Mysterious "World War 0" – the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations

Second millennium BC. Civilizations flourished throughout the eastern Mediterranean region. The New Kingdom of Egypt coexisted with the Hittite civilization of central Asia Minor (a peninsula also known as Anatolia), the Mycenaean civilization of Greece as well as countless other civilizations.

However, in just over a generation, it all fell apart. The cause is not climate change, earthquakes nor social unrest. Archaeologists have claimed to have found the last piece of the puzzle to explain the collapse of civilizations during what they call “World War Zero”.

Eberhard Zangger of the international nonprofit Luwian Research in Zurich, Switzerland, claims the organization has found that crucial piece. It was a mighty civilization in western Anatolia that has long been overlooked by archeology.

Mysterious "World War 0" - the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations
The conflict between the winner of the battle returning to the deputy.

Surveys by the Luwian Research Foundation show that western Anatolia is extremely rich in minerals and metal ores. That means the area was very important in ancient times. Through studying satellite images, Mr. Zangger discovered that the area was densely populated during the late Bronze Age. But so far, only a few of the 340 large urban-like areas have been excavated.

Hittite records mention several small kingdoms in western Anatolia that spoke the same language, Luwian. According to Mr. Zangger, that means we can consider them as people from the same Luwian civilization . Not long after the fall of the Hittite civilization, Egyptian documents record an attacking force they called the “Sea Men”.

Combining the two above information, Mr. Zangger believes that “Sea People” are the Luwians – the civilization that participated in the war between civilizations that archaeologists call “World War 0”.

According to the Luwian Research Foundation’s new Luwian hypothesis, a scenario has been proposed to explain the decline of the Bronze Age around 1200 BC. In it, many small Luwian-speaking kingdoms banded together to form an alliance to attack the neighboring Hittite empire. After destroying the Hittite empire, the Luwians dominated a vast territory from northern Greece to Lebanon.

During the second millennium BC, Luwian speakers lived throughout Asia Minor. They were trading partners with each other, at times enemies of famous civilizations such as the Minoan, Mycenaean Greek and Hittite in Asia Minor.

The modern world knows the aforementioned “Sea Man” through texts from Anatolia, Syria and Egypt. However, the name “Sea Man” is a word mentioned by the French Egyptologist Gaston Masspero in 1881. Egyptian inscriptions often refer to the names of tribes that suddenly appeared “from the middle of the sea”. and “from the mainland”. They were made up of separate tribes that formed a military alliance to attack Egypt and the Near East.

Details of the “Sea Man” are depicted on the walls of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II at Medinat Habu near modern-day Luxor (Egypt). Through it, people know what they look like, how they dress, what weapons they use, what trains they ride.

According to these inscriptions, “Sea Man” first appeared around 1208 BC, the 5th year of Pharaoh Merenptah’s reign. At the moment, Egypt is facing attacks from Libya – the enemy to the west is approaching the border with some allies known as the Northerners.

On a famous victory stele discovered in 1896 at the temple of Merenptah in Thebes, Pharaoh Merenptah claimed he had defeated his enemies and presented a list of Libya’s allies – whom we call “the People of Sea” : Shardana, Lukka, Meshwesh, Teresh, Ekwesh and Shekelesh. Most of these tribes appear to be from the Aegean and it is not clear why they sided with Libya. It is also unclear whether Pharaoh Merenptah’s claim of defeating an enemy is accurate, since after this battle, Egypt almost fell into civil war.

Thirty years after the encounter between Pharaoh Merenptah and the “Sea Man” , around 1177 BC, Pharaoh Ramses ordered the construction of a temple and private residence in Thebes. The architecture and inscriptions on the walls recall the great events of the previous decades. Accordingly, the “Sea Man” has returned, this time to attack the shores of the Mediterranean.

Mysterious "World War 0" - the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations
Luwian-speaking small kingdoms (small dot) join forces against the Hittite empire (big dot).

The inscription reads as follows: Foreign nations have conspired in their land. The places they went to were simultaneously shaken and scattered in the war. No country can stand against their weapons. Hatti, Kizzuwatna, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alasiya are cut off. They destroyed the people and the land as if nothing had ever existed. They headed to Egypt when the fire was prepared. Their alliance is Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh. They put their hands on this land with hearts filled with confidence that “Our plan will work”.

However, Pharaoh Ramses and his soldiers defeated the invaders. When the defeated begged for forgiveness, the Pharaoh allowed them to settle in his land. The words of Pharaoh Ramses are recorded as follows: “I killed the Denyens on the islands, and the Tjekers and Pelesets were reduced to ashes. The Shardana and Weshesh who came from the sea were taken captive of Egypt. I settled them. in my stronghold. They have hundreds of thousands of people. Every year I tax them on everything in the form of cloth, grain.”

By the time the “Sea Men” attacked Egypt for the second time, much of the area mentioned in the Medinat Habu inscriptions was either occupied by or allied with the Hittite kingdom of central Anatolia. Therefore, the purpose of the raids may have been to weaken the Great Hatti in the outer circle by attacking his allies. According to royal communications from Ugarit and Cyprus, the fleets of the “Sea Men” landed at the southwestern tip of the Anatolian peninsula. From here, they attacked the west coast of Cyprus first.

However, close battles between “Sea Men” and Hittite soldiers also took place throughout mainland Anatolia. King Hatti had to ask his vassals in the port city of Ugarit in northern Syria to offer him more troops and food. However, Ugarit himself was also threatened by the “Sea Man” .

Desperate for help, the teenage king of Ugarit wrote to the king of Cyprus: “Enemy ships are here. They have burned my cities and have done great damage to my country. … Don’t you know that all my soldiers are stationed at Hittete, that all of my ships are still anchored in Lycia and have not returned? Therefore, the country is being neglected. Consider this, there are 7 enemy ships have arrived and caused great damage. Now, in case there are more enemy ships, let me know so I can decide what to do.”

This letter never left Ugarit. Archaeologists found it in a furnace where King Ugarit intended to burn it before the postman took it away. At the peak of economic and cultural development, there is no sign of recession, yet Ugarit has been wiped out, never to be re-established.

At this time, the pressure on the Great Hatti increased. He commanded soldiers to counter-attack the enemy. However, later, enemy forces reached the Hittite capital Hattusa, completely destroying this 600-year-old civilization.

Similar destructive traits appeared in most cities attacked by “Sea People” . They targeted government buildings, palaces, and temples, but did not destroy residential areas and the countryside. “Sea Man” only targets power control centers to preserve power and shorten the war. After Hattusa and Ugarit, many other cities in Anatolia, Syria and Palestine fell to the “Sea Man”.

When the Great Hatti was destroyed, the “Sea Man” suddenly became the master of a vast area stretching from the Aegean to Palestine. Later, they were weakened by internal struggles and no longer had the strength to fight the enemy. There was only one country powerful enough to fight the Anatolian allies, and that was the Greek Mycenaean civilization.

Although Greece was not attacked, it clearly faces a difficult future with a powerful neighbor like Anatolia. After much preparation, a Greek army entered the battle, intending to attack the city centers. As the Anatolians were busy in the Near East and Egypt, Greek soldiers swept through central Anatolia, forcing the Anatolians to retreat to defend the stronghold.

Finally, the two armies faced each other at Troy in Anatolia – a battle that decided the outcome of an unprecedented war. The battle at Troy took place around 1186 BC and lasted several months. Troy fell. The Mycenaean civilization of Greece triumphed.

However, after the war, no one really won. Many famous Greek noblemen lost their lives. The survivors struggled to regain leadership from their deputy upon their return. The victorious army was exhausted, unable to take back what was taken at home after returning victorious. Civil war broke out. The Mycenaean civilization was torn apart.

Researchers from Luwian Research think that this scenario could explain why the end of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt end. However, not all archaeologists immediately believed in the concept of Luwian civilization.

Christoph Bachhuber of the University of Oxford said: “Archaeologists will need to uncover samples of similar temple art and architecture throughout western Anatolia and inscriptions from these areas to verify the accuracy of the claims. Zangger’s father on a civilization” . The concept of “World War Zero” is also controversial. Most archaeologists would dispute the use of the term when referring to ancient international conflict.