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The 'Sea Peoples invasion' myth
One of the big myths that bible thumpers like to romanticize is the whole Israelite-Philistine conflict. Historians actually built this myth into an alleged 'wave of destruction' that supposedly swept through the Mediteranian around 1200 BCE. Here's what really happened.

In his book The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, by Thomas L. Thompson he writes
Towards the end of the thirteenth century BCE, the long period of aridity that had marked the climate of the Late Bronze Age turned more severe. The great Mycenaean drought, named after the period of aridity that was involved in the collapse of ancient Mycenae, disrupted civilization throughout the northern and eastern part of the Mediterranean basin. It was followed by a collapse of international trade, and the haphazard destruction of many of this huge region's cities and towns. Drought alone hardly created the whole of this chain of disaster. However, it played a significant role. The empires of Hatti and Mycenae and the North Syrian state of Amurru collapsed. The drought was to last nearly two centuries. The only major Mediterranean power to survive intact was Egypt, where the flood agriculture of the Nile was not as vulnerable to drought as the rainfall-dependent Mediterranean economies of Greece, Anatolia and Syria-Palestine.

Beginning around 1250 BCE, the Mediterranean suffered a severe drop in sea levels. Average temperatures rose and rainfall decreased sharply. The height of the drought was reached around 1200 BCE, and it lasted until around 1050 BCE. The drought varied significantly from region to region. Its effects were most severe in the Aegean and along the Anatolian coast. With the collapse of Mycenae, large numbers of people became refugees.

The onset of famine and widespread starvation uprooted whole communities and forced people to leave their homes and farms. Many moved southward to Egypt, both by land and by sea. Other refugees were drawn to the Phoenician coastal plain and to Palestine. They settled their families where they could. Over the course of several generations, they integrated with the local populations all along the Mediterranean shore. With their transition, a new and distinctive culture arose that was marked by both Aegean and Levantine characteristics.

All of these people, moving into the Levant put a lot of strain on resources. There was civil unrest as starving, desperate people wanted more resources than were available. Panicked people burned their own towns, small villages became non-existant as drought, demand and local banditry closed them down. Refugees occupied vacated towns. There was a wave of destruction but not an invasion. Much like the Conquest the story of the Philistines and their conflicts with Israel are completely false.
I've been closely following your discussion with Min on this one, Seeker. I still don't grasp why the famous Sea People had to have a near common source.

Is it not as likely that they were groups of individual opportunist rogues from several areas over a period of two or three centurie with the ability to float crude boats thast didn't necessarily sink (the Med's a cruel sea only on rare occasions) and -- to some extent -- the will to settle inland as well as on the coasts they raped and pillaged?

I can't see this as a concerted effort by a single invading force.

And I think the 'drought' you mentioned (well documented) is less likely to have encouraged the influx of Sea People from well-watered lands as it was to hit the fertile fringe of the Sahara and concentrate a working population on the Nile.

I agree with you in some respects Neil. A big part of the influx of people were refugees from Anatolia, not sea people at all but people from the former Hittite Empire. This wasn't invasion but migration.
And quite possibly largely non-aggressive migration at that do you think, Seeker? Not the stuff of (honest) heroic legend.

In such a sparsely populated and relatively unattractive region as the Levant, I'd guess that men and women of rigorous health and ambition would be warly welcomed by the struggling locals to whom a good axe would be no mean thing to share.

Also, I think the acceptance of vital migrants who arrived with open hands much more often than with clenched fists may well account for the invited influence on logal legend/religion of goddish stories from distant lands.

I'm afraid I've always found it difficult (I'm a Brit) to accept that the arival of newcomers from o'er the seas was necessarily a conflict of interest and a clash of culture. You need only look at the surviving place names in my native country, the difference in hair colours and stature, to realise how well ordinary folks can get together to create something great. Aggression couldn't do that. Cooperation does that.

And if you say that I'm a dreamer ... well, I'm not the only one.

I always thought that the newcomers (I'm thinking of the Norsemen in particular) came in as aggressors but were later assimilated into the population, leaving their imprint in place names and their genetics as part of the general population.
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
Well, my opinion is that they came in hungry. If anything the locals would have resented them because they created more demand on local food and water supplies. Eventually this influx would have lead to increases in theivery and baditry.
If settlement was anything like that of Britain by the Norse, it may have started with hit-and-run coastal raids and ruthless attacks on villages on the shores of more navigable rivers for plunder to take home. This soon turned, though, to the peaceful migration of experienced farmers and artisans who, it appears, were generally welcomed and who instigated a vital and enriching sea trade based on the vast experience of their former countrymen.

I realise that conditions were harsher in the lands of the ancient Middle East. When land is poor, more of it is needed to support a family unit or little clan than on the fertile British Isles, but I'd have thought that there would still have been land to spare -- in the central highlands, for instance.

My point is that, as we recall the Norse settlement of Britain as a violent Viking invasion because it makes for a better story, so the legend of the Sea People is similarly dramatic and colourful.

Cheers. Neil
Edited by neilmarr on 08/06/2008 01:22
Well, there are accounts of Norse raids which were quite violent, but I have no idea how factual they are. The truth is hard enough to locate nowadays, let alone that of a millenium ago.
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
The gradual 'Viking' (a misnomer) settlement of the British Isles at least didn't involve a hint of genocide. Celtic stock and Norse, Anglo and Saxon mingled, and there was much intermarriage between chieftan families and the more humble folk. I guess this suggests, perhaps, a less intrusive and lethal settlement than, say, that of the Europeans in the Americas and Antipodes and the gory fairy tales of the occupation of Canaan by the alleged tribes of Israel.

The same may well have been true of the Sea People in the Levant. Seeker will probably have the material at his fingertips, but I believe DNA investigation has suggested that the ancient indiginous population of the area survived intact through this and many other 'invasions'.

The Middle East may have been a little different in some respects. I don't think its coastal regions were as settled early on and what settlements there were existed under Egyptian patronage. Egypt was a major trading partner, I don't know that raiders would have wanted to risk trade relations.

In fact Egypt and Phoenicia had several trade routes up and down the coast.
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