Ideas abound as to why certain complex societies collapsed in the past, including environmental change, subsistence failure, fluctuating social structure and lack of adaptability. Why Did Ancient Civilizations Fail? evaluates the current theories in this important topic and discusses why they offer only partial explanations of the failure of past civilizations. This engaging book offers a new theory of collapse, that of social hubris. Through an examination of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Roman, Maya, Inca, and Aztec societies, Johnson persuasively argues that hubris blinded many ancient peoples to evidence that would have allowed them to adapt, and he further considers how this has implications for contemporary societies. Comprehensive and well-written, this volume serves as an ideal text for undergraduate courses on ancient complex societies, as well as appealing to the scholar interested in societal collapse.
Scott A. J. Johnson is a Maya archaeologist who also studies ancient writing and subsistence. Since receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology from Tulane University in 2012, he has taught at various colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Johnson writes extensively on archaeological methods and the Maya, authoring Translating Maya Hieroglyphs. He is currently the director of the Emal Archaeological Project in Yucatan and a Research Associate at Washington University in Saint Louis.
1. Introduction: Social Hubris 2. Why Agriculture? 3. The Environment 4. Case Study: The Maya 5. Agricultural Systems 6. Case Study: Mesopotamia 7. Trade Systems 8. Case Study: Rome 9. Social Organization 10. Case Study: Egypt 11. Unexpected Catastrophes 12. Case Study: Aztec and Inca 13. Where This Leaves Us