Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Late Bronze Age Collapse, II, Part Two: Demand, Technology, and the Rise of the LBA States States.

On Thursday, I briefly considered a more accurate subtitle for this post:  "Or, Geebus, I didn't start writing this 'till 10, and I Have to go to work at 1:30." By the time I did go to work, I was well-launched into something overly-ambitious and underformed. I guess that there's an upside as well as a downside to installing Sid Meier's Colonization on your laptop. The downside is that you don't finish posts on schedule. The upside is that that gives you an opportunity to meditate and refine. And to consider really digging in and refining a hypothesis.

I'll start with excuses about discussing the Late Bronze Age collapse. (Apart from being ever-so-slowly at work on a history of the world). After all, I'm not an expert, and I put forward here is intended to be "provocative," (you know, like this) leaving the "masterly synthesis" to the experts. Why is this a live issue?

The (modern) problem, as I see it, is that the LBA yokes the idea of an Indo-European invasion to the idea that the collapse of early civilisations occurs due to exogenous factors. The connection was made during the earliest stages of "Indo-European studies"(lazily defined as German Romantics linking the newly discovered language family to the Trojan War, see, more laziness, Wikipedia here and the actually quite interestingly here.) That the battleaxe-waving, chariot-riding Indo-European barbarian persists after two centuries of research and revision, still as a hypothesis, looks like a case of conservation of a poetic image, although warm Imre Lakatos might defend it as legitimate science. I've been as rude and unpleasant as I can imagine on this subject, because I associate it with unfortunate political tendencies, sometimes expressed in a very unpleasant way, but that's just pique, and I have more substantive concerns that the "Indo-European invader" idea continues to associate race, language, and culture into an unravelable ball of bad ideas.

This is not an issue of scholarship. There's more than enough being done in academia here. It's an issue of art. Bad art can have consequences, as was pointed out long ago and in connection with this same construction. Modern nerd art has embraced these images and ideas, and the kind of academic attack being made on them will not move the modern practitioners of total art, computer game designers an inch. (See, I'm not just a crackpot historian. I'm also a crackpot cultural critic!) I feel that I can reach them where they live, and this post series will be an experiment in that. It will attempt a nerdly explanation for the LBA collapse.

And if I don't wear the cultural critic hat comfortably, I'm not alone in that.

We can't all be the Kinks.

 So now that I've got that off my chest I move on to the second point, which is that the LBA is perhaps our best example of a complete state system, as opposed to unitary state collapse. Intellectuals have had plenty of excuse to apply the idea of a colllapse in demand in the modern context. ("General glut?" Am I choosing my words correctly?)

So you know what makes great Internet reading on a monitor? A theoretical prolegomena! I'm already committed down that road after my first post, offering Yoffee's formulation that there is nothing more normal than the collapse (or, by implication, the rise of a new) archaic state, and my own rather less insightful claim that we have to take chariots seriously. So I'm going to go the extra mile now and talk about how some smart people have shaped the theoretical apparatus that I'm going to bring to this project.

First up, from Nathan Rosenberg, unassuming author of Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics
i) Learning has an irreplaceable practical component. We learn by doing as well as by instruction.
ii)  Learning-by-doing is the same as innovating-by-doing. As we learn a practice, we experiment with new behaviours and discard non-useful ones. This is indistinguishable from modifying the practice itself to produce a more valued outcome.

Corollary: Technological innovation is driven by demand. "Innovation is endogenous."

Up second, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer's Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Count me in with those who found Leviathan a flawed book, albeit for different reasons than John Zammito (having mostly to do with theology and ecclesiology). I'd also gesture here. My takeaway is this:

iii) Learning is embedded in our practice, especially tools used to produce knowledge.
iv) Knowledge is entangled with authority, authority with our tools.

Third is Andrew Sherratt, mostly as a short-hand for any number of modern theorists working veins begun long ago, who argue that

v) the (long distance) luxury trade is constitutive of authority.

So that's it. I'm going to take the most respected book in Science studies as my model, and try to make chariots matter. And by that, I certainly don't mean, "chariots are like ancient tanks, w00t!"

Taking his departure from modern theory (ie, Yoffee), Mierop's  outline of the history of the Late Bronze Age begins with the collapse that precedes it. For if nothing is more normal than for the creators of archaic states to blunder into developmental corners, than the proper unit of study here is from collapse to collapse.  is this:

And that's certainly one way of doing things. One take on the Middle Bronze Age era is that high civilisations emerged in several areas more-or-less synchronously and then collapsed together. By this view, the
1780, the glorious Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt comes to an end, to be followed by a fading dynasties taht give way to the Second Intermediate Period until 1650. At the same time, Shamshi-Adad is building his north Mesopotamian empire in the headwaters of the Habur river valley, the state that Hammurabi of Babylon will overthrow after its founder's death, leaving mainly a historical legacy that the Neo-Assyrian state will claim with the Assyrian King List.  Hammurabi dies in 1750, and his large and centralised state disintegrates rapidly after his death, culminating, perhaps as late as 1530, with the sack of Babylon by the Old Kingdom Hittite ruler, Mursili I. The Hittite state's history in central Anatolia can be pushed back by legendary king lists, perhaps into the 1700s, giving it a place in the MBA state constellation. We know less about the Elamite state in Khuzistan. Does the monumental wall sculpture that the Achaemenians honoured and the Sassanians effaced date to this Elamite state, or the next one? It's an interesting question, at least if, like me, you're a mean, stealing-candies-from-babies Zoroastrian revisionist.

By this time, c. 1550BC, the Theban Eighteenth Dynasty is well on its way to restoring a unified Egyptian state, and the Mitanni kingdom, located approximately in the same place as Shamshi-Adad's, is attested in an inscription by Idrimi of Alalakh. A new cycle of competitive state-building and social intensification has begun.

Or not. Unfortunately, the Middle Eastern chronology isn't as firmly situated as the Egyptian one. Mierop warns that we can't be sure that these events are synchronous, and his picture of them as such is theoretically informed. I prefer the synchronous theory, but I also see warning signs. It just might not be that simple, no matter how much we'd like it to be so. The LBA chronologies are synchronised by the Battle of Kadesh, but there's still too many boggy spots in ancient Iraqi history.

So, start with what we do know, which is the history of the campaigns of the warrior pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Ahmose (1550--1525), first of the line, defeated the Hyksos to the north, a "Semitic" state in the eastern Nile Delta usually conceived as a foreign intrusion into the national homogeneity of Egyptian culture/language/nationality, and as, sigh, battleaxe-wielding, chariot-riding barbarians. There appears to have been a breakaway state in the western Delta as well, but it wasn't foreign, and mentioning it is out of fashion in ancient history right now. I will, however, because I have no fashion sense, and eventually I want to make a fuss over it in connection with Crete.

 Memphis/Cairo is the strategic key to Egypt, so this was the major military accomplishment of the Eighteenth Dynasty, but there was plenty for the rest to do. Under Amenhotep I (1525--1506), if not before, the Theban state retook the western oases, taking over the Forty Day Road, with all of its economic and strategic implications. This was the first time that the Eighteenth Dynasty had to have access to a cavalry arm, and requires us to understand where the state was getting horses and equestrians from.

Thutmose I (1506--1493; or, minority vote, 1526--1513), third Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, was the first to campaign in the Levant. It's not uncommon to claim on the basis of wall illustrations that his chariot arm was "primitive," mainly on the basis of four-spoked wheels. They would certainly have been easier to build and maintain, but also more fragile and heavier. If, that is, we are seeing blueprints rather than some kind of artistic convention. It's supposed that the Hyksos "introduced" the chariot to Egypt. If so, there has been a remarkable technology transfer from foreigners to indigenous Egyptians, apart from horse-handling skills. Or, the second possibility is that the Egyptians are mobilising their cavalry arm on the basis of the number of horses that they can raise in Egypt itself. I don't know that we have a source that can tell us about the size of the Egyptian stud. (I'll bet that there is one, buried deeply in a European library, though.) I'm going to assume that it was small, and supplemented by imports. But from where?

Meanwhile, the rise of the Mitanni state on the footprint of Shamshi-Adad's can't be a coincidence. The excavators at Tell Leilan believe that they've found evidence that the city was the source of the onager/ass crossbreeds used to pull pre-chariot Iraqi war wagons. If so, the new state is in the same business, but with a more effective product.

So we're hugely focussed on horses, on the one hand, and the chariot itself, on the other. The first is an agricultural good. The second demands social organisation and specialised skills, as it is a secondary, perhaps even tertiary manufactured good. It will require bronze both for fittings, thus smelting, and for carpentry tools.

Carpentry tools may have vast implications. They can be used to produce better boats, and better shelters, the latter with huge implications for workshop space and suitability that European archaeologists have begun to illuminate with truly heroic posthole studies. (Possibly crazy person, but on technically firm ground, that I found googling around.) And they also have macroeconomic requirements: charcoal is an intrinsically local product, but tin, especially, comes from beyond the LBA world-system. Assuming something like hand-to-hand trade, this directs my focus towards the peripheral states in this system.

Next time, that will be my excuse for sharing Professor Mierop's exciting discussion of results from Pylos in the southwest Peloponnese, a likely jumping-off point for a tin route towards Spain, not Cornwall. (Sorry, romantics.)  I'm going to see if I can get my head around the question of whether the number of chariot-smiths is internally limited by the training rate, or externally, by the limits of the resources of the state? (That is, is the ambitious princeling short of chariot-warriors, or is there an unemployed surplus thereof.)

My gut instinct is that, initially, there is a shortage. Granted synchronicity, we can see the emergent warmaking apparatus of LBA states rising in place of MBA states bidding against each other for a scarce resource of skilled labour. As the existential struggle becomes fierce enough for them to take on their own training expenses, they will be able to offer a powerful form of patronage: skills. And if those skills include carpentry, I'm beginning to see a mechanism leading towards destabilisation.

Eh. It's a theory. And before I spin it, I really do have to look at Pylos, and pull some numbers for the chariot-train of an LBA army out of my rear.

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