Learn more about Sea Peoples
| Sea Peoples (nȝ ḫȝt.w n pȝ ym) |
The Sea Peoples is the term used for a mysterious confederacy of seafaring raiders who sailed into the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, invaded Cyprus, Hatti and the Levant, and attempted to enter Egyptian territory during the late 19th dynasty, and especially during Year 8 of Ramses III of the 20th Dynasty. The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah explicitly refers to them by the term "the foreign-countries (or 'peoples' <ref>As noted by Gardiner (1947, 1:196*), other texts have <hiero>N25:X1*Z4</hiero> ḫȝty.w "foreign-peoples"; both terms can refer to the concept of "foreigners" as well.</ref>) of the sea" (Egyptian nȝ ḫȝt.w n pȝ ym<ref>Gardiner 1947, 1:196*; Manassa 2003:55</ref>) in his Great Karnak Inscription (line 52).<ref>Manassa 2003:55, plate 12</ref>
 Historic records
The earliest mention of the Sea Peoples is in an inscription belonging to the Egyptian king Merneptah,<ref>Manassa 2003</ref> whose rule is dated from 1213 BC to 1203 BC,<ref>J. von Beckerath, Chronologie des Pharaonischen Ägypten, Mainz, (1997), p.190</ref> although some isolated references to individual groups of sea raiders do occur earlier (for example, the Denyen during the reign of Amenhotep III, and the Shardana or Sherden, who were defeated by Ramesses II in his Year 2, in a sea battle off the Mediterranean coast and then incorporated into the Eyptian army for the Battle of Kadesh.<ref>Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992) pp.250-253</ref> Merneptah states that in the fifth year of his reign (1209/1208 BC) he defeated an invasion of an allied force of Libyans (Libu and Meshwesh, as well as other tribes) and the Sea People into Egypt, killing 6,000 soldiers and taking 9,000 prisoners.
About thirty years later, the Egyptian king Ramesses III was forced to deal with another invasion of the Sea Peoples in his eighth year. At his Medinet Habu mortuary temple, in Thebes, Rameses III describes how, despite the fact that "no land could stand before" the forces of the Sea People who destroyed the ancient civilisations of Anatolia, Cyprus and the Levant, he defeated them in a combined land and sea battle. He gives the names of the tribes of the Sea People as including: the Peleset, the Tjeker, the Shekelesh, the Denyen, and the Weshesh.<ref>Trevor Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford Press, (1999), p.370</ref> Only the Shekelesh appeared amongst these invaders during Merneptah's reign.<ref>Bryce, op. cit., p.370</ref> The abrupt end of several civilizations in the decades traditionally dated around 1175 BC have caused many scholars of ancient history to note that the Sea People caused the collapse of the Hittite, Mycenaean and Mitanni kingdoms. The American Hittitologist, Gary Beckman, University of Michigan <ref>Beckman</ref> writes that
- "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 eight year of Ramesses III. (1175 BC). 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]"<ref>Gary Beckman, "Hittite Chronology", Akkadica, 119/120 (2000), p.23. Beckman states that his footnote for the referenced Egyptian text comes from page 23 of Dothan & Dothan, "People of the Sea. The search for the Philistines," New York: 1992.</ref>
While Nicolas Grimal notes that the walls of Ramesses III's Medinet Habu temple "were decorated with genre scenes copied from the walls of the Ramesseum, in which the Egyptians are shown engaged in fictional battles with Hittites, Syrians and Nubians", he also confirms that the entries about the Sea Peoples are genuine.<ref>Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, (Blackwell Books, 1992) p.272</ref> Grimal specifies the Sea Peoples tried to invade Egypt by land — via Canaan/Palestine — and sea. Both attempts were repelled by Egyptians garrisons stationed in Palestine and in a great naval battle along the Eastern mouth of the Nile.<ref>Grimal, ibid., p.272</ref> The final evidence that Ramesses III's scenes are genuine — and not fiction — is the fact that Egyptian sources reveal that Merneptah supplied grain to Anatolian peoples who were suffering from famine;<ref>Beckman, op. cit. p.23</ref> in contrast, Ramesses III makes it clear that the Hittites were destroyed by Year 8 of his reign, if not earlier, since the Sea Peoples may have felt the need to consolidate their gains in the Levant for a year or two before attacking Egypt. It is very posible that the famine continued after Egypt became unable or unwilling to keep on sending famine relief, so the affected Anatolian peoples decided to attack Egypt to procure food for themselves.
Ramesses' comments about the scale of the Sea People's onslaught in the Eastern Mediterranean is 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."<ref>Bryce, op. cit., p.371</ref> This situation is confirmed by the Medinet Habu temple reliefs which show that "the Peleset and Tjekker warriors who fought in the land battle [against Ramesses III] are accompanied in the reliefs by women and children loaded in ox-carts."<ref>Bryce, op. cit., p.371</ref> A few states such as Byblos and Sidon managed to survive the Sea Peoples' invasions unscathed. Despite Ramessess III's pessimism, Carchemish also survived the Sea Peoples' onslaught. King Kuzi-Tesup I is attested in power there and was the son of Talmi-Tesup who was a contemporary of the last ruling Hittite king, Suppiluliuma II.<ref>K.A. Kitchen, op. cit., pp. 99 and 140</ref> He and his successors ruled a small 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.<ref>Kitchen, op. cit., pp.99-100</ref>
The Sea Peoples appear in another set of records dated around the early twelfth century. Ammurapi, the last king of Ugarit (c. 1191–1182 BC) received a letter from the Hittite king Suppiluliuma II warning him about the "Shikalayu who live on boats": compare the Shekelesh of the slightly earlier Merneptah/Ramses inscriptions. It may be relevant that shortly after he received this communication, Ammurapi was overthrown and the city of Ugarit sacked, never to be inhabited again.
 Hypotheses about the Sea Peoples
Eberhard Zangger (Zangger 2001) revives another hypothesis, suggesting that the Sea People may have been involved in the Greek migrations of this period, based in part on their recorded names, and on the fact that the pottery at sites associated with Sea Peoples, such as the Philistines and Tjekker in the Levant, is of Mycenaean derivation. Zangger identifies the "Ekwesh" or "Aqaiwasha" with the Achaeans ('Αχαιοι) and the "Denyen" with the Danaoi — alternate names for the Hellenes familiar from Homer, with the further suggestion that the term "Achaeans" derives from a hypothesized ancient Pelasgian word "*acha", which would mean water. This theory implies that the Philistines were part of this Greek-speaking confederacy.
The most compelling archaeological evidence relating to settlement of the Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean derives from the remains of the Philistine culture, found along the southern coastal plain of modern day Israel. The archaeological evidence from this region, termed Philistia in the Hebrew Bible, shows distinct remains of the disruption of the Canaanite settlements that existed during the Late Bronze Age, and its replacement (with some integration) by a culture with a predominantly foreign (mainly Aegean) origin. This includes distinct pottery. Pottery that at first clearly belongs to the Mycenaean IIIC tradition gradually transforms into a uniquely Philistine pottery, in which Aegean and local styles are synthesized, with similar trends in architecture, cult, and even some evidence of non-Semitic, Indo-European language. 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 (although few excavations have been conducted at Gaza). Although 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, the overall evidence argues strongly for the immigrant hypothesis, as argued, for example, by T. Dothan, Barako, and others. For instance, the Denyen or Danuna are known to be associated with Cilicia in Southern Anatolia because Hittite records refer to them as the "People of Adana".<ref>Bryce, op. cit., p.370</ref>
This theory suggests that the Sea Peoples were the founders of the early semi-literate city states of the Greek Mycenaean civilizations, 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. The city states were semi-literate in the sense that very few individuals could master the complex syllabary used to write Linear B and other written forms of the early Greek language, and, thus, relatively few documents were produced in daily life to bear witness to the fratricidal nature of the wars. In contrast, the completely alphabetic writing system which started to appear around 800 BC was relatively easy to learn and use, thus giving rise to the production of many documents, both epic and ritual.
In addition to the interpretation of relevant textual records, the archaeological record provides a substantial basis to believe that peoples from Southern Europe and the Italian peninsula may have contributed to the Sea Peoples phenomenon. Pottery and bronze weapons of a distinctly Italic type have been found in quantity at excavations of structures built atop the charred ruins of cities believed to have been burnt to the ground by the Sea Peoples. Attempts have been made to identify certain Sea Peoples with Italic peoples; for example, some scholars have speculated that the Shekelesh can be identified with the Sicels of Sicily. There is a theory that after being repulsed from Egypt, many of the Sea Peoples settled elsewhere around the Mediterranean in lands which they then renamed after themselves: the Shekelesh in Sicily, the Tursha in Etruria, the Sherden in Sardinia; this does not contradict a theory that before the war the Sherden came from the Sardis area.
One thing about this period which demands explanation is that many "Sea Peoples" sites involve the violent conquest and destruction of rich cities. The invaders apparently made no attempt to retain the cities' wealth, but instead built new settlements of a lower cultural and economic level atop the ruins. This demonstrates a cultural discontinuity, and is somewhat inconsistent with the theory of Mycenean warfare. It seems unlikely that the traditional Helladic warrior classes would have so discarded the spoils of victory, if the writings of Homer are to be considered a guide.
A recent theory proposed by Sanford Holst (Holst 2005) is that the Sea Peoples, facing starvation, migrated from Anatolia and the Black Sea, in cooperation with the Phoenicians, seeking food and land upon which to settle. Supporters of the theory point to the Phoenicians being uniquely not attacked by the Sea Peoples but this can also be explained by assuming that the Sea Peoples were also from a maritime trading culture and therefore had a different and already existing relationship with the Phoenicians.
Textual and archaeological records show that Greek and Egyptian state structures used mercenaries from the north and west. It is possible that these mercenary groups eventually allied themselves with indigenous slave classes to bring down a number of complex but ossified state structures in Greece and the Near East.
- Dothan, Trude K. (1982). The Philistines and Their Material Culture. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
- Gardiner, Alan H. (1947). Ancient Egyptian Onomastica. London: Oxford University Press. 3 vols.
- 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.
- Sanford Holst. (2005). Phoenicians, Lebanon's Epic Heritage. Los Angeles: Cambridge & Boston Press.
- Oren, Eliezer D. (ed.) (2000). The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
- 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.
- Eberhard Zangger, 2001. The Future of the Past: Archaeology in the 21st Century (London:Weidenfeld & Nicolson) ISBN 0-297-64389-4.
 External links
- The Sea Peoples and the Philistines: a course at Penn State
- Sea Peoples and the Phoenicians: a paper presented to the World History Association, Ifrane, Morocco on June 27-29, 2005 by Sanford Holst.
- http://www.nelc.ucla.edu/Faculty/Mullins_flies/ANE230_State_Formation_files/Singer_Egyptians_Canaanites_Philistines.pdf Itamar Singer, Egyptians, Canaanites, and Philistines in the Period of the Emergence of Early Israel]ca:Pobles de la mar
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