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.
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.
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, 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. 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. 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. 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, in which he described the theory of the seaborne migrations in detail in 1895–96 for a wider audience, at a time when the idea of population migrations would have felt familiar to the general population.
The theory was taken up by other scholars such as Eduard Meyer, and became the generally accepted theory amongst Egyptologists and orientalists. Since the early 1990s, however, the theory has been brought into question by a number of scholars.
The historical narrative stems primarily from seven Ancient Egyptian sources, and although in these inscriptions the designation "of the sea" does not appear in relation to all of these peoples, the term "Sea Peoples" is commonly used to refer to the following nine peoples, in alphabetical order: