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Thread: The Sea People

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    The Sea People

    ...of the Bronze Age. Who do you reckon they were?

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    Based on the reliefs at Medinet Habu and Karnak, along with their depiction in the Great Harris Papyrus showing wagons and families it appears they were a migratory people (or people's) that intended to settle in the Levant and Egyptian Delta region. Some names for their tribal groups are given from Hittite and Egyptian sources, such as Ekwesh, Denen, Lukka, Sherden and Pelest. I understand that there is a great deal of speculation about where they came from based on linguistic analysis of the names. Not my area at all so I can't really comment, but base on the impact they had and the diversity of names that they represent multiple groups from the northern Mediterranean (Mycenaean, Anatolian etc.) striking out at a similar time due to population pressures (I've heard suggestions of famines) in a manner similar to that of the Vikings.
    Last edited by The-Doc; 23-03-2012 at 00:18.
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    And why the sudden appearance? Was there some environmental factor in the population pressures? Was there any political links between them at all?

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    Quote Originally Posted by RedRalphWiggum View Post
    And why the sudden appearance? Was there some environmental factor in the population pressures? Was there any political links between them at all?
    Apparently a few of these ethnic groups were known of, and had served as mercenaries in the campaigns of at least one Pharaoh (Ramses II I think) so they couldn't have appeared all at once or at least there was already a basis for the later migrations. According to the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt there were a series of crop failures leading to prolonged famine in the 13th and 12th centuries BC that could've led to the migrations in Anatolia and the Levant. It seems this was one of the contributing factors of the toppling of the Hittites. I've only ever actually heard about them as it relates to Egypt though, maybe someone who has looked into Middle Eastern/Greek history could shed some more light. Come to think of it I wonder if there are any decent books dealing solely with the Sea Peoples themselves (they really need a better name).
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  5. #5
    I read somewhere that they (or most of them) were indo-european people from the Northern Mediterranean coast, similar to the waves of newcomers in Greece at the same time (Dorians)... That's all what I know about them.
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    Time Traveller seboden's Avatar
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    They came from Atlantis. Obviously.



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    Quote Originally Posted by RedRalphWiggum View Post
    And why the sudden appearance? Was there some environmental factor in the population pressures? Was there any political links between them at all?
    According to Ian Morris, Why the Rest Rules--For Now (a more scholarly book than its title suggests):

    "The evidence is spotty, but some archaeologists point to signs of higher temperatures and lower rainfall in every part of the Western core after 1300 . . . There were also changes in how people fought; new swords for slashing and deadlier javelins might have given swarms of irregular, lightly armed infantry from the peripheries the weapons they needed to defeat the core's gleaming but inflexible chariot armies."

    There's more in the book, and even more uncertainty. But the basic argument that this was a trend and involved marginal civilizations having imported/adopted enough technology to suddenly pose a threat when some shift (such as climate) pushes them into conflict with older civilizations is I think roughly right.

    Something else--from Rodgers' history the British navy, he points out that in the era of the Vikings sea-based raiders were unstoppable. You simply couldn't catch them at sea given the technology, and they could appear anywhere on your coast in places and no state had the resources or permanent army to defend everywhere. If they all came from, say, Cyprus, a powerful enough state could perhaps invade and control Cyprus and shut it down. But if a general trend pushed people from Sicily, the Aeolians, Sardinia, or southern France, the eastern Mediterranean states would have been totally helpless . . . it just seems there would be a ton of different invaders who all learned from the others successes where the easy picking were.
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    Quote Originally Posted by seboden View Post
    They came from Atlantis. Obviously.
    Perhaps closer to the truth than you might suspect. The Sea People, along with a number of other invaders such as the Philistines, appeared in number around or shortly after the time of the destruction of the Minoan civilization due to volcanic eruption. At least one group that was already present in small numbers in Greece abruptly rose to prominence as the Mycenean civilization. Wth the "competition" gone, the Phoenecians became far more powerful as a nautical trade empire during that period.

    According to the various burned or otherwise destroyed rings of ruins throughout the city of Troy, there were several waves of invasion over the course of several hundred years, then a long period of relative quiet. Something forced those migrations, but whether it was the eruption of a volcano, the migration of some large and powerful tribal groups to the north, better metallurgical techniques allowing common footsoldiers to compete succeessfully against noble chariot riders, or something else, remains to be determined. Most likely, there were two or three distinct events over a few hundred year period, one of which could have been the destruction of the legendary "Atlantis" (or the Minoan culture that the legend may have been based on).

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    David Rohl's "Lords of Avaris" is an interesting read and the last section focuses on the Sea Peoples incidents. Rohl, of course, believes that the Third Intermediary Period following the collapse of the Ramessid Empire in the wake of the Sea Peoples invasions has been reconstructed improperly by making concurrent dynasties sequential, thus adding a couple of extraneous centuries. This lowers Ramesses II from circa 1250 BCE to circa 920, and does the same for the Sea Peoples and the Minoans.

    Anyway, in Rohl's reconstruction of events, based on Minoan artifacts in Second Intermediary Period contexts, not only was it the Indo-European peoples of the Aegean rim who attacked Ramesses III, but their distant ancestors had done the same thing centuries prior. He identifies the myths of Io and Danaus along with a wall painting in one of the surviving rooms at Thera that seems to have historical content as a garbled memory of the conquest of Upper Egypt by the Hyskos, who he identifies as a confederation of seafaring Minoans, Syrian Hurrians and lastly Semitic Canaanites. The group ultimately came to be dominated by the Minoan element, and were subsequently expelled from Egypt and set up shop in Mycenae, where they brought the mummies of their ancestors and buried them with a load of leftover gold from Egypt in the burial shafts at that citadel, bringing about the legend of the Mycenaean founder Danaus.

    The eruption at Thera would have caused a severe dislocation in Crete, and the Minoan civilization was subsequently conquered by a Mycenean elite, the actual "Dynasty of Minos".

    At any rate the Sea Peoples themselves got moving in the aftermath of the Trojan War as refugees from Northwestern Anatolia picked up refugees from further along down the coast until it reached Egypt, the expedition being lead by the mythical figures of Mopsus and Amphilochus, Mopsus having stopped to set up a kingdom for himself in Cilicia along the way.

    Rohl identifies the Sea Peoples as follows:

    1)Peleset - Philistines. BUT, not the Philistines you're thinking of. As far as the Biblical writers were concerned, any Indo-European settler living in the cities by the Mediterranean was a "Philistine". The Davidic Philistines were descendants of the Minoan/Hurrian adventurers who had been driven out of Egypt by the native Pharaohs and were subsequently forced to submit under Thutmose III. (David is placed contemporaneous with Akhenaten by Rohl, who was too busy doing his own thing to pay attention to that lovable little Hebrew scamp raising hell in the periphery of his empire.) These latter Philistines were mixed in with the previous population and probably gave its name to it, but the Hebrews in the hills persisted in calling all the previous inhabitants of these cities Philistines when they wrote their history down a century or two later. Rohl believes that what the Sea People group actually would have called themselves is "Pelasgians", in agreement with Herodotus.

    2) Teresh - Classical Tursenoi of Lydia, who emigrated and became the Etruscans (Herodotus's Tyrrhenians).

    3) Ekwesh - Achaens, nothing mysterious about these dudes.

    4) Tjekker - Teucrians, either the greater ethnic group the Trojans belonged to or the followers of Teucer the half-Greek/half-Trojan hero who led a colony to Cyprus at about this time. (I'd guess the latter.)

    5) Weshesh - People from the Miletus area of Anatolia called Ouassos or Iassos, or from the area south of Troy called Assuwa, or "Asia".

    6) Shekelesh - Pirates, probably from later Sagalassa, AFTER the attack on Egypt, they sailed west and became the Sikels or Sicilians.

    7) Sherden - These were Arzawan warriors from the area around Sardis who, after being driven off from Egypt, went to Sardinia.

    8) Lukka - Lycians. (Everybody agrees on that.)

    9) Denyen - Danaans. Specifically the Greeks who were following Mopsus and later settled in Adana.

    10) Khara - Carians

    11) Dardany - Dardanians/Trojans.

    So the Sea Peoples started out on the Aegean Rim, went in a big glop to go and conquer Egypt, where there was no shortage of food, and then were dispersed, ending up in various parts of the Western Mediterranean, mostly.

    Rohl reconstructs the sequence of events in the Bronze Age collapse as something like this:

    Troubles start with agricultural failure en mass, probably aggravated by deforestation in the Mycenaean/Hittite civilized areas. The Mycenaeans get MORE warlike and a sequence of attacks are launched on Thebes. The Hittite Empire disintegrates. Without the Hittites protecting the Trojans, the Mycenaeans gang up on Troy. Heroics ensue. In the generation succeeding the war a confederation primarily consisting of Anatolians but also including some Greeks and Greekish islanders is put together by Mopsus et al and launches and attack on Egypt, which is repelled by Ramesses III. The Anatolians immediately begin founding somewhat less than urban settlements in the Western Mediterranean. The Archaic period ensues immediately, the Greek Dark Age being a trick of stratigraphy and a confused absolute chronology. Dorian Greeks/The Heracleidae invade mainland Greece and Crete. Mycenaean/Ionian Greeks invade and colonize Anatolia and then quickly begin to set up colonies in the west in competition with their mainland brethren. Phoenicians (not Philistines) are doing the same thing. And maybe... just maybe, a plucky group of Trojan refugees makes its way by ship to an obscure part of the Italian coast, becoming the ancestors of... Well you know!

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    It would be pretty boring as an Egyptologist if you weren't allowed to do any conjecturing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarmatia1871 View Post
    I am in Awe at the glorious layering of demented conjecture displayed by the above theory.
    i'm mostly wondering why it is thought the Shekelesh went to Sicily rather than being the Sicels who came from Sicily over the Sea as one of the many Peoples who did so during this period.

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    As far as I can tell, it's because all the rest of the confederacy with the exception of the Shardana and the Peleset are clearly identifiable as coming from Anatolia/The Aegean, and it therefore makes more sense for a unified confederacy to have been organized from a smaller area and subsequently settling out in the larger one than for a confederacy from a wider area to have organized itself over much greater distances.

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    It also makes sense for a natural disaster or crisis to have motivated all of those cultures throughout the region at roughly the same time for the same basic reasons.

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    I've been wondering about this myself since I heard a few mentions of them (the Sea People) on Ancient Worlds, a BBC series. Has anyone seen it? It's really good -- it traces the story of Western civilization from ancient Mesopotamia until the fall of Rome.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sleight of Hand View Post
    I've been wondering about this myself since I heard a few mentions of them (the Sea People) on Ancient Worlds, a BBC series. Has anyone seen it? It's really good -- it traces the story of Western civilization from ancient Mesopotamia until the fall of Rome.
    Yeah I watched it - it was class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RedRalphWiggum View Post
    Yeah I watched it - it was class.
    Awesome -- did you see the one about Carthage? I reckon it's the same guy but I'm not sure where to see it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sleight of Hand View Post
    Awesome -- did you see the one about Carthage? I reckon it's the same guy but I'm not sure where to see it.
    I saw all of them, it was a really great series and there seems to be a fair bit of interest in that topic nowadays. You may also want to check out A History of Ancient Britain with Neil Oliver or any of the films Bettany Hughes made - similar stuff and both well worth watching.

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    No forgive me, I mean that the guy who did Ancient Worlds also did a different program about the fall of Carthage -- I didn't mean the episode of Ancient Worlds that touched on the subject.

    Not heard of Neil Oliver but I have seen Bettany Hughes' program about the (Third?) Crusade.
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  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Sleight of Hand View Post
    No forgive me, I mean that the guy who did Ancient Worlds also did a different program about the fall of Carthage -- I didn't mean the episode of Ancient Worlds that touched on the subject.
    Hm, I must keep an eye out for that, cheers.

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