Who were the Sea Peoples?

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,057
Italy, Lago Maggiore
They might have been mercenaries who were transported by their employer.
Or captured a fleet in port.
Or enlisted conquered folks, who at a point contained knowledge of shipbuilding and sailor experience...


About mass migration: if I remember correctly they didn't settle, just razed coastal cities. I think that rules out migrations in general.
Yes, it's substantially correct. With the reserves due to the relative completeness of the available sources, we can say that they showed a behavior generally similar to the Viking one. Normans at the end settled, we can exclude that the Sea Peoples did something similar [we would have records about at least local lords or princes in Egypt or Canaan connected with them, like we have about previous invaders, the Hiksos] on a continuous base, we cannot exclude they had temporary settlements somewhere. Anyway the Egyptian chronicles [again under the reign of Merenptah] say that after their passage the coastal areas were desolated and uninhabited. More meaningful it's that reference in Ugarit's archive about Shakila who had described as a people who lived on boats.
 
Oct 2014
9
Oman (middle east)
Wow, thanks guys. I have a question though: If these Sea Peoples really did wreak havoc across the eastern Mediterranean coast why are they not very well documented? Also, have we ever found any remains or artifacts or anything of the sort? And again, thanks.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,057
Italy, Lago Maggiore
It depends ...

Wow, thanks guys. I have a question though: If these Sea Peoples really did wreak havoc across the eastern Mediterranean coast why are they not very well documented? Also, have we ever found any remains or artifacts or anything of the sort? And again, thanks.
It depends on what you intend with "well documented".

Reality is that we've got a good number of inscriptions, letters, documentations giving us a comprehensive vision of the phenomenon [from the perspective of whom saw them arriving from the sea].

What is not documented, it's their origin.

We've got accounts and reports of the battles of the Pharaohs against them and we've got descriptions of the effects of their raids.

For example the great inscription at Karnak tells about the attack of the Sea Peoples during the 5th year of the reign of Merenptah [between 1,220 - 1,209 BCE according to the chronology you consider]. The attackers were organized in a coalition [the already mentioned "Nine Bows"] leaded by the Libyan [Lubu for Egyptians] king "Meryey". With the "Meshwesh", here there are Sea People [with a further geographical indication, the Sea People came from North, with reference to Egypt]. Among them there are known tribes: Lukka, Shardana, Ekwesh ...

The attack happened almost in contemporary with a rebellion in some cities in Canaan [Ashkelon, Gaza ... we cannot give as for certain the rebellion of the people of Israel, this for accuracy since there are sources mentioning it in this context].

The inscription gives us an accurate reference to a temporary settlement of the Sea Peoples: they carried with them wives and children and they settled for some months south of El Fayyum.

We also know where Merenptah faced the Sea Peoples in battle [Pi-yer, still to be identified with accuracy] and that his army killed 6,000 enemies taking 9,000 prisoners. A cruel detail is that to be sure of the numbers, to count the dead bodies they cut their penis or their hands [for the circumcised. This detail indicates a cultural affinity with some Semitic peoples].

And also the Hittite experience with the Sea People [under Suppiliuluma II ] is well documented in the archives found at Ugarit.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,768
Australia
They probably did no more damage than other pirates did. They'd take plunder and slaves and burn a few villages. If they constantly raided the same coastline then the inhabitants would eventually move away and leave the area abandoned. Overall, however, the economic and social damage would have likely been negligible in the grand scheme of things. No way did they cause "the collapse". They may have taken advantage of the social unrest at the time but they didn't cause it.
 
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AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,057
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Vikings :zany:

Is there any sources of what they looked like, at the very least?
Eh ... some of them had horned helmets for real ...

This is the wall at Medinet Habu with the famous depiction of the battle that Ramses III conducted against the Sea People. I've indicated with red circles the engraved figures of the enemies of the Pharaoh.

 
Mar 2014
381
Norway
Eh ... some of them had horned helmets for real ...

This is the wall at Medinet Habu with the famous depiction of the battle that Ramses III conducted against the Sea People. I've indicated with red circles the engraved figures of the enemies of the Pharaoh.

Maybe they were some kind of "germanic" barbarians, their helmets look like German WW2/1 helmets.
 
Jun 2015
17
Crimean Federal District, Russia
Maybe they were some kind of "germanic" barbarians, their helmets look like German WW2/1 helmets.
Are there any relations between indoeuropean conquest of Europe, and sea people attack?
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,966
MD, USA
Part of the problem with the "Sea Peoples" is that the term only got "capitalized" in the 19th century. The Egyptian term just means "folks by the coast", more or less, and their accounts don't really make these battles into huge migrations sweeping the world and laying great civilizations in waste. The sea peoples are referred to as "rebels" and are probably entirely local to Egypt. There's a wonderful long post on an old Yahoo list from about 10 years back that lays it all out very nicely, and I can paste it here if folks would like that. Though I'll be the first to say that even a good theory might have some holes or caveats!

Things like the visual similarities between the Shardana and the Sardinians are curious, to say the least. And there were certainly troubles around the Aegean and Asia Minor at the end of the Bronze Age, as a number of references tell us (coastal watchers a Pylos, e.g.). Though we have to be careful about that, since warfare was a constant thing, of course. There is also a famous account that supposedly says how the Hatti were crushed by some force that "no one could stand before", but a more careful reading shows that the Hatti are the *aggressors*, not the victims!

BUT even if there were migrations of Dorians and other bogeymen from the north into Greece and the Hittite Empire, that does not make them "SEA PEOPLE". Constant or successive trouble in several areas does not prove a single cataclysmic event. And frankly there is no way we can be sure enough of all the dates of the literature and the archeology to shoehorn all of this into any particular span of time.

DID something or someone bring an end to a number of cities or nations around that time? Sure! Was it all done by the "Sea People"? Nope.

Matthew
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,057
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Part of the problem with the "Sea Peoples" is that the term only got "capitalized" in the 19th century. The Egyptian term just means "folks by the coast", more or less, and their accounts don't really make these battles into huge migrations sweeping the world and laying great civilizations in waste. The sea peoples are referred to as "rebels" and are probably entirely local to Egypt. There's a wonderful long post on an old Yahoo list from about 10 years back that lays it all out very nicely, and I can paste it here if folks would like that. Though I'll be the first to say that even a good theory might have some holes or caveats!

Things like the visual similarities between the Shardana and the Sardinians are curious, to say the least. And there were certainly troubles around the Aegean and Asia Minor at the end of the Bronze Age, as a number of references tell us (coastal watchers a Pylos, e.g.). Though we have to be careful about that, since warfare was a constant thing, of course. There is also a famous account that supposedly says how the Hatti were crushed by some force that "no one could stand before", but a more careful reading shows that the Hatti are the *aggressors*, not the victims!

BUT even if there were migrations of Dorians and other bogeymen from the north into Greece and the Hittite Empire, that does not make them "SEA PEOPLE". Constant or successive trouble in several areas does not prove a single cataclysmic event. And frankly there is no way we can be sure enough of all the dates of the literature and the archeology to shoehorn all of this into any particular span of time.

DID something or someone bring an end to a number of cities or nations around that time? Sure! Was it all done by the "Sea People"? Nope.

Matthew
It's not that accurate, taking a look at the hieroglyphs I see a clear reference to the "sea", not to the coasts ... the origin of those peoples wasn't coastal.