By Periklis Deligiannis
The ‘Sea Peoples’ (as mentioned in Egyptian and Greek Records – in the later as Pelasgoi, meaning exactly ‘Sea People’) was a tribal union of the Aegean and western Asia Minor, whose invasions in the eastern Mediterranean around 1229-1187 BC caused destruction of cities, states and empires (Hittite Empire) and countless victims. Shortly after the destruction of Troy VI (almost certainly the Homeric Troy) by the Achaeans (Mycenaeans), probably in the middle 13th century BC, began the disintegration of the Mycenaean world because of the prevailing famine and anarchy. These conditions are due to broader socioeconomic, political, commercial and climatic causes, occurring in Asia Minor probably earlier than the Mycenaean territories. The impressive palaces of Mycenae, Pylos and other Mycenaean citadels belong mainly to the 13th century BC, giving a false image of prosperity for them. Nevertheless it was a period of decline for the Mycenaeans, as shown by the archaeological findings.
The Achaean kings (wanaktae) were facing financial problems as their factories were producing about half the products compared with the production of the 14th century BC. They lacked skilled craftsmen and slaves, although their territories were been plagued by overcrowding. The commercial sea routes that they used were becoming more and more insecure, due to the increasing piracy and raids, and their savings had been ‘evaporated’. The monarchs and aristocrats were forced to seek new areas for raw materials, new resources, laborers and slaves, probably lands for colonization, to plunder the goods of other countries and to discover new trading routes. So they destroyed Troy, but soon after they had to abandon Greece en masse, due to the final failure. The Achaean/Mycenaean and other Aegean navigators who suffered this politico-economic collapse, turned to the open sea, and became the famous Sea Peoples already from the first half of the 13th cent. BC. The British archaeologist Elizabeth French (University of Manchester), suggested that Tiryns in Argolis, the last Mycenaean palace that was abandoned by its inhabitants (except Athens), was the base of the Sea Peoples. She supported her theory on the archaeological conclusion that Tiryns had experienced its greatest prosperity (about 1200 BC) when the other Mycenaean citadels had already turned to ruins or ‘lingered out their lives’. In my opinion, Tiryns was probably the base of the two tribes that probably gave rise to the Later ‘wave’ of the Sea Peoples, i.e. the Peleset/Philistines (Peleset/Pulasti in Egyptian, Pelasgians in Greek) and Denyen/Danuna (most probably the Greek Danaans).
An impressive representation of Late Mycenaean warriors (Reenactment). The weaponry and clothing of the Sea Peoples were much alike the Mycenaean, due to the unity of weaponry and other elements of civilization in the area of the Aegean and the western Asia Minor. Afterall, the Myceneans/Achaeans were a large part of the Sea Peoples. Note the segmented bronze armor of the two warriors, descended directly from the Dendra early Mycenaean armour, and very similar to the much later chronologically ‘lorica segmentata’ of the Romans. Also note the bronze horned helmet of the left warrior and the typical Mino-mycenaean boar-tusk helmet of the right one. Also, the late mycenaean sword, the typical pelte-type shields, and the bronze greaves (based on archaeological finds from Peloponnesian Achaea) (Reenactment by the organization mpfilmcraft.com).
The Sea Peoples had begun to raid Egypt since the reign of the Pharaohs Amenophis III and Ramses II (14th-13th centuries BC). The latter had captured some Sherden (a Sea People tribe) while they were raiding the Delta of the Nile, and incorporated them in his army as mercenaries. But the first dangerous attack of these peoples took place in Egypt during the reign of Merneptah (ca. 1237-1223 BC). The North African Libyans (Labu/Libu) attacked Egypt from the west, with the collaboration of some of the Sea Peoples who are mentioned by the Egyptian sources: the Lukka or Luqqa (Luwians, Lycians), the Sherden/Shardana (the Sardonians of Lydia?), the Teresh/Tursha (probably the Tyrsenians/Tyrrhenians of Lydia), the Shekelesh/Shakalasa/Shakarasa (the people of classical Sagalassos in Pisidia?) and the Akaiwasha or Eqwesh. The Akaiwasha are possibly the Achaeans (the ‘Ahhiyawa’ in the Hittite archives) or the islanders of Keos or Cos (Greek islands).
These Early Sea Peoples, except the probably Greek Akaiwasha, were originated from Asia Minor, and were mainly Luwians who sailed in Cyrenaeca. There they joined the Libyan tribes Labu, Meshwesh and Kekhek, traditional enemies of Egypt. If the Akaiwasha were the Achaean seafarers (and most probably they did) then they knew very well the area of Cyrenaeca, and perhaps they were the ‘middlemen’ for the alliance between the Luwian tribes of Asia Minor and the Libyans. The Libyan warriors (possibly also the Sea Peoples) were accompanied by their women, elders and children, and also their flocks and their belongings. Obviously their pursuit was to settle in Egypt, and not just to loot it. The intruders penetrated rapidly the Egyptian territory reaching up the Pharafra Oasis and the Canopic branch of the Nile (Delta). The pharaoh Merneptah mobilized his army, faced the invaders and defeated them causing them heavy losses (1229 BC). Shortly after 1200 BC, the growing anarchy and famine in the Mycenaean Aegean and western Asia Minor, led to the establishment of the tribal union of the Later ‘wave’ of the Sea Peoples. Crowds of desperate inhabitants of these areas began concentrate on the western coast of Asia Minor, thus creating a ‘human avalanche’.
The peoples who formed the new tribal union were the Peleset/Pulasti (Philistines/Pelasgians), Shakalasa/Shekelesh, Denyen/Danuna (most probably the Danaans/Danaoi), Weshwesh (from the cities of Iasos or Assos of Asia Minor?) the Karkisha (Carians?) and the Djekker (Teucrians/Trojans or Thracians?). It is accepted that the Peleset/Philistines and probably the Denyen had a leading position among the invaders. These Later Sea Peoples formed a strong army which started to move towards the interior of Asia Minor, in the Hittite territory, and along the southern coast. The warriors who walked along the coast were accompanied by the numerous and well-equipped fleet of the Sea Peoples.
The once powerful Hittite Kingdom was their first victim. The Hittite Empire was destroyed and its capital Hattusas turned into burned ruins. Soon, the same fate befell to Ugarit, the most powerful Canaanite city-state, and to other rich city-states of Syria-Phoenicia: Karkhemis, Aleppo, Zincirli (modern Turkish name), Alalah, Hamat, Tell Abu Hawam (modern Arab name), Sidon, Tell Sukas (modern Arab name) etc. The Sea Peoples destroyed also the tribal kingdoms of the region, like Amurru of the Amorites. The hordes of the invaders overwhelmed the territories of later Phoenicia and Palestine, ending the Egyptian control over them. The invaders were approaching Egypt. As it is revealed by archaeological research, the destruction of the cities of Asia Minor and Canaan was radical. The attackers left behind only ashes and ruins, without settling in the destroyed areas.
Warships of the Peleset or Denyen (top) and the Egyptians (bottom) during the sea battle in the Nile (Egyptian reliefs of the palace of Ramses III at Medinet Habu).
Around 1190 BC or a little later, the invaders crossed the eastern Egyptian borders, probably near Pelusium (later name). The decisive land battle took place there and probably simultaneously a sea battle took place on the waters of the Nile. The warriors and the fleet of the Sea Peoples were confronted by the embattled Egyptian army and fleet of the Pharaoh Ramses III. After an indecisive and bloody conflict at the river and in land (with many victims mainly from the side of the Sea Peoples) the Egyptians crushed and dispersed the attackers. Egypt was the only country in the Eastern Mediterranean, which was rescued by the migrations and invasions of the notorious Sea Peoples.
The invasion of the Later Sea Peoples had no equal till the time that they took place, because they destroyed at once a long-lived empire, the Hittite, exterminated off the face of the earth ancient and powerful cities of Asia Minor and Canaan (the majority of which were never re-established) and altered forever the ethnic composition of the populations of Asia Minor, Canaan, and also of Italy and its islands. Gradually the Phrygian peoples conquered the Land of Hatti (Hittite core territory), and the Philistines and other Sea Peoples settled in Palestine. Several groups of Sea Peoples (Sherden, Shekelesh, Teresh and Lukka) probably sailed to the Italian area having no other choice. There could be no return to their devastated homelands and Egypt and Libya were “closed” for them, following their defeat. The only way out for them was the western Mediterranean and especially the nearby countries, namely Italy and the surrounding islands.
THE WEAPONRY OF THE SEA PEOPLES
The Sea Peoples are depicted well enough in Egyptian reliefs, although the clothing and weaponry of many of them remains the subject of much controversy, especially the clothing and weaponry of the Lukka, Ekwesh and Weshwesh. There are also matches of the Egyptian depictions of the Sea Peoples with depictions of rather the same peoples in chronologically older Hittite reliefs (several of them were allies of the Hittites). Their main common element in their dressing, was a pleated or tufted kilt, common in many variations in Mycenaean Greece, Asia Minor and Canaan. Some warriors might bore protective leather or linen strips (‘wings’) over their kilt. The Peleset, Sherden and perhaps the Djekker and the Denyen, wear metal or leather armor (always in the Egyptian reliefs). The Shekelesh and the Teresh wear segmented armor of linen or leather pieces, as it seems.
Sherden warriors from the palace reliefs of Ramses III.
The ‘high crown’ as it is called conventionally, that characterizes the Denyen, Peleset and Djekker, was probably not made of feathers as it had been mistaken, but constituted a headband which encompassed endings of leather or linen strips, or horse hair, or the stiffed hair of the warrior (they were stiffed with the use of lemon juice or lime). The headband that held the depicted ends of the ‘high crown’, was probably leather and perhaps decorated, and tied with leather straps under the chin. The ‘high crown’ is also found in depictions of allies of the Hittites (peoples of Asia Minor), in depictions of Mycenaean warriors (e.g. the first warrior in the renowned Mycenaean Vase of the Warriors) and later it is strongly characteristic of the Philistines of Palestine, lethal enemies of the Jews.
The Sherden warriors wear a horned helmet, which is used also by the Mycenaean warriors of the same period, and it is present in statues of martial gods from Sardinia, Corsica and Cyprus, i.e. islands where the Sherden settled (probably the name of Sardinia derives from the Sherden). Τhe swords of the Sherden are rather impressive, with a length of possibly more than one meter, more suitable for a drilling strike to the enemy warrior. The Sherden are also armed with spears and round shields of moderate size. The shields were probably made of wood covered with leather or bronze, and enforced with bronze omphaluses (central ‘buttons’). The same arms are used by the other heavily armed warriors of the Sea Peoples (mainly Peleset and Denyen) but their helmets are rather different and their swords are usually shorter. Generally speaking, the helmets of the Sea Peoples were made of bronze or leather. The armor (cuirasses) worn mainly by the Sherden and the Peleset was probably bronze or (less likely) leather. It is virtually identical to the Late Mycenean armor and very similar to the armor of the Urnfiled culture of Central Europe. As it has been suggested, these cuirasses are originated directly from the famous Mycenaean armor of Dendra excavated in Argolis (used by the Achaean chariot-warriors), from which the collar plate and the plates of the groins and the legs were removed, keeping only the torso armor. Apparently, the shoulder-guards and the lower part of the cuirasses of the Sea Peoples and the Mycenaeans, follow the human anatomy.
The Mycenaean ‘Dendra armor’, excavated in Argolis.
The Egyptian reliefs depict the warriors of the Sea Peoples as slender men (with lean bodies), with good physique and rather narrow-headed: there is no doubt that the vast majority of them belonged to the Mediterranean physical type. This was the most common morphological type during that period, in western Anatolia, the Aegean, Thrace and Greece. It was also very common in Italy, the surrounding islands and in western Europe, but the probability of the origin of some of the Sea Peoples from these areas tends to be rejected by the scientific community. Most warriors were infantrymen, but there were many war chariots also.
Map copyright: Ian Mladjov
LIST OF SEA PEOPLES AND THEIR LIBYAN ALLIES
The first four columns of the following catalogue, include the tribal names of the Sea Peoples and their Libyan allies, mentioned by the Egyptian sources during the reign of the pharaohs mentioned. The fifth column lists the corresponding tribal names of the same peoples, written in the tablets of the Hittite capital Hattusas. The last column lists the most common modern identifications of the same peoples, with countries, peoples, tribes or cities mentioned in the Classical Greek sources.
|Amenophis III||Ramses II||Merneptah||Ramses III||Hattusas||Idendification|
|Sharden||Sherden||Sharden||–||–||Sardonians of Lydia, Sardeis, Sardinia, Corsians (of Cyrnos/Corsica)|
|–||–||Eqwesh, Akaiwasha||–||–||Achaeans, Ceos island, Cos island|
|–||–||Teresh||–||Taruisa||Tyrrhenians of Lydia, Tyrrhenians/Tyrsenians/Tuscans/Etruscans (Tuscany)|
|–||–||Shekelesh||Shekelesh||Sikalayu||Sagalassos of Pisidia|
|–||–||–||Weshwesh||–||Iasos of Caria, Assos of Troad (Wassos)|
|–||–||–||Djekker||–||Teucrians (Trojans), Thracians|
|–||–||–||Peleset||–||Philistines, Pelasgians, Phlegyans, Pylians|
|Meshwesh||–||Meshwesh?||Meshwesh||–||Maxyae of Cyrenaeca|
|–||–||–||Asbata||–||Asbystae of Cyrenaeca|
|–||–||–||Hasa||–||Ausae of Libya|
(1) ANCIENT HISTORY- First edition, Cambridge University Press, 1925-1930.
(2) ANCIENT HISTORY- New edition, Cambridge University Press, 1989-1999.
(3) Desborough V.R.: THE LAST MYCENAEANS AND THEIR SUCCESORS, Oxford, 1964.
(4) Breasted, J.H., ANCIENT RECORDS OF EGYPT, vols. III, IV, Chicago, 1906.
(5) ARCHAEOLOGIA HOMERICA, vols. I-III, Gottingen, 1967-1970.