Ancient Egypt: The incursions of the Sea Peoples.
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Soldier on a temple of Ramses III
relief on a temple of Ramses III

The Incursions of the Sea Peoples

I (Ramses III) extended all the boundaries of Egypt; I overthrew those who invaded them from their lands. I slew the Denen in their isles, the Thekel and the Peleset were made ashes. The Sherden and the Weshesh of the sea, they were made as those that exist not, taken captive at one time, brought as captives to Egypt, like the sand on the shore.
Papyrus Harris
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 403
    The Late Bronze Age witnessed great upheavals in the eastern Levant, a weakening of the Mycenaean civilization, the collapse of Hatti at the beginning of the 12th century BCE, the destruction of a number of important cities [8] among them Ugarit which, according to a cuneiform tablet happened after the death of Merneptah. The demise of the traditional economic and political powers in the region opened the way for many groups of mostly Semitic peoples to found a number of small states, among them the Israelites, Edomites, Moabites, Midianites, and Ammonites. The Arameans began to dominate Syria and spread into Mesopotamia. According to conventional history these occurrences were connected to, and at times brought about by, the Sea Peoples.
The incursions of the Sea Peoples

Proposed migration routes of the Sea Peoples

    Much about this badly defined group of peoples remains a mystery. In the eyes of the migration proponents they may have come from as far as northern Europe, or, more probably, from the Black Sea region, i.e. the Balkans and Asia Minor, were armed with straight swords and, crossing the northern Aegean and Anatolia, invaded the coastal Levant and possibly defeated some of the regional powers whose power was apparently declining at this time, but there is no evidence that this happened.
    The Germanic Völkerwanderung which brought about the destruction of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century CE seems to have inspired this theory which leaves many questions unanswered. The origins and suggested successes of the Sea Peoples have yet to be explained satisfactorily. Unlike the conventional powers of the Levant who relied on the chariotry as the main fighting force in field battles, the Sea Peoples armies consisted of infantry armed with swords and javelins. How slow foot-soldiers could so often overcome professional charioteers whose bows had a wider reach than their own javelins and whose speed of retreat could be great, is unclear. They may have confronted their enemies in terrain unsuited for chariots, posing enough of a threat for the defenders to employ unsupported infantry, against whom the superior weapons of the invaders might give them enough of an edge to tip the scales in their favour. But then, why would the local forces accept a challenge under such unfavourable terms?
    The Middle Eastern powers were in a weakened state, possibly because of famine or some other natural catastrophe. If there had been a period of droughts in the region, this might also explain why the Sea Peoples with their children, women and old people kept on moving south instead of settling in the conquered territories.
The Sea Peoples     On the other hand, they may have been settled in the region for quite some time. Sherden, Lukka, and Danuna [10] are mentioned in the Amarna Tablets (c. 1350 to 1320 BCE):

Possible settlement areas of some of the Sea Peoples

The king of Alasiya complains that men of Lukki, year by year, seize villages in my own country (EA 38), while Rib-Addi of Byblos has problems with people he calls the Shirdanu, and the Tyrian Abi-Milku reports the death of the king of the Danuna. These peoples are not necessarily identical with those Sea Peoples that were given similar names.
    About 1200 BCE names of peoples with the addition "of the Sea" began to appear. At Medinet Habu Ramses III displayed the names of seven of his defeated enemies and their (stylized) images: Medinet Habu inscription
Medinet Habu relief of enemies defeated by Ramses III
After R.Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopien, Abth.III, Bl.209
The inscriptions (from left to right):
(Hittites:) The wretched chief of Kheta as living captive.
(Amorites:) The wretched chief of Amor.
(Tjekker:) Chieftain (lit. the Great One) of the foe of Thekel (TAkwrA).
(Sherden:) Sherden (SArAdAnA) of the sea.
(Bedouins:) Chieftain of the foe of Sha[su] (SA ///).
(Teresh:) Teresh (tjwrASA) of the sea.
(Philistines:) Chieftain of the Pe[leset] (pw //////).
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, §129
.     The name "Sea Peoples" is used for an ill-defined group of peoples which included the
  • Libyans (who were settled by Ramses III in or near the eastern Delta)
  • Lukka (perhaps the ancestors of the Lycians)
  • Teresh (Tursha or Tyrshenoi - possibly the Tyrrhenians, the Greek name for the Etruscans; or from the western Anatolian Taruisa)
  • Shekelesh (Shekresh, Sikeloi - Sicilians? [9])
  • Ekwesh
  • Danuna (sometimes identified with the Danaoi of Homer's Iliad )
  • Shardana or Sherden (Sardinians ? [9]) - feared as pirates
  • Tjekker which were settled in Dor according to the Tale of Wenamen
  • Peleset (Philistines) after whom Palestine was named

Sherden soldiers     Attempts were made to enlist them as allies; the Sherden for instance, became mercenaries in the Egyptian army under Ramses II, and the Lukka associated themselves with the Hittites.

Sherden soldiers
Source: Lionel Casson Ancient Egypt, Time-Life Books

    There are a few Egyptian inscriptions referring to military action against the Sea Peoples. Merneptah defended his country in his fifth year by defeating a coalition of forces in Libya:
[Beginning of the victory which his majesty achieved in the land of Libya (?)] //////i, Ekwesh, Teresh, Luka, Sherden, Shekelesh, Northerners coming from all lands.
J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, § 574
    The mortuary temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu has the following inscription, though some doubt that this is more than a modified copy of that of Merneptah:
    The countries /// ///, the [Northerners (?)] in their isles [11] were disturbed, taken away in the [fray (?)] /// at one time. Not one stood before their hands, from Kheta [1] (xtA), Kode [2] (qdj), Carchemish [3] (qArAqAmSA), Arvad [4] (ArATw), and Alasa [5] (ArAsA), they were wasted. [The]y [set up (?)] a camp in one place in Amor [6]. They desolated his people and his land like that which is not. They came with fire prepared before them, forward to Egypt. Their main support was Peleset (pwrAsAT), Thekel (TAkkArA), Shekelesh (SAkrwSA), Denyen (dAjnjw), and Weshesh (wASASA). (These) lands were united, and they laid their hands upon the land as far as the Circle of the Earth. Their hearts were confident, full of their plans.
Inscription on the second pylon at Medinet Habu
J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 64

I established my boundary in Djahi [7], prepared in front of them, the local princes, garrison-commanders, and Maryannu [12]. I caused to be prepared the river mouth like a strong wall with warships, galleys, and skiffs. They were completely equipped both fore and aft with brave fighters carrying their weapons and infantry of all the pick of Egypt, being like roaring lions upon the mountains; chariotry with able warriors and all goodly officers whose hands were competent. Their horses quivered in all their limbs, prepared to crush the foreign countries under their hoofs.
Harris Papyrus
    The Egyptians met an army of the Sea Peoples in southern Canaan and defeated them, before it could enter Egypt (if they were moving in that direction at all.) But it has also been suggested that, rather than routing an army, the Egyptians overcame a column of people fleeing before them.

Oxtrain - Linedrawing after a relief at Medinet Habu

    A naval force tried to sail up the Nile, but was intercepted. The Egyptians were possibly inferior as sailors and their ships seem to have been technologically less advanced, but they were powered by both sail and oars and were thus much more manoeuvrable inshore than the sailing ships of the attackers. Naval engagement: Egyptian seaborne archers

Egyptian seaborne archers and javelin throwers fighting against the Sea Peoples
Source: Lionel Casson, Ancient Egypt, Time-Life Books

    Bowmen prevented the landing of the Sea Peoples, while the Egyptian navy attacked. Seaborne archers showered the enemy with arrows, to which these, armed with swords and spears, had no answer. The ramming technique of the Late Period had not yet been developed, but the Egyptians succeeded in causing many of the enemy ships to capsize by using grappling hooks.
    ... a net was prepared for them to ensnare them, those who entered into the river-mouths being confined and fallen within it, pinioned in their places, butchered and their corpses hacked up.

    The power of the Sea Peoples was broken in the Nile delta
    As for those who reached my boundary, their seed is not. Their hearts and their souls are finished unto all eternity. Those who came forward together upon the sea, the full flame was in front of them at the river mouths, and a stockade of lances surrounded them on the shore.
    but some, among them the Peleset, conquered and settled in southern Canaan, which came to be called Philistia, and merged with the local indigenous peoples. The Tjekker held on to the region of Dor and were notorious pirates and bandits, as Wen-amen would learn.


Source of the pictures:
The photographs are excerpts from Lionel Casson Ancient Egypt, Time-Life Books
[1] Kheta: The Hittite empire in Anatolia, Hatti
This passage is generally read to mean that Hatti et al. fell victim to the Sea Peoples. It has been proposed to mean that the Hittites were in league with them supporting their war against Egypt.
[2] Kode: Cilicia
[3] Carchemish: City on the Euphrates in northern Syria
[4] Arvad: or perhaps Arzawa, country in western Anatolia, allied to Hatti
[5] Alasa: Alasiya i.e. seemingly Cyprus
[6] Amor: Amurru in northern Syria
[7] Djahi: region in Canaan, possibly in the Judean hills
[8] There is no direct evidence that the destruction of Ugarit and other Levantine cities was due to the Sea Peoples. The disappearances of these political entities during this time period may have had other causes, and the Sea Peoples may have taken advantage of the absence of a military power which could block their advance towards the south. Why they should have migrated southwards at all, risking a defeat at the hands of the still mighty Egyptians, with all the consequences such a defeat entailed, is a mystery.
[9] If there is a connection at all between the Shekelesh and Sicily it would be that part of this people reached Sicily and settled the island which was subsequently named after them, rather than that they originated there. The same holds for the Sherden - Sardinia hypothesis.
[10] A people called Shirdanu are mentioned in a number of letters written by Rib-Addi, one of them is EA 123:
Rib-Hadda writes to his lord, Great King, king of all countries, King of Battle: May the Lady of Gubla grant power to the king, my lord. I fa[ll] at the feet of my lord, (my) Sun, 7 times and 7 times.
A deed that has not been done from time immemorial has been done to Gubla. Pihura [s]ent Suteans; they kill[ed] Shirdanu-people, (t)ook 3 meen, and brought them in(to) Egypt. (If) the king, (my) lord, does not se(nd) them (back), there is (su)rely going to be a revolt against m[e. I]f the ki[ng], my [lor]d, loves (his) loya[l] servant. (then) send (back) the [3] men that I may live and guard the city for the king. And as to the king's writing, "Guard yourself," with what am I to guard? Send the 3 men whom Pihura brought in and then I will survive: Abdi-Ashirta, Yattin-Hadda, Abd(i)-Milki. [Wh]at are the sons of Abdi-Ashirta that they have taken the land of the king for themselves? May the king send archers to [take] them.
EA 123
William L. Moran, 1992. The Amarna Letters
In another letter the king of Alasiya writes of his problems with a people called the Lukki (EA 39.) Abi-Milku of Tyre mentions what may have been the Sea People of the Danuna:
The king, my lord, wrote to me, "Write to me what you have heard in Canaan."
The king of Danuna died; his brother became king after his death, and his land is at peace.
From letter EA 151
William L. Moran, 1992. The Amarna Letters
[11] The geographical location of these islands is disputed. Generally they are thought to be in the northern Mediterranean, but it has also been proposed that they were in the Nile Delta, which would make some at least of the Sea Peoples inhabitants of Egypt.
[12] The Maryannu (mrAjnA) were the Canaanite elite.

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Links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further study. I do not assume any responsibility for the conten or availability of these websites.
Rameses IIIThe Last Great Pharaoh - Rameses III by Mark Millmore
The Sea Peoples and Egypt The Sea Peoples and Egypt: Conflicting perspectives in the past 50 Years of Egyptology
-Ramses III's Victory over the "Peoples of the Sea"
-Philistines, Archaeology Part I
-The Sea Peoples and the Philistines on the Web
-Attacks on Egypt
-Die Wanderung der Seevoelker und die indoiranische Wanderung (in German, makes somewhat unorthodox Atlantis connections)

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