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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Saturday, February 25, 2006

angles on the Iron Age

The weather has turned chillier. The sky is a mass of low-level, gray-tinged cotton batting. Tiny flakes of snow started drifting down while I was at Lynn Valley Centre picking up a DVD at the library (Tender Mercies), milk and eggs at Save-On Foods, and a 6/49 lottery ticket for Kimmie. (She had picked the numbers using a system I invented that involves rolling three dice a number of times.) Kimmie stayed home cleaning bathrooms and doing some laundry. A quiet suburban day.

In the morning, over coffee, I keyed notes from: The Ghost in the Machine, The Self-Aware Universe, an article on the ancient Philistine city of Ekron in the November-December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, and The Long Summer by Brian Fagan, an excellent book on the effects of climatic change on the history of civilizations. Evidently the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age occurred right around 1200 BC, when an El Nino event triggered droughts in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Governments toppled and cities were deserted as people fled to the countryside in search of food. This was also the event that launched the so-called Sea Peoples on their migrations from the Aegean and from Turkey by sea and by land in search of new, more fertile country in which to live. They came into conflict with, among others, the Canaanites living on the coast of Palestine and the Egyptians. A number of Canaanite cities were destroyed and rebuilt as settlements for the invaders, who came to be known as the Philistines. (The Canaanites lived on in more northern coastal cities of Palestine, and came to be known as the Phoenicians.)

I enjoy finding different angles on a subject. The BAR article on Ekron (which contains cool drawings of the ancient city, a temple, and an olive-oil factory) spurred me to check David Rohl's From Eden to Exile, in which he also discusses the invasion of the Sea Peoples, and Fagan's book as well, which goes into more detail on the exact climatic mechanisms involved.

The Bronze Age was an era of high civilization: Mycenae, the Hittite empire, and Egypt were all in full bloom. The succeeding Iron Age has long been known to be a much harsher world, occupied by smaller, more parochial and warlike little states. The new climatic viewpoint suggests that starvation wiped out the civilizations of the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age was an era of tough, warlike people who emerged from the harsh winnowing of hunger. While iron is much more plentiful than copper or tin (the ingredients of bronze), it is much more difficult to smelt and work, so the Iron Age was also an age of technologists, and most especially, no doubt, weapons technologists.

The afternoon draws on. Time to do some more reading.

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  • I thought of you when I read this in Esquire's What I've Learned section: "Sometimes writing a novel is not unlike having a baby. You'd have to ask a female novelist to compare the pain.", Salman Rushdie.

    By Anonymous Tim, at February 27, 2006 11:55 AM  

  • Hi Tim. Yes, I guess this is a kind of couvade for me. I like Orwell's comparison of book-writing to going through a long illness. I want to be able to say it's like a lovely summer picnic--but it's not really shaping up that way. To think I had the opportunity to get into carpet-cleaning...

    By Blogger paulv, at February 27, 2006 3:47 PM  

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