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Who were the Sea People who attacked Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age Collapse? Show more Show less
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During the 12th Century BC sea-faring invaders contributed to what is known as the Late Bronze Age Collapse. Greece, Egypt, the Levant, and the Hittites were all impacted. Known in the Egyptian sources as a confederation of ethnic groups, the identity and origins of the Sea People is contested.

The Sea People were Mycenaean Greeks Show more Show less

According to Greek history the Mycenaeans carried out pirate raiding trips around the Mediterranean. Some of these seafaring Greeks became the Philistines, one of the groups potentially identified in the Egyptian sources.
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The Greeks turned to piracy after the Trojan War

According to Homer, after a long war with the Trojans, the Greeks committed acts of piracy on their way home. The Homeric explanation fits with the clockwise sweep of attacks around the Mediterranean during this period.
Ancient History

The Argument

The destruction of the Hittite empire and the attacks on Egypt and parts of Greece were caused by marauding Greek pirates. According to some scholars Homer’s Odyssey is set during the period of the Bronze Age Collapse. Some of the stories Odysseus tells about his travels home include piratical raiding all over the Aegean. When Odysseus disguises himself as a Cretan man, he recounts the story of a failed attack on Egypt, after which he was locked into service to Egypt for seven years. This may well be the same attack mentioned in the Egyptian sources, which caused some Sea People to settle in Egypt. [1] The Greek Geographer Strabo also claims that the Greeks were raiders. He claimes that the Greeks who sacked Troy had been away for so long that they had lost most of their own homeland and turned to piracy. On their return home from Troy they may have caused a Greek civil war which would explain the collapse of Mycenaean Greece in this period.[2] During Homeric times, the Greeks had a variety of names for themselves, some of which may be referenced in the Egyptian sources. Egyptian sources refer to some of the Sea People as the “Denyen”, probably a transliteration of the Greek word “Danaan” used by Homer. Similarly, the word ‘Eqwesh’ in Egyptian could be the Greek word ‘Archaean’.[3] The Egyptian narrative fits with what we know about piracy in this period from Greek sources. The Sea People are likely to have been mostly Greek and may have been from Crete in particular.

Counter arguments

Although some scholars argue the word "Eqwesh" in the hieroglyphs is the Egyptian word for "Achaean", according to the Egyptian sources these people were circumcised. It seems highly unlikely they would have been Greek and it puts their origins somewhere in the Near East. The tenuous etymological connection is a flimsy argument to connect the Egyptian account with Homeric myths.[4] Whether Homer's Odyssey is historically accurate, and what period of history it describes, is debatable. If the attackers really were Greeks coming home from Troy, this does not explain why they destroyed the Mycenaean palaces in Greece. According to Homer the men who attacked Troy were lords of Greece who would not have destroyed their own homes. The Greeks were unlikely to have attacked their own cities. The connection between the Greek sources and the Egyptian accounts are partially based on tenuous etymological connections.



[P1] The Odyssey makes reference to Greek piracy at this time in the aftermath of the Trojan War. [P2] Some Egyptian references to the ethnicity of Sea people have a shared etymology to archaic words for Greek-speaking people. [C] Turmoil in the Greek-speaking world following the Trojan war led to widespread piracy and societal collapse.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] The etymological connections are tenuous. The Eqwesh were circumcised and therefore unlikely to be Greek.


This page was last edited on Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 08:47 UTC

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