  • 40. Klaus-G. Hinzen et al., “Reassessing the Mycenaean Earthquake Hypothesis: Results of the HERACLES Project from Tiryns and Midea, Greece,” Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 108, no.3A (2018): 1046–1070.

  • 41. BBC, “Iran Earthquake Kills Thousands,” BBC News, December 26, 2003.

  • 42. Reid. A. Bryson, H. H. Lamb, and David R. Donley, “Drought and the Decline of Mycenae,” Antiquity 48 (1974): 46–50; Rhys Carpenter, Discontinuity in Greek Civilization (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1966); J. Neumann, “Climatic Changes in Europe and the Near East in the Second Millennium,” Climatic Change 23, no. 3 (1993): 231–245; Gordon Shrimpton, “Regional Drought and the Economic Decline of Mycenae,” Echos du Monde Classique 31 (1987): 137–176; and Barry Weiss, “The Decline of Late Bronze Age Civilization as a Possible Response to Climate Change,” Climatic Change 4, no. 2 (1982): 173–198.

  • 43. Brandon L. Drake, “The Influence of Climatic Change on the Late Bronze Age Collapse and the Greek Dark Ages,” Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012): 1862–1870; David Kaniewski et al., “Environmental Roots of the Late Bronze Age Crisis,” PLOS One 8, no. 8 (2013): e71004; David Kaniewski, Joel Guiot, and Elise Van Campo, “Drought and Societal Collapse 3200 Years Ago in the Aastern Mediterranean: A Review,” WIREs Climate Change (2015); 369–382.

  • 44. Drake, “Influence of Climatic Change,” 1866.

  • 45. Russell Hopfenberg, “Human Carrying Capacity Is Determined by Food Availability,” Population and Environment 25 (2003): 109–117.

  • 46. Marc Van De Mieroop, The Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 248–249.

  • 47. Kaniewski et al., “Environmental Roots”; and Kaniewski et al., “Drought and Societal Collapse.”

  • 48. Kaniewski et al., “Drought and Societal Collapse,” figure 1; compare Neumann, “Climatic Changes in Europe,” and Jan Bouzek, “Late Bronze Age Greece and the Balkans: A Review of the Present Picture,” Annual of the British School at Athens 89 (1994): 217–234, who also supported southerly migrations by Balkan peoples.

  • 49. Dafna Langgut, Israel Finkelstein, and Thomas Litt, “Climate and the Late Bronze Age Collapse: New Evidence from the Southern Levant,” Tel Aviv 40 (2013): 149–175.

  • 50. Martin Finne, Climate in the Eastern Mediterranean During the Holocene and Beyond: A Peloponnesian Perspective (PhD diss., Stockholm University, 2014).

  • 51. M. Finné et al. “Late Bronze Age Climate Change and the Destruction of the Mycenaean Palace of Nestor at Pylos,” PLoS One 12, no. 12 (2017): e0189447.

  • 52. Sturt W. Manning, “Comments on Climate, Intra-Regional Variations, Chronology, the 2200 BC Horizon Of Change in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Socio-Political Change on Crete,” in The Late Third Millennium in the Ancient Near East: Chronology, C14, and Climate Change, ed. Felix Hoflmayer (Chicago: Oriental Institute Press, 2017), 451–490.

  • 53. Guy D. Middleton, “Collapse of Bronze Age Civilizations,” in Climate Changes in the Holocene: Their Impacts and Human Adaptation, ed. Eustathios Chiotis (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2018). Personal communications from Martin Finne and Sharon Stocker for which the author is grateful. Also reported in Ramin Skibba, “Did climate change Bring Down Late Bronze Age Civilizations?,” Hakai Magazine, August 10, 2017.

  • 54. Cline, 1177 BC, 133, 137–138, 154–160.

  • 55. R. Gareth Roberts, “Identity, Choice, and the Year 8 Reliefs of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu,” in Forces of Transformation: The End of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean, ed. Christopher Bachhuber and R. Gareth Roberts (Oxford: Oxbow, 2009), 60–68.

  • 56. Guy D. Middleton, “I Would Walk 500 Miles and I Would Walk 500 More”: The Sea Peoples and Aegean Migration at the End of the Late Bronze Age,” in The North-Eastern Mediterranean at the End of the Late Bronze and Beginning of the Iron Age, ed. Lukasz Niesiolowski-Spano (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2018); Trevor Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 197; and Antonio Sagona and Paul Zimansky, Ancient Turkey (Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2009), 299–301.

  • 57. Guy D. Middleton, “Telling Stories: The Mycenaean Origins of the Philistines,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 34, no. 1 (2015): 45–65.

  • 58. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 41–45. See Jonathan M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997) on these myths.

  • 59. Knapp and Manning, “Crisis in Context,” 120–122.

  • 60. Drews, The End of the Bronze Age.

  • 61. Oliver T. Dickinson, “Robert Drews’s Theories about the Nature of Warfare in the Late Bronze Age,” in POLEMOS: Le Contexte Guerrier en Egee a l’Age du Bronze. Aegaeum 19, ed. Robert Laffineur (Liege, Belgium: University of Liege, 1999), 21–29.

  • 62. Margaretha Kramer-Hajos, “Sailor-Warriors and the End of the Bronze Age along the Euboean Gulf,” in Archaeologial Work in Thessaly and Central Greece, Vol. 2: Central Greece (Volos, Greece: University of Thessaly Press, 2012), 811–821.

  • 63. Jan P. Crielaard, “Basileis at Sea: Elites and External Contacts in the Euboean Gulf Region from the End of the Bronze Age to the Beginning of the Iron Age,” in Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer, ed. Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy and Irene Lemos (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 271–297.

  • 64. Penelope A. Mountjoy, “A Bronze Age Ship from Ashkelon with Particular Reference to the Bronze Age Ship from Bademgedigi Tepe,” American Journal of Archaeology 115 (2011): 483–488.

  • 65. Jeremy B. Rutter, “Reading Post-Palatial Mycenaean Iconography: Some Lessons from Lefkandi,” in Critical Essays on the Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honour of E. Susan Sherratt, ed. Yannis Galanakis, Toby Wilkinson, and John Bennet (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2014), 197–205.

  • 66. N. Claire Loader, Building in Cyclopean Masonry: With Special Reference to the Mycenaean Fortifications on Mainland Greece (Jonsered, Sweden: Paul Astroms Forlag, 1998).

  • 67. Joseph Maran, “The Crisis Years? Relections on Signs of Instability in the Last Decades of the Mycenaean Palaces,” Scienze dell’antichita: Storia Archeologia Antropologia 15 (2009): 241–262.

  • 68. Guy D. Middleton, “Reading the Thirteenth Century BC in Greece: Crisis, Decline, or Business as Usual?” in Crisis to Collapse: The Archaeology of Social Breakdown. Aegis 11, ed. Tim Cunningham and Jan Driessen (Louvain: Louvain University Press, 2017), 87–97.

  • 69. William A. Parkinson and Michael L. Galaty, eds, Archaic State Interaction: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2009); and Emily T. Vermeule, “The Fall of the Mycenaean Empire,” Archaeology 13 (1960): 66–75.

  • 70. Christopher Mee, “Mycenaean Greece, the Aegean, and Beyond,” in Shelmerdine, The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, 362–386; and E. S. Sherratt, “Potemkin Palaces and Route-Based Economies,” in Economy and Politics, ed. Voutsaki and Killen, 214–238.

  • 71. See now S. C. Murray, The Collapse of the Mycenaean Economy: Imports, Trade, and Institutions, 1300–700 BCE (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

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  • 73. George E. Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966).

  • 74. Phoebe E. Acheson, “The Role of Force in the Development of Early Mycenaean Polities,” in POLEMOS. Le contexte guerrier en Egee a l’Age du Bronze. Aegaeum 19, ed. Robert Laffineur (Liege, Belgium: University of Liege, 1999), 97–103; and Jack L. Davis and John Bennet, “Making Mycenaeans: Warfare, Territorial Expansion, and Representations of the Other in the Pylian Kingdom,” in POLEMOS. Le contexte guerrier, ed. Laffineur, 105–120. See also Timothy Earle, How Chiefs Come to Power: The Political Economy in Prehistory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); and Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

  • 75. Bryce, Kingdom of the Hittites, 290–293; Hope Simpson, “The Dodecanese and the Ahhiyawa Question”; and Sofia Voutsaki, “Economic Control, Power and Prestige in the Mycenaean World: The Archaeological Evidence,” in Economy and Politics, ed. Voutsaki and Killen, 210–211.

  • 76. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 54–67; Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 118–119.

  • 77. Petrakis, “AnAspect of the ‘Mycenaean koine’?”

  • 78. Middleton, Understanding Collapse, 68–85.

  • 79. Marc Van De Mieroop, The Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 247–249.

  • 80. Philip P. Betancourt, “The End of the Greek Bronze Age,” Antiquity 50 (1976): 40–47; Philip P. Betancourt, “The Aegean and the Origin of the Sea Peoples,” in The Sea Peoples and their World: A Reassessment, ed. Eliezer D. Oren (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), 297–303; and Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy, “On the Negative Aspects of the Mycenaean Palatial System,” in Atti e memorie del secondo Congresso internazionale di micenologia, Roma-Napoli, 14–20 ottobre 1991, 2: Storia (Incunabula Greca 98), ed. E. De Miro, L. Godart, and A. Sacconi (Roma: Gruppo Editoriale Internazionale, 1996), 715–728.

  • 81. Thomas G. Palaima, “Mycenaean Accounting Methods and Systems and their Place within Mycenaean palatial civilization,” in Creating Economic Order: Record-Keeping Standardization, and the Development of Accounting in the Ancient Near East, ed. Michael Hudson and Cornelia Wunsch (Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 2004), 269–270.

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  • 83. John Chadwick, “Who Were the Dorians?” La Parola del Passato 31 (1976): 103–117; and John T. Hooker, Mycenaean Greece (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976), 173, 179.

  • 84. Cline, 1177 BC, 170.

  • 85. Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy, “Decline, Destruction, Aftermath”; Maran, “The Crisis Years?”; and Middleton, “Reading the Thirteenth Century BC.”

  • 86. Middleton, “I Would Walk 500 Miles.”

  • 87. Joseph Maran, “Coming to Terms with the Past: Ideology and Power in Late Helladic IIIC,” in Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer, ed. Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy and Irene Lemos (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 123–150.

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  • 89. Oliver T. Dickinson, “How Warlike Were the Mycenaeans, in Reality?” in Athyrmata: Critical Essays on the Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honour of E. Susan Sherratt, ed. Yannis Galanakis, Toby Wilkinson, and John Bennet (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2014), 67–72.

  • 90. Vlachopoulos, “A Late Mycenaean Journey from Thera to Naxos in the 12th Century BC,” in Horizon: A Colloquium on the Prehistory of the Cyclades, ed. Neil Brodie, Jennifer Doole, and Colin Renfrew (Cambridge: McDonald Institute of Archaeology, 2008), 479–491; Andreas Vlachopoulos and Mercourios Georgiadis, “The Cyclades and the Dodecanese during the Post-Palatial Period: Heterogeneous Developments of a Homogeneous Culture,” in Nostoi: Indigenous Culture, Migration + Integration in the Aegean Islands + Western Anatolia During the Late Bronze + Early Iron Ages, ed. Nicholas C. Stampolidis, Cigdem Maner, and Konstantinos Kopanias (Istanbul, Turkey: Koc University Press, 2011), 337–367; and Saro Wallace, Ancient Crete: From Successful Collapse to Democracy’s Alternatives, Twelfth to Fifth Centuries BC (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

  • 91. Oliver T. Dickinson, “Homer, the Poet of the Dark Age,” Greece and Rome 33 (1986): 20–37; and E. S. Sherratt, “Reading the Texts: Archaeology and the Homeric Question,” Antiquity 64 (1990): 807–824.

  • 92. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 88.

  • 93. Jeremy B. Rutter, “Cultural Novelties in the Post-Palatial Aegean World: Indices of Vitality or Decline?” in The Crisis Years: The 12th Century BC from Beyond the Danube to the Tigris, ed. William A. Ward and Martha S. Joukowsky (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1992), 61–78; and Eva Rystedt, “No Words, Only Pictures: Iconography in the Transition between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Greece,” Opuscula Atheniensia 24 (1999): 89–98.

  • 94. Maran, “Tiryns Town after the Fall of the Palace.”

  • 95. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society, 68–112.

  • 96. Gary M. Beckman, Trevor R. Bryce, and Eric H. Cline, The Ahhiyawa Texts (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011).

  • 97. Matthew J. Adams and Margaret E. Cohen, “Appendix: The ‘Sea Peoples’ in Primary Sources,” in The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology, ed. Ann E. Killebrew and Gunnar Lehman (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 645–664; and Bernard Knapp and Sturt W. Manning, “Crisis in Context: The End of the Late Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean,” American Journal of Archaeology 120, no. 1 (2016): 99–149.