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I usually use the phrase “World War Zero” to refer to the Seven Years War (a.k.a., French & Indian War) that George Washington more or less started at Pittsburgh in 1754.
But lately I’ve been reading up on the Late Bronze Age Collapse of 3200 years ago. From The Smithsonian:
Could an alliance among the “Luwians” have helped caused the collapse of eastern Mediterranean civilizations 3,200 years ago?
By Jason Daley
MAY 20, 2016
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.
Archaeologists still debate why the disruption happened and whether it was a caused by an external event like an earthquake or climate change or the result of civil unrest.
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.”
I’d call it World War Negative One, but that’s just me.
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.
According to Zanngger, the Greeks, in anticipation that the Luwians would turn their coalition against them, then launched a series of attacks on Luwians’ port cities.
In other words, an event you might have heard of: the Trojan War.
In recent decades, the theory has been developing that the Trojans spoke (or wrote) in Luwian.
After those triumphs, Zangger argues, the Mycenean Greeks returned home to find their deputies unwilling to relinquish power, leading to civil war and decline into the Greek Dark Ages.
Aeschylus had something to say about how these homecomings didn’t always go so smoothly. Homer did too.
… But not everyone is convinced the Luwians were ever a powerful force, and many aren’t impressed by the idea of “World War Zero.”
So, who really knows?
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.
Maybe. But I’m starting to think that so much cultural effort was put into remembering these stories because one or both really were important.
And, who knows, they may have even been connected in some fashion unknown to the authors.