Sea Peoples in Egypt: Origin & Overview

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we will explore the Sea Peoples in Egypt. Though we know they were a nebulous alliance of cultures that attempted to invade Egypt in the early twelfth and late thirteenth centuries, little is known of their origins or identities.

Moving Day

Think about all of the reasons you have moved in your life. Perhaps your Dad got a new job, or maybe you just don't like cold weather and decided to move south. If you have always rented rather than owned your house, chances are you have moved quite a few times.

In the ancient world, people seldom moved great distances; ancient people could not simply load all of their possessions up into a moving van and drive down the interstate a few hundred miles. Massive migrations did occur, however, but often because of extenuating - often life-altering - circumstances. Just such a massive migration brought the Egyptian dynasty under attack in the thirteenth century B.C. from invading foreign cultures - the mysterious Sea Peoples.

Origin of the Sea Peoples

Calling the Sea Peoples 'mysterious' is apt because, even today, historians are not quite sure exactly who they were or where they came from. It is likely the Sea Peoples were fleeing their homelands and looking for more fertile agricultural land after several decades of catastrophic harvests along the northern and eastern Mediterranean in the late thirteenth and early twelfth centuries B.C. The Sea Peoples left no writings or accounts of their interactions with the Egyptians, and they are only mentioned in the writings of other civilizations, such as in Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah's Great Karnak Inscription.

Several different cultures were all described generally as the Sea Peoples, and historians have been able to theorize where each culture may have come from based on descriptions by Egyptian sources. It is likely that the Ekwesh were Greeks, and that the Shekelesh were from the island of Sicily. Tribes such as the Teresh and Lukka are commonly assumed to have been from the northern part of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), while the Peleset have often been identified with the biblical tribe known as the Philistines. While these identifications represent the current historical consensus, they should be taken with a fair amount of caution; historians are still arguing over the exact origin of the Sea Peoples.

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