Over the past few days I’ve been blogging about the impact of iron and the alphabet on world history. I’ve been reading over them, and the impression that these posts give is that the Bronze Age had very little significance – human progress really began getting going with the Iron Age.
Well, as it happens I do believe that world history changed gear with the spread of iron, but that does not mean I think that the Bronze Age was of no importance. Far from it.
The expense of making bronze objects meant that, in the Bronze Age, farmers mostly used the same tools that their Stone Age ancestors had done, and the use of metal weapons was restricted to a narrow elite. But actually, the Bronze Age was really important. The use of bronze gave a massive boost to the spread of civilization outside its birthplace in Mesopotamia.
Having bronze weapons conferred a great advantage to those communities which had them, over ones which did not. A warrior armed with and protected by bronze was a far more effective soldier than an opponent without these accoutrements. So, if an early Mesopotamian city was to conquer its neighbours, or to defend itself effectively from attack, it needed its solders to be kitted out with bronze.
As an alloy of tin and copper (originally, it also contained arsenic, apparently), bronze was made from metal ores which are not very common and which are found in widely scattered locations. This simple fact stimulated long-distance trade on a scale never before seen. The trade networks of Mesopotamia began to reach out in various directions: across Asia Minor and on into Europe; down through Syria and Canaan, into Egypt; eastwards across Iran into northern India; and even up into central Asia and al the way to distant China.
During the Bronze Age, the Old World became criss-crossed by a network of long-distance trade routes, which stimulated the spread of skills and ideas over an every-wider segment of the Eastern Hemisphere. This represented a major step forward in human progress.
I’ll blog a little more on this tomorrow.
By Peter Britton