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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Seaborne Migration

The Sea Peoples established beachheads along the entire coast of the eastern Mediterranean. Their route can be traced by the synchronous destructions of Late Bronze Age coastal cities from Tarsus to Ashkelon. The same pattern of devastation is found in several cities of Cyprus, which the raiders could have reached only by ship.

The renaming of whole territories after various groups of Sea Peoples provides another measure of their impact. After the Sea Peoples' invasion of Cyprus, its name was changed from Alashiya to Yadanana, “the isle of the Danunians/Danaoi/Denyen.” The Philistines bequeathed their own name to Philistia (and later to all of Palestine). The Sikils, who settled at Dor, also sailed west and gave their name to Sicily, and the Sherden, who probably established a beachhead in Acco, gave theirs to Sardinia.

On Cyprus the sequence of beachheads followed by stage 1 settlements is remarkably similar to those in the Levant. New cities, with Myc IIIC pottery, were built over the ruins of Late Bronze Age cities, many of which had received the last of the Greek imported pottery known as Myc IIIB. On the coastal promentories the newcomers built fortified strongholds, such as Maa and Pyla. Farther inland, the Sea Peoples founded new settlements, such as Sinda and Athienou.

Cypriot archaeologists invoke the Achaeans or Danaoi of Homeric epic as the agents of culture change in Cyprus; in the Levant, the same change is ascribed to the Sea Peoples. Both agents participated in the event recorded by Rameses III and should be related to the same confederacy of Sea Peoples, or Mycenaean Greeks, who invaded the coastlands and the island of Alashiya (Cyprus) around 1185–1175.

Correspondence between the king of Cyprus and the king of Ugarit can be correlated with the archaeology of destruction to provide vivid details of the Sea Peoples' onslaught. The capital of a Syrian coastal kingdom under the suzerainty of the Hittites, Ugarit had over 150 villages in its hinterland and a population of 25,000, nearly the same as that of Philistia during stage 1. Its king also controlled a nearby port and had a seaside palace at Ras Ibn Hani.

During the final days of Ugarit, letters (in Akkadian cuneiform) exchanged between its king, Ammurapi, and the king of Cyprus show how desperate the situation was, as well as the source of the trouble. The Cypriot king writes to Ammurapi:

What have you written to me “enemy shipping has been sighted at sea”? Well, now, even if it is true that enemy ships have been sighted, be firm. Indeed then, what of your troops, your chariots, where are they stationed? Are they stationed close at hand or are they not? Fortify your towns, bring the troops and the chariots into them, and wait for the enemy with firm feet. (Sandars, 142–43)

Ammurapi replies:

My father, the enemy ships are already here, they have set fire to my towns and have done very great damage in the country. My father, 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? So that the country is abandoned to itself.…Consider this my father, there are seven enemy ships that have come and done very great damage. (Sandars, 143)

An earlier text explains to whom the marauding ships belong. The Hittite king writes (also in Akkadian) to a veteran official of Ammurapi about hostage taking:

From the sun, the great king, to the prefect: Now, with you, the king, your master, is young. He does not know anything. I gave orders to him regarding Lanadusu, who was taken captive by the Shikalayu, who live on ships. Now, I have sent to you Nisahili, he is an administrative official with me, with instructions. Now, you (are to) send Lanadusu, whom the Shikalayu captured, here to me. I will ask him about the matter of the Shikila and, afterwards, he can return to Ugarit. (trans. Gregory Mobley)

The Sikils, “who live on ships,” were sea traders who were terrorizing Ugarit before it fell to them about 1185 BCE, not long before events recorded by Rameses III, who also mentions the Sikils (Tjeker) as part of the Sea Peoples' confederation.

In the Egyptian reliefs of the naval battle, the Sea Peoples' ships are oared galleys with single sails and with finials in the shape of water birds at prow and stern. These resemble the “bird-boat” painted on a krater from Tiryns, another clue to their Aegean origin.

The Sikils then sailed down the coast and landed at Dor, identified as a city of the Sikils in the eleventh-century Egyptian tale of Wen-Amun. They destroyed the Late Bronze Age Canaanite city and constructed a much larger one over its ruins. During stage 1 the Sikils fortified Dor with ramparts and glacis, and created an excellent port facility for their ships.

All of this evidence—their beachheads, the coastal pattern of destruction (followed in many cases by new cities with Myc IIIC pottery), references to living on ships, and illustrations of their craft—leave no doubt that the Sea Peoples, including the Philistines, had the necessary maritime technology and transport capacity to effect a major migration and invasion by sea.

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