Muscular new Jared (“Collapse”) Diamond review in the current issue of Nature looking at two opposing new books about societal collapses in history. This section about the collapse of Mediterranean culture in the 12th century BC is worth reading:
Within the Aegean, those hallmarks of civilization arose first on Crete because of its numerous geographic advantages. Its excellent harbours and position at the mouth of the Aegean Sea enabled islanders to trade widely with the nearby Greek and Anatolian mainlands and smaller Aegean islands, and with distant Cyprus, Egypt, the Black Sea, the Levant and Italy. Similar to Britain and Japan, Crete was close enough to mainlands to profit from them, but far enough away to be safe from invasion for many centuries.Crete’s soils, good for agriculture but poor in metals, nourished a large population that was motivated to trade. The mountainous landscape was dissected enough to spur state formation through competing polities, but not so dissected as to prevent unification. Crete was big enough to dominate the Aegean for a long time, but too small to avoid eventually being conquered by Greek mainlanders, the Myceneans, around 1450 BC.Late Bronze Age civilization collapsed spectacularly throughout the eastern Mediterranean in the early twelfth century BC, for reasons that are still debated. All Mycenean palaces were burned, depopulation eliminated 90% of sites, Greece became illiterate for 400 years, state governments reverted to villages and great art forms vanished. One theory of the cause posits a domino-like collapse of the Mediterranean’s interconnected states. If so, the manner of the Bronze Age’s end could shed light on risks to today’s world, such as the milder, domino-like collapse of the globally interconnected financial systems in 2008-09.