This was the most stable way of life that human beings have ever known. The capital city of the empire would occasionally change, the names of the gods sometimes changing with it, but the actual way of life didn't change for thousands of years. Then, in the space of about 27 years, everything turned upside down. Out of all of the major bronze age cities we know of, all but two were attacked and burned viciously to the ground by unknown invaders or rebels. The first city burned around 1225 BCE. The last sighting of the city burners was when they were defeated at great cost by Ramses II in the Second Battle of the Sea Peoples in 1198 BCE. The effects varied from place to place, depending on how thorough the city burners were and how friendly the environment was to feral human scavengers. Let's take it counter-clockwise from that last battle of the end of the bronze age, empire by empire:
- Egypt: The only two great bronze age cities to survive were Memphis and Thebes. But the Pharoah spent so much of his army saving the kingdom that his dynasty ended, as Egyptian subjects from the south, up the Nile, came north and captured the throne. Written language and the bronze age model of society survived, but the change in dynasties marked the end of Egypt as an expanding empire; indeed, it is at this point that Egypt more or less withdraws from Gaza and Libya; the area along the Nile is all that they can afford to control.
- Hittites: Right before the end, the Hittites controlled everything that we now know as the middle east, having long ago conquered other empires such as Babylon and Assyria; they were at war with Egypt up to the very end. After the fall, for all practical purposes, there were no more Hittites, only a scattering of tiny towns too small and unimportant to attract the attention of the city burners. The largest and most successful of those small towns, Perseopolis, therefore got a jump start on the dark age, and when the dark age was over hundreds of years later became the seat of the mighty Persian Empire.
- Anatolia and others: We know almost nothing about the inhabitants of modern day Turkey from before the fall. Until archaeological discoveries in my lifetime, we didn't even know that there were empires in Turkey during the bronze age; the city burners were that thorough. Egyptian battle records from the Bronze Age list dozens of empires and kingdoms we've never heard of; only recently have we begun to suspect just how urbanized and wealthy and powerful Turkey was before the fall. Indeed, the crisis of 1200 BCE may have even started here. And archaeologists think that at at least one site in Turkey, the city burners came back only a few years later, found survivors trying to rebuild the city, and burned them out again. The scattered survivors went feral, and spread across the subcontinent as tiny hunter/gatherer bands.
- Greece: There was only one large bronze age city, the one we now call Mycenae (after a later town miles away, because nobody knows what its name was then), and as elsewhere it was burned and the inhabitants mostly massacred. One tiny trading port town at the southern tip was left behind to starve; starve because they had to have been importing food from Egypt or the Hittites or Turkey before. There is hardly anywhere in Greece is there enough naturally occuring well-watered flat land to grow annual cereal crops on even if you wanted to. (There's more now. Credit 2500 years of human engineering for terracing and fertilizing and channeling of streams.) For the most part, the survivors of Mycenae and Eleusis revert to feral hunter gatherer bands.
- The rest of Europe: Hadn't progressed much beyond that hunter gatherer stage, hadn't fully adopted bronze age civilization by the time it fell elsewhere. Went on slowly developing.
Next: What's a feral human being, and what difference did the gods make, and is this why they came?