The Campaigns of the Sea Peoples

  By Rider, 16 August 2007; Revised
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The Sea Peoples were a confederation of some sort that, in the 13th and 12th century BC, destroyed the mighty kingdoms in Asia Minor and the Aegean. These people came from distant lands and were nigh unstoppable in their destructive assault against the Eastern Mediterranean kingdoms.

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Sea Peoples in Hieroglyphs


The origin of the Sea Peoples has been discussed for a long period of time. The steles of Ramses III say that they were defeated in battle.

"their federation was the Peleset (Philistines), Tjekker, Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh, lands united. "
-- inscription by Ramses III

Archaeological evidence from Crete trace these people (or some of them) to Central Europe – the sword tips and spearheads are similar to the ones found in Thrace (evidences to a Thracian-Philistine alliance of some sort have also arisen) and Central-Europe. These were not only a few items, but together they composed full catalogues when found and documented! The Egyptian steles also identified the enemies with these weapons so there is no doubt that they were used by the Sea Peoples.

The tribes which were a part of the Sea Peoples are possibly the Philistines, Thracians, Etruscans, Tyrrhenians, Mysians, Lycians, Ionians, Colchians, Lybians and Danes[1]



There is no clear evidence yet on why the Sea People started to assault and move eastward.  We can assume, from what can be found in archaelogical evidences, that it must have something to do with a famine in Central and Southern Europe caused by hot weather and a drought that lasted for several years.  It also, most likely, caused changes in the social structures of these nations.

Anyway, they pushed eastward, having heard about rich kingdoms that prospered in the Eastern Mediterranean. There were several waves of people travelling east.  The first of these were the ones who reached Mycene and destroyed it, and the next waves continued on against the Hittites and, finally, also Egypt.


The First Wave

Sea People representation from Medinat Habu, Luxor
Sea People representation from Medinat Habu, Luxor
As already mentioned, the first wave of the assault fell with full force against Mycene-Crete. At that time, it was considered one of the greatest kingdoms in the Eastern Mediterranean and its  fall must have greatly worried the Hittites and Egyptians.

The first conflicts were in the valley of Axios – most likely, this was a total destruction of the armies of Mycene. It can be dated to 1230 BC due to a line of destruction in the soil from nearly all the settlements on Crete and the Peloponnesos. Some tablets with, most likely, the last commands of the kings include orders for quick fortification of the beaches, and orders to place infantry and chariots to the northern borders of Mycene. These were found from Pylos.

The palace of Pylos and the city were most likely reduced to nothing – there are signs of a desperate last moment conflict, but the palace was doomed – it didn’t even have a wall surrounding it, and the destructive combat in the halls of the palace of Pylos and the nearby villages were annihilated.

The castles of Athens and Mycene held on, but the invaders moved into Asia Minor and Troy (the Troy VIIA). It was also destroyed. The droughts had also weakened the Hittite state and it crumbled under hostile assaults.

The fact that Athens remained intact (for some time) may be considered a basis for the thoughts of Plato that ’an important seafaring civilization’ failed in taking Athens and with that was doomed:


"For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. "
-- Plato, ’Timaios’

If we replace Atlantis with the Sea People, we would get a fairly accurate account of the invasions of the Sea Peoples up to the assaults against Athens and Mycene.


Fall of the Hittites

Like the Myceneans, the Hittites weren’t ready to fall without a fight.  Despite the fact that they were weakened by the drought and famine, Egypt had sent aid by way of 14 ships with grain. While weakened from the famine, the King of the Hittites, Suppiluliuma II, issued orders for the complete mobilisations of the armies of the Hittites. His vassals were ordered to send fleets to Cyprus.

There were minor conflicts: we have data of three ships the Hittites burned down; then a warning to the King of Cyprus that hostile ships were seen at sea. The King of Ugarit also knew of another seven ships that came to threaten the Hittites. However, his response to Suppiluliuma II noted that he couldn’t destroy the ships because all of his men were somewhere near Cyprus.

The capital of the Hittites, Hattuša, fell in a fire that lasted for several days. The next to fall was Ugarit and, after them, the people moved against Egypt.


Campaign against Egypt

"Who destroyed the land of the Tjemeh in his lifetime, cast abiding terror in the heart of the Meshwesh. He turned back the Libyans who trod Egypt, great is dread of Egypt in their hearts. "
-- The Victory Stela of Merenptah

Naval Battle against Ramses III
Naval Battle against Ramses III
After Pharaoh Merenptah destroyed a regiment of enemies in 1225 BC in the valley of Nile, Ramses III mobilised his entire armies against the incoming Sea People. Ramses issued orders for the fortifications of the Sinai and issued orders for the distribution of weapons.

The Sea People reached Egypt in 1191 BC. They attacked Egypt with two armies and a fleet – the fleet assailed the Egyptians in the delta of the Nile. Ramses had his armies meet the Sea People on even ground and there he defeated them – mostly due to the massive number of archers which were impossible to withstand. The fleet was immobilised by the lack of wind; their ships were sunk and the women, children and loot was taken into custody. Ramses III had his victory cut into the walls of the Temple of Medinet Habu.


The Second Wave

Around 1150 BC, the second wave of invaders reached Mycene. Now, all signs of the previous civilizations were cast away – quick fortifications were destroyed and the people most likely killed. Athens, however, still remained untouched even though Mycene itself had been taken. It also went forward and remained settled in the lands of Mycene and the Hittite Kingdoms.



G. Kehnscherper, ’Kreeta. Mükeene. Santorini.’

Plato, ’Timaios’

Steles of Ramses III

The Victory Stela of Merenptah: [url][/url]

References and Notes:
  1. ^ G. Kehnscherper, ’Kreeta. Mükeene. Santorini.’, p. 140