Chronicle 20. THE ENIGMATIC SEA PEOPLES
/ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ/ Χρονικό 20. ΟΙ ΑΙΝΙΓΜΑΤΙΚΟΙ ΛΑΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΘΑΛΑΣΣΑΣ
● Bronze Age Collapse Due to Famine ● Trojan War and Anatolian
Sea Peoples ● Merneptah Stele and Exodus ● Hittites and Luwians
BEFORE WE VOYAGE WEST, we need to sail off onto the “Great Green” of the “Sea of Hellenes” (Egyptian terms referring to the Mediterranean), in search of the Sea Peoples, meeting more migrant-refugee bands on the way. Voyaging in space and time, in history, legend or myth, let us go back to the explosive finale of the 17th century BCE, i.e. the “big bang” of the Minoan volcanic eruption on Thera, as it occurred very close to the period that the Sea Peoples initially appeared in Egypt. If we take into account the wrecking of the Minoan navy policing the seas, we can presume that these peoples were then nothing but pirates, and we also realize how interdependent the great powers were in the ancient world, as well.
Later the Egyptians started identifying various bands of Sea Peoples in their own style, and one of the first they mentioned were the Sherden, or Shardana, a large group of pirates. They disrupted trade in the late 13th century and contributed greatly to the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. Nonetheless, they are not mentioned in either Hellenic or Hittite legends or documents, suggesting that they did not originate from either sphere of influence. Many scholars relate the Shardana to Sardinia due to the similarity between the two words. Based on the same principle, the archaeologist Margaret Guido proposed that the Shardana might have ultimately derived from Sardis, and the Sardinian plain nearby, in Lydia, and perhaps migrated later to Sardinia. It seems that many people, and not only the Trojans that would become Romans, left Anatolia and the Aegean for the Italian peninsula and its islands due to the Bronze Age collapse rather than before. There is evidence that gives credit to Virgil’s Aeneid – but without excluding the possibility of earlier migrations. Recent genetic studies indicate that the populations not only of people, but even of cattle, in several Italian regions, especially in Tuscany, are more related to Asia Minor, and mainly in the northwest, than to anywhere else.
A famous passage from Herodotus, quoted by scholars quite often, portrays the migration and drifting of Lydians in the Mediterranean because of famine:
“Their king divided the people into two groups, so that the one should remain and the other leave the country. His son, Tyrrhenus, was to be the head of those who departed. They went down to Smyrna and built themselves ships. After sailing past many countries they came to the Umbri, where they founded cities and called themselves Tyrrhenians.”
We can’t but remember that Anatolia faced the same acute problem of famine in the time of the collapse and, as a result, the Sea Peoples, then a coalition of seagoing migrants, closed ranks seeking relief from scarcity. Drought could have easily precipitated socio-economic problems and wars. As regards the story told by Herodotus and its link to the Sea Peoples, some scholars contend that those people called Teresh by the Egyptians were none others than the Tyrrhenians, or Tyrsenians, who are often identified with the Tusci (hence Tuscany), the Latin exonym for the Etruscans, or Ras(en)na, as they called themselves. The Tyrsenian linguistic family, together with Etruscan, includes the Lemnian language, spoken on the Aegean island of Lemnos to the 6th century BCE. Another Aegean tongue possibly related to the Etruscan was the Minoan Cretan. A third Aegean island close to Asia Minor mentioned as their possible origin by Thucydides is that of Lesbos. The Romans, as Virgil’s readers, identified the Teresh with the Trojans. There are clues to support this view. Several writers, e.g. Andrea Salimbeti in The Greek Age of Bronze: Sea Peoples, comment that a Trojan connection in the case of the Teresh (or Tursha) should be at first taken under consideration:
“Troy appears in a Hittite record as Taruisa. It is a reasonable assumption that the people of Taruisa called themselves by some name close to this; stripped of vowels so that it can be compared to the Egyptian spelling”.
The Troad (or Troas) was outside the territory but within the sphere of influence of Hatti. Nevertheless, another Hittite record points to a different location, for it contains a list of cities, among them Tarsa, most likely Tarsus. These toponyms and corresponding ethnicities would be written down in Egyptian hieroglyphs, or in any cuneiform script, as “T-r-s” or “T-r-sh” – i.e. without vowels.(1)
- (1) A very good example of how important the Greek innovation with the vowels in the alphabet has been. If the Egyptian script had vowels, as well, the enigma of the Sea Peoples might have long since been solved!
“The Sea Peoples may well have been Troy and its confederated
allies, and the literary tradition of the Trojan War may well reflect
the Greek effort to counter those raids.” (Eberhard Zangger)
Anatolian connections have been suggested for other Sea Peoples, too, such as the Lukka (Lycians). Most striking is that they mostly seem to have descended from the Troad. Thus the Swiss geoarchaeologist,(2) Eberhard Zangger, thinks that “the Sea Peoples may well have been Troy and its confederated allies, and the literary tradition of the Trojan War may well reflect the Greek effort to counter those raids.” This is what the Iliad seems to reflect.(3)
- (2) Geoarchaeology uses techniques and subject matter of geography, geology, and other Earth sciences, to examine topics which inform archaeological knowledge. Geoarchaeologists study the natural processes that affect archaeological sites, such as geomorphology, as well as soil and sediments, to contribute to archaeological studies.
- (3) According to this scenario, the Trojan War was “just” and defensive on the part of the Greeks, not intended for conquest and destruction of the city controlling the passage to the Black Sea.
Eberhard Zangger’s Anatolian Hypothesis
● In his Anatolian hypothesis, Eberhard Zangger caused a sensation because of his controversial identification of Troy as Atlantis. Zangger’s point of view is that Plato used an Egyptian version of the story about Troy for his famous report on Atlantis. He based his argument on comparisons between the Mycenaean culture and Plato’s account of the Hellenic civilization facing Atlantis, as well as parallels between the recollections of the Trojan War and the one supposedly fought between Greeks and Atlanteans (a Titanomachy variation). He interpreted the legend of the Trojan War to be the memory of the momentous chaos leading to the Bronze Age collapse, and arrived at the conclusion that Troy must have been much bigger than scholars had presumed, with artificial harbours inside the modern floodplain. In order to prove it, he prepared a helicopter-based geophysical exploration of the plain to locate layers of settlement and artificial port basins, using ground-penetrating techniques. Having granted an “exclusive excavation license” for Troy to Manfred Korfmann, a German archaeologist, the Turkish government rejected Zangger’s request. Disappointed, the latter summed up his theory giving a lecture in the Heidelberg Academy of Science. In my view, his ambitious project was undermined not by Korfmann’s… exclusive rights to excavate for Troy (! – Zangger’s plan did not entail any real excavations) but rather by Turkey’s unwillingness to authorize any disclosure of sensitive military data in an area close to the border for the sake of science.
The historicity of the Iliad
Despite the attempts of several historians to discredit the historicity of the Iliad, the Trojan War is considered a historical event; in addition, it is a key to grasp the underlying causes of all these epoch-making developments. “For sure, the Sea Peoples’ movement was one of the largest and most important migrations in history that changed the face of the ancient world more than any other single event before the time of Alexander the Great”, remarks Andrea Salimbeti. This long, ravaging war, in combination with the widespread famine in the entire peninsula, created the explosive conditions leading to the collapse. Under the circumstances, many Trojans, allies or neighbours, became refugees, and some survived by their wits or swords. Archeological evidence leads to the conclusion that the Sea Peoples were not pirates anymore, nor raiders plundering and pillaging established cities, but instead a mass of people looking for a place to settle, in search of a home. This was obvious since their first invasion of Egypt under Libyan leadership, when they were accompanied by their families and belongings. The Libyan tribes also played a role in the first campaigns against Egypt. Herodotus and Hecataeus mentioned one of them centuries later. It was the Berber tribe of the Maxyes or Mazyes, the Mazaces to the Romans, or the Meshwesh to the Egyptians – who claimed to have Trojan blood in their veins…
Pelasgians and Philistines (Peleset)
An important Sea People have been the Peleset, identified with the Philistines, or in a broad sense, the Palestinians:
“One of the theories”, says Salimbeti, “links them to the Pelasgians who were allies of Troy and one group of them lived in Thrace. Those Pelasgians would have migrated south, overrunning and fatally damaging Achaean Greek civilization. Shortly after, many would have gone farther south to Crete.”
There are also Biblical references to the Philistines as coming from a place called Caphtor, identified by several scholars with Crete:(4)
- (4) According to Wikipedia: “Caphtor is a locality mentioned in the Bible and related literature. The people of Caphtor are called Caphtorites (Caphtorim) and are named as a division of the ancient Egyptians. Traditional Hebrew sources place Caphtor in the region of Pelusium [in the Nile Delta]. Other sources [?] associate Caphtor with localities outside Egypt e.g. Cilicia, Cappadocia, Cyprus or Crete.” The least probable scenario is “hard truth” for some scholars… (See Chronicle 27, footnote 10).
“This theory”, adds Salimbeti, “has been somewhat strengthened by the discovery in Crete of the Phaestos disc. One of the symbols shows the head of a man crowned with feathers – very similar to the feather-topped helmets of the Peleset depicted” at the Temple of Ramses III.(5)
- (5) Well, it was certainly unavoidable: “The similarity [of the Peleset helmet] with Maya and Aztec feather headdresses is truly amazing, given the distance that separated the Mesoamerican culture” from the Mediterranean… Galloping imagination somewhere in the Internet Sea, while far in the distant horizon the land of Atlantis is gradually emerging…
● Well, what about the language of the Philistines? Wikipedia informs us of “possible relations to Indo-European languages, even Mycenaean Greek, [which supposedly] support the independently-held [?!] theory that immigrant Philistines originated among ‘Sea Peoples’.” And what do we know about the Pelasgian language(s)? “In the absence of certain knowledge about the identity (or identities) of the Pelasgians, various theories have been proposed. Since Greek is classified as an Indo-European language, the major question of concern is whether Pelasgian was an Indo-European language”. For more information, we are forwarded to the Aegean language family, proposed by Giulio M. Facchetti, due to some alleged similarities between Etruscan, Lemnian, and some other languages of the area, such as Minoan Cretan, Eteocretan, Eteocypriot, and Philistine. These languages could constitute a pre-Indo-European phylum stretching from Canaan to the Alps. But this is not a view held in common; there are attempts to link Eteocretan and Eteocypriot with Semitic.
Surely, all the above are nothing but hypotheses, as Facchetti himself admits. What counts is the idea the ancient Hellenes had about the Pelasgians, who had survived even in the classical period in several locations of mainland Greece, Crete and other Aegean islands. People identified as “Pelasgian” spoke a language or languages that the Hellenes described as “barbaric” – that is, they were incomprehensible to them. A tradition also survived that many parts of Greece had once been Pelasgian before being Hellenized. Hence, we can relish watching all scholarly theorizations crumbling and crashing down… (On the Pelasgians see Chronicle 15, footnote 7).
Another “Trojan” Sea People might have been the Weshesh. Again, the scarcity of information led… “necessarily” to speculation about possible links between their name and that of Ilion, as the city of Troy was also called by the Greeks – Wilusa (or Wilusiya) by the Hittites – after king Ilus (thence the Iliad). “The W of Weshesh”, notes Salimbeti, “is a modern invention for ease of pronunciation; the Egyptian records refer to Uashesh.” Some scholars associate this people with Assos, also in the Troad, or with Iassos in Caria, or with Issus (Issos) in Cilicia. Others have theorized that they became part of the Israelite confederacy as the tribe of Asher. Another people connected with the Hebrews were the Tjeker. Moving to Canaan, they captured the city-state of Dor and turned it into a large, well-fortified capital of their kingdom. Dor was violently destroyed in the mid-11th century BCE by the expanding Phoenicians, who were initially checked by the Philistines, and then by the Hebrews. King David (if he was something more than just a mythological figure) supposedly conquered Dor and the Tjeker were mentioned no more.
Teucer (Teucrus) of the Troad and Salamis
A possible linguistic connection has been proposed between the Tjeker and the Tekrur, identified with the Teucri, a tribe described by some ancient sources as inhabiting northwest Anatolia to the south of Troy. Tradition offers basically two candidates for their homeland: Crete or Attica. Legend links all three places and goes even further, following two heroes with the same name: Teucer (Teucrus). According to Virgil, the older Teucer was from Crete but left the island with a third part of its inhabitants during a great famine (how many such stories…). They eventually settled near a river, named Scamander after his father. On the contrary, Dionysius of Halicarnassus claims Teucer had gone to the Troad from Attica. Scamander (or Xanthos) was a river-god, a son of Oceanus. According to Homer, he fought on the side of the Trojans after Achilles insulted him. He was the personification of the river that flowed by Troy. The Hellenes had set up their camp near its mouth, and their battles with the Trojans were fought on its plain. The land was initially called Teucria, after Teucer. When Dardanus arrived there, it was renamed as Dardania (thence Dardenelles), and later Troad (from king Tros). But these toponymic changes would not deter the Trojans to often call themselves Teucrians. Aeneas e.g. is described as “the great captain of the Teucrians”.
Teucer the younger, or “bastard”, was half-Trojan because his mother, Hesione, a concubine of king Telamon, was a princess of Ilion. His father had arrived from Aegina to Salamis, as he was sent away by his own father for he had accidentally killed his brother. Teucer also fought in the Trojan War, but on the side of the Hellenes, having his half-brother, Ajax, as a co-fighter, while his cousins, Hector and Paris, and his uncle Priam, were “enemies”. After all, war was a family affair – let alone for Teucer Jr. On his return to Salamis, however, his father accused him for not bringing Ajax’s body back home. He was in his turn disowned, exiled and set out to find a new home. With his departing words that Horace turned into a moving ode, he exhorted his companions to “despair in no way… tomorrow we shall set out upon the boundless sea”.(6) This speech, related later to the theme of voyages of discovery, is also found in Dante’s Inferno and Tennyson’s Ulysses. Teucer eventually joined king Belus of Tyre in a Phoenician campaign against Cyprus, and when the island was seized, the king handed it over to Teucer as a reward. He founded there the city of Salamis, named after his homeland.
- (6) Horace, Odes: “Wherever fortune may bear us, kinder than my father, | We shall go, o men and comrades! | Despair in no way with Teucer as your leader and as protector, | Surely resolved Apollo has promised uncertain | Future to Salamis in a new world. | O men, who with me often have endured | Worse fortunes, now, banish cares with wine; | Tomorrow we shall set out upon the boundless sea!”
(Quo nos cumque feret melior fortuna parente, | ibimus, o socii comitesque. | Nil desperandum Teucro duce et auspice Teucro; | certus enim promisit Apollo ambiguam tellure nova Salamina futuram. | O fortes peioraque passi | mecum saepe viri, nunc vino pellite curas; | cras ingens iterabimus aequor.”)
The “copper island”, a vital node in the trade networks, experienced two waves of Grecian settlement: the initial wave consisted of Mycenaean traders, c. 1400 BCE. Towards the end of this period, great amounts of Mycenaean pottery were produced in Cyprus. A major second wave, connected with Teucer’s story, took place after the Bronze Age collapse, c. 1100 BCE, with the island’s predominantly Hellenic character dating from this era, due to the invasion of Helladic refugees. Apart from Salamis, Teucer is credited as a founder of other cities, too. A local legend in Galicia, in northwestern Iberia, relates the foundation of Pontevedra to “Teucro”. The legend seems to be based on the conjecture that Greek traders might have arrived there in ancient times. Though legends appear for a certain reason, historians and archaeologists tend to agree that the initial settlement was probably formed when Gallaecia was integrated into the Roman Empire (1st century BCE). Pontevedra, i.e. “old bridge”, in reference to an old Roman bridge across the Lérez river, is sometimes poetically called “The City of Teucro”, and its inhabitants teucrinos – just like the Trojans!(7) (See Chronicle 26, Odysseys in the Aftermath of the Trojan War: Colonization of Iberia).
- (7) It seems as if Tróia, across Setúbal, Portugal, was named after Troy but we do not know why. Tróia peninsula has been inhabited since prehistoric times when it was an island called Acalá. In the 1st century CE, the Romans built a town and named it Cetóbriga. It served as a fishery centre until 412, when it was destroyed completely by an earthquake with tsunami. If the town’s initial name had been Tróia, we could think that the Romans, as originating from the Trojans, decided to build a “Troy” in the vicinity of the city of Odysseus – Olisipo, Lisbon! According to José Pedro Machado, Tróia – in the Onomastic-Etymologic Dictionary of the Portuguese Language – is not a toponym found exclusively in the area of Setúbal. There are more Tróias in Portugal and a Troya in Galicia. Their “godfathers” were probably inspired by the Iliad. Based on an article in the Great Portuguese and Brazilian Encyclopedia, Machado expressed the idea this name to originate from Cetóbriga: > Cetóbria > Cetróbia > Cetróia > Xetróia > Atróia – though it seems too much of an adventure for a toponym… Or perhaps the name comes not from Troy but from either Troyes or Truyes, two cities of France; or its origin is the Latin phrase “Trogia (villa)”, from the Celtic name Trogus – which is the most likely explanation.
Thracian and Celtic Coincidences
● Cetóbriga is apparently a Celtic toponym, too. But because of the reports on the presence of even Thracians in Iberia, who also had the suffix –briga in their tongue, let’s have a look at that possibility, too. This suffix is very common in several toponyms of the peninsula. The most well-known city with such a name is Conímbriga, one of the greatest Roman settlements in Portugal. During pre-Roman times, the Conii (or Cynetes, who settled later in southern Portugal) occupied the settlement. After the town was destroyed by Suebi c. 465-468 CE, several of its inhabitants went to live in the neighbouring Aeminium that was gradually renamed as Coimbra. The word Conímbriga is not related to the Conii; it is formed by the native term conim (rock) and the Celtic suffix –briga (citadel), deriving from the Celtic Brigantes, who had Brigantia, N. England, under their control in pre-Roman times. Ptolemy wrote that the Brigantes also lived in SE Ireland, while Strabo mentioned the Brigantii as a subtribe of the Vindelici on the Alps. There was a Brigantium (Coruña) in Galicia, and a Brigaecium in Asturias. But there were also the Bryges, or Brigantes, a numerous Thracian people, whose cradle was perhaps the land of the Cicones, a Homeric tribe, between the Hebrus (Maritsa) and Nestos rivers, or the area around the Prespes or Brygeides lakes. The Bryges were ancestors of the Phrygians (‘B’ turned into ‘Ph’), who originally lived in the Balkans, and then settled in Asia Minor. The land of the Cicones, according to Herodotus, was initially called Briantica. The Bryges spread to N. Epirus (c. 700 BCE), to Paeonia, to Illyria (as Scymnus of Chios wrote in his Periēgēsis), to the Adriatic (in the area of the Brygeides islands), and later to West Europe, campaigning as followers of Dionysus. According to Hesychius, the suffixes –briga, or –bria, were typical in the names of the Thracian Brigantes’ towns (See Chronicle 26, Odysseys in the Aftermath of the Trojan War: Colonization of Iberia).
UP TO NOW, excluding Teucer, who attacked Cyprus in collaboration with the Phoenicians, representing all those who found refuge there, we have seen no Hellenes fighting alongside the Sea Peoples, or their allies, but rather against them in the Trojan War. It is what Sanford Holst already told us in the previous Chronicle:
“The Mycenaeans attacked the Anatolian people from the seaward side. To deal with this problem, warriors and ships in the Sea Peoples confederacy poured from Anatolia and the Black Sea into the Aegean, where they ravaged the Mycenaeans.”
Let us try to verify this in Wikipedia:
“The invaders, that is, the replacement cultures at those [Mycenaean] sites, apparently made no attempt to retain the cities’ wealth but instead built new settlements of a materially simpler cultural and less complex economic level atop the ruins. For example, no one appropriated the palace and rich stores at Pylos, but all were burned up, and the successors (whoever they were) moved in over the ruins with plain pottery and simple goods. This demonstrates a cultural discontinuity.”
This may demonstrate a logical discontinuity, as well! The question of who the invaders might have been is left open. However, the author identifies them with “the replacement cultures”, who were stupid enough to “burn up the palace and rich stores”, instead of appropriating them. Quite simply, those invaders had no intention to settle there; they went there just to destroy: for sure, they were not “the replacement cultures”!
The Anatolians were prevalent among the Sea Peoples but they were not alone. Several tribe names in the Egyptian files have a dubious or unknown origin – i.e. the Shekelesh, perhaps the Siculi, who moved to Sicily from the Italian mainland.
“There was a gigantic series of migratory waves”, Michael Grant remarks, “extending all the way from the Danube valley to the plains of China”; and Moses Finley agrees: “A large-scale movement of people is indicated… The original centre of disturbance was in the Carpatho-Danubian region of Europe… pushing in different directions at different times.”
But if we have faith in Michael Wood, they were… “essentially” [?!] Hellenes:
“Were the Sea Peoples in part actually composed of Mycenaean Greeks – rootless migrants, warrior bands and condottieri on the move? Certainly there seem to be suggestive parallels between the war gear and helmets of the Greeks and those of the Sea Peoples”. Moreover, he reminds us that “there were migrations of Greek-speaking peoples to [Sardinia and Sicily] at this time”, and therefore, he includes the Sherden and Shekelesh among the “villains”. Troy, he concludes, “was sacked by essentially Greek Sea Peoples”…(8)
- (8) It’s a pity there were “essentially” no Britannic “condottieri on the move”. Or else this… “thinking woman’s crumpet” (as Wood was humorously dubbed by British newspapers for his good looks most appealing to women) would have found Hellenic colonies even on Mars!
Michael Wood is not alone, either. The identification of the Denyen and Ekwesh with the Danaans and Achaeans respectively are long-standing issues in Bronze Age scholarship, as the “suspects” also lived “in the isles”…(9) Were the Egyptian scribes so naïve to use two names for one and the same people? What species of Bronze Age scholars are they if they (pretend to) ignore that Achaeans and Danaans are synonymous terms? Have they not been schooled in the Iliad? Homer mentions the name Achaeans 598 times; Danaans 138 times; Argives 182 times; and Hellenes only once. According to a version of the myth, they were ancestors of the Greeks and their tribes: Hellen, Graecus, Magnes, and Macedon (Makednós) were sons of Deucalion and Pyrrha, the only survivors of the Great Flood. Sons of Hellen were Dorus, Xuthus, and Aeolus; sons of Xuthus were Ion and Achaeus. Danaus, coming from Egypt, Pelops, from Anatolia, and Cadmus, from Phoenicia, gained a foothold in Greece, were assimilated and Hellenized. At least for the Danaans, perhaps due to their “Egyptian” origin, there is some “flexibility”: they are identified with the people of Adana in Cilicia, or possibly related to the land of the Danuna, near Ugarit, in Syria, or it is rumoured they joined Hebrews to form one of the original 12 tribes of Israel, that of Dan.
- (9) Although the connection of the Hittite toponym Ahhiyawa, or Ahhiya, with Achaea is strongly disputed (cf. Wikipedia: “the exact relationship of the term Ahhiyawa to the Achaeans beyond a similarity in pronunciation is hotly debated by scholars”; see also the conclusion of this Chronicle), the… “Wikipedists” are absolutely sure about the identification of the Achaeans with the Ekwesh. So, if you search for the entry “Ekwesh”, you are redirected to the “Achaeans”… As for the phrase “in the isles”, used by the Egyptians when referring to Sea Peoples and quoted by scholars as an argument, it ends up meaning: “Whoever is not a landsman is a suspect”!
THE MAJOR EVENT DURING PHARAOH Merneptah’s reign (1213–1203 BCE) was a war against a confederacy, termed the “Nine Bows”, under the leadership of the king of Libya. The pharaoh declared that he defeated the invasion, killing 6,000 soldiers and taking 9,000 prisoners. To be certain of the numbers, among other things, he took the penises of all uncircumcised dead and the hands of all the circumcised.(10) We mention this macabre detail because, as it turned out, the so-called “Achaeans”, the Ekwesh, were circumcised, a fact that would certainly have obliged any serious Bronze Age scholar to “acquit” the Grecian Achaeans!(11)
- (10) Imagine those poor soldiers who were assigned to count all these penises and hands…
- (11) …“a fact causing some to doubt they were Greek,” is what we actually read in Wikipedia! They were circumcised as a… camouflage! Or just to baffle our Bronze Age scholars! What they do remember is Virgil’s aphorism: “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”; i.e. “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” – in this case: bearing circumcision! Our scholars have been schooled in the Aeneid, at least… Note that not only the Ekwesh, but also the Shekelesh and Shardana were circumcised, as the Egyptians made clear (pity, they did not inform… Michael Wood)! Thus these two peoples had also been Oriental in origin and settled in Sicily and Sardinia only later. Those who were not circumcised were the Peleset. (“Aha!”, I can hear you chuckling, my dear scholars…)
Merneptah Stele and Exodus
● The pharaoh’s victories over the Libyans and their Sea People allies are glorified on the Merneptah Stele, a black granite slab over three meters high, that Flinders Petrie discovered in Thebes in 1896. There is, however, a kind of footnote in the final two of the 28 lines, which refers to a separate campaign in Canaan. There the king boasts of defeating and destroying four cities, the fourth one being most probably a city and valley in northern Canaan, called Jezreel – a word so similar to… Israel! For sure, that would be far more convenient and beneficial for all: the entire Jewish diaspora, the emerging Zionism, formally established as a movement the next year after the discovery, for many Christians, especially the clergy, and of course, for Petrie himself! That day he wondered: “Won’t the reverends be pleased?” and then he prophesied: “This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found.” He was not a fool: if this set of hieroglyphs on Line 27 could be read as… “Israel”, instead of “Jezreel”, it would present the first documented instance of this name in the historical record, and the only mention in ancient Egypt!
Although the readings in many places are illegible due to the rough surface and the poor cutting (Petrie’s own translation of the text contains dozens of question marks; only next to the controversial word the mark is missing…), most biblical archeologists accept Petrie’s version. So, his find was also proclaimed as… “Israel Stele”;(12) based on a disputed word in the penultimate line of a text dealing with another subject! What a disgrace for Merneptah: a proud pharaoh boasting of a triumph over a handful of poor villagers! There were no more than about 25 villages then on the highlands of Canaan. Archaeologists and historians have attempted to trace the origins of these villagers but it’s been impossible to identify any distinctive features that could define them as specifically Israelite. “It is probably… during Iron Age I” (1200–1000 BCE), says archaeologist Paula McNutt, that “a population began to identify itself as ‘Israelite’.” The Kingdom of Israel emerged as an important, worth-mentioning local power even later, by the 9th century BCE, before falling to the Assyrians in 722. Thus, there was no “Israel” for Merneptah to mention – unless he was as prophetic as Petrie himself!
- (12) Merneptah is also to blame: he “appropriated” the stele from his predecessor, Amenhotep III, turned it round and wrote his controversial text on its rough surface. He could never imagine how this text would be distorted. For sure, he was not a prophet like Petrie!
● This “misspelling” trick was some kind of “compensation” for the historical “error” of the Egyptians to mention neither the notorious Exodus nor the calamitous Biblical plagues. The archeologists are equally “guilty”, as they failed to find any evidence to support the “story” of the Jews in Egypt and the Sinai. The consensus among biblical scholars is that there was never any exodus of the proportions described in the Bible. According to the book of Exodus, arguably the most important in the Bible, the Jews leaving the country would have numbered some 2 million – compared with an entire Egyptian population of around 3 to 3.5 million in 1250 BCE! Marching ten abreast and without accounting for livestock, they would have formed a line 240 kilometers long! No evidence has been found that Egypt ever suffered such a demographic and economic catastrophe, or that the Sinai desert ever hosted (or could have hosted) these millions of people and their herds… The date proposed initially of an Exodus around 1450 BCE is also problematic: digs in the 1930s had failed to find traces of the simultaneous destruction of Canaanite cities c. 1400 BCE – and in fact many of them, such as Jericho, the first one to fall to the Israelites according to the Bible, were then uninhabited. A century of research by archaeologists and Egyptologists has found no evidence that can be directly related to the captivity, and the escape and travels through the wilderness, and most archaeologists have abandoned their investigation of Moses and the Exodus as “a fruitless pursuit”. Archaeologist William Dever says that there is “no room for an Exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness.”
● Flinders Petrie, who could possibly “address the issue”, died a long time ago and was buried on Mount Zion, in Palestine. Besides, he remains a controversial figure as a committed advocate of “eugenics” and of the “superiority” of the white, Northern peoples over the Latinate and Southern peoples, as well as for his affiliation with a variety of fascist groups and anti-democratic thought in England. His archaeological views were equally racist: he contended that the Egyptian civilization was derived from a “fine”, invading “Caucasian Dynastic Race”, which had conquered Egypt in pre-dynastic times of late prehistory and introduced the pharaonic, dynastic culture to the “inferior” “mulatto” race then inhabiting the country. These views spilled over into disputes with E. A. Wallis Budge. The British Museum‘s Egyptologist declared that the ancient Egyptians were an African people with roots in eastern Africa and their religion was essentially identical to the religions of the peoples of northeastern and central Africa. However, all but some of his colleagues followed Petrie – a most revealing fact about the dominant ideology at the time, at least among intellectuals. Thus Petrie and his followers derided Budge’s ideas as impossible and “unscientific”…
NEXT ROUND in this protracted war against the Sea Peoples, marking the Bronze Age collapse, took place some three decades later, during the reign of Ramses III (1186–1155 BCE), the last great pharaoh of Egypt. His inscriptions state that the “Nine Bows” re-appeared as another “conspiracy in their isles”… Most Sea People tribes were there again; we are also informed that at least two great battles were fought, one on the sea, and the other on land.
“When it was over”, says the Wikipedia article on the Sea Peoples, “several chiefs were captive: of Hatti, Amor, and Shasu among the ‘land peoples’, and the Tjeker, ‘Sherden of the sea’, ‘Teresh of the sea’ and Peleset or Philistines (in whose name some [?] have seen the ancient Greek name for sea people: Pelasgians)”…(13)
- (13) Pelasgian is related to πελός and Πέλοψ (Pelops: dark-skinned), or to πέλας (the fellow man, or the one nearby) and πελάζω-πλάζω (approach), or to περάω and πέρα (cross to the other side, as a migrant tribe). Once more, the scholars are wrong, as there is no connection with the sea, specifically πέλαγος (pelagos < πλήσσω or πλήττω, i.e. hit).
What conclusions can we draw? We are surprised, first of all, since our scholars were not… surprised at all when they read about a Hittite chief among those captive. Hatti had been a Sea Peoples’ arch-enemy – and one of their greatest victims. But scholars are usually aware of such “details” and are not taken by surprise. Besides, the same thing happened before and the pharaoh’s official complaints were forwarded to the Hittite monarch – as long as this empire still existed. OK, but why don’t they bother to explain, instead of wasting their time trying to involve the Greeks in this… “conspiracy theory”?
Eventually, we realize that the destruction of the established civilizations, mainly the Hittite and Mycenaean, was a deliberate tactic of the Sea Peoples to garner more strength at sea and amass land forces, as well. After all, the empires were of the aristocracies, Hittite or Mycenaean. What else could a desperate Hellene or a destitute Anatolian do, under the circumstances, but follow and stand by the peoples with whom he shared the same aspirations for a better life?
What else could a desperate Hellene or a destitute Anatolian do but follow the peoples with whom he shared the
same aspirations for a better life?
But what a pity for our scholars: not even one Greek among the captive chiefs… He probably escaped! The other captives were chiefs of the Amorites, who lived in Syria and part of Mesopotamia, and possibly of the Hebrews: Shasu is a term for nomad wanderers, and at least one of the tribes worshipped the Jewish god Yahweh. The rest were sea captains.
The pharaoh concluded his report as follows: “I slew the Denyen in their isles” and “burned” the Tjeker and Peleset… Therefore, he implied some maritime raids of his own, or some punitive expeditions elsewhere in the Mediterranean. In the Aegean? Where, what and whose were these “isles”? Whatever the answers, the chain reaction of the raids went on; it was the Egyptians’ turn to destroy – but destruction bears no signature…
Homer mentions an Achaean attack upon the Nile delta, while Menelaus speaks of that in the Odyssey, recounting his voyage back home from the Trojan War. It was not, however, the only such marauding action by Mycenaeans against Egypt where they went “just for the fun of it” – and some gain, of course!
Taking into account the continuous turbulence among or within the sovereign Mycenaean royal families, the hypothesis that they may have utterly destroyed themselves is long-standing, and seems to find support by the reputable Greek historian Thucydides:
“For in early times the Hellenes and the barbarians of the coast and islands… were tempted to turn to piracy, under the conduct of their most powerful men… They would fall upon a town unprotected by walls… and would plunder it… no disgrace being yet attached to such an achievement, but even some glory”…
The “Achaeans” through Hittite eyes
VARIOUS HITTITE ACCOUNTS, from c. 1400 to c. 1220 BCE, mention a land in western Anatolia, named Ahhiyawa (or Ahhiya). The term is thought to be a Hittite rendition of the word “Achaea”, with the broader meaning of “the Achaeans’ land”. This idea was strongly disputed by other Hittitologists (see e.g. footnote 9). In addition, a precise geographical location of this land cannot be drawn from the texts. In any case, it seems that “Achaea” and Hatti evidently dealt with each other both on a diplomatic and a military level. We can read a letter that the Hittite king sent to his “Achaean” counterpart, where the latter is recognized as a “Great King”, and of equal status with the other contemporary great Bronze Age rulers: the kings of Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria. Referring to Millawanda (or Milawata: Miletus?) as a city within the “Achaean” domain,(14) the Hittite monarch mentions an earlier “Wilusa episode”, within his own area, where the “Achaeans” lined up with his enemies. We have seen that Wilusa was most probably Troy (cf. the archaic Ϝίλιον, and later Ilion, i.e. the Trojan acropolis). This “episode” is possibly connected with the Trojan War.(15)
- (14) The Minoans had created in Miletus perhaps their most important settlement on Anatolian soil. The Mycenaeans inherited it, when they replaced the Cretans as the leading power in the Aegean. The city grew and became prosperous, as it is attested not only from the archaeological evidence, but also these Hittite records, which indicate that Miletus was the most important base for “Achaean” activity in Asia Minor ultimately reaching Iassos, Ephesus, and other cities.
- (15) Unfortunately, we cannot cross-check the available evidence because the Mycenaeans, unlike the Hittites, did not bother to write down such… “details”! The records in Linear B just refer to administrative bureaucratic issues of the palace. Even commerce is curiously absent from the written sources in Linear B! That’s why it’s impossible to reconstitute from texts in Linear B the late Bronze Age’s political developments. (Hittites vs. Mycenaeans: 1–0!)
In the second half of the 13th century, a long anti-Hittite revolt broke out with “Achaean” support, and headed by Piyama-Radu, who married his daughter to the vassal ruler of “Miletus”. His case is of particular interest since it appears to intertwine with that of the Trojan War. It was a remarkable revolt for its duration, having spanned at least 35 years, during which time he posed a considerable threat to three consecutive Hittite kings; it caused a great deal of turmoil in the areas of Wilusa, Arzawa,(16) and Seha, and led to an invasion of Lazpa (Lesbos?), which passed under “Achaean” control. The aforementioned letter was sent in this period, as the Hittite king tried to persuade his “Achaean” counterpart to restore peace. Among other things, he mentions a brother of the “Achaean” monarch, named Tawagalawa, or… Eteocles,(17) according to several imaginative scholars! Much more controversial is the “identification” of Piyama-Radu: it is speculated that he “corresponds to the archetype” of the Trojan king Priam… What’s next? They will probably… rewrite the Iliad!
- (16) “Achaea” and Arzawa joined forces several times against the Hittites. Arzawa was a kingdom, or a confederacy of local rulers, in western Anatolia, with Apasa, later Ephesus, as a capital.
- (17) The story of Oedipus’ son and king of Thebes is part of the Theban Cycle that is unrelated to the Trojan (Epic) Cycle and the Atreides. Eteocles’ brother was Polynices, with whom he fought for the throne and both were killed. The tragedy culminated with their sister Antigone’s death.
Warfare between “Achaeans” and Hittites began c. 1400 BCE. Hittite records mention the operations of the “Achaean” warlord Attarsiya in southwestern Asia Minor, possibly in Lycia, against Hittite vassals. It is the first recorded “Achaean” military activity on the Anatolian mainland, and is associated with an increase of Mycenaean findings in Miletus in this period (early 14th century BCE), indicating that a number of Greeks moved from mainland Hellas to this region. Attarsiya used the city as a military base, and hostilities continued until circa 1250 BCE. “Achaean” activity was to interfere in Asia Minor, with the support of anti-Hittite uprisings, or through local vassal rulers that the “Achaean” king used as agents for the extension of his influence. Speculation, of course, is also present here: It has been suggested by several scholars that the warlord was none other than Atreus, a mythical king of Mycenae, and father of Agamemnon. Others, noting that the Hittites do not speak of the “high king of Achaea”, argue that he should have been some general, named Atreus, or with a similar name, or finally that Attarsiya means Atreidēs, i.e. he was a member of the royal dynasty.
In order to undermine the Hittites, the warlord intervened in Anatolian affairs attacking Hittite vassals, such as Madduwatta from Arzawa (Luwia),(18) whom he repeatedly defeated, as the army he deployed included 100 war chariots. But he eventually withdrew from Asia Minor to prepare a campaign against Alashiya (Cyprus?). He had the Lukka (“Lycians”) on his side, providing him the necessary naval support, together with a number of his Anatolian allies, even Madduwatta, who decided to switch camps. This worried the Hittites, since they considered the island one of their dependencies. The invaders finally defeated them, and thus Alashiya passed under their control. The Mycenaean presence in Cyprus is also corroborated by archaeological evidence, as we have seen, for Mycenaean finds dating from that time were unearthed there.
- (18) The Luwians lived in central, western, or southern Asia Minor, as well as the northwestern part of the Levant, in the Bronze and Iron Ages. They spoke the Luwian language, an Indo-European Anatolian tongue written in cuneiform of Mesopotamian origin, or a unique native hieroglyphic script, which was sometimes also used by the linguistically related Hittites.
The following decades were a period of Mycenaean expansion on the Anatolian coast (c. 1380–1320 BCE). In 1320-1315, there was another anti-Hittite rebellion in Arzawa, in cooperation with “Miletus”, and supported by the “Achaeans”, who appeared to be in control of a number of islands in the Aegean, an impression also supported by archaeological evidence. Finally, the Hittites were victorious. The king of Arzawa managed to escape to “Achaean”-controlled territory, and his land was split into three provinces: a southern province, Mira, would later become known as Caria; a northern province, Seha, would be renamed as Lydia; and an eastern province called Hapalla (the Grecian Pisidia). That was the finale of this kingdom’s history, which had passed into oblivion, and came back on the surface thanks to the Hittite texts.
If, indeed, the information contained in these archives corresponds up to a point to historical facts, it seems that the Mycenaean and Hittite palatial civilizations of the Aegean and Anatolia were “bored” (to death) by the same woodworms…
The Luwian Civilization: The Missing Link in the Aegean Bronze Age
ALBEIT BELATEDLY, I’VE STUDIED Eberhard Zangger’s book,(19) The Luwian Civilization / The Missing Link in the Aegean Bronze Age (2016). I feel it is useful to outline his main points regarding the Sea Peoples:
- (19) Since 1994 Zangger has been advocating the view that a Luwian civilization existed in Western Asia Minor during the 2nd millennium BCE. In 2014 he established the international non-profit foundation Luwian Studies.
“Over twenty years ago, I proposed a chronological reconstruction of the political and economic development in the countries around the Eastern Mediterranean during the 13th century BCE. It causally links three wars comprised of reciprocal attacks. First, the so-called Sea Peoples’ invasions took place, during which the navy of allied Luwian petty states from the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea advanced to the southeast. The Luwians were then attacked a few years later by allied Greek forces – and this is memorialized in the tradition of the so-called Trojan War. And finally, a civil war… broke out in Greece.”
“Perhaps the trigger for the [Luwians’] decision to engage in war was [Hatti’s] conquest of Cyprus… possibly to get access to its copper resources. The Luwians in western Asia Minor played an active role in long-distance trade and may have depended on Cyprus as a port of call. Therefore they entered into a military alliance and built a fleet of fast, agile vessels for invasions. Instead of moving against the Hittite forces over land, they dashed across the sea and reached the important Hittite borderlands of Cyprus and Syria. The acclaimed mercenary armies of the Lukka and Sherden had become marine forces which no longer fought alongside the Hittite king but against him – they had formed the coalition known as the Sea Peoples… [Eventually] the capital Hattuša was wiped out overnight – and with it the Hittite Empire.”
“The petty states from western Asia Minor suddenly controlled an area stretching from Macedonia across Anatolia to Syria and Canaan, where it touched upon the Egyptian dominion… Together with this vast territory, the Luwians now dominated almost all ore deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the trade routes on land and at sea… Both the access to the Black Sea region as well as the connection through Cyprus and Syria to Mesopotamia were now under Luwian control. Considering the distribution of mineral resources, arable land, the path of the perennial rivers and of the trade routes, the Mycenaeans were about to face a superior force for an extended period of time. To avoid complete dependence… they engaged in a coalition themselves with the ultimate purpose to raid western Asia Minor… About ten years later, united Greek forces attacked western Asia Minor – and this was later remembered as the ‘Trojan War’… which was thus a counterattack against the previously victorious Sea Peoples.”
“While the Mycenaean kings were fighting at Troy, their wives and less competent deputies had taken their thrones. When the surviving victorious kings returned, many of these deputies did not want to give up their power. A civil war broke out and consumed progressively one citadel after another… Pylos – and later Ithaca – may have been among the last palaces to fall into the hands of the insurgents.” (Eberhard Zangger, The Luwian Civilization / The Missing Link in the Aegean Bronze Age; see Chronicle 26, Odysseys in the Aftermath of the Trojan War: Colonization of Iberia).
Next Chronicle 21. IBERIAN “EL DORADO” ● Minoans, Mycenaeans, Phoenicians in Iberia ● Fortunate Isles, Hesperides ● Sardinia ● Odysseus, Calypso, Ophiussa ● Tartessos