Systemic Risk and Resilience: The Bronze Age Collapse and Recovery

Paper by Luke Kemp, Eric Cline
Published on 20 October 2022

Luke Kemp and Eric Cline cowrote a book chapter in 'Perspectives on Public Policy in Societal-Environmental Crises', on how systemic risk and resilience unfolded during the Bronze Age Collapse.


In this chapter we apply the concepts of resilience theory and systemic risk to the Bronze Age Collapse. We contend that this was a case of synchronous failures driven by both long-term trends in interconnectedness and inequality, as well as external shocks such as climate change, warfare (including from hostile migration), rebellion, and earthquakes. This set off a chain reaction as the loss of key cities destabilised the trade-network and undermined state revenue, leading to further rebellion, migration, and warfare. Eventually, enough cities were destroyed to undermine the economic, cultural, and political fabric that held the Bronze Age together. Many states recovered and displayed resilience through the Bronze Age systems collapse. No two states were alike in their resilience. The Neo-Assyrians persisted by moving from a strategy of trade to conquest. The surviving Hittites in northern Syria, in contrast, relied on the modularity of their semi-feudal structure. Systemic risk and resilience are helpful lens for viewing the Bronze Age collapse and recovery, as well as taking lessons for the modern globalised world. It at least provides historical grounds for believing that synchronous failures can happen and can be lethal to states.

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