Late Bronze Age Collapse of civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC has been variously attributed to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and severe climate change. It is extremely unlikely that all these occurred around the same time through coincidence. Unfortunately, it is not clear to what extent these events were interrelated. As I see it, political upheavals do not lead to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or drought and so can be safely viewed as an effect rather than a cause. Similarly, climate change is just as unlikely to have caused eruptions or seismic activity and so can also be classified as an effect. Consequently, we are left with earthquakes and volcanoes as the prime suspects for the catastrophic turmoil that took place in the Middle East between the 15th and 12th centuries BC. Nevertheless, August 2013 saw further evidence published which blamed climate change for demise of civilisations in the region.
Robert Drews dismisses any suggestion that Greece suffered a critical drought around 1200 BC, citing the absence of any supporting reference by Homer or Hesiod as evidence. He proposes that “the transition from chariot to infantry warfare as the primary cause of the Great Kingdoms’ downfall.”
This extended period of chaos began around 1450 BC when the eruptions on Thera took place. These caused the well-documented devastation in the region including the ending of the Minoan civilisation and probably the Exodus of the Bible and the Plagues of Egypt as well. According to the Parian Marble, the Flood of Deucalion probably took place around the same time.
Professor Stavros Papamarinopoulos has written of the ‘seismic storm’ that beset the Eastern Mediterranean between 1225 and 1175 BC(a). Similar ideas have been expressed by Amos Nur & Eric H.Cline(b)(c). The invasion of the Sea Peoples recorded by the Egyptians, and parts of Plato’s Atlantis story all appear to have taken place around this period. Plato refers to a spring on the Athenian acropolis (Crit.112d) that was destroyed during an earthquake. Rainer Kühne notes that this spring only existed for about 25 years but was rediscovered by the Swedish archaeologist, Oscar Broneer, who excavated there from 1959 to 1967. The destruction of the spring and barracks, by an earthquake, was confirmed as having occurring at the end of the 12th century BC.
(this is a shorter version of (c) below)
Chariots numbering ten thousand are mentioned as an important part of Atlantis’ armed forces. However, it is generally accepted that chariots first appeared in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC and became fairly commonplace by the middle of the second millennium BC. There is no evidence of any of the major Late Bronze Age nations having any more than a few hundred chariots. It would also appear that these chariots were normally reserved for nobles, wearing full bronze armour. War chariots were only effective over open and relatively flat ground.
We should also keep in mind that the invention of the wheel itself is currently dated to not much earlier than 3500 BC(c) indicating that Plato’s reference to Atlantean chariots is anachronistic if we accept his apparent claim that the war with Atlantis took place around 9600 BC.
With regard to the Atlantis story, we must comment that 10,000 chariots controlled by one army, would only be required if a battleground had large tracts of flat land and if the enemy also possessed a similar force of chariots. Since no such enemy had been identified, we are forced to consider the clear possibility that the chariot numbers, as with so many other of the figures in Plato’s story, are suspect.
The greatest chariot battle in history took place in what is now Syria at the Battle of Kadesh in 1275 BC, between the Egyptians and the Hittites. The total number of chariots involved was between 5,000 and 6,000. In other words a literal acceptance of what Plato wrote suggests that the Atlanteans had twice the number of chariots as that of the opponents at Kadesh combined. On top of that, those that accept the Atlantis story literally try to tell us that the Atlanteans had 10,000 chariots, eight thousand years earlier than Kadesh, millennia before chariots were invented! As an aside, I should mention that the Battle of Kadesh was not the great victory by Ramses II that is often claimed(f).
The date given by Plato for the destruction of Atlantis is 9600 BC. This would make the existence of chariots at that time, not to mention in such numbers, a complete anachronism. It is not likely that Atlantis to have waged war with 10,000 chariots at that time without their enemies having developing a comparable fighting accessory. As already stated the Atlanteans would not have needed chariots in such numbers unless their opponents also had chariots and that the battlefield was suitable for such a conflict. Plato’s date would appear to be out by about 8000 years. Since chariots were only introduced into Britain in the 5th century BC, in other words after Solon. This would seem to rule out Britain as the home or even a colony of the original empire of Atlantis. Similarly, with no evidence of chariots in the ancient Americas or the Caribbean, it would not be unreasonable to rule them out as the Atlantis of Plato. If the reference to chariots is to be taken as a real attribute of the Atlantean military machine, we are forced to look, in very general terms, to the Mediterranean region, both inside and outside the Strait of Gibraltar as far as the Black Sea and Egypt.
I must also add that from a functional point of view the most efficient chariots required spoked wheels and that the oldest examples of which have been dated no earlier than 2000 BC(a). This alone is a reason to question Plato’s Atlantis date.
Arthur Cottrell, in his Chariot, discusses how the chariot lost its dominance in battle but developed as a form of entertainment with the introduction of chariot racing and were frequently used in funerary rituals of a number of cultures. Chariot racing as a spectator sport in Rome dates back to around the 6th century BC. It was also quite popular among the Etruscans and the Lucanians of Sicily in the 5th century BC. It was recently revealed that Roman racing chariots had an additional iron tyre fitted to the right wheel greatly enhancing the charioteer’s chance of winning(e).
The close of the Bronze Age saw an end to the supremacy of the war chariot with the introduction of new weaponry and military tactics. Robert Drews is Professor of Classics and History at Vanderbilt University has claimed in his book, The End of the Bronze Age,that these changes were responsible for the collapse of so many eastern Mediterranean cities around 1200 BC. A review(b) of Drews’ book should also be read.
In conclusion, Plato’s reference to 10,000 chariots being employed in 9600 BC is either a colourful embellishment or a mangled account of the military power of an unnamed Bronze Age society. If the former, supporters of this early date for Atlantis must explain the total lack of archaeological evidence of chariots as early as 9600 BC as well as its comtinued absence during the succeeding six or seven thousand years. Plato’s numbers are clearly flawed and are a matter that I hope to deal with more comprehensively in the near future.