PROFILING THE TURBULENT STATE OF EVENTS IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN IN THE CLOSING STAGES OF THE LATE BRONZE AGE
by S.Vogazianos –Roy, ethnologist, Permanent Member of Glasgow University Council
When Harrison Ford, assuming the character of the much celebrated Indiana Jones-the screen version of the unabashed, swash-buckling archaeologist – released, in the outset of the 3rd part of his alter ego saga, the solemn-sounding line defining the archaeologist’s duty as one of spending most of the day in libraries scanning books for clues, he sounded as though he quite legitimately attempted to set world viewers on the right course for acquiring the real or near-real, picture of events that shaped the history of the major cultures we admire today.
It is indeed through the painstaking study of primary, in the first place, and secondary , in the second, literary and archaeological sources, in the form of the enormous literature written by ancient and modern authors and the huge number of monuments and artifacts left behind by ancient people, that one may gradually attain a broad, if far from always safe, perspective of the developments, during the course of the 13th and 12th centuries B.C., in what was the cradle of some of the most important civilizations in world history, namely the East Mediterranean.
Forming a huge gulf-like sea inlet, framed by Greece and Asia minor, the so-called Anatolia of ancient times, in the north , by the Syropalestinian coast involving the states of Syria, Lebanon and Israel in the east and by Egypt and Libya in the south, East Mediterranean witnessed a long-lasted outcrop of climactic upheavals spanning the 13th and 12th cent. B.C., destined to change the social, cultural and economic balance to a great extent in that area of the world, and pave the way for major developments to come in Greece, Israel, Cyprus, Anatolia, Syria and Italy , in the course of the following seven, at least centuries.
The most important civilizations in the East Mediterranean at the beginning of the 13th cent B.C.(as of this point, all dates will be B.C. unless otherwise stated) were the Egyptian, the Mycenaean, the Hittite and the Jewish, with those of Amurru, Ugarit and Mitanni (in modern Syria), Arzawa, Assuwa, Lukka (later known as Lykia), kashka (in Anatolia), Minoan Crete and Alashiya (modern Cyprus) keeping a lower, if noteworthy, profile, some of them(particularly Minoan Crete) having nevertheless left a much more significant cultural and political impact on the overall area in the Early( c. 3.000-2000 ) and Middle (c. 2.000- 1500) Bronze Age .
The key feature in the multi-faceted pattern of developments spanning the period in question is the high rate of tribal mobility for reasons that appear to be strongly connected with military expansion and migratory movements in search for more convenient lands for settlement.
Such a major event, assigned mainly to imperialistic purposes and marking the beginning of this turbulent pattern of developments at about 1250-1230, was the first and perhaps most literarily celebrated instance of large-scale war in European history, namely the Trojan war between the Mycenaean Greeks, the then most dominant naval power in the East Mediterranean, and the state of Troy, a powerful kingdom in the north west part of Anatolia, the two peoples most probably fighting to settle territorial disputes scores, a common reason for such actions at those times; the war, so vividly narrated in Homer’s Iliad and fought by peoples akin to each other culturally does not seem to have involved so many casualties or lasted for as long as the Homeric epics claim, the archaeological record arguing against such a thesis; the victorious Greeks’ Aegean sea peregrinations on their way home, seem to almost overlap in time with the repeated pattern of migratory eastward overland and overseas movements attested in the East Mediterranean at the end of the 13th –beginning of12th cent., mostly involving the so-called “Sea Peoples” migrations to which we will presently turn.
Not long before the time of Trojan War, another very important event seems to have taken place, namely the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, the earliest evidence for which can be found in Pharaoh Merneptah’s “Hymn of Victory” stela ,found at Thebes , of about 1220, referring to the Israelites, among other peoples, as a distinct national entity in their known homeland and not being at war with Egypt, this meaning that the Israelites had reached and settled in Canaan, before Merneptah’s time, and since there is no earlier reference to them in the Egyptian archives, their Exodus can be taken to have occurred not long before 1220.
The third major event seems, interestingly enough, to have happened not long after, if at all, the Trojan war and concerns Merneptah’s victorious war against the Libyans and their northern allies , also recorded on the stela mentioned above. This is the first of the two large-scale invasions of Egypt by “northern peoples”, alias known as “sea peoples”, recorded in Egyptian royal records, the second taking place some 34 years later, in the 8th year of Pharaoh Ramses the 3rd reign (c.1186) and constituting the fourth and most far-and-wide-ranging event of the time in question. The Libyans’ northern allies in the aforementioned war against Merneptah include the Equesh, a name that has associated them with the Homeric Achaeans (the same as the Mycenaeans) and the Ahhiyawa in the Hittite records ,another term with Achaean connotations, applied to an elusive tribal entity active in Anatolia and occasionally charged by the Hittites with subversive , for the Hittite interests, activities; given that Homeric Menelaus, on his return home from Troy, was weather-drifted to Egypt where his troops were defeated by the Egyptians, it may well be pondered, granted the similarities in the accounts involved and the time proximity, if it is his presence there that is alluded to by the appearance of the Equesh among the Libyans ‘northern allies.
The second wave of Sea Peoples attested in Ramses’ the 3rd reign did not fare better against the Egyptians but what is more important is that, according to the Egyptian archives, these peoples migratory as well as invasive movement seems to have followed a twofold course southwards, one overseas and the other overland, overrunning the kingdoms, according to the Egyptian scribes, of Alasiya(Cyprus), of the Hittites, of Amurru, of Cilicia and Arzawa in Anatolia. Their actions bring them headlong into the wave of the cross-Aegean and E.Meditarranean migrations of tribes from the Greek mainland and Aegean islands, ousted by the new-coming Dorians and heading for known destinations for settlement ,such as Cyprus(where they eventually settled) and the Syropalestinian coast, in much the same way as the Sea Peoples did.
It is to be noted that the tribe of “Peleset” appears among the second wave of Sea Peoples and that research has proved that there is very good reason for identifying them with the Old Testament Philistines since the Peleset were settled by the Egyptians ,after their defeat, as garrison troups in Palestine. Given that much of the Philistine material culture bears strong affinities to the Mycenaean one, not least their pottery which seems to be a version of the latest Mycenaean pottery discovered in Cyprus and that there is quite a number of common time and activities aspects in the Sea Peoples migrations and the Greek tribes traversing the Aegean over a broad chronological context spanning the Sea Peoples’ activities, the Mycenaean element in those Peoples, most notably the Philistines, acquires a particularly strong dimension.