Bookmark and Share

Open the online Arabic language course

Ca. 1231-1180 BCE

Ancient World /
Sea People

Representation of Sea People and Philistines from the Medinet Habu, Luxor, Egypt.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Representation of Sea People and Philistines from the Medinet Habu, Luxor, Egypt.

Detail from the representation of Sea People and Philistines in the Medinet Habu, Luxor, Egypt.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Detail of the representation above.

People or clans of seafarers that invaded eastern Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus and Egypt in the 2nd millenium BCE. The exact ethnic origin, culture and language is not known.
The Sea People could well be a branch of another people of the region, and there have been several suggestions to this: Ekmesh (a name the Hittites used for the Ahhiyawa), Teresh, Tyrrhenians (ancestors of the Estruscans), Sardinians, Shekelesh of Sicily or Pelest. Another theory is that they could have been a deserted army, or even survivers after a lost war. A third theory point at the rise of the Sea People to the first fall of the city Troy in Anatolia around 1250 BCE (the famous battle with the Troyan Horse is a later battle, possibly 60-70 years later).
Despite their name, their main military campaigns were overland. The started near Ugarit (its location corresponds to modern Latakia, Syria) and continued south, until they ran into Egyptian forces.
The Sea People are known for waging 2 wars against Egypt which probably had disastrous effects on the Egyptian society. But other great states were even worse hit, like the Hittite kingdom, which was destroyed.
We have received important information on the Sea People, principally what they looked like, from Egyptian temple reliefs, like the temple of Ramses 3 at Medinatu Habu near Luxor.
When the Sea People attacked different countries, they attacked capitals and cities important to administration. In these cities they destroyed government buildings, palaces and temples, while leaving residential areas and the surrounding countryside untouched. By doing this, they destroyed the local leadership, and could win fairly easy victories.
The Sea People were in almost all ways a negative and destructive force for the region. Even if the Sea People destroyed much through their campaigns, it is believed that they were the founders of the Philistine and Phoenician civilizations, which soon grew to some of the most important forces in the eastern Mediterranean.

1231 BCE: The Sea People attacks Egypt, and fights the forces of King Merneptah. According to the Victory Stele found near Thebes, the Sea People consisted of the following peoples or clans: Shardana, Lukka (Lycia), Meshwesh, Teresh, Ekwesh and Shekelesh. While Merneptah claimed victory over the Sea People, this is perhaps not true, since Egypt entered a period of much internal unrest following this battle,.
1191 BCE: Attack on Egypt, where the Sea People meet the forces of king Ramses 3.
Around 1180: The Sea People sacks important cities of the Levant, like Ugarit and Alalakh. Their destruction was so brutal that both cities were forver abandoned.
— Attacks from the Sea People, brings the Hittite kingdom to its final end. The power of the kingdom had deteriorated for decades, but it is believed that it was the Sea People that hit the final strike. But the Sea People attacked other countries too, like Kizzuatna, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alasiya.
1881 CE: The term 'Sea People' is introduced by the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero.

By Tore Kjeilen