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
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.
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.
Some of the Sea People were Philistines of Greek extraction
Most scholars agree that the Philistines were Greek people based on considerable archaeological and written evidence. The Philistines are the one group of Sea People who are easy to identify in the sources. The Sea People were partly or mostly Greek.
Difficult climatic conditions and evidence of famine has led some scholars to argue that environmental pressures, particularly in Anatolia and the Levant, may have created the Sea People. Material culture and origin myths from Italy support this claim.
The Teresh, Sherden, and Shekelesh fled Anatolian famine to live in Italy
Several myths claim Italy was settled by travelers from Asia Minor. Famine is the likely cause of the migration and is confirmed by multiple sources. These migrants may be the Sea People who attacked the Hittites, Egypt, the Levant, and Greece while on their way to Italy.
Scientific and written evidence proves there was severe drought and famine
There is an increasingly large body of evidence that the Late Bronze Age was unusually hot and dry. Written evidence from Anatolia and the Levant suggests severe food shortages. The Sea People were likely migrants fleeing famine.
The disturbances in this period started in the Hittite empire and may have emerged from a power struggle in the region. Based on the etymology, there is good reason to believe at least some of the Sea People came from Anatolia.
The Luwian People from Asia Minor are the mythical Trojans
Luwian speaking people from Western Asia Minor are geographically located where Troy is supposed to have been. They are underresearched but may once have been a powerful empire that attacked the Hittites and fought with the Greeks.
The Sea People were created by invaders passing through the Balkans
Archaeological finds indicate turbulent events in the Balkans prior to the Bronze Age Collapse, possibly caused by movements of people from Eastern and Central Europe. Illyrian raiders may have filtered down into the Meditteranean displacing other groups in Greece and Anatolia, causing widespread banditry.
Archaeology from the Balkans indicates a crisis prior to the Bronze Age Collapse
The formation and expansion of the Urnfield culture in Central Europe caused waves of migrants to travel down into the Mediterranean. This argument is supported by archaeology in the region,
Far from causing the Bronze Age Collapse, the Sea People were some of its victims. Loose confederations of pirates and raiders were forced into a life of crime due to the chaos of the Late Bronze Age. They represent no one nation or ethnic group, and no one cataclysmic event. A complex series of events in this period saw a sharp rise in opportunistic banditry.
The Sea People were pirates, they cannot be identified as an ethnic group.
The Sea People mentioned in the Egyptian sources consisted of roving bands of people from various places who turned to piracy. It is difficult to identify their ethnicity because they are not synonymous with any nation. Claims of their existence have been exaggerated by archaeologists.
The other causes of the Bronze Age Collapse created widespread piracy
The Bronze Age collapse can be attributed to climate change, famine, earthquakes, economic difficulties, internal military struggles, and banditry. The Sea people were likely raiders. They were victims of the collapse rather than its principle cause.
Changes in Late Bronze Age warfare led to extensive raiding
For most of the Bronze Age, warfare was fought by armies of charioteers funded by kings. New tactics made use of heavily armored infantrymen (the precursors of the Greek phalanx). This change gave a tactical advantage to small warbands and raiders, undermining the power of Bronze Age palatial kings.