Sea PeoplesSea Peoples is the term used in ancient Egyptian records of a ship-faring confederacy of Indo-European migrants who drifted into the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and attempted to enter Egyptian territory during the late 19th dynasty and especially year 5 of Rameses III of the 20t Dynasty (the decades to either side of 900 BCE in the new chronology or 1200 BCE in the Old Chronology).
The earliest mention of the Sea People proper is in an inscription of the Egyptian king Merneptah (see Egyptian Regnal Chronologies for details). Merneptah states that in the fifth year of his reign he defeated an invasion of an allied force of Libyans and the Sea People, killing 6000 soldiers and taking 9000 prisoner.
About 20 years later the Egyptian king Ramses III was forced to deal with another invasion of the Sea Peoples, this time allied with the Philistines. In the mortuary temple he built in Thebes Ramses describes how, despite the fact "no land could stand before" the forces of the Sea People and that they swept through "Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya" destroying their cities, he defeated them in a sea battle. He gives the names of the tribes of the Sea People as including: the Peleset, the Tjeker, the Shekelesh, the Denyen, and the Weshesh. However, because this list is identical to the one Merneptah included in his victory inscription and because Ramses also describes several fictious victories on his temple walls, some Egyptologists believe that he never actually fought the Sea Peoples, but only claimed the victories of Merneptah as his own - a common ancient Egyptian practice.
A Sea People appear in another set of records problematically dated around the early 12thC BCE. Ammurapi, the last king of Ugarit (c.1191 - 1182 BC) received a letter from the Hittite king Suppliluliuma II warning him about the "Shikalayu who live on boats" in whose name we can see a corelation with the Shekelesh mentioned in Merneptah's list. It may be relevant that shortly after he received this communication, Ammurapi was overthrown and the city of Ugarit sacked, never to be inhabited again.
The abrupt comming to an end of several civilizations in the decades around 1200 BC have caused many ancient historians to hypothesize that the Sea People caused the collapse of the Hittite, Mycenaean and Mittani kingdoms. However, Marc Van De Mieroop and others have argued against this theory on several points. Grimal argues that the kingdoms of the Mittani Assyria, and Babylon were more likely destroyed by a group who dwelled on the edges of the settled lands called by the Akkadian word habiru. Also the recently discovered discrepancy of upto as much as 300 years between Egyptian accounts and events recorded in other chronologies prior to the sacking of thebes in 664BCE brings the otherwise floating chronologies of the Mycaeans, Hittites, Minoans, and late Bronze-age Levant city-states down with Egypt's. Another is that the attempted Sea People invasion of Egypt fended off by Ramses III is now seen as nothing more than a monor skirmish, his victories being greatly exaggerated. Though it is clear from the archeological excavations that Ugarit, Ashkelon and Hazor were destroyed about this time, Carchemish was not and other cities in the area such as Byblos and Sidon survived unscathed.
One theory concerning the Sea People, based on their recorded names, is that they may have been formed of people involved in the Greek migrations of this period, either the Greek-speaking invaders (identifying the "Ekwesh" with the Achaeans and the "Denyen" with the Dananoi, an ancient name for the Greek people). This theory has been developed even further to postulate that the Philistines, who are described in the Old Testament as an intrusive people that settled in Palestine in the period between the Hebrews' departure to Egypt and their return, originated in either western Anatolia or the Greek pennisula.
Lack of definite information about these ancient forerunners of the Vikings is the chief cause of their mystery, rather than anything concerning their intrinsic nature. As abruptly as they enter history, the Sea People leave it.