Total War: Pharaoh - Recommended Reading

By Owain Williams

Creative Assembly have recently announced their next instalment in the Total War videogame franchise – Total War: Pharaoh.

For those who are not quite familiar with Total War games, they are strategy games that combine resource management and city building in a large-scale map of a particular part of the world with real-time battles. You are in control of everything, from taxes and buildings to controlling thousands of troops on the battlefield. Previous Total War games have been set in times and places such as a mythologised Bronze Age Aegean in Total War Saga: Troy to the tumultuous period of the Three Kingdoms in Total War: Three Kingdoms and the age of sail and gunpowder in Total War: Napoleon.

Total War: Pharaoh

The next instalment in this franchise, Total War: Pharaoh, will take players to the Eastern Mediterranean in the late thirteenth to early twelfth century BC, a time of upheaval and social change. In the words of the FAQ:

The Pharaoh is dead, and the people of Egypt, Canaan, and the Hittite empire cry out for a new leader. Many desire the power of the throne, but the path to becoming Pharaoh is a perilous one. As the leader of these great nations, you must overcome societal collapse, face natural disasters and fight to protect your people against invaders from far off lands…

The setting the developers have chosen – the Late Bronze Age Collapse – is certainly a very interesting period of history. Vast groups of people, dubbed the Sea Peoples by modern scholars, were migrating from the north and west into the Eastern Mediterranean (some coming peacefully, others less so). Drought and famine persistently plagued the region, with many surviving records lamenting the situation (although, on this topic see Guy Middleton’s ‘Feasts, famines, and megadroughts’ in AH 43). Societies that have left an incredible mark upon the historical and archaeological record were on the verge of collapse, with civil wars plaguing the Hittites and possibly even the Egyptians. It was truly a tumultuous time.

An example of Total War: Rome 2's campaign map

Of course, I cannot tell you whether the game will include these things, or, if it does, how well they are implemented. However, what I can do is recommend some reading material for those who may wish to explore the period further before the game releases.


For a general introduction to the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean, the first book people should look out for is Eric Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed: Revised and Updated (Oxford, 2021). In this short, entry-level work, Cline provides a general overview of the Late Bronze Age world, demonstrating how interconnected it was and discussing the various factors that contributed to the events at the end of the period. Throughout the book, Cline never jumps to conclusions, instead, he thoroughly explains the thought process behind different hypotheses, including the limitations of archaeology.


Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of books about Egypt in this period.

Aidan Dodson’s Poisoned Legacy: The Fall of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty (Cairo, 2010) provides an overview of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, from Merenptah to the end of Tausret’s reign.


Ramesses III is the poster boy of Total War: Pharaoh, featuring in most, if not all, of the promotional material for the game so far. Thus, it only makes sense to include a book that details the reign of this important pharaoh. Edited by Eric Cline and David O'Connor, Ramesses III: The Life and Times of Egypt's Last Hero (2012, Ann Arbor) offers a collection of essays written by scholars about the many aspects of Ramesses III's Egypt, from religion to administration and foreign policy, including a chapter discussing the so-called Sea Peoples.


Tausret is another character that has been confirmed for Total War: Pharaoh. Much like Hatshepsut, Tausret came to power first as Seti II’s wife, and then regent of Siptah, Seti II’s successor, before finally rising to claim the throne for herself after Siptah died. Tausret: Forgotten Queen & Pharaoh of Egypt (Oxford, 2012), edited by Richard H. Wilkinson, discusses all the different elements of her reign.

A painted depiction of Pharaoh Tutankhamun on a chariot attacking his enemies

A heavy emphasis of any Total War game is on all things military, and Anthony Spalinger’s War in Ancient Egypt: The New Kingdom (Oxford, 2005) offers a comprehensive discussion of this very subject. From the expansion of the Egyptian Empire under Hatshepsut and Thutmose III to the desperate defensive wars fought against the Sea Peoples, including chapters on the technological and social impacts of warfare in this period, the book is a must read for anyone interested in the ancient Egyptian military.

Hittites and Canaan:

Unfortunately, there are much fewer books concerning the Hittites and Canaan in the Late Bronze Age than there are concerning Egypt.


A recent book on the Hittites from a leading expert on the subject is Trevor Bryce’s Warriors of Anatolia: A Concise History of the Hittites (2019, London). Trevor Bryce has written extensively on the Hittites, and this book marks the culmination of his scholarly career, collecting his previous research and modern research into a single comprehensive, but short volume. Unfortunately, only the final chapter of this book discusses the events of the Late Bronze Age, but it provides a wealth of context for understanding this ancient and often overlooked culture.


Even less well-explored, particularly in the popular sphere, is the archaeology of Late Bronze Age Canaan, which roughly corresponds to the southern Levant. J.M. Golden’s Ancient Canaan and Israel: An Introduction (2004, Santa Barbara), much like Bryce’s Warriors of Anatolia, aims to provide a general introduction to the history of the region. However, while Bryce was concerned with a particular culture that flourished for half a millennium, Golden is concerned with the history of the region from the Chalcolithic to the Iron Age, encompassing many different peoples. As such, it is far less detailed, but given that it spans the Late Bronze Age Collapse in its scope, this period is given its due detail.


While this is not a comprehensive list, I certainly hope it has provided some options for some interesting reading. Do you have any other suggestions?

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