The Sea Peoples


Book Details

Author  Charles River Editors
Publisher  Charles River Editors
Publication Date   August 16, 2014
Pages  32


*Includes pictures
*Includes ancient accounts of the Sea Peoples
*Discusses theories about the Sea Peoples' origins
*Includes a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

“The [Egyptian] charioteers were warriors…and all good officers, ready of hand. Their horses were quivering in their every limb, ready to crush the [foreign] countries under their feet...Those who reached my boundary, their seed is not; their heart and soul are finished forever and ever." – An inscription made during the reign of Ramesses III

When scholars look at the passage of history, certain epochs and transitions to new periods tend to stand out. The transition from the early modern to the Industrial Age in the late 18th century and the collapse of the Roman Empire are two of the more well known, but the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age during the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE arguably changed the structure and course of world history more fundamentally than any period before or since. During this period, numerous wealthy and enduring kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean Sea region collapsed, and new ones rose in their places.
At the center of this period of turmoil was a group of people known today as the Sea Peoples, the English translation of the name given to them by the Egyptians. Despite their prominent role in history, however, the Sea Peoples remain as mysterious as they were influential; while the Egyptians documented their presence and the wars against them, it has never been clear exactly where the Sea Peoples originated from, or what compelled them to invade various parts of the region with massive numbers. Whatever the reason, the Sea Peoples posed an existential threat to the people already living in the region, as noted by an Egyptian inscription: “The foreign countries (i.e. 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 (i.e. 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!'"

As with any historical matter from the ancient world, the sources can be a problem. The ancient Egyptians recorded their interactions with the Sea Peoples in both written texts and in pictorial reliefs and thus provide the most complete contemporary description of them, but the nature of ancient Egyptian historiography was quite different than the modern concept, so the sources cannot be considered entirely reliable. Later Greek sources, both historiographical and mythological, can help fill in some more details, but those sources are suspect because they were written several centuries after the emergence of the Sea Peoples. Modern archaeology is beneficial in determining how people lived and possibly where they moved, but there are also problems when one relies too much on archaeological data because the dating of material culture is not an exact science. Finally, linguistic evidence is often employed to determine the geographic origins and eventual landing points of many of the Sea Peoples, but confusion often arises if a group’s demonym refers specifically to their place of origin or final home.

Naturally, the mystery surrounding the Sea Peoples has led to all kinds of theories aiming to identify them. While plenty of theories are plausible, there are other fanciful theories that have attempted to associate the Sea Peoples with the Atlantic Ocean and even Troy.

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