The Bronze Age is a period usually marked out by the development of Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin and a period in which human civilization really got going. In the late Stone Age basic agriculture had been worked out and a few farming communities had emerged, small permanent and semi-perminant villages and towns with a few workshops and storehouses surrounding by farmsteads. By the Bronze Age these had developed into fairly substantial and sophisticated societies with a high degree of specialization and stratification, complex governments, laws in place of customs and widespread trade networks reaching for thousands of kilometers. Writing and mathematics were developed as tools of governments and were used to build large scale projects. At this time cities grew into the tens of thousands, first as independent city states and latter as empires.
Beyond these early centers of civilization newer if smaller scale agrarian societies would emerge and rise while nomadic pastoral peoples would develop along their own lines and would trade and fight with both the growing city states, the small scale farming clans and the remaining hunter/gatherers. The more developed civilizations soon came to see them as Barbarians.
Technically the Bronze Age was preceded by the Copper Age in which the basics of metalworking were worked out and first applied and which developments were made, but for sake of simplicity on this site it's getting lumped in with the Bronze Age. Copper smelting began 7,000 years ago. Bronze Smelting began around 5,700 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and China about the same time and would spread from those two points. Generally speaking, the Bronze Age ended in the Fertile Crescent region after the Bronze Age collapse, in which several old civilizations fell or were devastated as ferrous metallurgy began to catch on. When civilization recovered and rebuilt, new ones rose in their place. In China the end of the Bronze Age was more gradual and less dramatic, iron working showed up and superseded Bronze without too much fuss. Several Native American civilizations (such as the Incas and the Aztecs) would reach a Bronze Age level of development before the arrival of more advanced Europeans.
- Money did not really exist back then. Peasants would give each other gifts and would do stuff for each other as they could (you give me some pots and I'll fix your roof when I can), governments paid people wages of food and goods and merchants haggled various goods with local officials, regular people and each other as they went. There were a few things that merchants preferred to deal in which were easier to deal with (bolts of cloth, ingots of metal, cowrie shells) but it was still an informal matter. This would vanish latter, and China, Greece, Egypt and Philistines had all established currency a hundreds of years before 1000 B.C. (possibly earlier). That said earliest forms of money were contrived as aides to accounting by bronze age bureaucrats, since shifting large amounts of grain about from hold to hold is hard work with a Shekel being pegged at a bushel of barley.
- The shift to agriculture meant that humans started needing dietary salt to live, as well as to preserve meat. Salt trade with areas able to mine or harvest it in useful quantities would become the first major form of commerce between empires.
- Many of the more developed Bronze Age societies had many aspects of society organized by the government. The government told peasants what to grow, collected taxes of food and similar from them, took them to central warehouses, gave artisans wages of stuff for making tools and weapons which they would use to pay people and distribute to people who needed them. All of which managed by castes of scribes and nobles. Basically think of the Imperial Tithe minus most of the Grimdark.
- Chariots! Animal domestication lead to animals that could pull carts, which were then weaponized. In places where flat land was plentiful, it was very hard to engage in a combat against a wheeled cart that was shooting arrows at you, and even harder if there was a full formation of the things. Cart, animals, trained soldiers, and weapons got expensive in a hurry, though, making these an "elite" fighting force. Their elite status would lead to them being phased out as the governments that used them hit recessions and horses were bred strong enough to carry a full archer one their back.
- A lot of what we think of as being part of the Classical Era has its roots in the Bronze Age. For example, the Egyptians have an extremely long history that stretches from the dawn of civilization to the rise of the Hellenic empire, much, much later. And the most famous Greek stories we know of by Homer, were written prior to the Classical age in what we know as “Archaic Greece,” and he was talking about a Greece even older than that that was effectively lost to its own Dark Ages. Much of what we know about this time period comes to us indirectly from the oral traditions of classical poets and historians, especially if the writing system of those societies became lost.
The appeal of the Bronze AgeEdit
The Bronze Age is the earliest period that we have accounts of, even if they are incomplete. In this time that the earliest forms of civilization are gradually taking shape. To the eye of the romantic, priest-kings reign over populations of devoted followers who demand that their legacy be set in stone with great monuments and by fire and blood as they clash for power and prominance. Ranks of spearmen and bowmen march into battle led by charioteers which clash on burning sands with the winners taking the losers as spoils of war. The heroes might be favored faithful servants to their city and their king and the new world that is rising or barbarian warriors seeking glory, freedom and plunder on the frontiers.
If we want to get more fantastic, this period has produced complex mythologies with pantheons of squabbling gods and epic tales such as the story of Gilgamesh and the Trojan Wars. All of which are ripe material for a fantasy writer to mine. This is the time period for the Sword and Sorcery genre, as most of the myths that we know of from the classical period take place in this epoch. This gives the Bronze Age an air of mystique and grand adventure, where larger-than-life heroes fought against monsters and gods. Something that’s generally not possible with the even earlier Stone Age as the culture of that time period is too primitive to tell such grandiose stories, and where survival is really all that’s possible.
The people of the bronze age had a very tangible relationship with their deities, constructing temples and shrines on scales seemingly beyond the means available to them... and begging the question whether forces beyond the knowledge of history played a part. Fantasies of aliens visiting Earth in the distant past and being received as gods by primitive humans are lent an air of credulity by the enormity of the monuments the ancient empires left behind.