The End of Civilization (In the Bronze Age): Crash Course World History 211

The End of Civilization (In the Bronze Age): Crash Course World History 211

Hi, I’m John Green. This is Crash Course World
History, and today we’re going to talk about the end of civilization. Mr Green, Mr Green! Everybody knows civilization is
going to end with Y2K. We can’t survive the year 2000. Now, Me From the Past, turns out we get through
that one all right. And we’re not talking about monopolies among cable providers, or net neutrality.
In fact, we’re not talking about the end of *our* civilization, which everyone knows will
be brought about giant, transforming robots that can become cars. If you want to learn
about the end of our civilization in video form, might I recommend the major American
film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Instead today we are going to talk about the
end of a civilization in the ancient Near East at the end of the Bronze Age So in our first world history series, we talked
about river valley civilizations, like the Indus Valley, and Egypt, and Mesopotamia,
mainly because most textbooks split them up into separate civilizations. You know, teachers
like textbooks, and we want teachers to like Crash Course, so… yeah. But the thing is we’re used to imagining the
world as divided up into nation states, and so small and geographically-bounded civilizations
fit nicely into the way we think of the world. But that isn’t the way the world was always
imagined. So there’s an argument to be made that all
of these communities in the eastern Mediterranean — what historians sometimes call the Levant
or the Ancient Near East, because it is closer to Britain than it is the Far East — these
days we often call it the Mid East. It’s almost as though there is no actual “East” and “West”
on the globe. Anyway, you can make the argument that back
in the Bronze Age, all of that was actually a unified coherent system. It was one civilization,
kinda. Egypt, Mesopotamia, the states that grew up
in the Levant, and the empires of Anatolia, all of them have quite a lot in common. Let’s begin with our old friend, Trade. So
archaeologists have found goods manufactured in Crete in Egypt, and the names of Pharaohs
written in hieroglyphics in the Cretan palace at Knossos. But even cooler discoveries have
been made by underwater archaeologists. Wait a second, Stan – are there really underwater
archaeologists? There are? Where were those people on Career
Day? Ah, they were probably underwater. Underwater archaeologists excavate shipwrecks
and one ship at Uluburun in Turkey from the thirteenth century BCE had products on it
from at least seven different states. There was stuff like Egyptian jewelry, and copper
and tin (which are the raw materials for bronze, you know it was the Bronze Age after all).
And although the Egyptians were the central power in this Bronze Age trade network, the
Hittites were no slouches. I mean, they ruled an empire that began in Anatolia and spread
out to include much of Mesopotamia. In fact, they may have even gone to war with the Mycenaean
Greeks in a pre-Homeric Trojan War. How do we know this? Well again, Archaeologists. And this brings up another feature of the
ancient Near East in the late Bronze Age: Warfare. There is a fair amount of it between
Egyptian and Hittites and Assyrians and many other empires which rose and fell over many
hundreds of years. Wars were pretty common in the period of 1500 to 1200 BCE. You know,
rulers wanted to extended their power and prestige through military success and conquest.
And also that military success and conquest was one of the main drivers of economic growth.
“Eh, we could increase agricultural yields, we could come up with more efficient mechanization,
or we could go to war.” They always went to war. But there wasn’t just war. There was also
quite a bit of diplomacy. And when diplomats from these rival communities would talk to
each other, they would often call each other by family names or imagine family relationships,
even though they weren’t actually family. But that sense that they felt like family.
You know, families do sometimes have wars, indicates that it wasn’t necessarily different
civilizations. And sometimes the wars ended with diplomatic marriages, so rather than
just pretending that they were family, rulers of the late Bronze Age states would actually
become family. And then they could stop fighting and start trading, at least for a little while.
By the way, this is also the history of Post-Roman Empire Europe. So we have a trade network,
we have a lot of interconnected familial relationships (both real and imagined), but do we have a
civilization? Well, I would argue “yes,” even though it didn’t have a single ruler, or one
form of political structure, or even one language. But neither does “Western” civilization and
lots of people think that’s a thing. When you think about it, what people often
mean when we talk about civilizations today are systems. Like when we talk about Western
civilization, we’re not actually talking about Greece or Rome or England or France or the
United States, we’re talking about a set of structures, and religious and cultural traditions
that are closely related enough that we see them as forming a coherent whole. And the
same thing is true when we talk about Islamic civilization, which spans from like Sufi mystics
in Turkey to Indonesia, the country with more Muslims than any other on earth. So at least
according to that definition, the ancient Near East was a civilization. But this is
an episode about the collapse of that civilization, so what happened to it? Well there we have one of the great historical
mysteries. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Archaeologists have discovered that some time
around 1200 BCE, a number of the cities in the region suffered upheaval, disruption,
and in many cases destruction. Among those cultures that bit the dust were the Mycenaeans,
the Minoans of Crete, and our not particularly friendly friends the Hittites. Egypt didn’t disappear
but the political system there was rocked enough that Egyptologists say that this period
marked the end of the new kingdom, so called because it was very old. Until recently the
cause of this collapse was blamed on an invasion, or perhaps a wave of invasions by the mysterious
sea peoples. This idea comes from the Egyptian description from 1177 BCE that describes a
confederation of invaders. “…They were coming forward toward Egypt,
while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjekker,
Shekelesh, Danuana, and Weshesh, lands united.” By the way, mispronouncing things is my thing. “They laid their hands upon the lands as far
as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting” The sea peoples, possibly because they were
busy destroying cities or perhaps trying to come up with a better name for themselves,
didn’t leave any inscriptions of their own, so the idea of their invasion is kind of suspect,
but we do know that cities were destroyed, mainly between 1210 and 1130 BCE, we just
don’t know by whom. The story of the sea peoples probably stuck around for so long because,
you know, it’s a good story, and one that provides a tidy explanation, but what if it’s
wrong? Thanks, Thought Bubble. The other thing I
wanna note here is that we like to imagine that history is the result of like, humans
doing things. You know, humans are big fans of human agency, we like to be in control
of things. Historians have traditionally also been just a smidge obsessed with war, so if
we’re imagining why a civilization ended, we’re gonna imagine that it probably involved
humans and y’know, likely involved war. So what happened? Well, it could have been the
sea people. Like, there’s a letter from a town in northern Syria, which was burned sometime
between 1190 and 1185 BCE, the town was burned, not the letter, obviously, that’s how we found
it. It read, in part: “My father, now the ships
of the enemy have come, they have been setting fire to my cities and have done harm to the
land.” Now, that fits with what we know about the sea people: come from the sea, burn the
land, but the dating of the letter is uncertain. And there’s a different, very compelling,
non-human possibility: earthquakes. Now, I’m not an archaeologist, but archaeologists
tell me that when an earthquake destroys a city, its walls fall down in a particular
way, and you often find people crushed beneath them. When a city is sacked, the architectural
remnants look very different: there are arrowheads stuck in walls or in the bones of skeletons.
And we know there were earthquakes, thanks to archeo-seismologists, who are in competition
with underwater archaeologists to have the best job ever. They’ve determined that between
about 1225 BCE and 1175 BCE, the eastern Mediterranean experienced “an earthquake storm.” Wait, did
I just say earthquake storms? Must be time for the open letter. But first, let’s see
what’s in the globe today. Oh, that’s a nice little village. Wait, why did you do that,
Thought Bubble, that’s very sad! An Open Letter to Earthquake Storms: Dear Earthquake Storms, What a fantastic term. I would say that you’re
an example of historians naming something brilliantly for once, but in fact, you were,
of course, named by an archeoseismologist. The idea here, originally proposed by a guy
named Amos Nur is that one large earthquake can actually lead to a series of extremely
large earthquakes. They just kind of go down the same plate boundary, going baa-b’baa-b’baa-b’baa.
That’s the technical term for what earthquakes do. And earthquake storms, in addition to
having an awesome name, you are terrible. You just keep happening down the fault line,
like, for decades, it’s not cool, earthquake storms, stop it! Best wishes, John Green As you can imagine, this earthquake storm,
pretty destabilizing to the region both physically and politically. You know, if I lose like,
four hands of blackjack in a row, I start railing against the fates. An earthquake storm
would really challenge my, like, political and religious world views. And then there’s the non-earthquake environmental
calamity possibility. Again, contemporary science paints an interesting portrait here.
So, fossilized pollen has demonstrated that the period between 1200 and 850 BCE was notably
drier than earlier periods. And we also have records of famines from what I’ll just call
the Near East Civilization. Actually, I should think of a better name for it. The Lovely
Levant, the Bronze Age Brouhaha. You know, this is harder than it seems, actually. Anyway,
as we’ve seen in other episodes, drought and famine are consistently devastating, but they
don’t usually lead to full-on meltdowns of a social order. And interestingly, that’s especially true
of the region that we’re talking about today. Then there’s the theory that the region experienced
peasant uprisings. And there’s another that trade disruptions caused the economic system
to collapse. And then there’s a theory that emerged in the 1990s that shows us a lot about
how present thinking can influence the way we imagine the past. This theory goes that
the rise of private entrepreneurial traders undermined the palace based trading system
and created a disruption, similar to the ones that Silicon Valley likes to create. This
has become a very popular way of talking about the late Bronze Age, but it’s also a bit problematic.
For one thing, kings were not replaced by entrepreneurs. They were replaced, you know,
by less powerful kings, this is the way the civilization ends, not with a bang, but with
a whimper. All right, so you might be saying, this was
a really long time ago, and the people involved didn’t even leave pyramids for us to enjoy.
And we don’t even really know what happened. And that’s not history, is it, and also, can
anything that brought down a civilization 3000 years ago really be a threat to my way
of life? Yes. The interconnected trade and diplomacy based systemic civilization of the
ancient Near East is at least somewhat similar to the interconnected trade and diplomacy
based systemic civilization that we live in today. It’s just that, for us, that system
extends around the entire planet. And some argue that it was, in fact, the very interconnected-ness
of the late Bronze Age civilization that made it unstable. Sometimes, in extremely complex
systems, the failure of one segment can disrupt the whole thing. Like, according to historian
Eric Cline, “If Late Bronze Age civilizations were truly globalized and dependent upon each
other for goods and services, even just to a certain extent, then change to any one of
the relevant kingdoms such as the Mycenaeans or the Hittites would potentially affect and
destabilize them all.” 3000 years later, a credit crisis in the United States leads to
30% unemployment in Spain. An outbreak of bird flu in China dramatically increases the
price of chicken in Canada. And in 1914, the assassination of an archduke leads to war
in Japan. In the end, whether you take meaningful lessons
away from the story of the collapse of this particular civilization depends on how much
you see it as an analogy to our own world. If you believe that the Mediterranean world
between 1500 and 1200 was, as one historian put it, “A cosmopolitan and globalized system
such as has only rarely been seen before the current day”, then understanding what happened
3000 years ago can be pretty helpful. That said, it could have been global interdependence
or entrepreneurial disruption, it also could have been sea people. It’s certainly important
for us to imagine the present in the context of the past. But insofar as possible, we don’t
want too much to imagine the past through the lens of the present. And that’s why I
think, in general, it’s a good idea to be suspicious of any single cause imagining of
why historical events happened. Could the sea people, whoever they were, really have
been powerful enough to destroy this civilization? It’s no coincidence that around the world,
people are always talking about some version of barbarian invasions, and that is rarely
the true straightforward explanation of what happened — I mean, unless you’re talking
about the Mongols. It’s true, though, the Mongols were the only
barbarian invasion that showed the ability to like, single-hoardedly collapse a civilization.
Anyway, thanks for watching, I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad & Stacey
Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, and it’s possible because of these wonderful people
who make it, and because of your support through Subbable is a voluntary subscription
service that allows you to support Crash Course directly so that we can keep it free for everyone
forever, so if you have the extra change, we would appreciate your support. If not, just
thanks for watching, as we say in my hometown, Don’t Forget to be Awesome.

100 thoughts on “The End of Civilization (In the Bronze Age): Crash Course World History 211

  1. OK, John. The expectation that one tribe or one individual meeting anther has a conversation starting with the concept of how do we get to know each other. I am X, son of Y. My cousins are B and my uncles J. The meeting parties go on until one of them can recognize ( or pretend to) a relationship. It might have been easier in a limited space 3,000 years ago but..There is always Kevin Bacon.

  2. What´s about the huns? If you argue, they had help from bad climate and disease – yeah that´s correct, but so had the mongols and the huns had at least a big influence.

  3. An earthquake storm could topple a civilization but maybe not one so advanced. A protracted famine? Same. But what happens when they occur simultaneously and trigger desperate people to invade (the sea people) and/or the locals to rise up? It likely was a combination of every hypothesis out there. Except that the Sea People were probably a less than helpful symptom of the environmental problems than the root cause of the collapse

  4. Fake news is as old asAncient Egyptian hieroglyphs..bronze age were people constructing temples and statue out granite stone using bronze chisels and stone hammer… Hmmmm …bronze vs Granite ..? Or plastic knife vs Tree .. Is this presenter really really high..?

  5. Wow.. this is what they are showing to kids? Most people claim that the natural disasters that happened back then led to the sea peoples and it was a domino effect…. it all happened in a perfect storm.. it wasn't any one thing… I really hope teachers don't show this to their kids…

  6. There was no "bronze" century! The technology of casting bronze is more complex than forging steel. For casting bronze need crucible of steel. And still, primitive people received iron when they threw peat into a fire, in which iron ore fell, then they learned to forge it, forging sludge from it, cleaning it from impurities.

  7. Don't just casually leave a machine like that on your desk! It's very frightening… I imagine… to fascists, I mean. (¬_¬)

  8. yea no civilisation collapsed due to an invasion? and what happened to the inca mayan and aztec empire? the sioux, iroquese, comanche and apache? Like the mongols carried the black plague and used it even as biological weapon, the spanish conquista brought its own sicknesses and most of the people died due to this, but to argue that the colonization efforts were not an european invasion is equivalent to denying the land claims and sovereignty the indigen population and their empires had. Europeans were the sea people of american civilisations. That those parallels are not obvious to an american history teacher is baffling.
    btw u saw the collapse of the lothringian realm between France and Germany due to viking invasion. it was the destruction of the frankish civilisation and guess what: sea people.

  9. What if the sea people were like the Mongols, but instead of the steppes of Asia being their thing they were all about the sea? Like… boat mongols.

  10. It was the Sea Peoples. There is absolutely no doubt among historians and archeologists that it was them. Nobody who has looked into it even minorly could doubt that.

  11. What if the sea people were just a collective of tribes displace by the same earthquake storm and/or drought that hit the region? A lesser advanced/smaller/unprepared civilization can easier be displaced by such events than large empires as these who usually have some years of reserves.

    So perhaps it was a combination of drought / a series of earthquakes and then invasions from people who have no homeland left?

  12. "[Underwater archaeologists]- where were those people on career day?" I lost it. pfft 🤣 I've seen this before and it still caught me off guard (it's been awhile).

  13. "Leader of the Free World".

    Thr President of the U.S. is the leader of western civilization and the United States is the capital of Earth.

    Aliens descend. Demand to speak with the leader. Everyone is looking at what country???

    Damn right. Capital of Earth.

  14. God: Your beautiful civilizations have stood for 1,000 years. Sure would be a shame if something were to… happen to them.

  15. I really love the discussions and theories around the "bronze age collapse", I agree with so much you said here, but I had not considered the potential severity of something like an "earthquake storm" occurring and the obvious effect that would have on power structures of the time, and you introduced me to a profession I never new about in archaeoseismology, interesting stuff, and yes agreed again on the point of the relevancy of interconnected and interdependent economic systems today. History rhymes and repeats too often to ignore it.

  16. Why haven't they made any connections to the eruption of Thera/Santorini? Huge eruption, usually accompanied by a series of earthquakes=climate change for possibly a few decades+ massive tsunamis= death+destruction+ crop failure=famine=weaker states=collapse of said states.

  17. What if the sea people were Dread Pirate Roberts-ing it? People who heard a rumour of marauding people from the sea, and in desperation from the earthquake storms and/or drought took to raiding?

  18. The sea peoples where not misterious, they where composed of tribes that came from momdern day Italy, and Greece ,
    one of the Tribes were the famed Philistines Pelset that actually came from Crete… They lost alot of campaings against Egipt,
    that made the sea people coalition to shatter. Only the Philistines manage to gain a foothold near Modern Day Israel,
    the rest is History has they say …

  19. 75% opinion, 10% blubber, 15% fact.  I don't feel that I have actually learned anything from this video :/

  20. Appreciate seeing Admiral Akbar there, Thought Cafe. Also saw you using the Canadian flag for confederation. Well done.

  21. Scrolled down to count how many comments were made about Atlantis. They were all about Spongebob.

    I feel old as the sea itself.

  22. Why couldn't a drought or famine be big enough to disrupt or collapse a civilization? Just look at how crazy California got over a 4-5 year drought. People became politically polarized overnight.

    It also could have had indirect effects. For example, maybe the drought weakened the near-East nations, leaving them vulnerable to invasion by SpongeBob. Or the drought could have offset the global interdependent system.

    In general, I think the power of droughts and famines are underestimated in this analysis.

  23. The end of Bronze Age civilizations might have been due to Israelites,earthquakes,hail,strong winds, and disease

  24. HELLO!!! Proto-Viking from the Baltic Sea Bronze civilizations. Achaeans, Troyans, Achilles Proto Scotish Milites (bees because they had massed spears.) Philistines is actually Pallas-Athenians, Devoted Worshipers/Sea rovers from present day Finland, back then allies of the Troyans (y and j usde the same symbol in ancient scripts).

  25. John Green, I like you but I can't believe you're a sea people denier. There is a lot of evidence. This hurts your reputation.

  26. Everyone seems like they are watching this video for fun and then there's just me watching it for a school assignment.

  27. Personally, I understand the Sea Peoples as, rather than 'People of the Sea,' a 'Sea of Peoples.'

    IE: In times of great disasters (such as earthquake storms and famine) there are typically refugee crises. Newly migratory bands of hungry farmers driven off their lands by drought, people who had left destroyed towns and cities… these diverse groups could very well have overturned the social structure by challenging the chariot-based armies of noble warriors with massed combat. That's what my money's on anyway.

  28. What is Thoughtbubble implying with the note for the word "Confederation"?! Are we saying that Canada invaded ancient Egypt?

  29. lol, just watched the intro, and the first thing I thought of was, "Robots are gonna end us, aren't they?" 0:18

  30. The earthquake storms remind me of Japan with their many earthquakes, and the one that set the chain for the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.

  31. Even if there is a domino or ripple effect from civilization to civilization shouldn’t there be some kind of separation or boundary to sort of block out at least the sound of it so it’s not so jarring? I don’t think everyone needs to be aware of everything all the time; especially people from different places/lands that try to block out that sort of thing

  32. But didn`t the change from bronze to iron effect the trade network of this period quite dramatically and destabilize some of these states?

  33. Underwater archeology is a real thing. Our professors say it's a very demanded field right now, but you sort of have to be like Indiana Jones to do it. A lot more dangerous than brushing dirt.

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