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"Sea Peoples" up-to-date : new research on transformations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 13th-11th centuries BCE : proceedings of the ESF-Workshop held at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, 3-4 November 2014

Authors Peter M. Fischer
Teresa Bürge
ISBN 978-3-7001-7963-4
Publisher Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
Place of publication Wien
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Language en
Keywords Sea Peoples, Migration, end of Bronze Age, ESF workshop
Subject categories Archaeology


The editors of this volume but also scholars who participated in the workshop use the term ‘Sea Peoples phenomenon’ in a broader sense to include not only the ‘Peoples of the Sea/Islands’ as they are called in narratives. According to texts of the New Kingdom from the reigns of Merneptah and Ramesses III, and a letter from Ugarit (RS 34.129) these seafaring peoples are restricted to the designations Sherden-Shardana, Eqwesh and Tjekker-Shekelesh (Kitchen 1983: 104.13; id. 1982: 22.8; Bordreuil 1991: no. 12). Other groups of peoples included here are the Denyen-Danuna, Lukka, Karkisha, Teresh, Peleset-Philistines and Weshesh – as they are mentioned chronologically in Egyptian texts from the 18th to the 22nd Dynasties (see overview in Adams and Cohen 2013). Therefore, in this volume the Sea Peoples phenomenon should be considered an encompassing term, which – in addition to the written records on mainly hostile activities of various groups in the Eastern Mediterranean – is synonymous with the consequences of the ‘crisis years’, the period around 1200 BCE and most of the 12th century BCE, i.e. the last phase of the Late Bronze Age. Nevertheless, there are several authors of papers which are published in this volume who use the term ‘Sea Peoples’ in the same sense as our ‘Sea Peoples phenomenon’. The period of the advanced civilizations of the Late Bronze Age has rightly been termed the first era of ‘internationalism’. This ‘Golden Age’, which in the Eastern Mediterranean lasted from roughly the 16th to the 12th centuries BCE, is characterized by far-reaching intercultural connections involving large parts of today’s Europe, Egypt, the Near East and areas beyond. This highly developed and complex period ended in years of widespread crisis at the dawn of the Iron Age. It should, however, be highlighted that the outcomes of events, for instance upheaval and migration, which are generally accepted to have taken place at the outgoing Bronze Age, are not mirrored uniformly around the Eastern Mediterranean. This postulate is clearly reflected in the present volume. When studying literature dealing with the outgoing Bronze Age, it instantly becomes obvious that topics such as ‘migration’, ‘cultural and political changes’, ‘warfare’, ‘worsening climate’, ‘drought, famine and epidemics’, ‘absolute and relative chronology’, ‘cultural synchronization’, and their mutual interactions dominate the discussion. This was also the case during our workshop. In geographical terms, the Sea Peoples phenomenon is commonly associated with a quite vast area stretching from the Italian peninsula over the Balkans, the Aegean, Anatolia and Cyprus, to the Levant and Egypt. It can be concluded from the present volume that the workshop treated all these regions with the exception of the Balkans (although touched upon; e.g. Jung and Wiener in this volume), where in the future much more research has to be undertaken in order to bridge the area between the Italian peninsula and the Aegean. In the last two decades, research dealing with the Sea Peoples phenomenon has undergone a renaissance compared to the period between the 1960s and the 1990s when ‘any theory considering migrations and invasions in connection with the great upheavals of the Eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BCE was banished and avoided’ (as pointed out by S. Deger-Jalkotzy in the first introductory lecture; not published in this volume). The speaker rightly pointed to biased research, which started already in the 19th century, and highlighted publications of more or less well-founded hypotheses on the Sea Peoples (phenomenon). In the following period of renewed interest and research dealing with the Sea Peoples phenomenon and related subjects three major meetings took place in order to elucidate the riddle of the events at the end of the Late Bronze Age. One, entitled The Sea Peoples and Their World. A Reassessment, was held in Philadelphia in 1995 (ed. Oren 2000). This publication provided a good overview of the state of research on the Sea Peoples some 20 years ago. However, many problems remained unsolved and a number of hypotheses to be proved. Six years later, in 2001, another important workshop entitled The Philistines and Other ‘Sea Peoples’ in Text and Archaeology was organised in Israel (eds. Killebrew and Lehmann 2013). In the proceedings, which were published only shortly before Reflections on the Outcomes of the Workshop: Problems and Desiderata Peter M. Fischer and Teresa Bürge 12 Peter M. Fischer – Teresa Bürge our workshop, the editors emphasized the problem of the ‘unidirectional and overly simplistic interpretation of the Philistine phenomenon that has dominated scholarship during the twentieth century.’ We agree and recommend extending this statement to embrace not only the Philistines and their habitat in the Southern Levant but also the entire Sea Peoples phenomenon. In 2006 another meeting entitled Cyprus, the Sea Peoples and the Eastern Mediterranean was held in Toronto (ed. Harrison 2006–2007). This meeting concentrated on the ‘Sea Peoples’ in the Eastern Mediterranean with specific emphasis on Cyprus and the northern and southern Levant. Amongst the immense amount of literature on the Late Bronze to Iron Age transition in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond the volumes edited by Ward and Joukowsky (1992), Gitin et al. (1998), and Bachhuber and Roberts (2009) should also be mentioned. Other important monographs include, inter alia, those by Killebrew (2005), Yasur-Landau (2010) and most recently Cline (2014). Since then, new results from excavations and altered interpretations of previously excavated material and results have added to our knowledge. All this and the fact that in 2010 the convenor took over the excavations at the Cypriot key site of Hala Sultan Tekke, which flourished at the outgoing 13th and the first half of the 12th centuries BCE (Fischer and Bürge forthcoming), led to the idea of arranging the Vienna workshop. The Vienna workshop differs from the previous meetings in that it covered a wider geographical area with a more holistic approach. Below, the editors present and briefly discuss all the papers included in this volume and distributed amongst the five sections: Overviews: From Italy to the Levant (R. Jung; M. Wiener; H. Whittaker); Climate and Radiocarbon (D. Kaniewski and E. Van Campo; and S.W. Manning, C. Kearns and B. Lorentzen); Theoretical Approaches on Destruction, Migration and Transformation of Cultures (J.M. Millek; A. Yasur-Landau; A.M. Maeir and L.A. Hitchcock; and L. Rahmstorf); Case Studies: Cyprus, Cilicia and the Northern and Southern Levant (P.M. Fischer; A. Georgiou; G. Lehmann; D.J.W. Meijer; F.J. Núñez; A. Gilboa and I. Sharon; T. Bürge; and W. Zwickel); and Material Studies (P.A. Mountjoy; P.W. Stockhammer; M. Mehofer and R. Jung; and G.J. van Wijngaarden). References are only sporadically provided since they appear in each paper. Overviews: From Italy to the Levant As regards the presentation of the individual papers of this meeting, it should be helpful for the reader to start with two overviews, which summarize published research and which cover a vast geographic area: one is by R. Jung and the other by M.H. Wiener. A third paper by H. Whittaker is included in this section since it provides a synopsis on the situation in mainland Greece at the time of the destructions of the Mycenaean palaces and their aftermath. Jung presents the history of research approaches to clarify certain aspects of the Sea Peoples phenomenon: one is to geographically locate the Sea Peoples’ ethnonyms by means of references to contemporary and later written sources. In order to achieve this goal two research trends can be discerned: one is an ‘economicmodernist’ and the other deals with the methodology of migration studies. The advocates of the former are profoundly skeptical towards written and archaeological evidence for the movement of population groups but recent archaeological research in the Levant demonstrates ‘that the (tremendous) changes in material culture visible in these regions around and after 1200 BCE do not easily fit a predominantly economic explanation’ (Jung in this volume), on which we, the editors, certainly agree. The latter, i.e. migration studies, tests migration models against the archaeological evidence. There are various classes of material remains that can be connected to immigrating peoples. These include ceramic wares of Aegean type including kitchen ware, and handmade and burnished pottery. This handmade and burnished pottery originates from southern mainland Italy and more precisely from the so called Subapennine culture group of Recent Bronze Age date, but also from the central Balkans which, so far, has been found exclusively in Troy. There are, however, also local variants in some remote areas in central Greece. Much of this pottery, if not all in certain regions, is locally made from roughly around 1200 BCE and onwards. Other finds from the Eastern Mediterranean, which were mentioned by Jung in support of the migration hypothesis, are new types of bronzes, termed Urnfield bronzes or bronzes of the metallurgical koiné, for example, fibulae, Naue II swords and spearheads with cast sockets. Another group are ships of foreign design as they are depicted on Egyptian reliefs. The second part of his paper summarizes the state of research on the Sea Peoples phenomenon in various geographical regions. In the other overview, M.H. Wiener considers the evidence for and possible interactions between potential causes of collapse at the end of the Bronze Age. These include climate change, drought, famine, earthquakes, epidemics, the evidence for major preparations for attacks followed by destructions and abandonments, migrations, the nature and movements of the Sea Peoples, and the aftermath of the collapse and its implications, and the role of Mycenae before the palatial collapse. As regards climate change, a number of studies point to a period of extra-dry conditions around 3200 BP (e.g. Reflections on the Outcomes of the Workshop: Problems and Desiderata 13 Kaniewski and van Campo in this volume; Weiberg et al. 2016). No doubt a worsening climate can result in drought and famine and affect a weakened population by epidemics. Drought has also been proposed as a factor in the collapse of the Terramare Culture of centralnorthern Italy climaxing c. 1150 BCE based on several studies of changes in water levels and other indicia (e.g. Cardarelli 2010: 468–470). The post-1200 BCE abandonment of the Po Plain involving the dispersal of far more than 100,000 people requires thorough consideration. It is obvious that in already overextended and overexploited areas, minor climatological fluctuations even of limited duration could have had a major impact on economy and, ultimately, survival. It is not unlikely that warfare and migration followed the shortage or even total absence of essential foodstuffs. Wiener rightly points to a cumulative effect with a picture which can be portrayed as follows: food shortage leads to overuse of available land; to rebellions by troops, populace, or captives; or to the loss of legitimacy of rulers believed to have lost divine favour. Lethal epidemics can more easily establish themselves among populations in the wake of famine and malnutrition. As concluded from the archaeological evidence supported by contemporary texts, the movement of people mainly from north-west to south-east drastically increased and marked the end of the Bronze Age. Many sites in the Eastern Mediterranean suffer destructions during the 12th century BCE and were abandoned (see e.g. the situation in Cyprus, Fischer in this volume; as regards the Southern Levant see Millek in this volume; see also Cline 2014: 132–137). After the collapse of the Hittite empire, which includes the destruction and abandonment of major sites such as Hattusa, Alacahöyük, and Alişar, the Phrygians arrive from the Balkans (see references in Wiener this volume). Troy was destroyed c. 1200–1180 BCE, and when it is substantially reoccupied in the second half of the 12th century BCE new elements appear in the material culture. These include Knobbed Ware, Handmade Burnished Ware, and multi-cell architecture with orthostates, all with parallels in Thrace, the Balkans, and the Lower Danube region. Egyptian narratives mention attacks and destruction prior to the famous battle against invading ‘Sea Peoples’ who at the end could be defeated or at least brought to a halt in battles at the mouth of the Nile in 1186 BCE (Wiener presents a higher date than that suggested, for instance, by Cline, viz. 1177 BCE; Wiener 2014; Cline 2014). Based on decades of archaeological work in the field the editors agree with Wiener as regards migration which should be considered much more thoroughly than is often the case when interpreting primary material from excavations: usually, invaders leave very little trace in the archaeological record, which has been demonstrated time and again by more recent events in historical times. During the meeting the identity of various groups of the Sea Peoples has been discussed by several scholars. Some of these groups seem to have been professional pirates or mercenaries of mixed background. Amongst the latter were displaced Mycenaeans from mainland Greece (Wiener in this volume). Wiener argues with a papyrus from the British Museum which appears to show Mycenaeans fighting alongside Egyptians (Schofield and Parkinson 1994). In addition to traces of Mycenaeans in Cyprus, Minoans also seem to have been present there judging, for instance, from finds of standing horns of consecration from, for instance, Kition and Myrtou-Pigadhes, and from around 1200 BCE a structure at Hala Sultan Tekke with lead waterproofing and drainage and painted plaster resembling a lustral basin which resemble Minoan counterparts of older date (without the leaden sealing). In her paper H. Whittaker summarizes the situation in mainland Greece at the time when the palatial rule collapsed and describes the chaotic situation in its aftermath. According to Whittaker the present state of research seems to offer little evidence on the Greek mainland of the settlement of new groups of people in the post-destruction period. Again, the editors would like to refer to the observation that it is difficult to find traces of invaders in the archaeological record. It seems to be a common position amongst Aegean archaeologists that the Sea Peoples are considered as diverse groups of pirates who originated from outside the Aegean world. Eventually, Mycenaeans join them as the collapse of palatial rule resulted in them taking to the seas and contributing to the general confusion and violence that characterised the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age (e.g. Tartaron 2013: 64–65). Whittaker advances the hypothesis that if the Sea Peoples were responsible for the destructions that took place on the Greek mainland at the end of the Late Helladic IIIB period, they did not stay to found viable communities but moved on to other parts of the Mediterranean. The archaeological record of the Argolid implies that the consequences of the destructions were less severe there than at Pylos and in Messenia. It could be the case that – although they caused much damage on the Mycenaean centres – invaders were often repelled. We agree with Whittaker that a likely scenario could have been that some of the Mycenaean palatial elites were able to organise enough military resistance against the invaders to force them to move on. The archaeological remains of the Late Helladic IIIC period support this hypothesis. One of the reviewers of the proceedings of our meeting, who was selected by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, commented on some of the overviews that 14 Peter M. Fischer – Teresa Bürge they summarize ‘well-known’ evidence rather than presenting new solutions to old problems. We cannot agree with this remark because of the simple fact that all scholars dealing with research on this turbulent period in human history must be familiar with earlier research and hypotheses which these papers present in a condensed approach. In addition, the papers by Jung and Wiener in particular, provide readers with a vast bibliography based on which further studies can be undertaken and which can be utilised even by ‘specialists’ who are dealing with this topic but who are not specialised in all subjects nor greatly familiar with the evidence from geographical areas outside their expertise.

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