Sea Peoples Start Date

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David Kuijt
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Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by David Kuijt » Tue Mar 26, 2019 12:08 pm

This is something I had been thinking about for some time; that the Sea Peoples start date might need some reanalysis.

Right now the Sea Peoples starts at 1213 BC. That's the first year of Merneptah's reign in Egypt; they appear as allies of the Libyans in the Battle of Per-Yer (Perire), fighting against Merneptah. Merneptah's reign was 1213-1203 BC, and Per-Yer was 1208 or 1207 BC. But the Sherden appear as a foreign troop element in the Egyptian armies at Qadesh (1274 BC); they were "previously captured" Shardana who had been incorporated in the Pharoah's army.

Ugarit was destroyed (probably by the Sea Peoples) between 1203 (end of Merneptah) and 1178 (eighth year of Ramses III). Hattusas was destroyed around the same time, also commonly blamed on the Sea Peoples.

The Lukka (part of the Sea Peoples confed, when it arises) are an allied stand in the Hittite army; Sepiliuluma, who ruled 1207 through 1178, fought the Lukka and was likely the big man in Hattusas when it was destroyed, possibly 1190 BC.

As it stands now, the Sea Peoples army list represents only warfare during the Bronze Age Collapse. Which makes sense, given that we know very little about the origin of the Sea Peoples and given that they seem to have been a confederation by the time they reached Egypt. But I'd like to put out a call to the crowd to see if anyone else can spot connections that might inform revisiting the Sea Peoples start dates. In particular, basing the Sea Peoples start date on a battle in Egypt (the end point of their migrations, not the beginning point) seems odd, given that they are blamed for the collapse of Ugarit, Hattusas (the whole Hittite Empire, although the Gasgans were also likely involved there), and a myriad cities in Greece, Crete, and coastal Anatolia. Since all of those places are closer to the origin-source of the Sea Peoples confederation, it seems peculiar that their chronological start date is based upon an activity at the physical final location of their movement.
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Andreas Johansson
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by Andreas Johansson » Tue Mar 26, 2019 2:02 pm

I lean towards the view that "the Sea Peoples" were in reality a collection of more or less independent barbarian groups, but if there was a single confederation, army, or horde, it would seem to be necessary to assume they first tried to invade Egypt under Merenptah - apparently from Libya - and then went (back?) north to destroy Hattusas etc. before trying to invade Egypt again under Ramses III, who describes their destruction of Hatti, Qode, Carchemish,Arzawa, Alashiya, and Amurru as happening immediately before the invasion of Egypt that he defeated. So Perire wouldn't be the end point of any migration (except for those who died there), but an early way station that just happened to be close to the end point.

Ramses III's account should elicit some skepticism though: barbarian hordes may frequently enough be described as all-devouring locusts, but in reality they tend to conquer or pillage, not utterly destroy. If they were migrants looking for new lands to settle, why did they not settle down to rule the ruins of Anatolia? If pillagers, why did they apparently bring their families along? I suspect, as alluded to, that those "Sea People" who Ramses III faced were in actuality a separate group from the destroyers of Hatti, or perhaps a branch group kicked out from the division of spoils. It simply suited Ramses III's purposes - which were propagandistic rather than historical - to pretend that all barbarians were a monolithic conspiracy against civilization and order.

(It's not necessary, of course, in this scenario for the destroyers of Hatti, or anywhere else in the north, to have been "Sea People" as in ethnically kin to any of the ones invading Egypt. It presumably was fairly immaterial to Ramses if Hattusas fell to the Lukka or the Kaska.)
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by David Kuijt » Tue Mar 26, 2019 4:59 pm

Right, that all makes sense. The issue (for me) is what parameters to use for defining the Sea Peoples army list -- which list is well described (at least compared to many Bronze Age armies) by the Medinet Habu reliefs and inscriptions. Then that broad "Sea Peoples" brush gets applied to a variety of Bronze Age Collapse destructions of which we have relatively little knowledge -- as you say, we have no data on whether Lukka, Kaska (Gasgans), both, or neither were involved in the fall of the Hittite Empire. The Lukka are a fair candidate for part of the Sea Peoples movements, and we know that Sepiliuluma fought the Lukka, but we don't have enough data to differentiate them from the other "Barb Horde on the Move" candidates that get covered with the Sea Peeps cloak.

At least with the Lukka we know approximately where they lived before the Bronze Age Collapse. With the Sherden, Pelset, etc. the last I read there were competing theories which were all unified in their disbelievability. But the Shardana appear 60 or 70 years before the start of the Sea Peeps list. It frustrates me that they were clearly conquered in warfare (and labeled so in the Qadesh inscriptions), and that there are ZERO valid candidates for that warfare at this point.
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by Andreas Johansson » Tue Mar 26, 2019 6:23 pm

Acc'd a notice on the WP Sea People page, the Lukka are first heard of in the Middle Bronze Age. Obviously, they might have changed their fighting style a lot between then and the Ramesside period (the Egyptians certainly did!).

Looking further at that page, it mentions a Tanis Stele II of Ramses II, mentioning a Sherden attack apparently early in his reign. From another webpage I find this translation of [part of?] the inscription:
(As for) the Sherden of rebellious mind, whom none
could ever fight against, who came bold-[hearted,
they sailed in], in warships from the midst of the
Sea, those whom none could withstand; [(but) he
plundered them by the victories of his valiant
arm, they being carried off to Egypt] - (even by)
King of S & N Egypt, Usimare Setepenre, Son of Re,
Ramesses II, given life like Re.
I guess that's tolerable justification for extending the army list back to the beginning of Ramses II's reign (1279), perhaps date-limiting the Teresh and the Shekelesh, and the migrant families, to the later, Völkerwanderung period.
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by Andreas Johansson » Tue Mar 26, 2019 6:36 pm

Said other webpage is, BTW, archived here.
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by Andreas Johansson » Thu Mar 28, 2019 10:03 am

Doing some further readings on the Sherden, I found this paper which may be of some interest: Jeffrey P. Emanuel, Sherden from the Sea

Regarding the Peleset, the situation is I think not quite so dire as you make out: the strong Aegean/Helladic/Mycenaean influence in Philistine material culture surely makes an origin in or near Mycenaean Greece perfectly believable.

(Other arguments for a Greek or Aegean origin, such as the Caphtor = Keftiu = Crete equations, or the derivation of the name 'Achish' from "Achaean" (Classical Greek Akhaios, Mycenaean presumably Akhaiwos), are, I agree, decidedly weak, and may very well be wrong even if the conclusion they're meant to support is correct.)
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by David Kuijt » Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:54 am

That's a useful article, thanks. For one thing, it reinforces that the Lukka existed as a piratical entity (raiding cities), and references attacks on Ugarit well before the first appearance of the Sherden in the captured-employ of Ramses II. All of which makes me fairly confident in extending the Sea Peoples start date to 1300 BC or even 1350 BC -- where "Sea Peoples" here serves as a bucket category for the external Viking-like raiding of a mixed bag of poorly identified cultures, eventually culminating in the movements and attacks on Egypt at the Fields of Per-Yer and the various actions depicted in Medinet Habu.

Although it is quite likely that better pictorial and written information might allow us to differentiate the Lukka (one of the very few cultures in the Sea Peoples bucket that have a well-established geographical locale), at this point we don't have anything like that. And we may never have.
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Re: Sea Peoples Start Date

Post by FanatiChris » Fri Mar 29, 2019 2:21 am

Possibly useful collection of source references: http://www.salimbeti.com/micenei/sea.htm
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