Hypotheses Regarding the Sea Peoples’ Invasions
The identity of the Sea Peoples as well as the reason for their raids have been subject of speculations for decades. None of the numerous existing models is completely convincing, however. A search for a single cause of the destruction may in any case fall short.
Current State of knowledge
Previous explanations have failed
The Sea Peoples are among the most discussed, most complex and most difficult topics in archaeology. Numerous multidisciplinary conferences have been devoted exclusively to this subject. The following theses are still being discussed:
- An overly long drought deprived Bronze Age societies of their economic and nutritional basis and triggered migrations. (Carpenter 1966)
- The Trojan War marks the beginning of a chain reaction. The Sea Peoples were veterans of the battle of Troy and refugees from collapsing Greece in search of new settlement areas. (Hello & Simpson 1971)
- The agriculture of the Mycenaean civilization was oriented almost exclusively towards grains and was therefore extremely vulnerable to bad harvests. Destruction or a series of crop failures provoked raids on neighboring regions and triggered an escalation. (Betancourt 1976)
- The Sea Peoples came from Central Europe. They destroyed the Mycenaean civilization in Greece and subsequently ravaged Troy, Hattuša and the places in the Eastern Mediterranean mentioned by Ramesses III. (Schachermeyr 1982)
- The first attacks of the Sea Peoples took place under Merneptah, followed by the Trojan War and the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. Finally, a second Sea Peoples’ invasion caused the destruction of Hatti. (Taylour 1983)
- The Sea Peoples came from the Adriatic Sea and Central Europe. Within an interval of about one generation, they brought first the Aegean and later the Levant under their control. (Bouzek 1985)
- The Sea Peoples were a loose confederation of scattered pirates and corsairs that had formed after the collapse of the great civilizations. (Sandars 1985)
- The end of the Bronze Age began with earthquakes that, with some delay, destroyed central trading settlements in Egypt, Syria and Greece over hundreds of kilometers. At the same time, wandering Sea Peoples threatened coastal towns in the Eastern Mediterranean. To fend them off, Greek kingdoms built their great fortresses and, because of huge expenses, went bankrupt. As a result, social unrest erupted and triggered the collapse of long-distance trade as well as famine. (Helck 1987)
- A sequence of earthquakes at the end of the LH IIIB period extended from Pylos to Kastanas in Macedonia all the way to Troy. (Kilian 1988)
- A change in warfare technology caused the disruptions. Before the crisis years, military conflicts had been fought with battalions of chariots. Later, the focus was on mobile infantry units. (Drews 1993)
The most recent attempt by U.S.-based archaeologist Eric H. Cline to provide an overview of the events also resulted in raising more questions than providing answers.
The crisis years comprised three wars
Possibly, the end of the Bronze Age could not be explained because one important factor had been missing – the Luwians. Much as the function of a three-legged kitchen stool cannot really be understood if one leg is missing, the end of the Bronze Age remains incomprehensible if only the Hittites and Mycenaeans are taken into account without the Luwians.
During the period between 1200 and 1180 BCE, archaeological excavations from Greece to Asia Minor to Egypt reveal the same findings, and that is destruction. However, this does not mean that the agent of destruction was always the same.
Over twenty years ago, a chronological reconstruction of the political and economic development in the countries around the Eastern Mediterranean during the 13th century BCE was proposed. 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 Aegean region advanced to the southeast. The Luwians who had emanated from the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea 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 – without any external influences – broke out in Greece. This model explains the information transmitted in excavation results, contemporary documents and later traditions. The three phases of this Zeroth World War are described separately in the following sections.
Cline, Eric H. (2014): 1177 B.C. – The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1-237.
Deger-Jalkotzy, Sigrid (2008): “Decline, Destruction, Aftermath.” In: The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age. Cynthia W. Shelmerdine (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 387-415.
Muhly, James D. (1984): “The role of the Sea Peoples in Cyprus during the LC III period.” In: Cyprus at the close of the Late Bronze Age. Vasos Karageorghis & James D. Muhly (eds.), Leventis Foundation, Nicosia, 39-55.
Muhly, James D. (1992): “The Crisis Years in the Mediterranean World: Transition or Cultural Disintegration?” In: The Crisis Years. William A. Ward & Martha S. Joukowsky (eds.) Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa, 10-26.
O’Connor, David (2000): “The Sea Peoples and the Egyptian Sources.” In: The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment. Eliezer D. Oren (ed.), The University Museum, University of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 85-102.
Ward, William A. & Martha S. Joukowsky (eds.) (1992): The Crisis Years: The 12th Century B.C. from beyond the Danube to the Tigris. Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa, 1-208.
Woudhuizen, Frederik Christiaan (2006): The ethnicity of the Sea People. Dissertation at the Erasmus-Universität Rotterdam, Rotterdam, 1-167.
Zangger, Eberhard (1994): Ein neuer Kampf um Troia – Archäologie in der Krise. Droemer, München, 1-352.
It has often been remarked that the more we learn the less we know and this certainly applies to our understanding of the end of the Late Bronze Age and the role of the Sea Peoples. lt is one thing to call attention to all the problems raised by past historical reconstructions, but quite another to create a new reconstruction to replace those found wanting.
James D. Muhly 1984, 54
Clearly what is needed is a new way of looking at “The Crisis Years” and the Bronze Age/Iron Age transition in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.
James D. Muhly 1992, 19