Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is the Bronze Age?

I got confused when I learned Alexander was using Iron weapons. I thought the glory days of Hellenism was the Bronze age. I was very wrong.

If I were to put in GURPS terms, TL1 or bronze age starts around 3,000BC to 1,000BC. It begins around the time civilization began and people built cities with walls. Sargon the Great marked the beginning of this era.

Conveniently to historical gamers, the age ended almost simultaneously. One would think that there was something remarkable about all these great empires falling apart at around 1200BC, unfortunately its nothing Normal Accident Theory can't explain.

The Empires and Peoples that existed is very Conan inspiring. The Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Akkadians, Sumerians, the Minoans and Mycenaean Greeks (The Age of Heroes) was a very different and interesting world. I learned bureaucracy was not some "leap" of sophistication or technology. Ur 3 aka 3rd Dynasty Ur had a pretty intense bureaucracy.

This allowed me to pick apart my notions of authority and the mystification of how it worked. People were trying to organize, they had leaders and over time common sense allowed certain levels of sophisticated organization to be created.

Sure they may not have that much armor, but pop culture pretty much spoiled us with the idea. Shields are very effective protection for the body, and helms protected the head when it needed to look out beyond its primary defense.

I learned early on bronze is rare and iron is very common (and later on aluminum as well). When you think about how rare metal was and how effective some stone tools are, the great difference can seem "magical" in nature. Which probably how people thought of it since there was no science nor philosophy.

The ability to separate iron from its ore is a bit tricky. you need something called coke to facilitate the extraction. The only iron they could use was the kind that was already in its fairly "pure" state when they found it: Meteoric Iron. Now that is awesome.

You've got stone weapons for your barbarians (and there are a lot of predatory peoples). Then a variety of Bronze weapons, from cheap to fine quality. The most common weapons: axes and spears have their "magical" counterparts in Bronze and Meteoric Iron.

Leather was not as common in the Iron age since, animal husbandry was still being developed and selective breeding was still in the slow process of shaping future domesticated breeds. This just meant leather was probably twice as expensive, and cheaper wicker and straw version of such goods were used.

Instead of leather sandals, backpacks, and bags you have instead a lot of woven items. Some technologies are easy to develop and when sizes of cities reached a certain level, the quality of craftsmanship equal that of future ages. Especially for items that easily had open competitions.

By technology, there were only a few key points separated the Bronze age from Iron age. In metallurgical technology which has strong implications over total productivity (more productive plowshares, more efficient harvesting and threshing tools, that leads to less waste). Iron was more common and better than bronze in tasks in the farm. Metalurgy affected many things as the basic tools that built civilization was more expensive and wore out more quickly than cheaper and stronger Iron tools. The only advantage of bronze over iron was its ability to withstand the elements, so it was actually better as a form of tender.

There a big difference in work animals, the lack of larger more cost efficient breeds of animals meant that food production below what we are used to in medieval standards. It explained why only the most fertile regions were inhabited.

The difference of accumulated knowledge is a major factor. The lessons of the past, is what crafted a more successful and stable system. Writing was unnecessarily complicated in its beginnings. Histories were very limited and their lessons were mostly lost with the civilizations that failed to acquire them.

Running such a game would not be that difficult. There is no complex level of specializations, everyone had to fight, administer, socialize and work. Very few specializations existed, and civilizations were their own "specialists" and had certain roles.

Memorizing the names, deities, and locations would be the first major trouble. Armies were organized in the decimal system. People had roles, but its not that strict in their boundaries. So you are allowed a high degree of inconsistency.

As mass combat goes, you have the regular infantry kinds: Bowmen, Light, Heavy, Medium and Engineers. Charioteers which was in common use at around 1,500 and peaked at 1,300. Armies are relatively smaller, reaching sizes of 5,000. Empires would have at most 10 armies, but would normally have 3-4. 1/5 to 1/20 of the army would be a Chariots. Organization followed the same rules of thumb: 1/3 archers (as much as possible).

Many of the empires had enemies on all sides. This basically meant in exhaustible conflicts and bad guys for a campaign.

They also had a policy of deporting the population to occupy fallow regions. This pretty much gave the impression that the empires, except Egypt, had systemic man-power losses and actually depended on raids to supplement their population. What is interesting it is a clear necessity for Hittites and Mesopotamians, to war against their barbarians.

Treasure raiding and dungeon crawling is also possible, but more of an overland adventure and actually into the towns killing its inhabitants for any convenient aribtrary reason (just like real adventurers!). War bands (around 100-300) are mainly tools with which you can keep your opponents from swarming you.

As for Magic, I have no Idea. Any magic can screws up a lot of balances that are inherent in how history turned out. Magic is really power and a dominant strategy, no one should underestimate more primitive people because there is very little difference between them and modern humans except for accumulated knowledge. If magic existed, then it would only sustainable as the prerequisite of the elite. Game Theory and magic just opens up a whole other can of worms.

That is pretty much my idea of a Bronze Age game. 1,000 BC to 1000 AD its about the Iron age in my opinion. The fall of civilization (aka Rome) is one of the extending factors.


Lee B said...

I dialed back to the Bronze Age for my S&S projects, and noted how good metallurgy could result in bronze weapons equally formidable as ones of iron (till it advanced towards true steel). There are Chinese bronze swords, forged with chromium I believe, that are still sharp today.

justin aquino said...

I've heard about those swords in a Discovery episode about the first emperor. I wish could get more access to eastern histories. I'd like to know the eastern civilizations that lead up to Sun Tzu in the 6C BC