2013 photo of an excavation of an ancient battlefield in northern Germany. The Battle of Tollense fits into a period of increased warfare and upheaval. (Photo: C. Harte-Reiter)
Dr. Alice C. Linsley
The period 1400-1200 B.C. was a time of significant social change characterized by political upheaval, warfare, advances in war technologies, climate changes, earthquakes, and plagues. Hittite texts speak of a plaque that lasted nearly twenty years. This period is referred to as the "Bronze Age Collapse."
Many factors led to a decline in prosperity, stability, and peace. There was conflict between the kingdoms of Troy and Mycenaean Greece. Pharaoh Merneptah waged war against the Libyans and the "Sea Peoples" as recorded on the Israel Stele. The Philistines were expanding their coastal territories inland. Deborah rose to judge the clans of Israel at a time when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6).
The geologists Amos Nur and Dawn Burgess have suggested that earthquakes contributed to the collapse of many Bronze Age cities and settlements. They explain: “Earthquakes might be detected in the archaeological record, by analyzing geological formations, faults, structural movement, human remains, the collapse of pillars and walls, and inscriptions."
Nur believes that earthquakes played a part in the enigmatic and quick disappearance of so many Bronze Age civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean during a 50-year period around 1200 B.C.
The use of bronze made warfare much more lethal. Bronze was used for daggers, swords, and shields and could be decorated in a very extravagant way. Bronze weapons equipped standing armies, mercenaries, and pirates. War chariots were used from Egypt to China. These were fashioned in bronze using piece-mold casting.
Climate changes also contributed to decline. The driest event throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages occurred ~1250–1100 BC.
A World at War
The turmoil extended to northern Germany where archaeologists have identified a major Bronze Age battle ground at Tollense. After the Tollense battle the scattered farmsteads of northern Europe were replaced by fortified settlements, suggesting the need for greater defense.
The unrest is seen in the Assyrian threat to many surrounding territories. In the Aegean, the cultural influence of Crete was overshadowed by the wealthy warrior-kings in Greece. The Mycenaean palace states were in decline, never to recover their former glory.
The Hittite dominance in Anatolia was greatly diminished with the fall of their capital at Hattusa. The kingdom of Ugarit fell in c. 1200 BC. The decline of the Hittite and Ugarit kingdoms were typical of the shifting social and political ground during the Bronze Age Collapse. The Hittite capital Hattusa and the Hittite royal burial grounds were left in ruins, destroyed in a wave of violence.
The number of Israelite settlements increased in the hills north of Jerusalem, and to the south of Jerusalem the rulers of Ammon, Moab and Edom sought to strengthen their borders and formed alliances with Egypt.
Edom was called Idumea by the Greeks, meaning "land of red people." In Genesis 25, Esau of Edom is described as red and hairy. David is also described as red or ruddy.
King David came to power in Judah c.1000 BC. He gained his throne through daring battles, alliances, and the endorsement of the great prophet Samuel who was sent to anoint David as Saul's replacement. The reigns of David and Solomon produced Israel's Golden Age. It shines ever more brightly against the backdrop of the Bronze Age Collapse.
Related reading: Plague and the Bronze Age Collapse by Dr. Louise Hitchcock; The Bronze Age Collapse - Mediterranean Apocalypse