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The Fall of Troy and Its Warning for 2020

by / Friday, 24 April 2020 / Published in Ancient History, Bronze Age, For Students, For Teachers

This week marks the traditional reckoning date for the fall of Troy, in 1183 B.C. The ancient Greeks calculated the date centuries later, and it may not be far off. Whatever the timing, the city’s fall offers a frightening warning for our world in 2020.

We know about Troy because of a blind ancient Greek poet. Homer told the tale of the Trojan War in his great poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. Modern readers long considered Homer’s tales fiction, but during the 1870s, a treasure hunter dug up ruins in Turkey that match Homer’s Troy. Fire destroyed the buried city during the 1250’s B.C., not long before the traditional date for Troy’s fall. And many of the ruins match the features Home described in The Iliad.

To Homer and his readers, Troy’s fall seems an isolated event. But Troy was not the only city to fall during the years before and after 1200 B.C. In fact, every major civilization of Mediterranean world fell – the Hittites, Babylonia, Syria and Palestine, the Mycenaean Greeks themselves, etc. – except Egypt. And Egypt almost fell. This wave of disaster ended Bronze Age civilization and launched a long, brutal dark age. Scholars have offered many explanations, including invasions (e.g., the famous “Sea Peoples”), climate change, disease, and barbarians with iron weapons. But the most likely explanation is that Bronze Age civilization had become too fragile, with each society dependent on extended trade networks for survival. When the troubles above disrupted the trade routes, they triggered a cascade of disruptions, leading to network collapse and disaster.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the modern world is also a civilization surviving on a web of trade networks. And we’re facing a massive disruption to our network, COVID-19, with others looming, like climate change. Let’s hope we do better than the Bronze Age kingdoms, particularly Troy.

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