Were the Sea People?
Through the epics of
the Greek poet Homer, tales of an "age of heroes" have been passed
down through millennia. In The Odyssey and The Iliad the poet told
of an era dominated by aristocratic warlords who bore ornamented weapons and
commanded well-organized, armoured chariot troops. This "golden age"
culminated in the legendary Trojan War, fought between Troy, located in what is
now north-western Turkey, and Mycenaean Greece.
Homer himself, however, lived four centuries after the Trojan
War, in a time when the communities around the Aegean were populated by little
more than farmers and shepherds. The tools of the day were not finely-wrought
gold nor silver nor bronze, but crudely forged of iron. Nevertheless, Greeks of
Homer's time—the eighth century BC—were surrounded by powerful reminders of
a more magnificent, more prosperous past. Mighty walls, some more than seven
meters (22') thick, built of boulders two meters in diameter, jutted out of the
soil in some places. Every now and then, a collapsed grave would reveal
treasures of gold jewellery, silver vessels, beautifully painted pottery and
Since the Middle Ages, however, Homer's historical accuracy
has been in question. It was not until late in the last century that archaeological
excavations around the Mediterranean began to show that Homer had indeed drawn,
at least in part, on real events.
Today, we know that many sophisticated feudal societies ruled
the lands around the eastern Mediterranean between 1700 and 1200 BC, the Late
Bronze Age. The interior of Anatolia— now part of modern Turkey—was
controlled by the centrally organized Hittite state, whose Great King resided in
Hattusa near the Kizilirmak (Red River) (See Aramco World, September-October 1994). It
was also in this era that in Egypt, the pharaohs of the New Kingdom began
construction of the famous temples at Luxor, Karnak and Abu Simbel. In Greece,
small yet rich and influential kingdoms made up the Mycenaean civilization,
which we have named after its most famous archaeological site, Mycenae. Likewise,
Syria and Palestine were the home of numerous states ruled by aristocrats and
At times these states of diverse sizes and powers were allied
to one another, and at other times they fought. In most, the political system
was characterized by a palace administration supported by the relatively new
development of writing. In nearly all, autocratic rulers oversaw professional
armies and carried out the exploitation of economic opportunities at home and
abroad. Most had well-developed social hierarchies in which specialized
professions produced goods of extraordinary quality. This stimulated
far-reaching international trade throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
Modern excavations in the eastern Mediterranean region have
also provided evidence of the sudden, violent demise of these otherwise thriving
civilizations of the Late Bronze Age. Within a few years—or decades, at the
most—some of these nations collapsed completely, with the large and powerful
Hittite state in central Anatolia disappearing most suddenly of all. From Troy
in the northwest, to Ugarit on the coast of Syria, and southwest to the Nile
Delta, unidentified attackers razed and burned international trade centers and
port cities. After the assaults, most of the shattered cities were either
abandoned or rebuilt only on an insignificant scale. All across the eastern
Mediterranean, civilizations that had been shaped by aristocrats became
societies of herdsmen and shepherds. When the fighting was over, entire
languages and scripts had vanished.
This sudden collapse is one of the most dramatic events in the
early history of the Mediterranean, and many archaeological mysteries surround
it. First, there is the Homeric account of the Trojan War, which would have to
be placed within this time of crisis if one accepts that The Odyssey and
Iliad contain at least a kernel of historic truth. The second group of
events that connects logically with this historical turning point is the
invasions of the so-called "Sea People." Coming, it seems, out of
nowhere and lacking any obvious motive, it was these united clans that so
successfully attacked throughout the region. Despite numerous scholarly attempts
to identify them, we still do not know exactly who the Sea People were, where
they came from, why they attacked, and, finally, where they disappeared after
their raids. Scholars are even uncertain whether the Sea People's existence was
a cause or an effect of the political collapses. Were the Sea People conquerors,
pirates, deserters, or refugees?
Our knowledge of the Sea People's raids rests on texts from
Anatolia, Syria and Egypt. The name "Sea People" is, however, a modern
expression introduced in 1881 by the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero. The
Egyptian inscriptions themselves usually refer to the names of the individual
attacking tribes, who are said to have come "from the midst of the
sea" or "from the islands." What we are calling "Sea
People" were clearly separate states or tribes who had formed a military
alliance to attack the Near East and Egypt.
The reliefs depicting the attacks of the Sea People, carved on
the walls of the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramses III in Medinat Habu,
near present-day Luxor, are also the earliest known illustrations of naval
battle scenes. From these walls we know—at least approximately—what the Sea
People looked like, how they dressed, what kinds of weapons they used, and what
kinds of ships they sailed. We even know some of their names. But to learn
anything of their motives we have to examine the historical context of their
According to the inscriptions, the Sea People first appeared
in about 1208 BC, the fifth year of the reign of Pharaoh Merenptah. At this
time, Egypt was facing attacks by Libya, its archenemy to the west, which was
approaching the frontier accompanied by a number of allies described as
"northerners." On the famous Victory Stela, found in 1896 at the
Temple of Merenptah in Thebes, Merenptah declared he had overwhelmed the enemy,
and provided a list of the allies of Libya, whom we now refer to collectively as
the Sea People: Shardana, Lukka, Meshwesh, Teresh, Ekwesh and Shekelesh. Most of
these tribes apparently came from the Aegean, and we do not know why they fought
on the side of Libya. Nor can we be sure Merenptah's claim to have overpowered
them is fully justified because, after this battle, Egypt's domestic affairs
gradually degenerated nearly to the point of civil war. Possibly because Egypt
was so preoccupied with its internal problems that it failed to fulfill its
treaty obligations to come to Hatti's aid, it managed to survive relatively
unharmed the upheavals that took place shortly thereafter all around the eastern
Thirty years after Merenptah's encounter with the Sea People,
around 1177 BC, Pharaoh Ramses in ordered the construction of his own mortuary
temple and residence in Thebes, on whose walls architects and scribes recalled
the dramatic events of the preceding decades. According to those inscriptions,
the Sea People had returned, this time to attack Mediterranean shores from
Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria and Palestine to Lower Egypt. The inscription reads:
As for the foreign countries, they made a conspiracy in
their islands. All at once the lands were on the move, scattered in war; no
country could stand before their arms. Hatti, Kizzuwatna, Carchemish, Arzawa
and Alasiya were cut off. A camp was set up in one place in Amurru; they
desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into
being. They were advancing on Egypt while the flame was prepared before them.
Their league was Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, united lands.
They laid their hands upon the lands to the very circuit of the earth, their
hearts confident and trusting: "Our plans will succeed!"
But Ramses and his troops defeated the invaders. When the
vanquished pleaded for mercy, the pharaoh allowed them to settle on his soil:
I slew the Denyen in their isles; the Tjeker and the Peleset
were made ashes. The Shardana and the Weshesh of the sea, they were made as
those that exist not, taken captive at one time, brought as captives to Egypt
like the sand of the shore. I settled them in strongholds bound in my name.
Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in
clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries, each year.
Such Egyptian inscriptions, however, have to be taken with a
grain of salt. Neither the scribe's intentions nor his instructions required him
to report historical truth; for him, the laws of symmetry, aesthetics and
religion had priority over factual accuracy. Egyptian regnal accounts often
begin with the state of disarray prevailing in the country until the pharaoh
whose reign is being described appears to re-establish order—that was, after
all, the function of kingship. Yet, the widespread destruction all around the
eastern Mediterranean, and many contemporary documents from Ugarit and Hattusa
reporting similar onslaughts by mysterious attackers, confirm the gist of the
Medinat Habu inscriptions.
At the time of the Sea People's second raid on Egypt, most
areas mentioned in the Medinat Habu inscriptions were either occupied by or
allied to the Hittite kingdom in central Anatolia. Hence, the purpose of the
raids may well have been to weaken the Great King of Hatti from his periphery,
by attacking his allies. From royal correspondence from Ugarit and Cyprus, it
appears that the combined fleets of the Sea People massed off the southwestern
tip of the Anatolian peninsula, from where they first attacked the western coast
Battles directly between the Sea People and Hittite troops may
also have taken place on the Anatolian mainland, however, because extant clay
tablets inscribed with diplomatic notes show how the Great King of Hatti had to
turn to his vassals at the port city of Ugarit, in northern Syria, to demand
additional troops and food.
But by then, Ugarit itself was threatened by the Sea People.
Desperately seeking support in his turn, the adolescent king of Ugarit wrote to
his royal colleague on Cyprus:
The enemy ships are already here. They have set fire to my
towns and have done very great damage in the country.... Did you not know that
all my troops were stationed in the Hittite country, and that all my ships are
still stationed in Lycia and have not yet returned? The country is thus
abandoned to itself.... Consider this, my father, there are seven enemy ships
that have come and done very great damage. Now, if there are more enemy ships,
let me know about them so that I can decide what to do.
This letter never left Ugarit. Archaeologists found it there in
a kiln, where it was supposed to be fired before the courier departed with it.
At the peak of its economic and cultural success, and showing no signs of decay,
Ugarit was wiped out and was never resettled again.
The pressure on the Great King of Hatti increased further. His
scribes wrote one more text illustrating the Sea People's assaults and what
turned out to be a successful Hittite counterattack:
I called up arms and soon reached the sea—I, Suppiluliuma,
the Great King—and with me ships of Alasiya joined battle in the midst of
the sea. I destroyed them, catching them and burning them down at sea.
Soon thereafter, however, enemy forces indeed reached the
Hittite capital of Hattusa. It is doubtful that they were Sea People forces; and
in fact their identity is still uncertain. There may have been internal strife
in Hatti, for an inscribed bronze plate found in 1986 indicates that two members
of the royal family had competed for the throne. Most scholars, however, accept
that a path of destruction leads out of the northeast into Hattusa, meaning that
the city was most likely destroyed by the Kashka, its neighbour and bitter enemy
of several centuries' standing. The Kashka had already destroyed the Hittite
capital on one occasion and forced the king to move temporarily; this time, they
annihilated the 600-year-old civilization.
A similar pattern of destruction appears in most of the cities
attacked by the Sea People. By targeting government buildings, palaces and
temples while leaving the residential areas and countryside mostly unharmed, the
attackers aimed at the control centers of the aristocratic rulership. This
tactic foreshadows the strategy of today's warfare, and is one of the earliest
known examples of it. Concentrating attacks on such centers, the Sea People must
have realized, preserves strength and shortens the war.
After Hattusa and Ugarit, many other cities in Anatolia, Syria
and Palestine fell to the invaders. The Sea People continued their sweep to the
south until they met the Egyptian army.
This generally accepted outline of the Sea People's incursions
leaves many of its most significant questions unanswered. We still do not know
either the origins or the motives of the Sea People. It is also hard to
understand why they did not attempt to permanently subdue the countries they
overwhelmed. Finally, virtually nothing is known about the fate of the Sea
People themselves following these crisis years.
Now that there is a wealth of highly specific information in
hand from numerous excavations and text sources relevant to those years,
scholars have become more and more inclined to think that the time has come to
begin solving some of these riddles. Although a search for a unifying
explanation began some time ago, and academic conferences abound on the crisis
years, the Sea People, and the Trojan War, there has still been little progress
toward a plausible explanation for this watershed in history. Some archaeologists
suggested that the Sea People may have been invaders from central Europe. Others
saw them as scattered soldiers who turned to piracy, or who had become refugees.
For a long time, researchers sought to explain the transformations around 1200
BC by invoking natural disasters such as earthquakes or climatic shifts, but
earthquakes on such a broad geographic scale are unheard of, and no field
evidence has indicated significant climatic change. Currently, very few—if
any—archaeologists would consider the Sea People to have been identified.
I stumbled on these problems, mostly by accident, in an
unlikely place. In the spring of 1990, I was writing up the conclusions of my
dissertation research, which had involved several years of investigation in the
Mycenaean heartland, searching out clues to determine what the landscape of the
Bronze Age had been. The work had little to do with the Sea People.
Studying numerous earth cores taken by hand augers and power
drills, I had discovered that parts of the lower town of Tiryns, one of the
Greek citadels from the era of the Trojan War, had been buried under several
meters of mud deposited by a flash flood that had occurred around 1200 BC. This
catastrophe coincided with an earthquake, for which evidence was found in the archaeological
record of the Tiryns citadel. Both of these events occurred
shortly after 1200 BC, precisely at the time when the Mycenaean civilization
When summarizing these conclusions, I remembered that
earthquakes, floods, and the demise of a brilliant culture are also mentioned in
Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias . When I turned to reread
these, I noticed that the philosopher's story may well represent yet another
account—thus far unrecognized—of the events of the crisis years. Plato
describes two prehistoric civilizations that possessed bronze weapons, chariots
and writing, and he describes how a devastating war broke out between them.
Those facts, and numerous additional elements of the account, have much in
common with the Trojan War: Plato mentions a navy of 1200 ships; Homer, adding
up the vessels of the united Greek army, reached a total of 1186 ships. Both
Plato and Homer described the opposing armies as consisting of many allies. Both
also allude to severe internal problems in the Greek camp, and both relate how
the attacking Greek contingents, in the end, overwhelmed the defenders.
If applied to the Trojan War, however, Plato's account would
attribute far more political, economic and military power to Troy and its allies
in western Anatolia than anyone has yet credited them with. Yet, if Troy is
understood to be an equal opponent of the united Greek army, then the
traditional, Homeric account of the Trojan War becomes far more plausible.
According to Homer, it took 100,000 Mycenaean soldiers a decade of siege to
subdue Troy, a city that has thus far been believed to have been the size of a
modern athletic field.
An even more novel idea that emerged from this reading of
Plato's account, however, was that it may have been Troy and its allies that in
fact triggered the conflicts at the end of the Bronze Age. Plato's source, an
Egyptian priest, says:
So this host, being all gathered together, once made an
attempt to enslave by one single onslaught both your country [Greece] and ours
[Egypt], and the whole of the territory within the Straits.
This passage would argue that Troy and its allies were in fact
the aggressors who brought on the crisis. At the same time, the passage is
reminiscent of the Sea People accounts at Medinat Habu. Thus I considered a
hypothesis based on simple equivalence: The Sea People may well have been
Troy and its confederated allies, and the literary tradition of the Trojan War
may well reflect the Greek effort to counter those raids.
From this new perspective, I realized that archaeology possesses several texts that indeed describe a coalition of Late Bronze Age
states in western Anatolia that appears to have played a decisive role during
the transformations around 1200 BC. Homer, for instance, lists contingents on
the Trojan side in The Iliad, saying that Troy's allies came from all
along the Aegean east coast between Thrace in the north and Lycia in the south.
This coastal strip, including its offshore islands, coincides with the geography
of what many scholars think may represent the homeland of the Sea People.
The same kind of alliance is also mentioned in several
unambiguous cuneiform tablets from Hattusa. According to these documents, 22
states in western Anatolia formed a coalition against the Hittites as early as
the 15th century BC. Other documents provide evidence that such a coalition was
forming for a second time a few years before the Hittite state vanished. In a
letter to his wife, the Great King of Hatti describes how states to the west
were rallying against him, and says that it would be difficult to keep the
situation under control if they succeeded. Some texts from Hattusa also show
that Hatti felt increasingly threatened by one particular neighbour in the west
called Ahhiyawa, a country that many scholars locate in north-western Turkey and
which thus may be Troy itself.
To take stock of the mysteries surrounding western Anatolian
states at the end of the Bronze Age, we can outline today's knowledge in the
Seven of the known Late Bronze Age civilizations had all of
the following attributes: a geographical region or realm, a people, at least one
substantial city, a script and a contemporary name. However, in each of these
categories we find one isolated entry that is somehow related to western
Anatolia, but is considered mysterious or inexplicable within the parameters of
There is, first of all, the problem of Troy, one of the most
formidable archaeological sites in the world, whose inhabitants, realm, script
and language, and contemporary name—as well as its history and fate—remain
obscure despite more than 120 years of excavation and research. There are also
the Sea People, whose city, realm, script and language and name are unknown:
They came from nowhere and then vanished. There are the many references to
Assuwa, Asiya, Ahiya and Ahhiyawa, states or confederations of states in western
Anatolia, which played an important role in contemporary documents from Egypt
and Hattusa, but whose city or cities, people, language and script are unknown.
And finally there is the Discos of Phaistos, a unique—some would also say
notorious—document, discovered on Crete in 1908, whose spiral inscription,
using 45 different symbols, is inscribed on a clay disc 16 centimeters (6¼")
across. Although the origin and importance of this artifact are fiercely
disputed, its discoverer, Italian archeologist Luigi Pernier, claimed parallels
between the characters used in the Discos script and images of the Sea People
from the Medinat Habu inscriptions. Indeed, the latest attempt by scholars to
decipher the Discos even bears the title "The Language of the Sea
People," but the city, people, realm, language and name to be associated
with the Discos are all unknown.
Combining all these incomplete entries into one row in our
table would produce all the attributes of a complete civilization in western
Anatolia. We even possess a contemporary name for such a civilization, as "Assuwa"
was the term used to describe the confederated states, of which Ahhiyawa seems
to have been the most important constituent. If these deductions prove correct,
archeological scholarship has overlooked an entire, and important, Bronze Age
In a practical sense, the possibility that western Anatolia
hosted a civilization equal—or in some respects even superior—to those of
Mycenaean Greece and Minoan Crete is quite plausible. The Aegean shore of
Anatolia contains countless natural harbors and advantageous places for
settlement. The interior offers an abundance of natural resources including
ores, timber and water, while the coastal maritime route has been of strategic
and economic importance for millennia. Despite ample evidence that it was
well-inhabited during the Late Bronze Age, and despite archeological evidence
from Troy and Beycesultan that indicates these Anatolian societies may well have
been sophisticated enough for them to rank with Greece and Crete, the thought
has simply never been entertained in archeological circles. Why not?
Two characteristics of Old World archeological research
methods illuminate how this may have occurred. Building on foundations in art
history and philology, today's archeology tends to concentrate on the study of
architectural monuments, artifacts and documents. This tendency rests on the
implicit assumption that most of the relevant aspects of any ancient culture
will indeed be recorded in these remains. But the approach puts any civilization
whose people built with perishable mud-brick and wood, instead of with stone, at
a serious disadvantage, for the remains of their structures will not survive.
Similarly, when a civilization has traded in metal, cloth, timber, grain,
leather, cattle or horses, slaves and other perishable goods rather than in
pottery, the evidence of that activity will not survive the centuries. And if
this civilization, in addition, used papyrus, wax or leather, rather than stone
or clay, to write on, then its people may become almost invisible to archaeological
Furthermore, the art-historical emphasis in archaeology tends
to highlight research that deals with concrete artefacts rather than the
reconstruction of past political, economic and military relations—precisely
the matters in which the Late Bronze Age Anatolian states seem to have excelled.
Hence, by excavating standing monuments and artefact-rich sites, European archaeology
itself may have contributed to a slanted picture of antiquity.
The second characteristic goes back to the birth of scientific
archaeology in 19th-century Europe. The founders of the discipline had absorbed
the Enlightenment belief that classical Greece and Rome were superior to the
cultures of modern times. Also, both 19th-century Europe and Greece of the
fourth century BC were engaged in conflicts with Anatolian powers: The Ottoman
Empire's interests conflicted with those of European powers in much the same way
that Troy's conflicted with Mycenae and, later, Persia's with classical Greece.
As the culture of antiquity was presented as the model for modern culture in
Europe, the antipathies born in Greece of the fourth century BC were also
readopted and reinforced. All these conflicts—contemporary and
historical—caused considerable anti-Anatolian sentiment.
Early archaeology, as a strictly European discipline,
unavoidably took up these attitudes. Johann Winckelmann, widely considered the
founder of art history, regarded the ancient Greeks as "equal to the
gods," while their contemporaries abroad were "barbarians."
Later, the European university system institutionalized such attitudes through
the omnipresence of ancient Greek sculpture and architecture in European
institutions of higher learning.
As a result, ancient Greece was, and to a considerable extent
still is, considered the cradle of Western culture, despite clear indications
that several of its achievements—agriculture, metallurgy and elements of
sophisticated architecture—actually came to Greece from Anatolia.
If we can clear our minds of these inherited assumptions, we
find that the fall of the Late Bronze Age civilizations can indeed be plausibly
Early in the 14th century BC, as the power of the Minoan
civilization on Crete dwindled, the many small kingdoms on the Greek and
Anatolian sides of the Aegean took advantage of the vacuum. The Greek Mycenaean
kings adopted the system of a palace-administered society from the Minoans, and
gradually took over Cretan trade routes. Troy achieved sole control of some
islands in the eastern Aegean and of the important maritime trade route through
the Dardanelles to the Black Sea. It also assumed many of Crete's functions in
the metals trade. Thus both the Mycenaean and the Trojan civilizations reached
the peak of their political and economic power between 1375 and 1250 BC.
Eventually, the equilibrium must have shifted. Perhaps because
Greek vessels attempted to use the straits to the Black Sea for their own trade
activities, a serious conflict arose between the two sides of the Aegean.
Traditional accounts recall how a small Greek contingent was sent to punish Troy
in about 1250 BC. In a surprise attack, Greek units succeeded in destroying the
city at its absolute cultural peak.
This first Greek assault was not the legendary Trojan War. It
did, however, mark the beginning of the decline of the Late Bronze Age cultures.
The Trojans rebuilt their city, but this time, the archaeological evidence makes
clear, they built not with status in mind, but defence. Soon after the citadel
of Troy was finished, both the Mycenaean kings in Greece and the Great King of
Hatti reinforced their own citadels in similar fashion. The new fortresses
followed a common plan: The protected area was expanded to provide shelter not
only for the upper classes but also for members of the lower echelons of
society; the walls were reinforced to withstand massive onslaughts; access to
freshwater springs was included in the protected areas to assure water supply
under conditions of siege; and finally, defense galleries and secret escape
routes were incorporated into the structures. The similarities between the
citadels at Hattusa and Mycenae are so striking that one might almost infer they
had been jointly designed.
Hatti's biggest concern, however, lay to the east, at the
other end of Anatolia. From its heartland in upper Mesopotamia, Assyria launched
a successful attack around 1236 BC, which captured copper mines on the eastern
border of Hatti. Rather than confront the militarily superior Assyrian state,
Hatti determined to acquire a new source of vital copper from an easier target.
The Great King managed to conquer Cyprus, one of the richest mining districts in
the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, he barred ships from western
Anatolia from entering the ports of his vassals in Syria, thus interrupting
trade between his rivals. This blockade was just as much an act of aggression in
the 13th century BC as it would be today; war became inevitable.
The first encounters between forces from western Anatolia and
those of Hatti probably took place on the mainland, but eventually western
Anatolian strategists developed a plan to circumvent the stronger state by sea
and attack Cyprus and Syria instead. This naval assault probably occurred around
1195 BC, and it is this that became known as the Sea People invasions.
We may never find out whether the western Anatolian Sea People
actually aimed to end Hatti's hegemony over central Anatolia once and for all,
or whether they were simply retaliating against Hatti's aggressions in hope of
regaining their lost trade routes. In either case, though the first battles may
have been indecisive, western Anatolia soon received support from Kashka, which
used Hatti's preoccupation with the Sea People to march again toward the Hittite
capital. They left it in ashes in about 1190 BC.
With Hatti destroyed, the western Anatolian states—the Sea
People—suddenly found themselves commanding an area stretching from the Aegean
to Palestine. Pushing farther into the Levant, they became involved in the kind
of battles that are depicted on the walls of Medinat Habu. Egypt, weakened by
its internal strife, was unable to overwhelm the enemy. Only one state remained
powerful enough to fight the western Anatolian allies, which were led by Troy:
Although Greece itself may not have been attacked, it was
clearly facing a difficult future with a neighbour as powerful as western
Anatolia, and a neighbour, to boot, whom Greece had already offended sufficiently
to earn unwavering enmity. After much preparation, a Greek army entered the
battlefield, planning attacks on the centers of cities—the same strategy used
by the western Anatolian states. With the Anatolians busy in the Levant and
Egypt, Greek soldiers ravaged the western Anatolian heartland, forcing the
Anatolians to pull back to defend their homes. Finally, the opposing armies
gathered at the city whose fate would decide the outcome of this unprecedented
war. The battles at Troy probably took place around 1186 BC, and they likely
lasted a few months before the Greek attackers succeeded—again—in conquering
the doomed city.
In an apocalyptic war, there are no winners. Many famous Greek
aristocrats lost their lives in the fighting. Those who survived had a hard time
reassuming leadership upon their return, because provincial deputies had assumed
their thrones and the returning warriors were too weakened and impoverished to
regain their titles. Greece and Anatolia entered an era of anarchy. With the
disappearance of the palaces and the aristocracy, the fine craftsmanship, the
artistry, and the knowledge of writing disappeared as well. The Odyssey,
numerous legends, and even the Greek historian Thucydides all recount how the
survivors of the Trojan War spread all around the central and eastern
Mediterranean. The archaeological evidence confirms the migrations, and names
still found today—Sicilian, Sardinian, Etruscan, Philistine and Thracian—are
first documented after the end of the crisis years.
Although the Sea People vanished from the political records,
they left a legacy second to none in world history. In Palestine, where many
clans from both Greece and western Anatolia sought refuge, the Philistine and
Phoenician civilizations arose, reviving and spreading much of the inventiveness
in metallurgy, seafaring, warfare and trade that had characterized fallen Troy
and its allies. The civilization of Rome claimed to have originated with Aeneas
of Troy. And the memory of Troy and the Trojan War stood firmly at the center of
interest for Western scholars up through the Middle Ages. Today it still remains
one of the central legends of the West, related by one of the most eloquent
poets the world has ever known.
Zangger holds a German master's degree and a Stanford University
doctorate in geology. He works as a senior physical scientist on many archaeological
projects around the eastern Mediterranean and lives in Zurich. His
theory on the identity of the Sea People is detailed in his recent book "Ein
neuer Kampf um Troia", published in Germany by Droemer Knaur.
appeared on pages 20-31 of the May/June 1995 print edition of