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Peoples of the Sea

Egyptian Drawings of Two Different Tribes of Sea People


During the two millenia prior to 1200 B.C. the eastern Mediterranean region was relatively stable and prosperous. Trade, both by land and by sea was extensive. But around 1200 B.C. the balances of the region were upset by migrations/invasions by sea of peoples whose origins are not definitely known. They overwhelmed the political states of Crete and Cyprus and attacked the Egyptian Empire by sea from the north. The Pharoah's armies stopped the invasion of Egypt Proper by the Pharoah found it expedient to allow the invaders to settle in the peripheral territories of Egypt in Canaan in what is now Israel and Palestine. These settlers were the Philistines of the Bible. The name Palestine is derived from the name Philistine.

A century or so after the settlement of the sea peoples the Egyptian Empire declined in power and influence. The sea-faring Philistines and the hill tribes of Hebrews battled each other for the control of Canaan. For about three thousand years the only information about the Philistines came from the writings of their enemies, the Hebrews. It is no wonder that the Philistines had the reputation as crass barbarians. According to Trude and Moshe Dothan, who have pursued the archeology of the Philistines for about forty years, this reputation is grossly undeserved. Technologically and artistically the Philistines were more advanced than the Hebrews. Initially the Philistines were militarily dominant. At one point the Philistines captured the Ark of Covenant from the Hebrews, only to return it later after they experienced an epidemic which they attributed to their possession of the Ark.

Despite their technological skills the sea peoples produced a disruption in trade which, in turn, induced a dark age analogous to what happened in medieval Europe two thousand years later. The prosperity of the two millenia before 1200 B.C. came to an end over the course of about two centuries. One crucial problem with the disruption of trade was that it cut off the supply of tin to combine with copper to make bronze. Some attribute the development of iron technology to the shortage of bronze for tools and weapons.

The major source of information about the Sea Peoples came from scenes carved into the stone wall of the Temple of Medinet HJabu on the west bank of the Nile in the vicinity of Thebes. The carvings depict the victory of the Pharoah over the invaders. One carving shows a naval battle, another a land battle and a third shows the Sea Peoples being taken into captivity. We thus have a visual record of the Sea Peoples, their attire, their weapons and their ships. There was more than one type of Sea People. From the hieroglyphics accompanying the carving we know the names of the various peoples in the battles.

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