Sea Peoples

This famous scene from the north wall of Medinet Habu is often used to illustrate the Egyptian campaign against the Sea Peoples in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Delta. Whilst accompanying hieroglyphs do not name Egypt's enemies, describing them simply as being from "northern countries", early scholars noted the similarities between the hairstyles and accessories worn by the combatants and other reliefs in which such groups are named.

The Sea Peoples are a purported seafaring confederation that attacked ancient Egypt and other regions of the East Mediterranean prior to and during the Late Bronze Age collapse (1200–900 BC).[1][2] Following the creation of the concept in the nineteenth century, it became one of the most famous chapters of Egyptian history, given its connection with, in the words of Wilhelm Max Müller: "the most important questions of ethnography and the primitive history of classic nations".[3][4]Their origins uncertain, the various Sea Peoples have been proposed to have originated from places that include western Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Mediterranean islands, and Southern Europe.[5] Although the archaeological inscriptions do not include reference to a migration,[2] the Sea Peoples are conjectured to have sailed around the eastern Mediterranean and invaded Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Canaan, Cyprus, and Egypt toward the end of the Bronze Age.[6]

French Egyptologist Emmanuel de Rougé first used the term peuples de la mer (literally "peoples of the sea") in 1855 in a description of reliefs on the Second Pylon at Medinet Habu documenting Year 8 of Ramesses III.[7][8] Gaston Maspero, de Rougé's successor at the Collège de France, subsequently popularized the term "Sea Peoples"—and an associated migration-theory—in the late 19th century.[9] Since the early 1990s, the theory has been brought into question by a number of scholars.[1][2][10][11]

The Sea Peoples remain unidentified in the eyes of most modern scholars, and hypotheses regarding the origin of the various groups are the source of much speculation.[12][13] Existing theories variously propose equating them with several Aegean tribes, raiders from Central Europe, scattered soldiers who turned to piracy or who had become refugees, and links with natural disasters such as earthquakes or climatic shifts.[2][14]

History of the concept

A partial description of the hieroglyphic text at Medinet Habu on the right tower of Second Pylon (left), and an illustration of the prisoners depicted at the base of the Fortified East Gate (right), were first provided by Jean-François Champollion following his 1828–29 travels to Egypt and published posthumously.[15] Although Champollion did not label them, decades later the hieroglyphs labelled 4 to 8 (left) were translated as Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, and the hieroglyphs next to prisoners 4 and 6 (right) translated as Sherden and Teresh.[16]

The concept of the Sea Peoples was first described by Emmanuel de Rougé in 1855, then curator of the Louvre, in his work Note on Some Hieroglyphic Texts Recently Published by Mr. Greene,[17] describing the battles of Ramesses III described on the Second Pylon at Medinet Habu, and based upon recent photographs of the temple by John Beasley Greene.[18][19][20] De Rougé noted that "in the crests of the conquered peoples the Sherden and the Teresh bear the designation of the 'peuples de la mer'", in a reference to the prisoners depicted at the base of the Fortified East Gate.[8] In 1867, de Rougé published his Excerpts of a dissertation on the attacks directed against Egypt by the peoples of the Mediterranean in the 14th century BCE, which focused primarily on the battles of Ramesses II and Merneptah, and which proposed translations for many of the geographic names included in the hieroglyphic inscriptions.[21][22] De Rougé later became chair of Egyptology at the Collège de France, and was succeeded by Gaston Maspero. Maspero built upon de Rougé's work, and published The Struggle of the Nations,[23] in which he described the theory of the seaborne migrations in detail in 1895–96 for a wider audience,[9] at a time when the idea of population migrations would have felt familiar to the general population.[24]

The theory was taken up by other scholars such as Eduard Meyer, and became the generally accepted theory amongst Egyptologists and orientalists.[9] Since the early 1990s, however, the theory has been brought into question by a number of scholars.[1][2][10][11]

The historical narrative stems primarily from seven Ancient Egyptian sources,[25] and although in these inscriptions the designation "of the sea" does not appear in relation to all of these peoples,[1][11] the term "Sea Peoples" is commonly used to refer to the following nine peoples, in alphabetical order:[26][27]

Egyptian name Original identification Other theories
People Trans-
Connection to the sea Year Author Theory
Denyen d3jnjw "in their isles"[28] 1872 Chabas[29] Greek (Danaoi)[30] Israelite tribe of Dan[30]
Ekwesh jḳ3w3š3 "of the countries of the sea"[31] 1867 de Rougé[29] Greeks (Achaeans)[32][30][33]
Lukka rkw 1867 de Rougé[29] Lycians[33][32]
Peleset prwsṯ 1846 William Osborn Jr. and Edward Hincks[34][35][36][37] Philistines
1872 Chabas[38][39] Pelasgians
Shekelesh š3krš3 "of the countries of the sea"[40] (disputed)[31] 1867 de Rougé[29] Siculi[33][32] Cyclades[41][full citation needed]
Sherden š3rdn "of the sea"[42]
"of the countries of the sea"[40] (disputed)[31]
1867 de Rougé[29] Sardinians[32][33][43][44] Sporades[41]
Teresh twrš3 "of the sea"[42] 1867 de Rougé[29] Tyrrhenians[32][33][45] Troy[46]
Tjeker ṯ3k3r 1867, 1872 Lauth, Chabas[29] Teucrians[47] Zakro, Crete[48]
Weshesh w3š3š3 "of the sea"[28] 1872 Chabas[29] Greeks (Achaeans)[32][30][33][29] The Israelite tribe of Asher.[49][50] Considered by others to remain unidentified.[38]
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Seevolke
Alemannisch: Seevölker
العربية: شعوب البحر
aragonés: Pueblos d'a Mar
azərbaycanca: Dəniz xalqı
беларуская: Народы мора
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Народы мора
български: Морски народи
čeština: Mořské národy
dansk: Havfolkene
Deutsch: Seevölker
español: Pueblos del mar
Esperanto: Maraj popoloj
galego: Pobos do Mar
한국어: 바다 민족
Bahasa Indonesia: Bangsa Laut
íslenska: Sæþjóðirnar
italiano: Popoli del Mare
עברית: גויי הים
Nederlands: Zeevolken
日本語: 海の民
norsk: Havfolkene
polski: Ludy Morza
português: Povos do Mar
русский: Народы моря
Simple English: Sea Peoples
slovenčina: Morské národy
српски / srpski: Народи са мора
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Narodi sa mora
suomi: Merikansat
svenska: Sjöfolken
українська: Народи моря
Tiếng Việt: Hải nhân
中文: 海上民族