The so-called Sea Peoples are one of the greatest mysteries to emerge from the late Bronze Age collapse between 1200 and 900 BC. They are documented as attacking ancient Egypt and other parts of the Mediterranean.
The origin of the Sea Peoples remains unknown. Historians and archaeologists have proposed various theories, speculating that they may have come from western Asia Minor, the Mediterranean islands, or Southern Europe.
Some historians have proposed that the Sea Peoples belonged to either the Minoan civilization on Crete or the Mycenaean civilization during the Bronze Age. Dramatic socio-economic changes and political upheavals appear to have destabilized various civilizational groups across the Eastern Mediterranean, possibly causing significant numbers to take to the seas in search of better lives.
The Sea Peoples and the Bronze Age Collapse
The story of the Sea Peoples is closely bound to the mystery surrounding the Bronze Age Collapse. This period was marked by the destruction of trade routes between civilizations, a loss of literacy, and the loss of some of the Mediterranean’s most important cities—many of which were never inhabited again.
The Egyptians largely seem to have survived the invasions of the Sea Peoples, although their incursions may have contributed to the destabilization of the region. Other civilizations in the wider Mediterranean region may not have endured so well. It has been hypothesized that the states of Hatti, Ugarit, Ascalon, and Hazor were destroyed by the Sea Peoples.
Some of the peoples who settled in the Levant during the late Bronze Age have been linked to the island of Crete and may have settled in the area during the migration or invasion of the Sea Peoples.
Two groups that settled in the Levant, the Tjeker and the Peleset, may have originated from Crete. The Tjeker possibly migrated from Crete to Anatolia before settling in Dor. According to the Old Testament, the Philistines came from Caphtor, which is commonly believed to be Crete, based on mainstream scholarship.
However, alternative theories exist. During that time, Crete had a diverse population speaking various languages, including Mycenaean Greek and Eteocretan, which might have been spoken by these two groups, although it is not certain.
The English historian Micahel Wood has pondered whether the Sea Peoples might have had a Mycenaean or partially Mycenaen origin.
Wood theorized that the weapons, armor, and equipment of the Sea Peoples may have pointed to a Mycenaean Greek origin. Indeed the helmets of the Sea Peoples appear to have been identical or very similar to those worn by the Bronze Age Greeks.
Moreover, Woods offered the theory that the site historically identified as Troy may have been sacked by the peoples and that the wanderings of Odysseus in the Odyssey may reflect the voyages made by the Sea Peoples.
However, Woods also maintains that the Greeks likely only made up a contingent – and not even the majority – of the Sea Peoples and that they may have been a multi-ethnic group of Mediterranean peoples driven to sail the Mediterranean for a variety of causes.