More on the place of the Bronze Age in world history

I talked yesterday (sorry, the day before yesterday) about the demand for copper and tin (to make bronze) stimulating the spread of trade routes out from Mesopotamia. But of course, there was more to it than that, for trade was not the only thing that travelled along these trade networks. Bronze-making know-how also spread.

Self perpetuating

Favourably-located local chiefs found themselves able to tax the trade as it passed by, and with this new-found wealth began arming their own followers with bronze weaponry. The expansion of these Bronze Age trade routes therefore became self-perpetuating. Even far-away Britain was drawn into the international trading system.

Wherever bronze-making spread, it created a class of bronze-armed warriors. This heightened the divide between small but powerful elites and the rest of the population. These warriors were then able to purchase more luxury items, which stimulated skilled craftsmanship over an ever-wider area. The archaeological record shows a ripple spreading outwards from the Middle East, of an ever more sophisticated demand for beautifully crafted jewellery and other decorations.

More substantial dwellings (often fortified) also appeared during the Bronze Age, and no doubt beautifully-made textiles and other luxury items, long since perished. And of course, in the most favoured places where the density of trading activities was particularly strong, as in the Aegean, the new administrative technique of writing came into use.

Larger states

The emergence of a new Bronze Age warrior class allowed state-building on an altogether larger scale than had gone before. This can be seen clearly in southern England, for example, where the construction of Stonehenge and other massive monuments reflects a well-organized society whose influence spread over a wide area.

So, yes, the Bronze Age was a really important time in world history. It really did see the rise of a new kind of material culture, and in some places full-scale civilization, over a huge region of the Old World.


by Peter Britton