Interview with Eberhard Zangger about newspaper articles and expert opinions on the book “The Luwian Civilization”

Recent newspaper articles suggest that journalists tend to see your book favorably, while experts reject its main theses. How do you explain that?

The journalists have received the book, read it, and watched the video of my lecture, and in most cases they have also talked to me at some length. I see no indications that the experts who have thus far been contacted by the media have known the book at all, let alone read it. I assume that these scholars are proud of their academic diligence and thoroughness. Nevertheless, they don’t hesitate to publicly convey what are actually mere prejudices and gut reactions.

In a few words, what are your main points?

Firstly, Middle and Late Bronze Age remains in western Asia Minor are insufficiently studied compared with those in Greece, Crete, and Central Asia Minor. Secondly, such a large region can only be grasped when existing archaeological data and natural scientific methods are combined. Thirdly, fragmenting the surviving evidence into its constituencies makes it harder to comprehend historical events. We should therefore aim to combine the available sources, in other words documents and archaeological finds. We should also try making complex issues more comprehensible, for instance by skillfully illustrating our finds. And we should aim to stimulate new ideas.

According to the newspaper articles, you suggest that a great power has thus far been overlooked. Is this really the case?

No, this could not be further from the truth. It is beyond my comprehension how the idea of a Großmacht has crept into the reports. The term appears only once in my book, in a quotation from 1946. In my opinion, there were no great powers at the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. Most regions consisted primarily of small kingdoms and were therefore politically fragmented. This certainly applies to Greece, Syria, Canaan, and western Asia Minor. At best, the states in these regions temporarily formed loose federal allegiances. During such times, their political and military force depended on how much power remained with the individual petty kings and how much with the superior ruler.

Michael Galaty says that a military alliance would indicate international warfare and that few archaeologists would see indications for that at the end of the Bronze Age. What is your opinion?

Our knowledge of the political and military organization rests entirely on contemporary documents and later texts relating to the heroic age. According to these documents, military alliances and confederations formed frequently. The so-called Sea Peoples’ inscriptions explicitly list the individual tribes that were involved in their invasions. The inscriptions describing the Battle of Kadesh list the forces that stood by the Hittite great-king Muwatalli II. We know of the Assuwa league, dating to around 1400 BCE, which consisted of 22 petty states from western Asia Minor that had joined forces. A number of texts from Hattuša illustrate how the great-kings faced alliances that had formed against them. Finally, we have the Catalogue of Ships and the Trojan contingents in the Iliad, in which detailed accounts of the combined armies from both sides of the Aegean are given. And these are only some of the better-known sources for military alliances. There are many more.

Were the Luwians an ethnic group that has so far been overlooked?

Not, at any rate, as far as I am concerned. It was certainly not my intention to suggest anything along those lines. Indeed, I went out of my way to make clear that I am not interested in ethnicity. What I am talking about is the jurisdiction. The book does not deal with a certain group of people, but with a certain region. It is not the socio-linguistic group of the Luwian-speaking people about which we know too little, but the region of western Asia Minor, regardless of the ethnicity that may or may not be attributed to the people living there at the time.

Jörg Klinger says that defining an ethnic group reflects a way of thinking from a hundred years ago. How do you see that?

I couldn’t agree more. To facilitate communication, a century ago scholars introduced concepts such as the Mycenaeans, the Minoans, and the Hittites. Today, we know that these terms are misleading. Achilles, if he ever existed, certainly did not regard himself as a Mycenaean. This way of thinking is indeed obsolete – but it did not prevent Jörg Klinger from writing a book entitled The Hittites. However, today’s research into the Aegean Bronze Age still largely rests on models that were defined a century ago. And these models have a yawning gap in western Asia Minor. Scholars have recently attempted to fill this gap by extending the Mycenaean and Hittite spheres of influence further and further. I would have made my life easier if I had talked about “Westanatolian States”. Since the concept of Mycenaeans, Minoans and Hittites is so well-established, I proposed to call the people who lived in western Asia Minor “Luwians”. At any rate the term stands for an abstract, graphic idea and not for an ethnic unit. This is made very clear throughout my publications.

Some articles argue that you criticize well-established archeology. Is that correct?

I certainly criticize the models that were introduced a century ago when the Aegean Bronze Age was conceived as a discipline. To my knowledge, all archaeologists do so. The current discussion, however, is taking place at such an insultingly low level that makes a critique of the archaeological methodology imperative. The superficiality and distortions that we see in the expert opinions expressed in articles in the media are alienating people who have so far been quite sympathetic to archeology. We saw a similar process during the dispute over Troy. In the German-speaking countries, archeology evidently lacks a culture permitting an objective debate without personal attacks.

How did this polarization take place in the case of your book?

Let’s recapitulate what happened. A new book is coming out. The author sends a copy to a science journalist. From the many aspects which the book touches upon, the journalist chooses one topic that to him appears interesting for a large audience. His report will focus only on this one issue, even though it may have been fairly irrelevant to the author. To make the subject truly exciting, the journalist exaggerates the statements and thus declares the discovery of World War Zero, for instance. This means his report is at best a caricature of what the book really aimed to bring across. Experts are then confronted with this caricature. Even though they are introduced as experts, they know neither the author nor his previous publications, and have not even seen the new book. Nevertheless, they’re expected to provide a sophisticated and differentiated opinion, even though what they are facing is so obviously grotesque. Of course, their comments will be devastating. It would jeopardize their status as experts if they weren’t. They don’t even realize that their statements are actually much less well founded than the ideas they criticize. It’s scary to see how low the level of scientific dialectic is. And it’s not even any consolation to realize that these debates have occurred throughout the last hundred years. The researchers to whom we owe the most important discoveries in the archeology of Asia Minor have always had a hard time at the hands of their peers.

What will happen next?

The natural sciences will succeed in archeology, there is no way around that. What we are seeing at the moment is a backlash from authorities who, like Manfred Korfmann, are claiming a monopoly for the interpretation of what they consider “their” sites or “their” defined subject area. This is a very hierarchical, authoritarian approach. In many areas of society this mindset has given way to an approach based on negotiation where the most robust and persuasive arguments prevail. This change will also reach archeology, albeit delayed. Much like the industrial barons of the 1960s, the patriarchs in academia are being replaced by technocrats and pragmatists who come up with efficient and effective solutions to long-standing problems.

What is your conclusion?

My book closes with the request: “Dig – and please, dig deeper!” To that I would add: Read – and please, read more carefully!