The Sea Peoples, or Peoples of the Sea were a wave of seafaring raiders and settlers thought to have originated from either western Anatolia or southern Europe, specifically a region of the Aegean Sea, who sailed around the eastern Mediterranean and invaded Anatolia, Syria, Canaan, Cyprus, and Egypt toward the end of the Bronze Age. The term is used by modern scholars to refer to nine groups of people, although in the historical inscriptions the designation "of the sea"  appears only in relation to three (the Sherden, Shekelesh, and Eqwesh). The identity of the Sea Peoples has remained enigmatic and modern scholars have only the scattered records of ancient civilizations and archaeological analysis to inform them.
The nine groups identified as Sea Peoples by modern scholars are, in alphabetical order: the Denyen, identified by some with the Greek Danaoi and by others with the Israelite tribe of Dan; the Ekwesh, possibly a group of Bronze Age Greeks (Achaeans); Lukka, an Anatolian people of the Aegean who may have given their name to the region of Lycia and the Lycian language; the Peleset, whose name is generally believed to refer to the Philistines; the Shekelesh, identified possibly with the Italic people called Siculi (from Sicily); the Sherden, possibly Sardinians or people of Sardis; the Teresh, i.e. the Tyrrhenians, possibly ancestors of the Etruscans; the Tjeker, also known as the Sikil and possibly Greek Teucrians; and the Weshesh.
Evidence for migrations of whole peoples are not found on any of the contemporary inscriptions, but versions of a "migration hypothesis" represent the widely held interpretation among scholars of the ancient Near East. Most scholars believe that they invaded Cyprus, Hatti and the Levant.
- 1 Development of the concept
- 2 Egyptian documentary records
- 3 Other documentary records
- 4 Hypotheses about the Sea Peoples
- 4.1 Regional migration historical context
- 4.2 Philistine hypothesis
- 4.3 Minoan hypothesis
- 4.4 Greek migrational hypothesis
- 4.5 Trojan hypothesis
- 4.6 Mycenaean warfare hypothesis
- 4.7 Sardinian, Sicilian and Tyrrhenian peoples hypotheses
- 4.8 Anatolian famine hypothesis
- 4.9 Invader hypothesis
- 4.10 Serbonian Bog
- 5 Notes
- 6 Sources
- 7 External links
Development of the concept
The term "Sea Peoples" was first used by Emmanuel de Rougé in 1855, then curator of the Louvre, who noted that "in the crests of the conquered peoples, the Sherden and the Teresh bear the designation of the "peuples de la mer". De Rougé later became chair of Egyptology at the Collège de France, and was succeeded by Gaston Maspero. Maspero built upon de Rougé's work, and in 1895 published "The Struggle of the Nations", in which he described the theory of the seaborne migrations in detail for a popular audience. The theory was taken up by other scholars such as Eduard Meyer, and became the generally accepted theory amongst Egyptologists and orientalists. According to Drews, Herodotus 1.94 added significant credibility to this interpretation.
Egyptian documentary records
|"of the sea" in the Great Karnak Inscription,
referring to the Eqwesh, Shekelesh, and Sherden
(n3 ḫ3s.wt n<.t> p3 ym)
There are seven Egyptian sources which refer to more than one of the nine peoples:
- c.1275 BCE: Kadesh Inscription: 3 peoples named (Karkisha, Lukka, Sherden)
- c.1200 BCE: Great Karnak Inscription: 5 peoples named (Eqwesh, Lukka, Shekelesh, Sherden, Teresh)
- c.1200 BCE: Athribis Stele: 4 peoples named (Eqwesh, Shekelesh, Sherden, Teresh)
- c.1150 BCE: Medinet Habu: 7 peoples named (Denyen, Peleset, Shekelesh, Sherden, Teresh, Tjekker, Weshesh)
- c.1150 BCE: Papyrus Harris I: 5 peoples named (Denyen, Peleset, Sherden, Tjekker, Weshesh)
- c.1150 BCE: Rhetorical Stela to Ramesses III, Chapel C, Deir el-Medina: 2 peoples named (Peleset, Teresh)
- c.1000 BCE: Onomasticon of Amenope: 5 peoples named (Denyen, Lukka, Peleset, Sherden, Tjekker)
Other Egyptian sources refer to one of the individual groups without reference to any of the other groups: the Amarna letters (EA 151 refers to the Denyen, EA 38 to the Lukka, and EA 81, EA 122 and EA 133 to the Sherden), Padiiset's Statue refers to the Peleset, the Cairo Column refers to the Shekelesh, the Story of Wenamun refers to the Tjekker, and 13 further Egyptian sources refer to the Sherden.
Early Amarna age
The Lukka, as well as the Sherden, also appear in the Amarna Letters (perhaps of Amenhotep III or his son Akhenaten) around the mid-14th century BCE. The letters at one point refer to a Sherden man as an apparent renegade mercenary, and at another point to three Sherden who are slain by an Egyptian overseer. The Danuna are mentioned in another letter but only in a passing reference to the death of their king. The Lukka are being accused of attacking the Egyptians in conjunction with the Alashiyans, or Cypriotes, with the latter having stated that the Lukka were seizing their villages.
Reign of Ramesses II
Records or possible records of sea peoples generally or in particular date to two campaigns of Ramesses II, a pharaoh of the militant 19th Dynasty: operations in or near the delta in Year 2 of his reign and the major confrontation with the Hittite Empire and allies at the Battle of Kadesh in his Year 5. The dates of this long-lived pharaoh's reign are not known for certain, but they must have comprised nearly all of the first half of the 13th century BCE.
In his Second Year, an attack of the Sherden, or Shardana, on the Nile Delta was repulsed and defeated by Ramesses, who captured some of the pirates. The event is recorded on Tanis Stele II. An inscription by Ramesses II on the stela from Tanis which recorded the Sherden raiders' raid and subsequent capture speaks of the continuous threat they posed to Egypt's Mediterranean coasts:
- "the unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them."
The Sherden prisoners were subsequently incorporated into the Egyptian army for service on the Hittite frontier by Ramesses, and were involved as Egyptian soldiers in the Battle of Kadesh. Another stele usually cited in conjunction with this one is the "Aswan Stele" (there were other stelae at Aswan), which mentions the king's operations to defeat a number of peoples including those of the "Great Green (the Egyptian name for the Mediterranean)". It is plausible to assume that the Tanis and Aswan Stelae refer to the same event, in which case they reinforce each other.
The Battle of Kadesh was the outcome of a campaign against the Hittites and allies in the Levant in the pharaoh's Year 5. The imminent collision of the Egyptian and Hittite empires became obvious to both, and they both prepared campaigns against the strategic midpoint of Kadesh for the next year. Ramesses divided his Egyptian forces, which were then ambushed piecemeal by the Hittite army and nearly defeated. However, some Egyptian forces made it through to Kadesh, and the arrival of the last of the Egyptians provided enough military cover to allow the pharaoh to escape and his army to withdraw in defeat; leaving Kadesh in Hittite hands.
At home, Ramesses had his scribes formulate an official description, which has been called "the Bulletin" because it was widely published by inscription. Ten copies survive today on the temples at Abydos, Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel, with reliefs depicting the battle. A poem, the "Poem of Pentaur", describing the battle survives also.
The poem relates that the previously captured Sherden were not only working for his majesty, but were also formulating a plan of battle for him; i.e., it was their idea to divide Egyptian forces into four columns. There is no evidence of any collaboration with the Hittites or malicious intent on their part, and if Ramesses considered it, he never left any record of that consideration.
The poem lists the peoples which went to Kadesh as allies of the Hittites. Amongst them are some of the sea peoples spoken of in the Egyptian inscriptions previously mentioned, and many of the peoples who would later take part in the great migrations of the 12th century BCE (see Appendix A to the Battle of Kadesh).
Reign of Merneptah
The major event of the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah (1213 BCE–1203 BCE), 4th king of the 19th Dynasty, was his battle against a confederacy termed "the Nine Bows" at Perire in the western delta in the 5th and 6th years of his reign. Depredations of this confederacy had been so severe that the region was "forsaken as pasturage for cattle, it was left waste from the time of the ancestors."
The pharaoh's action against them is attested in four inscriptions: the Great Karnak Inscription, describing the battle, the Cairo Column, the Athribis Stele (the last two of which are shorter versions of the Great Karnak), and a stele found at Thebes, called variously the Hymn of Victory, the Merneptah Stele or the Israel Stele. It describes the reign of peace resulting from the victory.
The Nine Bows were acting under the leadership of the king of Libya and an associated near-concurrent revolt in Canaan involving Gaza, Ashkelon, Yenoam and the people of Israel. Exactly which peoples were consistently in the Nine Bows is not clear, but present at the battle were the Libyans, some neighboring Meshwesh, and possibly a separate revolt in the following year involving peoples from the eastern Mediterranean, including the Kheta (or Hittites), or Syrians, and (in the Israel Stele) for the first time in history, the Israelites. In addition to them, the first lines of the Karnak inscription include some sea peoples, which must have arrived in the Western Delta or from Cyrene by ship:
Later in the inscription Merneptah receives news of the attack:
... the third season, saying: 'The wretched, fallen chief of Libya, Meryey, son of Ded, has fallen upon the country of Tehenu with his bowmen---- Sherden, Shekelesh, Ekwesh, Lukka, Teresh, Taking the best of every warrior and every man of war of his country. He has brought his wife and his children ----- leaders of the camp, and he has reached the western boundary in the fields of Perire'
"His majesty was enraged at their report, like a lion," assembled his court and gave a rousing speech. Later, he dreamed he saw Ptah handing him a sword and saying, "Take thou (it) and banish thou the fearful heart from thee." When the bowmen went forth, says the inscription, "Amun was with them as a shield." After six hours, the surviving Nine Bows threw down their weapons, abandoned their baggage and dependents, and ran for their lives. Merneptah states that he defeated the invasion, killing 6,000 soldiers and taking 9,000 prisoners. To be sure of the numbers, among other things, he took the penises of all uncircumcised enemy dead and the hands of all the circumcised, from which history learns that the Ekwesh were circumcised, a fact causing some to doubt they were Greek.
Reign of Ramesses III
Ramesses III, the second king of the Egyptian 20th Dynasty, who reigned for most of the first half of the 12th century BCE, was forced to deal with a later wave of invasions of the Sea Peoples—the best-recorded of these in his eighth year. The Pharaoh records the Sea People's activities in several long inscriptions from his Medinet Habu mortuary temple:
The foreign countries (ie. Sea Peoples) made a conspiracy in their islands, All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms: from Hatti, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alashiya on, being cut off [ie. destroyed] at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the land as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: "Our plans will succeed!"
No land could stand before their arms
The fact that several civilizations collapsed around 1175 BCE, has led suggestion that the Sea Peoples may have been involved in the end of the Hittite, Mycenaean and Mitanni kingdoms. The American Hittitologist Gary Beckman writes, on page 23 of Akkadica 120 (2000):
A terminus ante quem for the destruction of the Hittite empire has been recognised in an inscription carved at Medinet Habu in Egypt in the eighth year of Ramesses III (1175 BCE). This text narrates a contemporary great movement of peoples in the eastern Mediterranean, as a result of which "the lands were removed and scattered to the fray. No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, Alashiya on being cut off. [ie: cut down]"
Ramesses' comments about the scale of the Sea Peoples' onslaught in the eastern Mediterranean are confirmed by the destruction of the states of Hatti, Ugarit, Ashkelon and Hazor around this time. As the Hittitologist Trevor Bryce observes:
It should be stressed that the invasions were not merely military operations, but involved the movements of large populations, by land and sea, seeking new lands to settle.
Checking the onslaught
The inscriptions of Ramesses III at his Medinet Habu mortuary temple in Thebes record three victorious campaigns against the Sea Peoples considered bona fide, in Years 5, 8 and 12, as well as three considered spurious, against the Nubians and Libyans in Year 5 and the Libyans with Asiatics in Year 11. During Year 8 some Hittites were operating with the Sea Peoples.
The inner west wall of the second court describes the invasion of Year 5. Only the Peleset and Tjeker are mentioned, but the list is lost in a lacuna. The attack was two-pronged, one by sea and one by land; that is, the Sea Peoples divided their forces. His majesty was waiting in the Nile mouths and trapped the enemy fleet there. The land forces were defeated separately.
The Sea Peoples did not learn any lessons from this defeat, as they repeated their mistake in Year 8 with a similar result. The campaign is recorded more extensively on the inner northwest panel of the first court. It is possible, but not generally believed, that the dates are only those of the inscriptions and both refer to the same campaign.
In Ramesses' Year 8, the Nine Bows appear again as a "conspiracy in their isles". This time, they are revealed unquestionably as Sea Peoples: the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, which are classified as "foreign countries" in the inscription. They camped in Amor and sent a fleet to the Nile.
The pharaoh was once more waiting for them. He had built a fleet especially for the occasion, hid it in the Nile mouths and posted coast watchers. The enemy fleet was ambushed there, their ships overturned, and the men dragged up on shore and executed ad hoc.
The land army was also routed within Egyptian controlled territory. Additional information is given in the relief on the outer side of the east wall. This land battle occurred in the vicinity of Djahy against "the northern countries". When it was over, several chiefs were captive: of Hatti, Amor and Shasu among the "land peoples" and the Tjeker, "Sherden of the sea", "Teresh of the sea" and Peleset or Philistines (in whose name some have seen the ancient Greek name for sea people; Pelasgians).
Papyrus Harris I of the period, found behind the temple, suggests a wider campaign against the Sea Peoples but does not mention the date. In it, the persona of Ramses III says, "I slew the Denyen (D'-yn-yw-n) in their isles" and "burned" the Tjeker and Peleset, implying a maritime raid of his own. He also captured some Sherden and Weshesh "of the sea" and settled them in Egypt. As he is called the "Ruler of Nine Bows" in the relief of the east side, these events probably happened in Year 8; i.e., his majesty would have used the victorious fleet for some punitive expeditions elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
Trude and Moshe Dothan, suggests that the later Philistine settlements in the Levant were unoccupied for nearly 30 years between their destruction and resettlement by the Philistines, whose Helladic IIICb pottery also shows Egyptian influences.
The Onomasticon of Amenope, or Amenemipit (amen-em-apt), gives a slight credence to the idea that the Ramesside kings settled the Sea Peoples in Canaan. Dated to about 1100 BC, at the end of the 21st dynasty (which had numerous short-reigned pharaohs), this document simply lists names. After six place names, four of which were in Philistia, the scribe lists the Sherden (Line 268), the Tjeker (Line 269) and the Peleset (Line 270), who might be presumed to occupy those cities. The Story of Wenamun on a papyrus of the same cache also places the Tjeker in Dor at that time. The fact that the Biblical maritime Tribe of Dan was initially located between the Philistines and the Tjekker, has prompted some to suggest that they may originally have been Denyen. Sherden seem to have been settled around Megiddo and in the Jordan Valley, and Weshwesh (Biblical Asher) may have been settled further north.
A few states, such as Byblos and Sidon, survived the Sea Peoples' migrations. Despite Ramesses III's pessimism, Carchemish also survived the Sea Peoples' onslaught. King Kuzi-Teshub I, who was the son of Talmi-Teshub—a direct contemporary of the last ruling Hittite king, Suppiluliuma II—is attested in power there. Kuzi-Tesup and his successors ruled a mini-empire from Carchemish which stretched from "Southeast Asia Minor, North Syria...[to] the west bend of the Euphrates" from c. 1175 BC to 990 BC.
Other documentary records
The earliest ethnic group later considered among the Sea Peoples is believed to be attested in Egyptian hieroglyphics on the Byblos obelisk found in the Obelisk Temple at Byblos in modern day Lebanon. The inscription mentions kwkwn son of rwqq-( or kukun son of luqq), transliterated as Kukunnis, son of Lukka, "the Lycian". The date is given variously as 2000 or 1700 BCE.
Letters at Ugarit
Some Sea Peoples appear in four letters found at Ugarit, the last three of which seem to foreshadow the destruction of the city around 1180 BCE. The letters are therefore dated to the early twelfth century. The last king of Ugarit was Ammurapi, or Hammurabi (c. 1191–1182 BCE), who, throughout this correspondence, is quite a young man.
The earliest is letter RS 34.129, found on the south side of the city, from "the Great King", presumably Suppiluliuma II of the Hittites, to the prefect of the city. He says that he ordered the king of Ugarit to send him Ibnadushu for questioning, but the king was too immature to respond. He therefore wants the prefect to send the man, whom he promises to return.
What this language implies about the relationship of the Hittite empire to Ugarit is a matter for interpretation. Ibnadushu had been kidnapped by and had resided among a people of Shikala, probably the Shekelesh, "who lived on ships." The letter is generally interpreted as an interest in military intelligence by the king.
The last three letters, RS L 1, RS 20.238 and RS 20.18, are a set from the Rap'anu Archive between a slightly older Ammurapi, now handling his own affairs, and Eshuwara, the grand supervisor of Alasiya. Evidently, Ammurapi had informed Eshuwara, that an enemy fleet of 20 ships had been spotted at sea.
Eshuwara wrote back and inquired about the location of Ammurapi's own forces. Eshuwara also noted that he would like to know where the enemy fleet of 20 ships are now located. Unfortunately for both Ugarit and Alasiya, neither kingdom was able to fend off the Sea People's onslaught, and both were ultimately destroyed. A letter by Amurapi (RS 18.147) to the king of Alasiya—which was in fact a response to an appeal for assistance by the latter—has been found by archaeologists. In it, Ammurapi describes the desperate plight facing Ugarit:
My father, behold, the enemy's ships came (here); my cities(?) were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots(?) are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka?...Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.
Ammurapi, in turn, appealed for aid from the viceroy of Carchemish—a state which actually survived the Sea People's onslaught—but its viceroy could only offer some words of advice for Ammurapi:
As for what you [Ammurapi] have written to me: 'Ships of the enemy have been seen at sea!' Well, you must remain firm. Indeed for your part, where are your troops, your chariots stationed? Are they not stationed near you? No? Behind the enemy, who press upon you? Surround your towns with ramparts. Have your troops and chariots enter there, and await the enemy with great resolution!"
Hypotheses about the Sea Peoples
A number of hypotheses concerning the identities and motives of the Sea Peoples described in the records have been formulated. They are not necessarily alternative or contradictory hypotheses; any or all might be mainly or partly true.
Regional migration historical context
The Linear B Tablets of Pylos in the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean demonstrate increased slave raiding and the spread of mercenaries and migratory peoples and their subsequent resettlement. Despite this, the actual identity of the Sea Peoples has remained enigmatic and modern scholars have only the scattered records of ancient civilizations and archaeological analysis to inform them. Evidence shows that the identities and motives of these peoples were known to the Egyptians. In fact, many had sought employment with the Egyptians or were in a diplomatic relationship for a few centuries before the Late Bronze Age Collapse. For example select groups, or members of groups, of the Sea People, such as the Sherden or Shardana, were used as mercenaries by Egyptian Pharaohs such as Ramesses II.
Prior to the 3rd Intermediate Period of Egypt from the (15th century BCE), names of semitic-speaking pastoral cattle nomadic peoples of the Levant appear, replacing previous Egyptian concern with the Hurrianised 'prw ('Apiru or Habiru). These were called the š3sw (Shasu), meaning "those who move on foot". e.g. the Shasu of Yhw. Sandars uses the analogous name "land peoples." Contemporary Assyrian records refer to them as Ahhlamu or Wanderers. They were not part of the Egyptian list of Sea Peoples, and were later referred to as Aramaeans.
Some people, such as the Lukka, were included in both categories of land and sea people.
The archaeological evidence from the southern coastal plain of ancient Palestine, termed Philistia in the Hebrew Bible, indicates a disruption of the Canaanite culture that existed during the Late Bronze Age and its replacement (with some integration) by a culture with a possibly foreign (mainly Aegean) origin. This includes distinct pottery, which at first belongs to the Mycenaean IIIC tradition (albeit of local manufacture) and gradually transforms into a uniquely Philistine pottery. Mazar says:
... in Philistia, the producers of Mycenaean IIIC pottery must be identified as the Philistines. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that the Philistines were a group of Mycenaean Greeks who immigrated to the east ... Within several decades ... a new bichrome style, known as the "Philistine", appeared in Philistia ...
Sandars, however, does not take this point of view, but says:
... it would be less misleading to call this 'Philistine pottery' 'Sea Peoples' pottery or 'foreign' pottery, without commitment to any particular group.
Artifacts of the Philistine culture are found at numerous sites, in particular in the excavations of the five main cities of the Philistines: the Pentapolis of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza. Some scholars (e.g. S. Sherratt, Drews, etc.) have challenged the theory that the Philistine culture is an immigrant culture, claiming instead that they are an in situ development of the Canaanite culture, but others argue for the immigrant hypothesis; for example, T. Dothan and Barako.
Two of the peoples who settled in the Levant had traditions that may connect them to Crete: the Tjeker and the Peleset. The Tjeker may have left Crete to settle in Anatolia, and left there to settle Dor. According to the Old Testament, the Israelite God brought the Philistines out of Caphtor. The mainstream of Biblical and classical scholarship accepts Caphtor to refer to Crete, but there are alternative minority theories. Crete at the time was populated by peoples speaking many languages, among which were Mycenaean Greek and Eteocretan, the descendant of the language of the Minoans. It is possible, but by no means certain, that these two peoples spoke Eteocretan.
Recent examinations of the eruption of the Santorini volcano suggest that it occurred very close (estimated between 1660–1613 BC) to the first appearances of the Sea People in Egypt. The eruption and its aftermath (fires, tsunami, weather changes and famines) would have had wide-ranging effects across the Mediterranean, the Levant and particularly Greece, and could have provided the impetus for invasions of other regions of the Mediterranean.
Greek migrational hypothesis
The identifications of Denyen with the Greek Danaans and Ekwesh with the Greek Achaeans are long-standing issues in Bronze Age scholarship, whether Greek, Hittite or Biblical, especially as they lived "in the isles". If the Greeks do appear as Sea Peoples, what were they doing? Michael Wood gives a good summary of the question and the hypothetical role of the Greeks (who have already been proposed as the identity of the Philistines above):
... were the sea peoples ... in part actually composed of Mycenaean Greeks – rootless migrants, warrior bands and condottieri on the move ...? Certainly there seem to be suggestive parallels between the war gear and helmets of the Greeks ... and those of the Sea Peoples ...
Wood would also include the Sherden and Shekelesh, pointing out that "there were migrations of Greek-speaking peoples to the same place [Sardinia and Sicily] at this time." He is careful to point out that the Greeks must only have been an element among the peoples, and that their numbers must have been relatively small. His major hypothesis, however, is that the Trojan War was fought against Troy VI and that Troy VIIa, the candidate of Carl Blegen, was sacked by essentially Greek Sea Peoples. He suggests that Odysseus' assumed identity of a wandering Cretan coming home from the Trojan War who fights in Egypt and serves there after being captured "remembers" the campaign of Year 8 of Ramses III, described above. He points out also that places destroyed on Cyprus at the time (such as Kition) were rebuilt by a new Greek-speaking population.
The possibility that the Teresh were connected on the one hand with the Tyrrhenians, believed to be an Etruscan-related culture, and on the other with Taruisa, a Hittite name possibly referring to Troy, had been considered by the ancient Romans. The Roman poet Virgil refers to this belief when he depicts Aeneas as escaping the fall of Troy by coming to Latium to found a line descending to Romulus, first king of Rome. Considering that Anatolian connections have been identified for other Sea Peoples, such as the Tjeker and the Lukka, Eberhard Zangger puts together an Anatolian hypothesis.
Mycenaean warfare hypothesis
This theory suggests that the Sea Peoples were populations from the city states of the Greek Mycenaean civilization, who destroyed each other in a disastrous series of conflicts lasting several decades. There would have been few or no external invaders and just a few excursions outside the Greek-speaking part of the Aegean civilization.
Archaeological evidence indicates that many fortified sites of the Greek domain were destroyed in the late 13th and early 12th century BC, which was understood in the mid 20th century to have been simultaneous or nearly so and was attributed to the Dorian Invasion championed by Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati. He believed Mycenaean Pylos was burned during an amphibious raid by warriors from the north (Dorians).
Subsequent critical analysis focused on the facts that the destructions were not simultaneous and all the evidence of Dorians came from later times. John Chadwick championed a Sea Peoples hypothesis, which asserted that as the Pylians had retreated to the northeast, the attack must have come from the southwest, the Sea Peoples being, in his view, the most likely candidates. He states that they were based in Anatolia and, although doubting that Mycenaeans called themselves "Achaeans", speculates that "... it is very tempting to bring them into connexion." He does not assign the Greek identity to all of the Sea Peoples.
Considering the turbulence between and within the great families of the Mycenaean city-states in Greek mythology, the hypothesis that the Mycenaeans destroyed themselves is long-standing and finds support by the reputable Greek historian Thucydides, who theorized:
For in early times the Hellenes and the barbarians of the coast and islands ... were tempted to turn to piracy, under the conduct of their most powerful men ... [T]hey would fall upon a town unprotected by walls ... and would plunder it ... no disgrace being yet attached to such an achievement, but even some glory.
The connection of these predations to the fall of Mycenaean Greece and, more widely, to the Sea Peoples is a logical outcome. Although some advocates of the Philistine or Greek migration hypotheses (above) identify all the Mycenaeans or Sea Peoples as ethnically Greek, the cautious Chadwick (founder, with Michael Ventris, of Linear B studies) rather adopts the multiple ethnicity view.
Sardinian, Sicilian and Tyrrhenian peoples hypotheses
The Sardinian architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was the most advanced of any civilization in the western Mediterranean during the Sea Peoples epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia.
No evidence has been uncovered yet to settle the enigmatic connections of these Sea Peoples. The self-name of the Etruscans, Rasna, does not lend itself to the Tyrrhenian derivation, although it has been suggested that this was itself derived from an earlier form T'Rasna. The Etruscan civilization has been studied, and the language partly deciphered. It has variants and representatives in Aegean inscriptions, but these may well be from travellers or colonists of Etruscans during their seafaring period before Rome destroyed their power.
Archaeology is equally enigmatic. About all that can be said for certain is that Mycenaean IIIC pottery was widespread around the Mediterranean in areas associated with Sea Peoples and its introduction at various places, including Sardinia, is often associated with cultural change, violent or gradual. These circumstances appear to be enough for archaeological theorizers. The prevalent speculation is that the Sherden and Shekelesh brought those names with them to Sardinia and Sicily, "perhaps not operating from those great islands but moving toward them."
Anatolian famine hypothesis
In the days of Atys, the son of Manes, there was a great scarcity through the whole land of Lydia ... So the king determined to divide the nation in half ... the one to stay, the other to leave the land. ... the emigrants should have his son Tyrrhenus for their leader ... they went down to Smyrna, and built themselves ships ... after sailing past many countries they came to Umbria ... and called themselves ... Tyrrhenians.
Connections to the Teresh of the Merneptah Stele, which also mentions shipments of grain to the Hittite Empire to relieve famine, are logically unavoidable. Many have made them, generally proposing a coalition of seagoing migrants from Anatolia and the islands seeking relief from scarcity. Tablet RS 18.38 from Ugarit also mentions grain to the Hittites, suggesting a long period of famine, connected further, in the full theory, to drought. Barry Weiss, using the Palmer Drought Index for 35 Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern weather stations, showed that a drought of the kinds that persisted from January 1972 would have affected all of the sites associated with the Late Bronze Age collapse. Drought could have easily precipitated or hastened socio-economic problems and led to wars. More recently, Brian Fagan has shown how mid-winter storms from the Atlantic were diverted to travel north of the Pyrenees and the Alps, bringing wetter conditions to Central Europe, but drought to the Eastern Mediterranean. More recent paleoclimatological research has also shown climatic disruption and increasing aridity in the Eastern Mediterranean, associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation at this time (See Bronze Age Collapse).
The term invasion is used generally in the literature concerning the period to mean the documented attacks implying a local or unspecified origin. An origin outside the Aegean also has been proposed, as in this example by Michael Grant: "There was a gigantic series of migratory waves, extending all the way from the Danube valley to the plains of China."
Such a comprehensive movement is associated with more than one people or culture; instead, a "disturbance" happens, according to Finley:
A large-scale movement of people is indicated ... the original centre of disturbance was in the Carpatho-Danubian region of Europe. ... It appears ... to have been ... pushing in different directions at different times.
If different times are allowed on the Danube, they are not in the Aegean: "all this destruction must be dated to the same period about 1200."
The following movements are compressed by Finley into the 1200 BC window: the Dorian Invasion, the attacks of the Sea Peoples, the formation of Philistine kingdoms in the Levant and the fall of the Hittite Empire, when in fact, those events required at least a few hundred years.
The archaeological evidence is treated in the same way. Robert Drews presents a map showing the destruction sites of 47 fortified major settlements, which he terms "Major Sites Destroyed in the Catastrophe". They are concentrated in the Levant, with some in Greece and Anatolia. The questions of dates and agents of destruction remain for the most part unanswered in detail, without which no single catastrophe or related catastrophes can be postulated beyond the level of pure speculation.
The invaders, that is, the replacement cultures at those sites, apparently made no attempt to retain the cities' wealth but instead built new settlements of a materially simpler cultural and less complex economic level atop the ruins. For example, no one appropriated the palace and rich stores at Pylos, but all were burned up, and the successors (whoever they were) moved in over the ruins with plain pottery and simple goods. This demonstrates a cultural discontinuity.
The name of the Serbonian Bog (Arabic: مستنقع سربون) applied to the lake of Serbonis (Sirbonis or Serbon) in Egypt relates to the Sea Peoples. When sand blew onto it, the Serbonian Bog appeared to be solid land, but was in fact a bog. The term is now applied metaphorically to any situation in which one is entangled from which extrication is difficult.
The Serbonian Bog has been identified as Sabkhat al Bardawil, one of the string of "Bitter Lakes" to the east of the Nile's right branch. It was described in ancient times as a quagmire, in which armies were fabled to be swallowed up and lost.
The term Serbonian came from the name of the Sherden (also known as Serden or Shardana) sea pirates, one of several groups of Sea Peoples who appear in fragmentary Egyptian records in the 2nd millennium BC.
- "Syria: Early history". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
- "Sea People". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
- (Egyptian: n3 ḫ3s.wt n<.t> p3 ym) As noted by Gardiner V.1 p.196, other texts have
- The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah explicitly refers to the term "the foreign-countries of the sea" in his Great Karnak Inscription, see Line 52, The inscription in Manassa p.55 plate 12.
- Kilebrew 2013, p. 2: "First coined in 1881 by the French Egyptologist G. Maspero (1896), the somewhat misleading term "Sea Peoples" encompasses the ethnonyms Lukka, Sherden, Shekelesh, Teresh, Eqwesh, Denyen, Sikil / Tjekker, Weshesh, and Peleset (Philistines). [Footnote: The modern term "Sea Peoples" refers to peoples that appear in several New Kingdom Egyptian texts as originating from "islands" (tables 1-2; Adams and Cohen, this volume; see, e.g., Drews 1993, 57 for a summary). The use of quotation marks in association with the term "Sea Peoples" in our title is intended to draw attention to the problematic nature of this commonly used term. It is noteworthy that the designation "of the sea" appears only in relation to the Sherden, Shekelesh, and Eqwesh. Subsequently, this term was applied somewhat indiscriminately to several additional ethnonyms, including the Philistines, who are portrayed in their earliest appearance as invaders from the north during the reigns of Merenptah and Ramesses Ill (see, e.g., Sandars 1978; Redford 1992, 243, n. 14; for a recent review of the primary and secondary literature, see Woudhuizen 2006). Hencefore the term Sea Peoples will appear without quotation marks.]"
- de Rougé, Emmanuel (1855), Notice de Quelques Textes Hiéroglyphiques Récemment Publiés par M. Greene, E. Thunot, p. 14: [Original French]: "On a depuis longtemps rapproché ces Kefa, avec vraisemblance, des Caphtorim de la Bible, au quels Gesenius, avec la plupart des interprètes, assigne pour résidence les îles de Crete ou de Chypre. Les habitants de l'île de Chypre durent nécessairement prendre parti dans cette guerre; peut-ètre les Kefas étaient-ils alors les alliés de l'Egypte. En tout cas, notre inscription ne détaille pas les noms de ces peuples, venus des îles de Ia Méditerranée. Champollion a fait remarquer que les T'akkari [qu'il nomme Fekkaros; voyez l'appendice à la suite de cette notice] et les Schartana, étaient reconnaissables, dans les vaisseaux ennemis, à leurs coiffures singulières. De plus, dans les écussons des peuples vaincus, les Schartana et les Touirasch portent la désignation de peuples de la mer. II est donc probable qu'ils appartiennent à ces nations venues des iles ou des còtes de l'Archipel. Les Rabou sont encore reconnaissables parmi les prisonniers.
[Translation]: "For a long time Kefa has been identified, with verisimilitude, with Caphthorim of the Bible, particularly Genesis, with most interpreters assigning their residence to the islands of Crete or Cyprus. The people of Cyprus had certainly to take sides in this war; perhaps they were then the allies of Egypt. In any case, our entry does not detail the names of these people, from the islands of the Mediterranean. Champollion noted that T'akkari [which he names Fekkaros; see appendix at the following entry] and Schartana, were recognizable, in enemy ships, and with unique hairstyles. In addition, in the crests of the conquered peoples, the Schartana and the Touirasch bear the designation of the peoples of the sea. It is therefore likely that they belong to these nations from islands or coasts of the archipelago. The Rabou are still recognizable among the prisoners."
- Kilebrew 2013, p. 2a.
- A convenient table of Sea Peoples in hieroglyphics, transliteration and English is given in the dissertation of Woudhuizen, 2006, who developed it from works of Kitchen cited there
- The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe Ca. 1200 B.C., Robert Drews, p48–61 Quote: "The thesis that a great "migration of the Sea Peoples" occurred ca. 1200 B.C. is supposedly based on Egyptian inscriptions, one from the reign of Merneptah and another from the reign of Ramesses III. Yet in the inscriptions themselves such a migration nowhere appears. After reviewing what the Egyptian texts have to say about 'the sea peoples', one Egyptologist (Wolfgang Helck) recently remarked that although some things are unclear, "eins ist aber sicher: Nach den agyptischen Texten haben wir es nicht mit einer 'Volkerwanderung' zu tun." Thus the migration hypothesis is based not on the inscriptions themselves but on their interpretation."
- de Rougé 1855.
- Maspero, Gaston (1896), Archibald Sayce, ed., Struggle of the Nations: Egypt, Syria and Assyria (English ed.), Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, pp. 461–470
- Drews 1992: "In fact, this migration of the Sea Peoples is not to be found in Egyptian inscriptions, but was launched by Gaston Maspero in 1873 [footnote: In the Revue Critique d'Histoire et de Litterature 1873, pp. 85-6]. Although Maspero's proposal initially seemed unlikely, it gained credibility with the publication of the Lemnos stele. In 1895, in his popular Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'orient classique [footnote; Vol. II (Paris:1895), translated into English as The Struggle of the Nations (ed. A. H. Sayce, tr. M. L. McClure, New York: 1896)], Maspero fully elaborated his scenario of "the migration of the Sea Peoples". Adopted by Eduard Meyer for the second edition of his Geschichted es Altertums, the theory won general acceptance among Egyptologists and orientalists."
- Killebrew 2013, p. 2-5.
- Kadesh Inscription
- Athribis Stele
- Bernard Bruyère, Mert Seger à Deir el Médineh, 1929, page 32-37
- Cairo Column
- Per Killebrew 2013, p2-5, these are: Stele of Padjesef, Tanis Stele, Papyrus Anastasi I, Papyrus Anastasi II, Stele of Setemhebu, Papyrus Amiens, Papyrus Wilbour, Adoption Papyrus, Papyrus Moscow 169, Papyrus BM 10326, Papyrus Turin 2026, Papyrus BM 10375, Donation Stele
- Letter EA 81
- Letters EA 122, 123, which are duplicates. See the paper on this topic published by Megaera Lorenz, The Amarna Letters at the Penn State site.
- EA 151
- EA 38
- Uncertainty of the dates is not a case of no evidence but of selecting among several possible dates. The articles in Wikipedia on related topics use one set of dates by convention but these and all dates based on them are not the only possible. A summary of the date question is given in Hasel, Ch. 2, p. 151, which is available as a summary on Google Books.
- Find this and other documents quoted in the Shardana article by Megaera Lorenz at the Penn State site. This is an earlier version of her article, which gives a quote from Kitchen not found in the External Links site below. Breasted Volume III, Article 491, p.210, which can be found on Google books, gives quite a different translation of the passage. Unfortunately, large parts of the text are missing and must be restored, but both versions agree on the Sherden and the warships.
- Kenneth Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt, Aris & Phillips, 1982. pp.40–41
- Grimal, pp.250–253
- The poem appears in inscriptional form but the scribe, pntAwr.t, was not the author, who remains unknown. The scribe copied the poem onto Papyrus in the time of Merneptah and copies of that found their way into Papyrus Sallier III currently located in the British Museum. The details are stated in THE BATTLE OF KADESH on the site of the American Research Center in Egypt of Northern California. Both the inscription and the poem are published in "Egyptian Accounts of the Battle of Kadesh" on the Pharaonic Egypt site.
- J. von Beckerath, p.190. Like those of Ramses II, these dates are not certain. Von Beckerath's dates, adopted by Wikipedia, are relatively late; for example, Sanders, Ch. 5, p. 105, sets the Battle of Perire at April 15, 1220.
- The Great Karnak Inscription.
- All four inscriptions are stated in Breasted, V. 3, "Reign of Meneptah", pp. 238 ff., Articles 569 ff., downloadable from Google Books. For the Great Karnak Inscription see also Manassa.
- J.H. Breasted, p. 243, citing Lines 13–15 of the inscription
- Medinet Habu inscription of Ramesses III's 8th year, lines 16–17, trans. by John A. Wilson in Pritchard, J.B. (ed.) Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, 3rd edition, Princeton 1969., p.262
- Beckman cites the first few lines of the inscription located on the NW panel of the 1st court of the temple. This extensive inscription is stated in full in English in the Woudhuizen thesis, which also contains a diagram of the locations of the many inscriptions pertaining to the reign of Ramses III on the walls of temple at Medinet Habu.
- Bryce, p.371
- The Woudhuizen dissertation quotes the inscriptions in English.
- This passage in the papyrus is often cited as evidence that the Egyptians settled the Philistines in Philistia. The passage however only mentions the Sherden and Weshesh; i.e., does not mention the Peleset and Tjeker, and nowhere implies that the scribe meant Egyptian possessions in the Levant.
- Dothan, Trude and Dothan, Moshe (1993), "People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines" (Scribner)
- Redford, P. 292. A number of copies or partial copies exist, the best being the Golenischeff Papyrus, or Papyrus Moscow 169, located in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow (refer to Onomasticon of Amenemipet at the Archaeowiki site). In it the author is stated to be Amenemope, son of Amenemope.
- Kitchen, pp. 99 & 140
- Kitchen, pp.99–100
- See also the Woudhuizen dissertation of 2006 for a fuller consideration of the meaning of ethnicity.
- Bryce, T. R. (1974). "The Lukka Problem – And a Possible Solution". Journal of Near Eastern Studies 33 (4): 395–404. doi:10.1086/372378. JSTOR 544776. The inscription is mentioned as well in the Woudhuizen dissertation, page 31.
- The texts of the letters are transliterated and translated in the Woudhuizen dissertation and also are mentioned and hypotheses are given about them in Sandars, p. 142 following.
- The sequence, only recently completed, appears in the Woudhuizen dissertation along with the news that the famous oven, still reported at many sites and in many books, in which the second letter was hypothetically being baked at the destruction of the city, was not an oven, the city was not destroyed at that time, and a third letter existed.
- Jean Nougaryol et al. (1968) Ugaritica V: 87–90 no.24
- RSL I = Nougayril et al., (1968) 86–86, no.23
- Rainey, Anson (November 2008). "Shasu or Habiru. Who Were the Early Israelites?". Biblical Archeology Review (Biblical Archaeology Society) 34 (06 (Nov/Dec)).
- Page 53
- Reford p. 292
- Ch. 8, subsection entitled "The Initial Settlement of the Sea Peoples."
- Ch. 7
- See under Tjeker.
- Amos 9,7; argument reviewed by Sandars in Ch. 7.
- One is cited under Caphtor.
- "New Evidence Suggests The Need To Rewrite Bronze Age History". Sciencedaily.com. 2006-04-29. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- Ch. 7, "The Peoples of the Sea."
- Odyssey XIV 191–298.
- Sandars Ch. 5.
- Wood Ch. 6.
- Eberhard Zangger in the Aramco article available on-line and referenced under External links below.
- Chadwick, p. 178.
- See "Mycenaean Society and Its Collapse", a module of Exploring the European Past by Jack Martin Balcer and John Matthew Stockhausen at custom.thomsonlearning.com. They quote passages from the books of several experts to give a spectrum of views.
- The History of the Peloponnesian War, Chapter I, Section 5.
- Vermeule p. 271.
- Wood p. 221 summarizes that a general climatological crisis in the Black Sea and Danubian regions as known through pollen analysis and dendrochronology existed about the year 1200 BC and could have caused migration from the north.
- Weiss, Barry (1982). "The decline of Late Bronze Age civilization as a possible response to climatic change". Climatic Change 4 (2): 173–198. doi:10.1007/bf00140587. ISSN 0165-0009.
- Fagan, Brian M. (2003), "The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization (Basic Books)
- Grant, The Ancient Mediterranean, page 79.
- Finley, page 58.
- Pages 8–9.
- Beckerath, Jürgen von (1997). Chronologie des Pharaonischen Ägypten. Mainz. Mainz.
- Beckman, Gary, "Hittite Chronology", Akkadica, 119/120 (2000).
- Breasted, J.H. (1906). Ancient Records of Egypt: historical documents from the earliest times to the Persian conquest. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Volume II on the 19th Dynasty is available for download from Google Books.
- Bryce, Trevor (1998). The Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924010-4.
- Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-21077-1.
- Dothan, Trude & Moshe (1992). People of the Sea: The search for the Philistines. New York: Scribner.
- Dothan, Trude K. (1982). The Philistines and Their Material Culture. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
- Robert Drews (1995). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe of ca. 1200 B.C. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04811-8. Parts of this book are displayed as a Google Books review.
- Drews, Robert (1992), "Herodotus 1.94, the Drought ca. 1200 B.C., and the Origin of the Etruscans", Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (Franz Steiner Verlag) 41: 14–39
- Finley, M.I. (1981). Early Greece:The Bronze and Archaic Ages:New and Revised Edition. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-01569-6.
- Gardiner, Alan H. (1947). Ancient Egyptian Onomastica. London: Oxford University Press. 3 vols.
- Grant, Michael (1969). The Ancient Mediterranean. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Grimal, Nicolas (1992). A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Hasel, Michael G. (1998). Domination and Resistance: Egyptian Military Activity in the Southern Levant, ca. 1300–1185 B.C. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 90-04-10041-5.
- Killebrew, Ann E. (2013), "The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology", Society of Biblical Literature Archaeology and biblical studies (Society of Biblical Lit) 15, ISBN 9781589837218
- Kitchen, K.A. (2003). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. William B. Eerdsman Publishing Co.
- Manassa, Colleen (2003). The Great Karnak Inscription of Merneptah: Grand Strategy in the Thirteenth Century BC. New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University. ISBN 0-9740025-0-X.
- Mazar, Amihai (1992). Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000–586 B.C.E. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-42590-2.
- Oren, Eliezer D. (ed.) (2000). The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
- Redford, Donald B. (1992). Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03606-3.
- Sandars, N.K. (1987). The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the ancient Mediterranean, Revised Edition. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27387-1.
- Vermeule, Emily (1964). Greece in the Bronze Age. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
- Wood, Michael (1987). In Search of the Trojan War. New American Library. ISBN 0-452-25960-6.
- Woudhuizen, Frederik Christiaan (1992). The Language of the Sea Peoples. Amsterdam: Najade Press. ISBN 90-73835-02-X.
- Woudhuizen, Frederik Christiaan. April 2006. The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples. Doctoral dissertation; Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Faculteit der Wijsbegeerte.
- Zangger, Eberhard (2001). The Future of the Past: Archaeology in the 21st Century. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-64389-4.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sea Peoples.|
- Philistine Kin Found in Early Israel, Adam Zertal, BAR 28:03, May/Jun 2002.
- The Sea Peoples and the Philistines: a course at Penn State
- Egyptians, Canaanites, and Philistines in the Period of the Emergence of Early Israel, paper by Itamar Singer at the UCLA Near Eastern Languages & Culture site
- "Who Were the Sea People?", article by Eberhard Zangger in Saudi Aramco World, Volume 46, Number 3, May/June 1995
- PlosOne dating the Sea People destruction of the Levant to 1192–90 BCE
- The Origins of the Sea Peoples, undergraduate paper by Joseph Morris published by Florida State University Classic Department
- The Sea Peoples and Annales: A Contextual Study of the Late Bronze Age, Master's Thesis of Daniel Jacobus Krüger, published at the University of South Africa site
- "The Battle of the Nile – Circa 1190 B.C.", article by I Cornelius in Military History Journal, Vol. 7., No. 4 of the South African Military History Society