Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Modern cities can learn from the fate of the collapsed civilizations at Ugarit and Mycenae.

The Elites Were Living High. Then Came the Fall.

As we live through what could be the first big cataclysm of the third millennium, the people of the late Bronze Age have something to teach us. “Invest in the local community, because no matter who is in charge at the top, local businesses are likely to survive,” said Ms. Quinn. Of course, she added, the ultrarich companies will survive, too. The biggest traders of Ugarit didn’t disappear, because they had political connections in the surviving cities like Tyre. Their fancy homes may have burned down, but they could afford to buy new ones.

Will we face a violent uprising in the wake of economic collapse? Perhaps, but today’s 1 percent might not suffer the way Bronze Age kings did. For one thing, local trade networks are no longer as robust as the ones that existed in 1000 B.C.E., when merchants from Tyre traded with nearby villages, who then traded with other neighboring towns. “We really have demolished local manufacturing and supply systems,” Ms. Murray said. “It is a bit sad to reflect on the contrast between the Bronze Age case, in which a few elites bore the brunt of the suffering.”