THE SEA PEOPLES
Rarely is change so complete. So damaging. So replete.
Maybe when the Neanderthals were killed off? When the Roman Empire collapsed?
When Chinese dynasties died?
Catastrophic change. And none greater than the destruction of the great Mycenaean
Palace states of Greece and the Middle East. Empires of chariots and bronze!
Who did it? The “Sea Peoples?” Let us see. For what followed them, were you and me!
And what followed them was immediate. All that carnage and collapse came within 50years of 1,200 B.C. Greece’s significant city states were sacked and burned. Troy was pillaged and the Great Hittite Empire in Anatolia broken apart and crushed. Hattusa, the Hittite Capital, was destroyed and the land abandoned.
“Hordes!” they were called. “Sea Peoples!” When they descended upon Syria, one cuneiform tablet from Ugarit reported just before that city was destroyed⎯”Behold the enemy’s ship came; my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country … the country is abandoned to itself … the seven ships that came here inflicted much damage upon us.” The attackers looted and pillaged and left. So it must not have been land or larder that they wanted. They were after more precious things, gold and silver, and probably children and women as slaves. They left the fertile plains lying fallow.
There has been much inquiry and furtive speculation as to the cause for the attacks. Was it drought? Migration? New weapons? Or was it a collapse of the world trading order? Perhaps some, or all, of these things. But it was not iron weapons. They were just beginning to show up on the battlefield, and not yet in the number or quality to rival good bronze. What was it, then?
Okay, let’s take a stab.
The trading networks established by Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, and enforced by Pharaoh Thutmose III, created several hundred years of relative peace and prosperity. City states became dependent on interconnected trade, and populations grew. Perhaps populations also increased in peripheral “barbaric” areas.
Warfare was then controlled by a palace elite, primarily through the use of a professional corps of fast-moving chariots. The common people, in the modern sense of an infantry, were not significantly engaged in military encounters. The coming cataclysm would change that.
But warfare was different in the mountainous and hilly areas. The barbaric lands. In these less advanced cultures, armies fought on foot with weapons developed for hand-to-hand combat. It took time, but eventually these forces developed tactics to stop the Bronze Age chariot. Then these newly armed, ordinary men became the new face of warfare. Hunting javelins from the hills could stop a horse and, by doing so, the chariot. And the Hill People could ride horses!
They brought with them a new bronze sword that we call the Naue Type II. It was a “cut and thrust” sword, a 28″ long, balanced, slashing sword with two shallow blood letting channels. It had been developed in Europe and carried in the hands of invading armies seeking close combat with an opponent armed only with a short stabbing sword, or the even smaller slashing sickle sword. The impact was revolutionary.
The Dorians swept down through Greece, destroying the Great Palace States of the Homeric Mycenaean Age. They thrust Greece into 400 years of cultural darkness. The Greeks eventually adopted the new weapons. Helmets for their Hoplite infantry, body armor for their soldiers, and the balanced, round shield for close combat. And they formed the famous Greek phalanx. From that collapse eventually rose the great splendor of Athens, Pericles, Plato, and Socrates.
When the “Sea Peoples” swept through Asia Minor and the Levant, they wreaked havoc in Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, and Canaan. They were heading to a final reckoning in Egypt. And the Philistines joined them.
But were not the Philistines already there? Is that not where the name for the land of Palestine comes from? Yes. And they, too, were “Sea Peoples,” invaders from a distant land. But when they arrived in what is now the coast from Tel Aviv to Gaza, they stayed and established five city states, the Philistine “Pentapolis”⎯Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. Maybe they came in two waves. Genetic analysis now indicates that they arrived around 1,200 B.C., bearing genes from Southern Europe, the Aegean, Sardinia, and Iberia.
Israel and Judea were nascent highland states at the time. They may have taken advantage of the collapse of existing order, and with new weapons and tactics, formed and expanded amidst the general confusion. And often against the Philistines. You know, Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, Saul and Solomon. The Philistines were not served well in the Bible. But they certainly got coverage. Archaeology has shown that they had a wonderfully advanced and cultured society.
But this surge of invasion would end in Egypt, where the armies of Ramses III defeated both the Libyans and Philistines in great land battles. Remarkably, he also built a naval force to attack and annihilate an invasion force of the Sea Peoples before they reached land. Mark that 1,179 B.C. Ramses listed some of the invaders by name: Shekelesh (from Sicily?), Sherden (from Sardinia?), Lukka (from Lycia?), Ekwesh (from Achaea?), and Teresh (from Tyrrhenia in Southern Italy?)
There is still great dispute as to who these people were, where they came from, what force drove them forward, and what they wanted. Were they just pirates looking for loot? They never succeeded in successfully attacking Assyria or sacking Babylon. That is why those empires continued to be players in the biblical sagas.
Maybe. Think of it this way. Many of the biblical stories occurred after this destruction. The modern method of infantry-based warfare developed. The use of iron spread. And the Phoenician Alphabet⎯our alphabet⎯was shipped to Greece, Rome, and Britain.
Perhaps much of the modern Western World was born out of this carnage.