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The Sea Peoples

The Military

Who were the Sea Peoples?

 

In brief, the Sea Peoples were an amalgamation of peoples from around the Mediterranean Sea. They were drawn together due to Wars and Famines that had forced them to become displaced immigrants. These immigrants surged together and formed the group which were termed the Sea Peoples. They battled for everything they needed and travelled everywhere with all their goods. A neat term for this is “Warring Sea Based Nomads”. They are thought to have been mainly from Greece, escaping the collapse of the Mycenae Empire, Western Anatolia, and the Islands in between. In other words: the Weshesh; the Danaoi which featured in Homer’s Iliad; the Peleset’s or Philistines; the Tjeker’s – potentially from Troy; and the Sikel’s from Sicily.

“The foreign countries conspired in their islands, and the lands were dislodged and scattered in battle together; no land could stand before their arms: the land of the Hittites, Qode, Carchemesh, Arzawa and Cyprus were wasted, and they set up a camp in southern Syria. They desolated its people and made its land as if non-existent. They bore fore before them as they came forward towards Egypt.”

Ancient Egypt’s interactions with these Sea Based Nomads commenced with Pharaoh Ramses II.

Pharaoh Ramses II vs The Sea Peoples

Regnal Year 2: Pharaoh repels an attack on the Nile Delta borders of Egypt by the Sea Peoples who at the time were referred to as Pirates. This group were well known within Egypt as they had been harassing most of the Mediterranean Coast for some time. Pharaoh Ramses II saw a usefulness in co-opting these Pirates and bound them into the Egyptian Army. They were sent to the outposts on the Hittite Frontier and were involved in the Battle of Kadesh.

We know about these details from the Stela’s that Pharaoh Ramses II had created in Tanis and Aswan. The Tanis Stela states:

“the unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them”

The Sherden was the name given to the Sea Peoples at the time as many of them came from Sardinia.

Pharaoh Merneptah vs The Sea Peoples

Regnal Years 5 & 6: Pharaoh repels a large force which was under the authority of the King of Libya and is referred to as the “Nine Bows”. The Sea Peoples formed much of this force specifically that which arrived in the Western Nile Delta region. The battle commenced in Perire where Pharaoh engaged with the enemy and they fought for 6 hours before Egypt emerged victorious.

The surviving Nine Bows surrendered their weapons, abandoned their families and goods, and escaped. Pharaoh Merneptah states that the Egyptians killed 6,000 soldiers and took 9,000 prisoners; removing parts of the dead enemies’ bodies to ensure a correct kill count.

The battlegrounds at Perire were do decimated that they have long been left to stand as ground only useful to Cattle to graze on.

We know all these details because Pharaoh Merneptah recorded them on the Athribis Stela which confirms that this was an attack by the Sea Peoples on line 13; and again, on the “Great Kanak Inscription” in line 52.

The Records include when Pharaoh was informed of the attack:

“The wretched, fallen chief of Libya, Meryey, son of Ded, has fallen upon the country of Tehenu with his bowmen – Sherden, Shekelesh, Ekwesh, Lukka, Teresh, Taking the best of every warrior and every man of war of his country. He has brought his wife and his children – leaders of the camp, and he has reached the western boundary in the fields of Perire. . . . . . . His majesty was enraged at their report, like a lion”, assembled his court and gave a rousing speech. Later, he dreamed he saw Ptah handing him a sword and saying, “Take thou (it) and banish thou the fearful heart from thee.” When the bowmen went forth Amun was with them as a shield.”

Pharaoh Ramses III vs The Sea Peoples

Regnal Year 8: Pharaoh and the Court heard the news of the Trojan War, the Fall of the Mycenae of Greece and the return of the Sea Peoples who were devouring the late Bronze Age Civilisations around them. The Sea peoples had invaded and wiped-out Hattusa, the Hittite Capital City, and then the whole Hittite Empire and the southern Syrians must have rocked the Egyptian Court to its core.

The Sea Peoples’ Army, with all the families, goods and housing, began to march from their newly routed City in Syria towards Egypt’s eastern land border, whilst its Sea Fleet aimed for Egypt’s Mediterranean Sea border. They intended to invade, conquer and settle.

Pharaoh Ramses III and his first wave of Military were ready for this incursion and formed their First Line Defences in Southern Palestine to cease the advance of the Sea People’s land Army. We know these details from the orders which were sent out to Egypt’s Frontier Posts which were guarded by Egypt’s Military. Whilst the Fleet of the Egyptian Army was not large or known for its prowess, the Sailors were highly skilled from their Nile River experience. Pharaoh commandeered local ships to prop up the Navy in the northern and eastern Delta regions. To learn more about Egypt’s Military and defences, click here.  

The First offensive arrived by land in the very south of Palestine. The Egyptians routed and scattered them.

The Second offensive arrived by Sea and can be considered the more dangerous of the two. Pharaoh and his Generals had planned to entrap the Sea Peoples by luring them into the Nile Delta’s smaller waterway’s banks. This plan worked and after attacking the Egyptian Navy in the Nile’s tributaries the Sea Peoples were all but helpless when the shore-based Archers, that Pharaoh had positioned precisely, with the Navy’s own archers, sent volley after volley of arrows flying into the Sea People’s Ships preventing them from gaining any territory.

The Egyptian Military finished the invasion by drawing the Sea People’s vessels to them with grappling hooks and fighting them in hand-to-hand combat, which is what the Egyptians were superior at. The Sea Peoples were left decimated. The stragglers eventually regrouped and then settled in Palestine between Gaza and Mount Carmel; they are now known as the Philistines.

We have all these details courtesy of Pharaoh Ramses III who portrayed the Battle in the longest detail ever recorded on the Exterior Wall of his Second Pylon at Medinet Habu, his Mortuary Temple on the Theban Necropolis. To learn more about Medinet Habu today, click here.