The Mystery of the “Sea Peoples,” the Unknown Invaders of Ancient Egypt

Right off the bat, I just want to apologize for the fact that we won’t be talking about what might be the best episode of South Park ever:

Photo Credit: South Park/GIPHY

I’m as disappointed as anyone not to be covering this seminal moment in television history, but this ancient mystery is just as cool:

Photo Credit: did you know?

I mean, an entire culture of people who attack with no notice for almost 100 years before disappearing off the map?

That’s some damn interesting stuff. I mean, Robert Stack would be covering this on Unsolved Mysteries, if that was still a thing.

These “Sea Peoples” terrorized one of the greatest civilizations in history, and nobody knows who they were or where they came from?

How can that be?

Well, for starters, the Ancient Egyptians themselves just called them The Sea Peoples, The People of the Sea, of the sea, or of the countries of the sea, perhaps because they were thought to be a coalition or confederation of multiple island-based peoples who all decided to attack Ancient Egypt and other East Mediterranean nations toward the end of the bronze age.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

It all seems to start with Ramesses II, around the 2nd year of his reign, with an inscription by him that reads:

The unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them.

By the way, “Sherden” isn’t the name of a country or a people. It translates to of the sea or of the countries of the sea. We think, anyway – almost everything we know about the Sea Peoples is a matter of intense debate.

The attacks continue throughout Ramesses II’s reign, through the next guy, and into the reign of Ramesses III, where we have some really cool evidence of what they call the Battle of the Delta.

Photo Credit: Olaf Tausch/CC BY 3.0

That’s kinda hard to make out. Here’s a relief:

Photo Credit: Public Domain

This is the part where Egypt won.

Here’s an excerpt from the badass inscription:

Now the northern countries, which were in their isles, were quivering in their bodies. They penetrated the channels of the Nile mouths.

…His majesty is gone forth like a whirlwind against them, fighting on the battlefield like a runner. The dread of him and the terror of him have entered in their bodies; (they are) capsized and overwhelmed in their places.

Their hearts are taken away; their soul is flown away.

…His majesty is like an enraged lion, attacking his assailant with his pawns; plundering on his right hand and powerful on his left hand…

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Here’s another relief.

That’s our buddy Ram III on the right. See all those people behind him? Those are all prisoners from his victory.

Here’s another boast from the King:

Thou puttest great terror of me in the hearts of their chiefs; the fear and dread of me before them; that I may carry off their warriors, bound in my grasp…

…The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands…

…No land could stand before their arms…

…They laid their hands upon the land as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: “Our plans will succeed!”

Spoiler Alert: they did not succeed.

And maybe that’s why we still don’t know who they are.

I mean, they lost. They didn’t get to write the history.

If you’re the one dictating what’s going to be chiseled onto the walls of a temple, you’re probably much more concerned with how it makes you look. Accurately describing the invaders you defeated? That comes in distant second.

Here’s a wider view of Ramesses III at the Battle of the Delta:

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