The Sea Peoples is the name given by modern scholarship to a group of allies who caused havoc among the nations of the Eastern Mediterranean including Egypt which they invaded at least twice in the 2nd millennium BC. The phrase ‘Sea Peoples’ was never used in any ancient accounts. The coining of the term in 1855 is now generally attributed to French Egyptologist, Emmanuel de Rougé who used the term peuples de la mer (literally “peoples of the sea”) in a description of reliefs at Medinet Habu. The phrase was later popularised by another French Egyptologist, Gaston Maspero (1846-1916). Eckart Kahlhofer has recently suggested that even earlier, J. F. Champollion (1790 –1832) employed an equivalent term gens navales to describe the occupants of the invading swan-necked boats. Just a few years after Maspero the German classical scholar, Wilhelm Christ, was probably the first to identify the invading Sea Peoples with the Atlanteans(p), predating Jürgen Spanuth’s theory by the better part of a century. Christ’s idea was also supported to varying degrees by Theodor Gomperz, Spyridon Marinatos, John V. Luce, and Herwig Görgemanns.
Cyprian Broodbank in The Making of the Middle Sea  argues that the Sea People “never actually existed as a single people. Instead small roving bands were a symptom of the collapse, not the cause, and they were blown out of proportion by Egyptian propagandists working for Ramasses III.” (ai)
The Sea Peoples’ exact origin continues to be a matter of intense speculation(ad). The debate regarding their true identity has been ongoing for a long time and will probably continue as long as the chronologies of the Middle East are not fully harmonised to the satisfaction of all. There is some agreement that the Sea Peoples mounted two separate invasion attempts on Egypt around 1208 & 1176 BC (Facchetti & Negri).
There is a claim that the Sea Peoples also attacked Mycenaean Greece on two occasions and that Athens survived both(ae). Contrast that with the contention that there was a Mycenaean group within the Sea Peoples. The confusion surrounding the Sea Peoples is exemplified by the response to a question on the quora.com website(af).
The earliest book devoted to the Sea Peoples, that I am aware of, was Immanuel Velikovsky’s Peoples of the Sea. However, Velikovsky was more concerned with revising the chronologies of the Middle East and so focused on dating the invasion of the Sea Peoples rather than identifying their origins.
The Oxford Companion to the Bible is certain that the Sea Peoples were originally Mycenaean, who moved south, following the collapse of their civilisation at the end of the Late Bronze Age. They were repelled by the Egyptians and then moved on to the Levant where they later became known as the Philistines. A paper(ab) that also links the Philistines with the Sea Peoples from a biblical perspective is available.
A more recent (2017) paper(aa) on a conservative website suggests that the Sea Peoples were ‘early Western Europeans’.
One website(h) describes the Sea People as groups of dispossessed raiders driven by hunger following crop failures resulting from climate change. The same idea is expanded on by Lu Paradise in an extensive article(v).
A different view was expressed by the Egyptologist Robert Anderson who commented “It would seem that, rather than bands of plunderers, the Sea People were probably part of a great migration of displaced people. The migration was most likely the result of widespread crop failures and famine.”(d)
Evidence is mounting that climate change played a significant part in the Late Bronze Age collapse of civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean region. In fact there is a school of thought that believes that the widespread societal disintegration was more the result of environmental factors rather than the depredations of the Sea Peoples(ag).
The Malagabay website published a lengthy article(t) in July 2016, offering evidence along with some conjecture, supporting the radical idea that the Sea Peoples had originated in India and having migrated westward, some of them reached the Aegean and became known as Dorians! The author of the article appears to have followed the ideas of Edward Pococke published in his India in Greece.
Bob Idjennaden along with co-author, Mebarek S. Taklit, have produced The Mysterious Sea Peoples attack Egypt, which provides an overview of the various incursions against Egypt during the 2nd millennium BC. The prominent part played by the Berbers in varying alliances that constituted the Sea Peoples is highlighted.
Eberhard Zangger argues that the Sea Peoples were survivors of the Trojan War that fled to various parts of both central and eastern Mediterranean(g). He has written further on this identification and more on the Luwian Studies website(s). Zangger claims that the Sea Peoples were an alliance of Libyans and Western Anatolian (Luwian) states(s)(y), which seems odd since Plato describes the Atlanteans as mightier than Libya and Asia combined. If Zangger is correct in identifying Troy as Atlantis, he is also implying that a part (Troy) is greater than the whole (Libya and Asia combined), Troy being part of Asia! Something is clearly wrong with his theory.
Jürgen Spanuth,not surprisingly, referred to them as the North Sea Peoplesand offered a range of evidence from Egyptian inscriptions at Medinet Habu to support this idea. This evidence includes a variety of features that Egyptians used to portray the Sea Peoples such as types of swords, shape of ships, shields and helmets as well as hair, clothing and shaving fashions. He then identified these Scandinavians as Atlanteans who later attacked Egypt. His opinion in this regard was strongly supported by Felix R. Paturi[1339.218]. Quite recently Spanuth’s ideas have also been echoed by Walter Baucum in his Bronze Age Atlantis.
Prior to the development of these Bronze Age seafarers there was a history of Northern Boat-peoples who gradually expanded globally after the last Ice Age. A paper by Andres Pääbo charts their story(k). Zach Zorich is a freelance journalist and contributing editor at Archaeology magazine. In January 2016 he wrote an article(r) that would seem to contradict the idea of Northern European ‘Sea People’ invading Egypt, for the simple reason that sailing boats were not developed in Scandinavia until around the time of the Vikings! – “The plankboats and logboats being built in northern Europe were not the most advanced watercraft of their time. The Greeks, Egyptians, and other cultures around the Mediterranean Sea used sailing ships to conduct trade, and sails wouldn’t be used in Northern Europe until the Iron Age, during the seventh or eighth century CE.”
Quite a number of writers have identified the Atlanteans as the Sea Peoples whose invasion of the Eastern Mediterranean has been recorded in some detail by the Egyptians. One such high profile identification in the 20th century was by Spyridon Marinatos.
One of the latest to join this school is Dr. Rainer W. Kühne,who not only makes the same identification, but using satellite images, he believes that he has pinpointed the capital of Atlantis in Southern Spain. His website has a list of comparisons of Atlanteans and Sea Peoples(a) which is worth consideration.
Erick Wright, a regular contributor to Atlantis Rising forums, has now concluded(b) that Atlantis was located in modern southern Turkey and that Atlanteans were among the Sea Peoples who attacked Egypt in 1200 BC.
Another Atlantis Rising forum(e)on the subject is also worth a look as is another illustrated site(f) which includes a map of the homelands of the Sea People.
According to Raffaele D’Amato & Andrea Salimbeti [1152.20], the Denyen were one of the major groups of the Sea Peoples and have been known in ancient sources by different names; Danai, Danaoi, Danaus, Danaids, Dene, Danaids, Danuna. Other have linked them with the Danaan of Irish mythology. Velikovsky has an interesting footnote in his Peoples of the Sea [758.4], which reads; “When Ramses III speaks of ‘Peoples of the Sea’ he specifies the Tkeker, the Shekelesh, the Teresh, the Weshesh and the Sherden (or Sardan) ; he specifies the Denyen as ‘Peoples of the Isles.'”
In his book, The Luwian Civilisation [1217.20], Zangger makes the interesting point that “Sea Peoples with feather crowns bear the name Tekker, which is reminiscent of ‘Teucer’, a term commonly used for the Trojans after 1200 BCE.”
The Tuatha de Danaan invaded Ireland in prehistoric times. Having noted that Dan/Don/Danu were ancient words for water, it is not such a wild supposition that the Tuatha de Danaan were at least a constituent part of the Sea Peoples, an idea promoted by Leonardo Melis. On the other hand Egerton Sykes was of the opinion that the Tuatha de Danaan were refugees from Atlantis, an idea he expressed in his 1949 edition of Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis. He was convinced that Murias one of the legendary cities of the de Danann had been located in Bimini. This is highly speculative idea has failed to bear fruit as have all efforts to identify the location of the other three cities, Falias, Finias and Gorias.
Eric Cline has noted that the only member of the Sea Peoples alliance whose identity has been ‘firmly established’ is that of the Peleset who are accepted as Philistines. He also comments that identifying the Shekelesh with Sicily and the Shardana with Sardinia is based in part on the ‘consonantal similarities’[p.4].
Joseph Morris in his thesis(m) presented to the Classics Department of Florida State University in 2006 defined the Sea Peoples as “a coalition consisting of the indigenous populations of Syria-Palestine led by the neo-Hittite states.”
Federico Bardanzellu offers a number of papers on his Museo dei Dolmen website(n) in which he suggests specific homelands for many of the members of the alliance(o).
Another unexpected twist is the claim, by the discoverer of the Phaistos Disk, Luigi Pernier, that the characters used on the Disk are similar to the representations of the Sea Peoples at Medinet Habu.
Also related to the carvings at Medinet Habu is an interesting study of the Sea Peoples’ ships depicted there, by the nautical archaeologist Professor Shelley Wachsmann(aj), who also offers evidence that at least some Mycenaeans were involved with the Sea Peoples(ak). Salimbetti’s website has a lengthy paper on Aegean Bronze Age ships(al) as well as the Sea Peoples(am) .
Another site(an) also describes the various ships of the period used by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Sea Peoples. One unusual suggestion on the same site is that some of the Sea Peoples, although allied with groups from across the Mediterranean, came from Britain and Northern Europe(ao)!
The most radical suggestion regarding the Sea Peoples has come from Jim Allen who has drawn attention to the similarity of their headgear with that of Amazonian ‘Indians’(c).
Speculation regarding the identity of individual tribes in the federation can be found on a number of websites(i)(j). One of the most comprehensive is provided by two Italians military historians, D’Amato & Salimbeti in a 2015 booklet and on the internet(l) and both are to be highly recommended. They highlight the complexities involved in definitively identifying the members of the varying alliances that were loosely described as the ‘Sea Peoples’ over a three hundred year period.
Trude & Moshe Dothan have added another valuable book to the Sea Peoples literature with their People of the Sea, which has the interesting sub-title of The Search for the Philistines. Related to their work, is the result of recent excavations at Ashkelon, an important Philistine city, which suggests that the city had received migrants from southern Europe during the Bronze Age, who may have constituted a component of the Sea Peoples(ah). Clearly further investigation wll be required to confirm these indications.
An extensive review of all the available material relating to the Sea Peoples was also published online in October 2015(q). The MalagaBay website has also a wide-ranging illustrated article(u) about the Sea Peoples, although without reaching any firm conclusions.
The most recent addition to our knowledge of the Sea Peoples appears to be imminent with the publication of a paper in the December 2017 issue of the journal Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society. Written by Frederik Woudhuizen and Eberhard Zangger, the authors offer a translation of a 3200-year-old inscription That may refer to the Sea Peoples and linking them with western Turkey. You can read more, now, on the Livescience website(z) . In a 2006 paper(ac), The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples, Woudhuizen included some groups from the Central Mediterranean as part of the Sea Peoples.
There is an extensive bibliography of books and papers relating to the ‘Philistines and other Sea Peoples’ available online. (last updated 16.09.19)(ap)
*(i) See: Archive 2813 *
(k) See: Archive 2337 All Three Parts
(p) Abhandlungen der bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vol. XVII, 2nd part, Munich 1886, pp. 451-512. (German)
(q) See Archive 2759
(aa) See Archive 3429
(ai) https://www.reddit.com/r/history/comments/c3fm5j/who_were_the_mysterious_sea_people_during_the/ (halfway down page)
Also see: Shardana
The Phaistos Disk is the most famous ancient artefact ever found on Crete and as Axel Hausmann says, can be considered the world’s oldest ‘printed’ document, dated to around 1700 BC. This is because the characters were created using incised punches, similar in effect to movable type.
Noting that this ‘document’ was produced using some sort of character ‘punches’, brings to my mind three questions – (1) were these the only set of punches created? And (2) have any other objects been discovered that show a similar use of punches? And (3) if not why not? These questions prompted some to claim that the Disk was a hoax! (See below)
Another artefact with characteristics remarkably similar to the Phaistos Disk, is the inscribed Magliano Disk, made of lead, which was discovered in Magliano, Tuscany in the 1889’s(ac) . However, the two discs were very far apart in time and location and so similarities are just superficial. Like the Phaistos Disc, the one from Magliano has also presented translation problems as the Etruscan script in which it is written is still only partly decipherable.
It was discovered around a hundred years ago by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier (1874-1937) and despite an amazing number of efforts(a) it has defied a definitive decipherment ever since. The interpretations so far have ranged from it being a prayer to a description of the eruption of Thera, while one writer in a light-headed moment went as far as to suggest that it might hold a message from extraterrestrials!
One of the most fascinating suggestions is that the disk was in fact a board game based on an ancient Egyptian game called Senet(b)(o), which was proposed by Peter Aleff, an explanation later supported by Philip Coppens. However, it seems that this idea was first proposed by Fernand Crombette at least half a century ago(r).
Alan Butler, who has written a book on the subject, provides a more conventional offering in which he sees the disk as being primarily an astronomical aid. Rosario Vieni has promoted the idea that the disk had a calendrical use and has published his reasons, in French, on the Internet(c). Paul Dunbavin has also suggested that the disk may have been a spiral calendar[099.181].
Naturally, Atlantis has not been excluded from this wide ranging Phaistos speculation, although the linking of the disk with Atlantis is tenuous at best. Jean Louis Pagé has produced a bilingual offering that combines the Phaistos, Mayan and Aztec disks in an effort to locate Atlantis. Axel Hausmann, writing in German, has also done little to provide a clear connection between Atlantis and the disk.
Christian O’Brien and his wife Barbara Joy,in an appendix to their book The Genius of the Few, have identified the writing on the disk as an early form of Sumerian cuneiform writing.
The disk is housed in the Iraklion Archaeological Museum which is also home to the Akralochori Axe also found on Crete in 1934 by Spyridon Marinatos, that was inscribed with 15 characters that have been identified with the Linear A script as well as some of the Phaistos characters(e).
Brent Davis is one of the world’s leading experts on Bronze Age Aegean scripts and languages. In 2018, he published an article “in which, based on a close statistical analysis, shows that the while both the Phaistos Disc and Linear A are undeciphered writing systems, he can demonstrate that the both are, with a high degree of certainty, encode the same language!”(ad)
Two American academic twins, Keith and Kevin Massey, have made available a 72-page pdf file(k) outlining their interpretation of the disk. They concluded that the disk was probably a receipt for goods deposited in a temple.
2008 was a busy year for Phaistos Disk studies. Panagiotes D. Gregoriades delivered three papers to the Atlantis Conference in Athens in which he identified the disk as a calendrical devise used on land and sea. He subsequently published his ideas in book form in 2010 entitled The Creation of Prototypes. In 2008 a major international Phaistos Disk Conference was held in London(h) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its discovery.
Unfortunately, in 1999 a professional ‘wet blanket’ in the form of Dr. Jerome Eisenberg declared the disk to be a fake, when he wrote to The Economist declaring that the disk “a joke perpetrated by a clever archaeologist from the Italian mission to Crete upon his fellow excavators.” He expanded on this in a detailed, fully illustrated paper(z) in 2008. Brian E. Colless responded by pointing out(d) that such a hoax would first have required the “making 45 little stamps to imprint on clay, on both sides of the object, and printing 30 clusters of signs (words or phrases ?) on one side and 31 on the other.”
The Greek authorities have refused to allow the disk, which is just 16cm across, to be removed for testing, on the grounds of its extreme fragility. The idea of fraud has been suggested because of the lack of other documents ‘printed’ in the same manner and because none of the punches were ever found. Fortunately that argument has now been refuted(u). My own response would be to point out that uniqueness is not necessarily a sign of a hoax. Otherwise, we would have to reject the Antikythera Mechanism, which is also a singular item with no objects of any intermediate sophistication discovered so far.
Dr. Marco Guido Corsini, who has also written about Atlantis, has widely promoted his interpretation of the Phaistos Disk(o).
Mark Newbrook, who has studied linguistics, gave a good overview of the various attempts to decipher the disk to the 2008 Phaistos Conference. An even more extensive site (currently suspended) was offered by the Georgian mathematician Gia Kvashilavathat includes a very comprehensive bibliography. Kvashilava offers his own interpretation based on the Colchian (Proto-Kartvelian) language printed in the unique Colchian syllabo-logogramic Goldscript. His paper is quite technical and more suited to advanced students of the subject.
Reinoud de Jong has now entered this particular fray with a decipherment that he claims offers a description of the religion of Crete(i).*However, this is rather strange as in a 2012 paper(ae), de Jonge claimed that the Disk contains details of the Bronze Age importation of copper and tin from the Americas. In the same paper he also claimed that the Egyptians discovered America around 2500 BC and for good measure he slips in that the Empire of Atlantis existed from 2500 to 1200 BC, without any reference or explanation whatsoever! It is implied that there is a connection between Egypt, Atlantis and the exploitation of the Michigan copper. The level of detailed speculation on offer here is truly spectacular.*
By way of complete contrast, Gary Vey claims that the disk is merely some sort of inventory and also gives an overview of the difficulties attached to deciphering the disk as well as some interesting features overlooked by some researchers(j).
The Czech WM magazine has an extensive 2011 article on the decipherment of the Phaistos Disk(p), giving prominence to the work of Petr Kovar, who claims that the language is Proto-Slavic!(y)
Stephen E. Franklin has claimed that the Disk is a king-list of Cretan rulers and also that it had a calendrical function(ab).
Barbara Gagliano raised a few eyebrows with her claim that the Disk contained DNA information(q)!
Late 2014 saw another translation attempt published(s) by Dr. Gareth Owens of the Technological Educational Institute of Crete, in which he claimed that the disk “contains a prayer to the mother goddess of the Minoan era.” Owens’ contribution provoked further controversy including further suggestions that the Disk might be a fake(t).
Linear B was the basis of Owens’ study, which was the result of a collaboration with John Coleman in Oxford University. They claim to have translated 80% of the text with certainty, along with another possible 15%, leaving just 5% undeciphered.(w)
Robert Bradford Lewis has offered a recent forensic study of the Disk, based on his view that the language used was Ugaritic, an long extinct Semitic tongue.(y) However, while the language may be Ugaritic, the script is not!
The number of theories relating to the Disk seems to rival the range of speculation relating to Atlantis. My selection here can be fruitfully augmented by the Wikipedia entry(x) on the subject.
A list of decipherment claims as well as a useful bibliography up to 2008 is available(y) and Charles River Editors has recently (2018) published two Kindle books offering more information about the many attempts to solve the mystery of the disk.
(o) http://www.phaistosgame.com/ (3 papers)