During the late Bronze Age, the eastern Mediterranean was dominated by the “Group of 8,” the Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, Cypriots, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Assyrians and Babylonians. But around 3,200 years ago all of these civilizations went into steep decline—besieged by war, famine, corruption and bickering.
Now, as Colin Barras at New Scientist reports, a geoarchaeologist named Eberhard Zangger is proposing a much grander cause for the collapse: an extended series of ancient conflicts that he dubs “World War Zero.”
Last week, Zangger, head of the Luwian Studies foundation, which is based in Zurich, Switzerland, launched a book, as well as an extensive website, arguing that another culture he calls the Luwians began a series of invasions that eventually collapsed the other Bronze Age powers.
He argues that the peoples of western Asia Minor, who mostly spoke variations of a common tongue known as Luwian, formed another important source of power in the region. “For thousands of years the majority of western Asia Minor was politically fragmented into many petty kingdoms and principalities,” writes Zangger. “This certainly weakened the region in its economic and political significance, but it also delayed the recognition of a more or less consistent Luwian culture.”
He contends that the Luwians did eventually form a coalition strong enough to take on and destroy the Hittite empire. After that, he believes the Luwians were the “Sea Peoples” mentioned in Egyptian documents who raided that empire and helped destabilize the New Kingdom.
In recent decades, the theory has been developing that the Trojans spoke (or wrote) in Luwian.
Generally speaking, the academic consensus has tended toward the two most legendary events of roughly this era — the Trojan War and Exodus — either never ever happened or were minor occurrences of small importance with just random connections to larger events.