The Age of Iron

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Episode 2 of 6

Duration: 1 hour

Archaeologist and historian Richard Miles looks at the winners, losers and survivors of the great Bronze Age collapse, a regional catastrophe that wiped out the hard-won achievements of civilisation in the eastern Mediterranean about 3,000 years ago. In the new age of iron, civilisation would re-emerge, tempered in the flames of conflict, tougher and more resilient than ever before.

  • Ancient site: Ugarit

    Ancient site: Ugarit

    Ugarit on the coast of modern day Syria was once one of the great cities of the Bronze Age world. Around 1200BC it was burned to the ground by the ‘Sea Peoples’; barbarians and savages from beyond the pale of civilisation. The invasion is played out in a preserved letter from the city’s king Ammurapi calling for assistance that never came.

    Shunya - Ugarit
  • Ancient site: Medinet Habu

    Ancient site: Medinet Habu

    The eastern wall of the mortuary temple of Ramses III in Medinet Habu near Luxor tells the story of what happened when the ships that wiped Ugarit off the map arrived in Egypt. According to these pictures Ramses’ army crushed the tide of barbarians but it was too late for the rest of Bronze Age civilisation.

    Bluffton College - Medinet Habu
  • Phoenician Ship Expedition

    Phoenician Ship Expedition

    The Phoenicians were masters of the sea, unafraid to strike out into the deep unknown, they advanced a web of trade west through the Mediterranean in their distinctive horse-headed boats. The Phoenicians developed celestial navigation and ship-building techniques to become the first mariners to be able to venture away from sight of the land.

    Phoenician Ship Expedition
  • Ancient Site: Tyre

    Ancient Site: Tyre

    Sour, in the south of Lebanon close to the Israeli border, was the most successful and most powerful of the Phoenician city states around 3000 years ago. It grew fat on trade and was accused by Isaiah in the Bible of “playing the whore to all the kingdoms”.

    Sacred Destinations - Tyre
  • Ancient site: Jerusalem

    Ancient site: Jerusalem

    King Hezekiah, ruler of Judah, watched as his neighbouring kingdom of Israel was attacked and destroyed by forces from Assur, scattering the famous 10 tribes. Instead of learning his lesson and submitting to the Assyrian empire he allied with Egypt and awaited the consequences. He erected a huge wall in Jerusalem as well as a mile long subterranean conduit to carry fresh water through the city in anticipation of Assyrian retribution.

    Go Jerusalem - King Hezekiah’s Reign: Jerusalem Expands
  • Ancient site: Lachish

    Ancient site: Lachish

    Hezekiah’s second city, near Gaza was sacked by the Assyrian King Senacherib, the plunder recorded on the friezes from the walls of his palace in Khorsabad, housed today in the Louvre. The remains of the enormous ramp built by the Assyrian army to breach the fortress walls can still be seen. On the western slope archaeologists have discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of over 1500 men, women and children.

    A History of the World in 100 objects - Lachish Reliefs
  • Artefact: Pithekoussai - Cup of Nestor

    Artefact: Pithekoussai - Cup of Nestor

    The cup of Nestor was found at Pithikoussai in the bay of Naples. It contains a written poem, one of the oldest examples of writing in the Greek alphabet.

  • Ancient site: Dog River

    At the mouth of the Dog River near Beirut the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III erected a monument to himself and boasted of the tribute he had received from his victims as he raged his plunder on the Phoenician cities of the Mediterranean. Countless armies from the ancient Egyptians to the British and Napoleon’s French have crossed the Dog River in the ensuing millennia each leaving their own monument to mark their passing.

    Life in the Holy Land - Dog River, Beirut
  • Ancient site: Motya

    Ancient site: Motya

    At the beginning of the 8th century BC the small island of Motya on the west coast of Sicily was connected to the mainland by a causeway. Here, close to the salt flats so important to the ‘purple people’s’ dying industry, the Phoenicians built their colony. It later became an important port on the Western Mediterranean trade routes controlled by the Carthaginian empire. - Motya
  • Ancient site: Pylos

    Pylos on the west coast of the Peloponnese in southern Greece was ruled by a Mycenaean king with a caste of aristocratic retainers. Evidence of heavy fortification here shows this warrior society of bronze-age Greeks was bracing itself for an attack from the sea.

  • Ancient City: Byblos

    Ancient City: Byblos

    Jbeil in modern Lebanon was a busy trading city of the business-like Phoenicians. It was home to the Temple of Obelisks, a symbol of the Egyptian god Rahm. Before the collapse of Bronze Age civilization it was little more than a vassal state of Egypt. The dark ages liberated the tradesmen of Byblos from the rule of distant kings and palaces allowing them to become merchant princes themselves. However, it was later conquered from the north by the fearsome Assyrians. - Byblos
  • Ancient city: Meggido

    Meggido in Israel fell victim to the rag bag of have-nots that flooded in from the other side of the glass of civilisation. Archaeologists have only recently discovered the ash layer that attests to the world that ended here.

  • Ancient city: Troy

    In northern Turkey today, Troy was the setting for the Homer’s famous Iliad which describes the fall of the great city to Agamemnon’s Greeks 3,200 years ago. Troy was in many ways the ideal city state to which the Greek’s aspired. The exploits of the legendary heroes described in Homer’s epic poem demonstrate the warrior ethos which the Archaic Greeks lived by, but they also allude to the murmurs of discontent with monarchy which resulted in the myriad political experiments found in later Greek poleis.

  • Learn more about the Ancient artefacts

    Learn more about the Ancient artefacts

    Take a closer look at some of the places, museums and artefacts from Ancient Worlds with our guide to the museums featured.

    Visit the museum guide
  • Reference list for programme Two

    • The Decipherment of Linear B - John Chadwick
    • The Mediterranean in the Ancient World - Fernand Braudel
    • Ugarit: Ras Sharma - Adrian Curtis
    • New Evidence on the Last Days of Ugarit - Michael Astour
    • The Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II - Marc Van De Mieroop
    • The World of the Phoenicians - Sabatino Moscati
    • Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic History - Sanford Holst
    • The New Jerusalem Bible
    • The Bible Unearthed - Finkelstein and Silberman
    • The Bible in the British Museum - TC Mitchell
    • The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib - David Ussishkin
    • Assyrian Palace Sculptures - Collins and Baylis
    • The Iliad, Homer - translated by Robert Fagles
    • The World of Odysseus - MI Finley


Series Producer
Eamon Hardy
Richard Miles
Tim Kirby
Tim Kirby


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