BMCR 2020.07.39

Change, continuity, and connectivity: north-eastern Mediterranean at the turn of the Bronze Age and in the early Iron Age

, , Change, continuity, and connectivity: north-eastern Mediterranean at the turn of the Bronze Age and in the early Iron Age. Philippika: Marburger altertumskundliche Abhandlungen, 118. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2018. vii, 468 p.. ISBN 9783447109697. €89,00.

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The historical reconstruction of the transitional phase between the end of the Late Bronze Age (hereafter LBA) and the beginning of the Early Iron Age (hereafter EIA)—roughly between the late 13th century BCE and the 10th century BCE—in the Eastern Mediterranean areas is a difficult yet challenging and fascinating subject. In recent years, a considerable amount of research has been conducted on this issue, either addressing specific case studies and regions, or providing overviews of the socio-political, economic and cultural dynamics of this complex period.[1] These new approaches have also prompted scholars to refresh the debate in international workshops, resulting in several collective publications.[2]

This is also the case for the volume here reviewed, which publishes the main results of an interdisciplinary project funded by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education, aiming at “a multidisciplinary reassessment of the relationships between the Aegean and the Levant ca. 1300-900 BC (and slightly beyond), i.e. in the period when a series of decisive historical transformations in the North-Eastern Mediterranean took place reshaping the historical and cultural fates of this region” (p. 1). Articulated in three international workshops held in Warsaw between 2014 and 2016, the project has culminated in this final publication, which gathers 24 articles from specialists of the LBA/EIA transition working in the fields of archaeology, history and philology, but also various natural sciences. In the introductory chapter the editors describe the methodological and epistemological approach of the volume, analyzing the North-Eastern Mediterranean area “as a hub of supra-local connectivity by tracing […] textual and archaeological evidence of both change and continuity” (p. 1). The LBA/EIA transition has long been negatively perceived as a sort of Dark Age—the paucity of material and textual evidence proving the absence of long-distance and interregional contacts and exchanges—followed by a socio-political deep restructuring. Whilst such changes have been traditionally regarded as the result of a dramatic and violent set of events, linked mainly to the invasions of the so-called “Sea Peoples” and to massive ethnic replacements, eventually leading to a shift from territorial to ethnic states,[3] more recent studies have opted instead to stress elements of continuity in the processes of transformation at play.[4] Thus, the goal of the volume is to reassess the balance between these alternative views, challenging their respective limits by adding fresh data and up-to-date perspectives to the debate.

In the second part of the introduction, the editors summarise the content of each article and present the general structure of the volume, which consists of four parts. The first two parts cover together more than two thirds of the book while the fourth Scientific Perspectives has only two essays. Whilst the presence of this last section certainly shows a positive sign of collaboration in broadening the discussion beyond the disciplines traditionally involved in historical reconstruction, the unbalanced distribution of the articles makes it clear that the pooling of knowledge from scientific fields needs still to improve and presenting this part as “the main novelty of this book” sounds a little excessive, given that it looks more like a final appendix.

The articles in Part I present several case-studies allowing for reassessments of regional histories and for more general reconsiderations of the structural changes that affected the socio-political organisation of Eastern Mediterranean areas during the period in question. The first two contributions discuss cultural interconnections between the Near Eastern and the Mycenaean worlds during the LBA. Adding information from Hittite texts where the term Ahhiyawa refers toMycenaeans ethnic groups to the material evidence from coastal Western Anatolia, Piotr Taracha identifies this region as a peripheral area of particular interest for intercultural encounters which developed over a long period of time, thanks to Mycenaean settlement processes that started already by 1300 BCE and continued through the colonisation of the first millennium. Rostislav Oreshko cross-checks a large body of Near Eastern linguistic evidence to reconsider the use of Danuna and Ahhiyawa names, thus showing that, while they are both related to Mycenaean Greeks, their distinction and distribution pattern in Near Eastern sources seem to reflect the awareness of the ethno-linguistic diversity hidden under the uniformising effect of Mycenaean texts.

Emanuel Pfoh’s contribution critically revises the socio-political history of Syria-Palestine by comparing factors linked to its political organisation and political practice before and after the 12th century BCE crisis. Without underestimating significant changes and rearrangements in the organisation and extent of the territorial control of the regional polities, the author highlights the long-term resilience of some social configurations relevant to political practice, notably kinship and patronage relationships based on bonds of personal loyalty and reciprocity, which characterise the LBA as well as the EIA.

A central concern called into question within this first section is the narrative—primarily based upon the Egyptian inscription from Medinet Habu and the connected phenomenon of the “Sea Peoples”—of diffusion and migration that has long been used to explain culture and societal changes (Emanuel; Middleton; Núñez; Ben-Shlomo; Maeir; Bürge and Fischer). Guy Middleton discusses this traditional model by questioning the “Aegean migration school” and the equation between material culture and ethnic identity. The author prefers a more nuanced vision, based on the assumption that “technical knowledge and tools are transferable and not restricted to any particular ethnic group” (p. 109) and replaces the idea of “migration” with that of “mobility” which “can result in occasions of contact and may involve temporary or permanent resettlement [of] individuals, families, and small groups” (p. 98) in an interconnected region. Therefore, the impact of the migration phenomenon on culture change should not be overemphasised and equated with the unilateral imposition of a new material culture. Focusing on Central Levant, Núñez stresses the strong continuities revealed by ceramic assemblages that changed very gradually over time, against a cultural background deeply rooted in past traditions, and points out that “local factors condition and explain the nature, degree and extension of foreign elements adopted” (p. 118). Ben-Shlomo describes in a similar way the gradual, long-lasting process of integration of the Philistine material culture of “foreign” and western origin within Canaanite traditions in the Southern Levant during the EIA. On the other hand, his article offers a more cautious view of the interaction between these components within this regional context, arguing for a binary distinction between the domestic sphere, where “immigrant” elements seem to be more present, and the official/administrative one, where the use of “local” elements seems to have been preferred.

Ann Killebrew’s article explores cultural connectivity by bringing to the forefront the issue of trade and exchange networks between Cyprus and Southern Levant. On the basis of the archaeological record, the shift from the global economic context which characterised the LBA, where “elite pursuit of high value and prestigious commodities such as metals, oils, wines and textiles fuelled […] long-distance exchange systems” (p. 81), to the progressive decrease of institutionalised imports during the last two centuries of the second millennium did not imply the complete disappearance of supra-regional connections. On the contrary, the author defines this situation as “glocalisation”, a process combining the growth of local production with the simultaneous presence of long-distance and long-lasting yet less structured exchange networks, taking advantage of the decline of the Hittite and Egyptian centralised control on socio-economic interactions.

The second part of the volume returns to the issue of the circulation of material culture, ideas and social practices, going “well beyond the chronological scope of the volume to study far-reaching historical and cultural consequences of some of the phenomena involved” (p. 4). Jean Paul Crielaard’s interesting discussion of non-local tombs scattered across the Mediterranean and characterised by the presence of both locally made and imported grave goods of Oriental origin—such as Old-Babylonian jewels or haematite weights of eastern type—focuses on the role of “hybrid” and “bi- or multiple-cultural” individuals who “had an intimate knowledge of different social and economic cultures, and could function in more than one world at the same time” (p. 199). Sarah Murray questions the function of imported exotica as manufactured commodities circulating through maritime trade at the behest of elites, thus displaying not only economic networks, but also hierarchical differentiation within societies. The author points out that the depositional contexts of these objects in mainland Greece are often associated with ritual or workshop areas, and thus are connected with the presence of foreign craftsmen and merchants exchanging ritual and prophylactic practices, and not only with “politically-driven exchange among elites” (p. 228). Giorgos Bourogiannis gives a clear presentation of the transmission of alphabetic writing to the Aegean, discussing chronological and geographical issues. Vicky Vlachou’s article analyses the imagery of funerary rituals as represented in the iconography of terracotta larnakes found in Crete and mainland Greece. The author emphasises the power of images as a shared medium for communication of funerary beliefs in the Aegean, Egypt and the Levant, as well as the influence of local and regional traditions in the differentiation of symbolic meanings through time: “Images carrying a particular symbolic value are only valid and able to work because their “meaning” is recognized by the community who engendered them” (p. 265). Rebecca Martin considers connectivity through feasting practices linked to commensality, discussing the allegedly “Oriental” origin of symposion from the Levantine marzeah. By trying to delineate a more accurate definition of the marzeah concept, the author ends up showing that its identification is still vague, for its use in the sources can refer to a wide range of ritual activities. Moreover, she underlines significant differences with the symposion and argues that these two practices shared only general similarities, both being elite occasions that involved wine drinking, and she disputes “ecumenical views” which would prove misleading in interpreting interactions and sharing of ideas. This part of the book is closed by Gunnel Ekroth’s article, who adopts a similar view in comparing holocaustic ritual practices in the Aegean and the Levant. Her analysis, based on archaeological, zooarchaeological and written sources, highlights likenesses as well as differences between these ritual actions and emphasises the need for further study to better understand their respective functions within the specific religious system to which each of them refer.

The essays in the third section of the book analyse specific linguistic interactions and discuss the use of this kind of evidence as a means for tracing contacts between populations. These contributions deal with methods of establishing the chronology of linguistic corpora to better explain language contacts (Dariusz R. Piwowarczyk); Semitic loanwords in Greek by semantic group (Rafal Rosół); structural and lexical Anatolian influences on Greek (Zsolt Simon) and Semitic (Wilfred Watson) languages; and Anatolian multiculturalism in connection with a variety of cross-linguistic influences, presenting well-argued examples of specific “phraseological loan translations” (Paola Dardano).

The last section consists of only two articles. The first (Maciej Chyleński, Marcin Grynberg, Anna Juras) discusses the use of DNA analysis to provide genetic proof of the Sea Peoples’ migrations and to track their possible origins. Examples from Crete, Mycenaean Greece, Anatolia and Canaanite regions seem to indicate a general genetic continuity from the Bronze Age to modern times, while possible shifts of populations would have concerned only small groups of elite migrants. However, the authors highlight how important data gaps for the period in question prevent any definitive answer to the problem. The article by Argyro Nafplioti presents stable isotope ratio (87Sr/86Sr) analysis of archaeological skeletal remains from seven individuals found on the Greek island of Naxos, to test the hypothesis of their Mycenaean origin—as refugee elites who may have fled here in the aftermath of the collapse of the palatial system in mainland Greece—but, except for one case, the results are not consistent with an origin from outside the island.

Despite a few formal inaccuracies—like the heterogeneous use of upper- and lower-case letters in the table of contents and a certain unevenness in the quality of writing style—and the inevitable repetition of similar arguments across articles, the volume is a valuable and interesting publication. It offers comprehensive summaries of both traditional and current explanatory models, up-to-date critical reassessments based on recent archaeological discoveries and linguistic evidence, and a wealth of useful bibliographical references article by article. Most articles support the idea of important continuities, showing that many of the transformations detected in the EIA correspond to trends already set in motion in previous periods. More importantly, the publication as a whole emphasises the complexity and variety of the mechanisms at play and the multiplicity of factors, both internal and external, and of actors, both sedentary and mobile. The overall picture is one of a mosaic of non-homogeneous, long-lasting processes which combine at different levels, rhythms and degrees depending on regional contexts, thus necessarily calling for multiple and differentiated responses. Therefore, understanding the LBA/EIA transition in Eastern Mediterranean no longer appears as a matter of choosing between eitherchange or continuity, seen as opposite poles of the historical interpretation. In this respect, connectivity, the third element of the volume’s title, emerges as a crucial factor that must be kept to the fore for reshaping our views. The interpretation of such events also requires a balance between large-scale, supra-regional processes, and the weight of local economic, social, political, cultural and ideological phenomena. Finally, the volume shows how the pooling of textual and archaeological evidence is necessary in this endeavour, along with a precise contextualisation of each dataset at a regional scale, to better acknowledge the multiple forms, modalities and destabilising effects of cross-cultural interactions.

Table of contents

Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò, Marek Węcowski: “Change, Continuity, and Connectivity”, p. 1

PART I: Change, Continuity and Connectivity—Regional Reassessments
Piotr Taracha: “Approaches to Mycenaean-Hittite Interconnections in the Late Bronze Age”, p. 8
Rostislav Oreshko: “Ahhiyawa—Danu(na). Aegean ethnic groups in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Light of Old and New Hieroglyphic-Luwian Evidence”, p. 23
Emanuel Pfoh: “Socio-Political Changes and Continuities in the Levant (1300-900 BCE)”, p. 57
Jeffrey P. Emanuel: “Differentiating Naval Warfare and Piracy in the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age Mediterranean: Possibility or Pipe Dream?”, p. 68
Ann E. Killebrew: “From “Global” to “Glocal”: Cultural Connectivity and Interactions between Cyprus and the Southern Levant during the Transitional Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages”, p. 81
Guy D. Middleton: “’I Would Walk 500 Miles and I Would Walk 500 More’: The Sea Peoples and Aegean Migration at the End of the Late Bronze Age”, p. 95
Francisco J. Núñez: “The Impact of the Sea Peoples in Central Levant. A Revision”, p. 116
David Ben-Shlomo: “Pottery and Terracottas in Philistia during the Early Iron Age: Aspects of Change and Continuity”, p. 141
Aren M. Maeir: “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson (Jud. 16:20): Reassessing the Martial Nature of the Philistines-Archaeological Evidence vs. Ideological Image?”, p. 158
Teresa Bürge and Peter M. Fischer: “The Early Iron Age at Tell Abu al-Kharaz, Jordan Valley, and its Relations to the Eastern Mediterranean: Trade, Migration, Hybridization, and Other Phenomena”, p. 169

PART II: Cross-Cultural Approaches
Jan Paul Crielaard: “Hybrid go-betweens: the Role of Individuals with Multiple Identities in Cross-Cultural Contacts in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Central and Eastern Mediterranean”, p. 196
Sarah Murray: “Imported Objects in the Aegean beyond Élite Interaction: A Contextual Approach to Eastern Exotica on the Greek Mainland”, p. 221
Giorgos Bourogiannis: “The Transmission of the Alphabet to the Aegean”, p. 235
Vicky Vlachou: “New Images, Old Practices? An Imagery of Funerary Rituals and Cult in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean”, p. 258
S. Rebecca Martin: “Eastern Mediterranean Feasts: What Do We Really Know About the Marzeah?”, p. 294
Gunnel Ekroth: “Holocaustic Sacrifices in Ancient Greek Religion and the Ritual Relations to the Levant”, p. 308

PART III: Linguistic Approaches
Dariusz R. Piwowarczyk: “Chronology and Dating of Linguistic Corpora”, p. 328
Rafal Rosół: “Early Semitic Loanwords in Greek”, p. 334
Paola Dardano: “Semitic Influences in Anatolian Languages”, p. 345
Zsolt Simon: “Anatolian Influences on Greek”, p. 376
Wilfred G. E. Watson: “Anatolian Influences in Semitic Languages”, p. 419

PART IV: Scientific Perspectives
Maciej Chyleński, Marcin Grynberg, Anna Juras: “Late Bronze Age Migrations in the Mediterranean. Prospects for Approaching the Problem of Sea Peoples Using Ancient DNA”, p. 444
Argyro Nafplioti: “Isotope Ratio Analysis as a Tool for Reconstructing Past Life-Histories”, p. 451


[1] See, for instance, Cline, E., 2014, 1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Dickinson, O., 2006: The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age. Continuity and Change between the Twelfth and Eighth Centuries B. C. London: Routledge; Knapp, B. and Manning, S., 2016: “Crisis in Context: The End of the Late Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean.” American Journal of Archaeology 120 (1), 99-149.

[2] Such as, for example: Fischer, B. et al. (eds.), 2003: Identifying Changes: The Transition from Bronze to Iron Ages in Anatolia and its Neighbouring Regions Istanbul: Türk Eskiçağ Bilimleri Enstitüsü; Bachhuber, C. and Roberts, R. G. (eds.), 2009, Forces of Transformation: The End of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxbow. Driessen, J. (ed.), 2018: An Archaeology of Forced Migration. Crisis-Induced Mobility and the Collapse of the 13th c. BCE Eastern Mediterranean. Louvain-La-Neuve: Presses Universitaires de Louvain.

[3] Following, for example, the historical model proposed by Sandars, N. K., 1978, The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean 1250-1150 BC. London: Thames & Hudson, but also, more recently, by Yasur-Landau, A., 2010, The Philistines and Aegean Migration at the End of the Late Bronze Age. Cambridge – New York: Cambridge University Press.

[4] See, for example, Bell, C., 2006, The Evolution of Long Distance Trading Relationships across the LBA/Iron Age transition on the Northern Levantine Coast: Crisis, Continuity and Change. Oxford: Archaeopress.